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By Jason Snell

The iPhone 13: An upgrader’s guide

The cameras, they get better every year.

When it comes to iPhone upgrades, Apple is incremental. So are iPhone reviews. Those of us who review iPhones are, for understandable reasons, focused on what’s new between this year’s model and the last.

The problem is that most people don’t buy a new iPhone every year. The primary upgraders to the iPhone 13 will be coming from the iPhone 7, or 8, or X, or XS, or XR. For them, several years of Apple innovations will be rolled into a single purchase. But reviews of the new iPhones will not address what happened in 2018, or 2019, or 2020.

Here’s an attempt to provide a little more of a big-picture overview for owners of older iPhones who are wondering what’s new in the iPhone 13. I’ve simplified matter a little—if you own a “plus” or “max” model of iPhone, obviously your phone will be a little larger, and you may want to consider the direct upgrade to the iPhone 13 Pro Max to continue with your large phone. The iPhone 13 mini is also a great option for those who prefer a smaller phone with all the same power as the larger iPhone 13.

Upgrading from an iPhone 7

Congratulations! Five years of smartphone technology advances goes a long way. The iPhone 13 and 13 Pro are powered by the A15 Bionic processor, which is three times faster than the iPhone 7’s A10 Fusion chip. Face ID replaces Touch ID, so if you’re frequently masked and don’t have an Apple Watch, you’ll need to enter your passcode more often.

The iPhone 13 uses OLED display technology—the screen is brighter and supports high dynamic range, so it offers much blacker blacks and eye-blasting whites. The frame around the display is much reduced in size, and the home button is gone, but you’ll need to get used to a small “notch” at the top of the screen, behind which lies the TrueDepth sensors used by Face ID. You’ll also gain a second, ultrawide camera, for added variety in shooting.

But again, congratulations: pretty much everything on your new phone is going to be better.

iPhone 13 adds:

  • Phone body: Larger (unless you buy an iPhone 13 mini), more damage-resistant screen, better water resistance.
  • Display: Larger, higher resolution, OLED, brighter, HDR, True Tone.
  • Chip: Three times as fast.
  • Buttons: Face ID instead of Touch ID, sensors in TrueDepth “notch” on display; home button replaced with gestures. No more support for 3D Touch.
  • Battery life: Dramatically better.
  • Networking: 5G, Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi 6, Ultra Wideband.
  • Camera: Wider aperture and improved sensors on standard camera, new Ultra Wide camera for more expansive shots, sensor-shift optical image stabilization, Night Mode for dark settings, Portrait Mode, Deep Fusion for enhanced details, Photographic Styles.
  • Selfie camera: Higher resolution (12 megapixels) with support for portait mode.
  • Video: HDR video up to 4K 60fps, Cinematic Mode.
  • Charging: Support for wireless Qi and MagSafe charging.

iPhone 13 Pro also adds:

  • Display: ProMotion display up to 120Hz refresh rate.
  • Camera: Telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, ProRAW image capture and ProRes video capture, LiDAR scanner for night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and augmented reality.

Upgrading from an iPhone 8

The iPhone 8 appeared the same year as the next-generation iPhone X, so your current phone is the last of an older generation of iPhone. As you prepare to jump across the divide, the first question is: Do you want a larger or smaller phone? The iPhone 13 and 13 Pro are both larger than the iPhone 8, but the iPhone 13 mini is smaller (yet still has a larger display).

All iPhone 13 models are powered by the A15 Bionic processor, which is 75 percent faster than the iPhone 8’s A11. Face ID replaces Touch ID, so if you’re frequently masked and don’t have an Apple Watch, you’ll need to enter your passcode more often.

The iPhone 13 uses OLED display technology—the screen is brighter and supports high dynamic range, so it offers much blacker blacks and eye-blasting whites. The frame around the display is much reduced in size, and the home button is gone, but you’ll need to get used to a small “notch” at the top of the screen, behind which lies the TrueDepth sensors used by Face ID. You’ll also gain a second, ultrawide camera, for added variety in shooting.

Welcome to the other side. Pretty much everything on your new phone is going to be better.

iPhone 13 adds:

  • Phone body: Larger (unless you buy an iPhone 13 mini), more damage-resistant screen, better water resistance.
  • Display: Larger, higher resolution, OLED, brighter, supports HDR.
  • Chip: 75 percent faster, Neural Engine has eight times as many cores for faster machine-learning-based tasks.
  • Buttons: Face ID instead of Touch ID, sensors in TrueDepth “notch” on display; home button replaced with gestures. No more support for 3D Touch.
  • Battery life: Dramatically better.
  • Networking: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Ultra Wideband.
  • Camera: Wider aperture and improved sensors on standard camera, Ultra Wide camera for more expansive shots, sensor-shift optical image stabilization, Night Mode for dark settings, Deep Fusion for enhanced details, Photographic Styles.
  • Selfie camera: Higher resolution (12 megapixels) with support for portait mode.
  • Video: HDR video up to 4K 60fps, Cinematic Mode.
  • Charging: Support for MagSafe charging accessories.

iPhone 13 Pro also adds:

  • Display: ProMotion display up to 120Hz refresh rate.
  • Camera: Telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, ProRAW image capture and ProRes video capture, LiDAR scanner for night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and augmented reality.

