iPhone 13 or iPhone 13 Pro? Here's why you don't need to go Pro

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 13 Pro
(Image credit: Apple)

In the pecking order of iPhone models, the iPhone Pro is supposed to be king. While many key iPhone features get shared across the different models, the best features are generally reserved for the Pro models of Apple's handset.

In the case of the iPhone 13, the $999 iPhone 13 Pro and $1,099 iPhone 13 Pro Max get the more eye-catching new additions, such as dynamically adjusting ProMotion displays and ultrawide angle camera lens with a wider aperture for better low-light shots. The Pros can also do macro photography.

But this time around, the "regular" iPhones — the $799 iPhone 13 and $699 iPhone 13 mini — don't feel like afterthoughts. Instead, they're noteworthy upgrades in their own right.

We'll have to review the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini to see how they measure up, not only against their predecessors but also the Pro models Apple is rolling out at the same time. But an initial glance at the specs and promised features for the least expensive iPhone 13 models, it's clear that both deserve some attention.

Here's all the things Apple did to make the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini compelling handsets, regardless of their better spec'd siblings.

There's finally enough storage on the iPhone 13

The very best news about the iPhone 13 came toward the end of the product's unveiling. When discussing pricing and storage options, Apple mentioned that the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini would both feature 128GB of on-board storage in their base models.

That's a significant move from Apple, which thought that a meager 64GB of storage was a good enough starting point for its flagship phones as recently as last year's iPhone 12. I've been banging this particular drum so loudly even I'm sick of hearing me talk about it, but similarly priced Android phones don't skimp on storage. Instead, everything from the Galaxy S21 to the Google Pixel 5 starts out with 128GB of storage. Now, the iPhone 13 can join the competition.

iPhone 13

(Image credit: Apple)

Increasing the base storage also means more capacity options for people willing to pay up for the extra room. You've also got 256GB and 512GB options for both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, with the increase costing an extra $100 and $200 respectively over those phones' starting prices. (We'll be talking about those prices in just a moment.)

The iPhone 13 didn't miss out on camera updates

Our iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 13 Pro comparison reveals that the Pro models are getting the more impressive camera upgrades, as you'd expect for Apple's higher priced phones. But the iPhone 13 isn't getting left behind, as Apple still found ways to bolster the camera hardware on its less expensive options.

Specifically, the main camera on the new phones features the biggest sensor Apple has ever put in one of its dual-camera handsets. According to Apple's calculations, that sensor is capable of letting in 47% more light, which should mean brighter pictures and less noise. There's a new sensor in the ultrawide angle lens too, which should mean improved detail in the darker portions of shots. The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini also adopt the sensor shift optical image stabilization feature first introduced on the iPhone 12 Pro Max last year for steadier shots. 

iPhone 13 cinematic mode

(Image credit: Apple)

But Apple's iPhone 13 camera improvements aren't limited to hardware — or to the iPhone 13 Pro models. Like those phones, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini will be able to take advantage of the new Cinematic mode when shooting video. This feature can blur the background in an image, so the focus is on the subject, and it can shift the focus between foreground and background automatically or manually.

We plan on pitting the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini against other devices to see whether these changes translate to better photos. But we'd imagine the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini will be contenders for a place among the best camera phones, even if neither can offer all the improvements Apple made to the iPhone 13 Pro lineup. 

Apple boosted the battery sizes

Battery life was a major weak spot across the iPhone 12 lineup, with the long-lasting iPhone 12 Pro Max excluded. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini were especially unimpressive, with both failing to reach the 8.5 hour mark on our custom battery test involving continuous web surfing over cellular until the phones run out of power. That's well below tha average for smartphones.

Apple clearly recognized the issue, because it says the batteries in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini are bigger than the power packs used in last year's phones. We don't know how much bigger officially — Apple doesn't reveal that level of detail — but rumors point to the iPhone 13 battery jumping from 2,815 mAh in the iPhone 12 to 3,095 mAh while the iPhone 13 mini's 2,406 mAh power pack is an upgrade from 2,227 mAh in the iPhone 12 mini.

iPhone 13 battery

(Image credit: Apple)

We'll need to wait until teardowns confirm these battery sizes, and we'll do our own testing to see what impact the larger capacity has on battery test results. For its part, Apple promises up to a 1.5-hour boost for the iPhone 13 mini over its predecessor, while the iPhone 13 should see up to a 2.5-hour improvement. 

Any gain in battery life will be welcome. Outside of camera performance, how long a phone lasts has one of the biggest effects on how satisfied people are with their smartphone. The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini seem to be taking a step in the right direction.

Apple kept the iPhone 13 prices down

You'll pay the same price for the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini that you would have for their iPhone equivalents. (And, as noted above, you're getting more storage as part of the bargain.) That's a bigger deal than it seems, given fears that component shortages might drive up the costs of consumer electronics like the iPhone.

Even without component concerns, smartphone prices have been ticking upward in recent years. So it's nice to see Apple hold the line on a $699 starting price for its new flagship phones.

What's still missing from the iPhone 13

None of this is to ignore the fact that you get more features with the higher-priced iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. The biggest missing feature on the cheaper iPhone 13 models would be the ProMotion displays that scale the refresh rate between 10Hz and 120Hz on the iPhone 13 Pro, depending on your on-screen activity. 

Reportedly, one of the reason why this feature's missing from the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini is because Apple's display supplier couldn't provide ProMotion panels in large enough numbers for those two phones, so it sounds like this omission gets addressed with the iPhone 14 next year. Still, that's got to sting if you're considering the iPhone 13 instead of the Pro models.

The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro are also lacking the LiDAR sensors Apple added to the iPhone 12 Pro models with much fanfare a year ago — a curious omission given Apple's stated interest in more immersive augmented reality apps. (LiDAR can really boost the performance of AR apps.)

The iPhone 13 Pros also continue to offer telephoto lenses, and you now get a longer 3x optical zoom. Plus, you can use the Pros' ultrawide lenses for macro photography. 

Bottom line

None of these differences are a deal-killer for the iPhone 13 — not when Apple has added so many enhancements to its entry-level flagship devices. We're nowhere near a final verdict on either phone just yet, but as far as first impressions go, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini are off to a good start.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.