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(Pocket-lint) - "If it ain't broke then don't fix it," the saying goes - but that's not something Apple fans, pining for more innovation, more wow factor, will want to hear. 

So will such fans be able to cope with that approach from Apple in 2021 with the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max - a phone that seems to be more about minor refinements over the previous generation than any huge changes? Upgraders might not be best pleased, but those who are in the market for the ultimate iPhone might think otherwise.

Our quick take

"That looks like your last phone," was the comment we got when showing family members the iPhone 13 Pro. And they would be right. Unless you look closely, you'll be hard pushed to notice the differences over its predecessor.

Start to use the iPhone 13 Pro, however, and you'll slowly begin to notice those small but important changes. The increased battery life is an obvious benefit, the smoother screen experience is great (and the more entry iPhone 13 lacks this ProMotion feature), and that updated notch is less noticeable too. It's just better all-round.

Ultimately, it feels like Apple's 2021 iPhones are all about refining rather than offering anything brand new. While that's not exciting for those eager to get all the new toys and tech, the iPhone 13 Pro is still as refined an Apple phone as you can buy. So, if you're in the market for an upgrade from an older generation, it'll feel genuinely impressive.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro review: A lesson in refinement

Apple iPhone 13 Pro

5 stars - Pocket-lint editors choice
For
  • ProMotion screen brings 120Hz smoothness
  • Better battery than predecessor
  • Easy-to-use and effective cameras
Against
  • A15 Processor isn't a huge leap forward compared to A14
  • No always-on display
  • Battery life challenged under heavy demands
  • Macro mode auto switching can get confused at times

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Is the iPhone 13 Pro still worth buying?

Currently, the Apple iPhone 13 Pro remains the best iPhone you can buy with all the latest and greatest features. It might be more than six months old now, but that's not an issue. It remains an excellent performer in all areas, and, if anything, it's got better thanks to the new feature that have come with iOS updates since it launched.

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The main reason not to buy the iPhone 13 Pro now is the potential its successor could offer - even if we don't know what that is yet. There are a number of reports suggesting the iPhone 14 Pro could see a bigger design refresh than the iPhone 13 Pro experienced, though, so waiting until later in the year for the new iPhone Pro could offer some more exciting changes.

If you can't wait, the iPhone 13 Pro is still a superb iPhone, and will be for some time.

Design and display

  • 6.1-inch 'Super Retina' XDR OLED, 2532 x 1170 resolution (460ppi), 1200nits max brightness
  • Apple ProMotion display technology (adaptive 10-120Hz refresh rate)
  • Four colour options: Graphite, Gold, Silver, Sierra Blue
  • Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.65mm / Weight: 204g
  • Stainless steel and glass materials 

For all intents and purposes the Apple iPhone 13's design is the same as its predecessor. It could easily have been called the iPhone 12S for its lack of differences, really, but there are changes for those who look closely enough.

On the front, the notch that houses the front-facing camera, Face ID smarts, and other sensors, has shrunk by around 20 per cent - delivering a much narrower yet taller cut-out.

Pocket-lint iPhone 13 Pro review: A lesson in refinement photo 21

Meanwhile the rear sees the camera enclosure - which still houses three main camera lenses - become larger and protrude ever so slightly more than previously, meaning your iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 cases won't fit.

Those changes, plus a slight increase in battery capacity, mean the iPhone 13 Pro is now also heavier than earlier iterations. It's now almost twice the weight of the iPhone 5 - if you can remember that far back - but the circa-200g weight isn't too unwieldy by any means. How times have changed, eh?

Available in five grown-up colours - there's Graphite, Gold, Silver, Sierra Blue and Alpine Green - "going pro" means you can't be too colourful. There's no Pink or Starlight options here, thank you very much, you'll have to look to the iPhone 13 mini for that.

The iPhone 13 Pro's design is familiar, but it's also robust - something that's backed up by the IP68 water- and dust-resistant rating and new tougher glass.

The big change in terms of the iPhone 13 Pro's display is the introduction of Apple's ProMotion technology - as first introduced to the iPad Pro range in 2017 - for the first time in any iPhone.

Pocket-lint iPhone 13 Pro review: A lesson in refinement photo 15

This technology allows the display to automatically adapt the refresh rate to match the content on the screen. It starts at 10Hz and goes all the way up to 120Hz, just like you'll find in most Android phones from the last couple of years, adapted depending on the kind of content that's on the display. Older screens would typically be 60Hz only, so you're getting a potential doubling of frames for enhanced smoothness.

That 120Hz top number is particularly exciting for gamers because it can result in smoother graphics, depending on the game. The benefits can also be seen elsewhere, such as when you're doom scrolling on social media, surfing the web, or generally using any app that has plenty of on-screen movement.

It certainly makes for a smoother experience, although just as some people can't see the benefits of Ultra-HD over HD until it's pointed out, some possibly won't notice the upgrade they are enjoying. Side-by-side with the iPhone 12 Pro you absolutely will, but that's not how these devices are used in real life.

ProMotion is yet another refinement to what is already a very good display, but perhaps not as noticeable as if Apple had given the iPhone 13 Pro's display an always-on option, or added Apple Pencil stylus support for those who are keen to take notes just like they can on an iPad.

Beyond ProMotion the iPhone 13 Pro features many of the usual Apple display tech buzzwords to deliver a sharp and vivid experience that makes everything pop: wide colour (DCI-P3 gamut), True Tone, a 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio, and up to 1,200 nits maximum brightness for those high dynamic range (HDR) playback moments. That means it's pretty much all here - there isn't a screen tech that Apple currently offers that isn't on this roster.

Hardware and performance

  • 128/256/512GB/1TB storage sizes
  • Wireless charging and MagSafe
  • A15 Bionic processor
  • 5G and Wi-Fi 6

A new processor - the A15 Bionic - powers the iPhone 13 Pro experience, but it's getting harder and harder to see the speed increases between generations. Apple has been vague as to how much improvement there really is to be seen against previous models - and our basic tests suggest it is only around 15 per cent faster than the previous iPhone 12 Pro (as powered by the A14 Bionic processor).

Getting technical for a moment: the A15 processor featured here is different to the A15 found in the standard iPhone 13 or 13 mini thanks to the addition of an extra graphical processing unit (GPU) - it's five cores versus four - but in reality you aren't going to see that in most real-life use-cases.

Remember refinement is the name of the game here. And the A15 is plenty fast and efficient. Apps load quickly. Crazy computational stuff in photos and videos all functions seamlessly. In short: the iPhone 13 Pro is unlikely to struggle with any task at hand.

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