Upgrading from an iPhone X

The iPhone X ushered in a new era in iPhone design, but the iPhone 13 models bear the marks of four years of Apple iteration. The display is a little bit bigger and the phone very slightly taller, and networking and battery have been upgraded.

The iPhone 13 and 13 Pro are powered by the A15 Bionic processor, which is 75 percent faster than the iPhone X’s A11 Bionic chip. Apple has swapped the iPhone X’s telephoto lens for an ultra-wide model; if you want to keep the telephoto (as well as the ultrawide) you’ll need to buy an iPhone 13 Pro model, which has both. As you might expect, all the cameras have been upgraded, and now include Night Mode for ultra-low-light captures and sensor-shift optical image stabilization to reduce blur.

iPhone 13 adds:

  • Phone body: More damage-resistant screen, better water resistance.
  • Display: Larger (6.1 inches diagonal versus 5.8), supports HDR, no more support for 3D Touch.
  • Chip: 75 percent faster, Neural Engine has eight times as many cores for faster machine-learning-based tasks.
  • Battery life: Quite a bit better.
  • Networking: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Ultra Wideband.
  • Camera: Wider aperture and improved sensors on standard camera, Ultra Wide camera for more expansive shots, sensor-shift optical image stabilization, Night Mode for dark settings, Deep Fusion for enhanced details, Photographic Styles.
  • Selfie camera: Higher resolution (12 megapixels) with support for portait mode
  • Video: HDR video up to 4K 60fps, Cinematic Mode.
  • Charging: Support for MagSafe charging accessories.

iPhone 13 Pro also adds:_

  • Display: ProMotion display up to 120Hz refresh rate.
  • Camera: Telephoto lens with extended 3x optical zoom, ProRAW image capture and ProRes video capture, LiDAR scanner for night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and augmented reality.

Upgrading from an iPhone XR

The iPhone XR was the “big but cheap” iPhone in contrast to the iPhone XS, but the iPhone 13 product line owes a lot to the XR. The iPhone 13’s screen is the same size as the one on the XR, but much higher resolution, and it uses OLED display technology—it’s brighter and supports high dynamic range, so it offers much blacker blacks and eye-blasting whites. The body of the iPhone 13 itself is a little bit smaller than the XR.

The iPhone 13 and 13 Pro are powered by the A15 Bionic processor, which is 50 percent faster than the iPhone XR’s A12 Bionic chip. Unlike the XR’s single camera, the iPhone 13 offers a second, ultrawide camera. (The iPhone 13 Pro adds a telephoto lens as well.) The main camera has been upgraded, and the iPhone 13 can use Night Mode for ultra-low-light captures and sensor-shift optical image stabilization to reduce blur.

iPhone 13 adds:

  • Phone body: More damage-resistant screen, better water resistance.
  • Display: OLED, supports HDR.
  • Chip: 50 percent faster, Neural Engine has twice as many cores for faster machine-learning-based tasks.
  • Networking: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Ultra Wideband.
  • Camera: Wider aperture and improved sensors on standard camera, Ultra Wide camera for more expansive shots, sensor-shift optical image stabilization, Night Mode for dark settings, Deep Fusion for enhanced details, Photographic Styles.
  • Selfie camera: Higher resolution (12 megapixels).
  • Video: HDR video up to 4K 60fps, Cinematic Mode.
  • Charging: Support for MagSafe charging accessories.

iPhone 13 Pro also adds:

  • Display: ProMotion display up to 120Hz refresh rate.
  • Camera: Telephoto lens with extended 3x optical zoom, ProRAW image capture and ProRes video capture, LiDAR scanner for night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and augmented reality.

Upgrading from an iPhone XS

If you’re upgrading from an iPhone XS, you’ll find the iPhone 13 to be pretty familiar, though the phone body and display are both slightly larger.

The iPhone 13 and 13 Pro are powered by the A15 Bionic processor, which is 50 percent faster than the iPhone XS’s A12 Bionic chip. Apple has swapped the iPhone XS’s telephoto lens for an ultra-wide model; if you want to keep the telephoto (as well as the ultrawide) you’ll need to buy an iPhone 13 Pro. As you might expect, all the cameras have been upgraded, and now include Night Mode for ultra-low-light captures and sensor-shift optical image stabilization to reduce blur.

iPhone 13 adds:

  • Phone body: More damage-resistant screen.
  • Display: Larger (6.1 inches diagonal versus 5.8), supports HDR.
  • Chip: 50 percent faster, Neural Engine has twice as many cores for faster machine-learning-based tasks.
  • Battery life: Better.
  • Networking: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Ultra Wideband.
  • Camera: Wider aperture and improved sensors on standard camera, Ultra Wide camera for more expansive shots, sensor-shift optical image stabilization, Night Mode for dark settings, Deep Fusion for enhanced details, Photographic Styles.
  • Selfie camera: Higher resolution (12 megapixels) with support for portait mode.
  • Video: HDR video up to 4K 60fps, Cinematic Mode.
  • Charging: Support for MagSafe charging accessories.

iPhone 13 Pro also adds:

  • Display: ProMotion display up to 120Hz refresh rate.
  • Camera: Telephoto lens with extended 3x optical zoom, ProRAW image capture and ProRes video capture, LiDAR scanner for night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and augmented reality.

