iPhone 13 leaks add up to a lot of meh — except for one upgrade

iphone 13 render
(Image credit: LetsGoDigital)

The iPhone 13 promises a wide range of improvements based on the many leaks thus far. But when you start weaving all the rumors together you start to wonder what all the fuss is about.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m generally interested in some of the things we’ve been hearing. And I personally love the idea of being able to experiment with astrophotography features (I’ve never been able to get a good shot of the Moon with an iPhone).

But then I began analyzing the other “big” rumored upgrades for the iPhone 13 — and I sincerely hope that the leakers are missing some game-changing features. Because right now the iPhone 13 sounds more like an iterative iPhone 12s. However, there's one feature that could get me to upgrade. 

120Hz Display: Late to the party, but best?

Rumor has is that Apple will include a 120Hz ProMotion display on the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Other Android phones made this leap a while ago. In fact, Apple is said to be using Samsung’s own LTPO technology and displays.

So how can Apple stand out here? For one, Apple is very good at power management, and if the iPhone 13 Pro can scale from 120Hz all the way down to 1Hz, I anticipate that you won’t see much of a power penalty from having a faster screen refresh rate.

More important, Apple needs to demonstrate a handful of killer apps that take full advantage of the iPhone 13 Pro’s ProMotion display, including games and video streaming apps. 

Cameras: No big zoom this year

iPhone 13 Pro Max dummy unit

(Image credit: Unbox Therapy/YouTube)

The iPhone 13 cameras are rumored to offer notable improvements, including sensor-shift stabilization across the entire lineup. Previously, this was limited to the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

In addition, the iPhone 13 is tipped to get a better ultra-wide camera, with a jump to an f/1.8, six-element autofocus lens. That’s certainly an upgrade over today’s f/2.4, five-element fixed focus lens, and you should expect brighter and crisper images when shooting ultra-wide shots.

What’s missing? A powerful zoom. Granted, the 100x Space Zoom on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is overkill at the max level, but I’ve seen truly remarkable results from 20x out to 50x. And the iPhone 13 Pro series isn’t expected to get a major zoom boost; a periscope lens isn’t expected until the iPhone 14.

That means Apple will have to wow with any software improvements and computational photography upgrades they make to its iPhone 13 cameras. For example, the rumored portrait mode for video sounds cool.

A smaller notch: Hurray?

iPhone 13 notch vs iPhone 12

(Image credit: DuanRui)

It seems like every other week we’re seeing leaks of a smaller iPhone 13 notch. And that’s nice — I would like to see more of the screen when watching videos, playing games and just using apps. But a slightly smaller notch doesn’t really get me excited.

Meanwhile, Samsung is said to be readying its first phone with an under-display camera, which could be the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. The idea is that the camera would appear when you need it and disappear when you don’t. 

Apple has unique challenges with the iPhone 13 because its TrueDepth camera has more components than the punch hole cameras found on Android phones. So it will likely be at least another year before we see something similar from team Cupertino.

Faster 5G!

If your eyes have already rolled to the back of your head I can understand. The iPhone 13 is expected to feature Qualcomm’s latest X65 modem, and that should result in faster speeds. That’s because the modem is aggregate data from both mmWave and sub-6Hz signals simultaneously.

At the same time, the carrier’s 5G networks are improving all of the time, so it’s generally good news for shoppers who have not yet upgraded to a 5G iPhone. I just don’t see this being a big driving force for upgrades.

Touch ID: The one upgrade that could sway me

iPhone with Touch ID

(Image credit: Redmond Pie)

Yet another feature Apple could copy from Android phones is a fingerprint sensor built into the display for the iPhone 13. Even with more and more people getting vaccinated, we will likely be required to wear masks in public for many months to come, and Face ID simply con’t recognize you with a mask on.

Apple has come up with a workaround in iOS 14.5 that lets you quickly unlock your iPhone while wearing an Apple Watch. But you shouldn’t need to fork over at least $169 just so you don’t have to type a passcode. The return of Touch ID in the display (or perhaps the power button) would make our lives easier.

Bottom line

As a tech journalist, I’m keenly interested in the iPhone 13 and all the latest leaks. But as a shopper I’m on the fence about upgrading at this stage.

My iPhone 11 Pro Max still offers great cameras, swift performance and long enough battery life. And Apple will truly have to wow me to fork over another $1,000 or more for a new flagship. Here’s hoping that there’s an exciting “one more thing” we haven’t about yet. 

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.

  • jph123
    A Google pixel 5 is better than this. It has 5g, a great camera and wireless charging. When you buy from apple you are paying for the branding.