iPhone 13 — these are the upgrades I'd actually pay for

iphone 13 render
(Image credit: LetsGoDigital)

The iPhone 13 has been the subject of countless rumors, even though Apple is not expected to launch the new iPhone for another few months. But which of the alleged upgrades will truly be worth spending several hundred dollars on?

After all, Apple’s new iOS 15 will work on handsets going all the way back to the iPhone 6S. And, for many people, their current iPhones are “good enough,” so Apple will have to come up with something special to convince people to upgrade to the iPhone 13.

I’ve been studying of the rumored changes for the iPhone 13, and there are some that are meh and others that are actually exciting. Here’s a quick breakdown of the iPhone 13 upgrades I think truly matter.

iPhone 13 camera: Better computational photography

I don’t know about you, but any photo I’ve tried to take of the moon with my current iPhone 11 Pro Max turns out looking like a mess. And the iPhone 12 Pro Max isn’t much better.

Rumor has it that Apple is upping its computational photography game for the iPhone 13 in at least two ways. First, the iPhone 13 could offer astrophotography features, so you’ll be able to get much better looking pics of the night sky. (Such a feature would allow the iPhone to match the Pixel 5, which just updated its astrophotography capabilities.) Plus, the iPhone 13 may be able to shoot portrait mode video, so you should be able to enjoy the same bokeh effect that’s available on photos. 

120Hz displays: ProMotion on iPhone 13 Pros

Yes, this upgrade is reportedly limited to the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. But it still could make a huge difference in the overall user experience. A 120Hz ProMotion display on the iPhone 13 would enable smoother scrolling and better gameplay on supported titles, as well as more fluid video playback.

Apple would be quite late to the game here, but the good news is that it’s supposedly using the same LTPO technology that’s in the Galaxy S21 Ultra. This will allow the display to dynamically scale all the way down to 1Hz to save power.

iPhone 13 bigger batteries

I would take this rumor with a grain of salt, but one Chinese leaker Digital Chat Station says that the iPhone 13 range will be getting bigger batteries. This is a big deal, because the iPhone 12 battery life results were not that great on our web surfing battery test over 5G, with the exception of the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

If the battery rumor is true, the iPhone 13 mini would get a 2,406 mAh battery, up from 2,227 mAh on the iPhone 12 mini. And the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro would both jump to 3,095 (up from 2,805). Lastly, the iPhone 13 Pro Max would get a generous 4,352 mAh battery (compared to 3,687 mAh). 

Touch ID in iPhone 13 display

Don’t get me wrong, I like Face ID, but I would really like to have the option of using Touch ID, and the iPhone 13 is rumored to offer a Touch ID fingerprint sensor embedded into the display.

Even though the world appears to be winning the battle against Covid, I still envision scenarios where wearing masks will be encouraged or required, such as on public transit. And being able to just touch your display to log in is a very convenient option to have.

iPhone 13 upgrades: Nice to have 

As you might expect from any new iPhone launch, you can anticipate a new processor, and the rumored A15 Bionic should provide a speed boost. But Apple already has the fastest phone around, so I don’t know how dramatic these performance gains are going to be. You can also expect faster 5G speeds, as the iPhone 13 series should be getting a new Qualcomm modem. The iOS 15 update also contains 5G-specific tweaks to speed up iCloud backups, Apple TV Plus streams and photo syncing.

Another nice-to-have upgrade is a smaller iPhone 13 notch. It’s reportedly shrinking on the iPhone 13 lineup but not going away. Still, having more screen real estate is a good thing. We’re also hearing that LiDAR will make its way to the regular iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini, so you should expect better autofocus and AR performance if you go the budget route. 

iPhone 13 bottom line

Of course, the iPhone 13 lineup should offer some new colors as well, as we’ve heard about matte black, orange and pink options potentially joining the mix. And that’s purely a way to signal to the world that you have the “new” iPhone.

In terms of what will likely have the most impact for everyday users, though, the computational photography upgrades, beefier batteries, Touch ID and 120Hz displays (for the Pro models) would seem to be the iPhone 13 upgrades worth waiting — and paying for.

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.