Upgrading from an iPhone 11

The iPhone 11 was larger than the iPhone 11 Pro, but you’ll find that today’s mainstream iPhone 13 models have adopted its 6.1-inch screen size. But the iPhone 13’s screen is higher resolution, and uses OLED display technology—it’s brighter and supports high dynamic range, so it offers much blacker blacks and eye-blasting whites. The body of the iPhone 13 itself is a little bit smaller than the iPhone 11.

The iPhone 13 and 13 Pro are powered by the A15 Bionic processor, which is 15 to 20 percent faster than the iPhone 11’s A13 Bionic chip. The wide camera on the iPhone 13 has a wider aperture and improved sensors, and sensor-shift optical image stabilization helps keep things steady.

iPhone 13 adds:

  • Phone body: More damage-resistant screen.
  • Display: OLED, higher resolution, supports HDR.
  • Chip: 15 to 20 percent faster, Neural Engine has twice as many cores for faster machine-learning-based tasks.
  • Networking: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Ultra Wideband.
  • Camera: Wider aperture and improved sensors on standard camera, sensor-shift optical image stabilization, Photographic Styles.
  • Video: HDR video up to 4K 60fps, Cinematic Mode.
  • Charging: Support for MagSafe charging accessories.

iPhone 13 Pro also adds:

  • Display: ProMotion display up to 120Hz refresh rate.
  • Camera: Telephoto lens with extended 3x optical zoom, ProRAW image capture and ProRes video capture, LiDAR scanner for night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and augmented reality.

Upgrading from an iPhone 11 Pro

What difference does two years of iPhone iteration make? The iPhone 13 screen is a little bigger, the chip a little bit (15 to 20 percent) faster, the screen more resistant to damage. You’ll want to buy an iPhone 13 Pro if you want to retain a three-camera setup.

iPhone 13 adds:

  • Display: Larger (6.1 inches diagonal versus 5.8).
  • Chip: 15 to 20 percent faster.
  • Battery life: Better.
  • Networking: 5G.
  • Camera: Wider aperture and improved sensors on standard camera, sensor-shift optical image stabilization, Photographic Styles.
  • Video: HDR video up to 4K 60fps, Cinematic Mode.
  • Charging: Support for MagSafe charging accessories.

iPhone 13 Pro also adds:

  • Display: ProMotion display up to 120Hz refresh rate.
  • Camera: Telephoto lens has extended 3x optical zoom, ProRAW image capture and ProRes video capture, LiDAR scanner for night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and augmented reality.

Upgrading from an iPhone SE (2nd generation)

The iPhone SE (second generation) is a throwback to an earlier era of iPhones. Fortunately, it has a pretty good analog in the iPhone 13 mini, which has a larger, higher resolution screen, and it’s an OLED display—so it’s brighter and offers much blacker blacks and eye-blasting whites.

Face ID replaces Touch ID, so if you’re frequently masked and don’t have an Apple Watch, you’ll need to enter your password more often. You’ll need to get used to a small “notch” behind which lies the TrueDepth sensors used by Face ID.

The body of the iPhone 13 mini itself is smaller than the iPhone SE. (If you’d like to go even larger, all the other iPhone 13 models are also available.)

The iPhone 13 models are powered by the A15 Bionic processor, which is 15 to 20 percent faster than the iPhone SE’s A13 Bionic chip. Unlike the SE’s single camera, the iPhone 13 offers a second, ultrawide camera. (The iPhone 13 Pro adds a telephoto lens as well.) The main camera has been upgraded, and the iPhone 13 can use Night Mode for ultra-low-light captures and sensor-shift optical image stabilization to reduce blur.

iPhone 13 adds:

  • Phone body: 13 mini body is smaller than SE, Damage-resistant screen.
  • Display: OLED, higher resolution, supports HDR.
  • Chip: 15 to 20 percent faster, Neural Engine has twice as many cores for faster machine-learning-based tasks.
  • Networking: 5G, Ultra Wideband.
  • Camera: Wider aperture and improved sensors on standard camera, sensor-shift optical image stabilization, Night Mode for dark settings, Deep Fusion for enhanced details, Photographic Styles.
  • Video: HDR video up to 4K 60fps, Cinematic Mode.
  • Charging: Support for MagSafe charging accessories

iPhone 13 Pro also adds:

  • Display: ProMotion display up to 120Hz refresh rate
  • Camera: Telephoto lens with extended 3x optical zoom, ProRAW image capture and ProRes video capture, LiDAR scanner for night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and augmented reality.

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