iPhone 13 — 7 biggest rumored upgrades, ranked

iPhone 13 Pro orange
(Image credit: EverythingApplePro)

With the iPhone 13 likely to debut at Apple's Sept. 14 product event, rumors about the phone have given us a clearer picture of what to potentially expect from Apple. The company will reportedly once again offer four models — ranging from the 5.4-inch iPhone 13 all the way up to the iPhone 13 Pro Max — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting upgrades on the way.

The possible addition of a 120Hz display is towards the top of our list, even if we’re not sure whether it’s a Pro-only feature. And some of the computational photography tricks we’ve heard about also sound very intriguing. These and other upgrades could help the iPhone 13 reach the top of our best phones list. 

Then again, some iPhone 13 leaks are definitely more exciting than others, so we wanted to help you cut through the hype with a ranked list of new iPhone 13 rumors to hold you over until the September 14 Apple event. Let’s count the biggest rumors for the new iPhone.

7. A15 Bionic chip

When you already have the world's fastest phone, it's hard to keep topping yourself. But I'm sure we're going to hear how the iPhone 13's rumored A15 Bionic chip offers the best performance in any phone. We haven't heard much about the A15 Bionic yet, but it's predicted to be based on the same 5nm process as the A14 Bionic. Apple should offer more speed and better efficiency this time around, as well as improved graphics. 

Apple should at least have stiffer competition this year from the likes of the rumored Snapdragon 895 chip and the new Exynos chip with AMD graphics that could power the Samsung Galaxy S22. Meanwhile, Google is going the Apple route with a chip of its own — called Tensor — for the Pixel 6.

6. Smaller iPhone 13 notch

iPhone 13 notch vs iPhone 12

(Image credit: DuanRui)

Forgive me for not getting that excited, but a smaller iPhone 13 notch doesn't sound thrilling. A much bigger deal would be removing the display notch altogether, which has been around since the launch of the iPhone X

Still, I'm glad the iPhone 13 notch is reportedly shrinking, giving you a bit more screen real estate back and less of an interruption in the design. Apple will reportedly pull this off through a combination of moving the iPhone 13's speaker and perhaps shrinking some of the sensor that make Face ID possible. 

5. iPhone 13 Pro camera upgrades

iPhone 13 Pro case

(Image credit: UnclePanPan | Weibo)

The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max will reportedly offer upgraded ultra-wide cameras with autofocus, whereas the current iPhone 12 Pro models have fixed-focus lenses. In addition, we've heard that the ultra-wide angle lens on the iPhone will be a 6P lens instead of 5P, which should result in brighter images and hopefully less distortion. Plus, the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max could be upgrading to a larger main sensor with 1.9um pixels, which should help in low light. 

4. Better and faster 5G

iPhone 12 Pro Max review 5G

(Image credit: Future)

It's no secret that the iPhone 12 was not the fastest 5G phone around, but Apple should be upping its game for the iPhone 13 with a new modem from Qualcomm. The Snapdragon X60 modem tipped for the iPhone 13 is capable of aggregating 5G data from both mmWave and sub-6GHz bands simultaneously. This should achieve an optimal combination of high-speed and low-latency network coverage, which should prove invaluable as 5G networks continue to roll out.

3. iPhone 13 portrait mode video and astrophotography

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 13 dummy

(Image credit: Apple Insider)

As fun as the new iPhone 12 "In the Dark" commercial is in terms of watching someone take all sorts of selfies in very low light, I'm more keen to see how the iPhone 13 fares with shooting the night sky. One rumor points to the iPhone 13 offering new astrophotography capabilities, which will presumably allow me to finally get a good shot of the moon without a tripod.

Meanwhile, the iPhone 13 is also tipped to offer a portrait mode video, which would add a bokeh effect to the background as you're shooting. iOS 15 is already adding portrait mode effects to FaceTime calls, so I would be very excited to see this come to the back cameras. 

2. iPhone 13 always-on display

iPhone 13 always-on display concept

(Image credit: A Better Computer/YouTube)

A report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, among other sources, points to Apple offering an always-on display for the iPhone 13 that's akin to the Apple Watch 6. Presumably, you would be able to quickly check the time, your battery life and perhaps notifications at a glance. However, the feature could be limited to the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max if those two handsets are also the only ones that are offering 120Hz displays that can scale down their refresh rates.

Which brings us to the last iPhone 13 rumor. 

1. 120Hz ProMotion displays

iPhone 13 Pro colors

(Image credit: EverythingApplePro)

The most heavily reported iPhone 13 rumor is also the most exciting, but we're not sure how limited this feature is going to be. The gist is that Apple could be offering a 120Hz display on at least the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max by employing LTPO technology. The panel would be able to scale all the way from 120Hz down to 1Hz, which would save power, similar to the Galaxy S21 Ultra

The overall benefit of 120Hz displays is that it enables smoother scrolling, as well as better movie playback and games. However, the titles need to be optimized for 120Hz playback, which we suspect will not be an issue for Apple given its focus on working with developers to roll out new features.

Apple is notoriously late to adopting features compared to Samsung and other Android phone makers, so it will be key for the company to demonstrate how it does 120Hz better than the competition. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.