The Apple season has started – Apple recently released four new iPhones! the iPhone 13 (mini) is the standard model, available in two sizes. There is also a more luxurious model, also available in two sizes: the iPhone 13 Pro (Max). This is our iPhone 13 (mini) review, the iPhone we recommend for most users.
iPhone 13 (mini) review: compact yet complete
If we had known at the time of the Nokia 3310 what kind of giant phones we will be walking around in 2021, we would have had a good laugh about it. Your editor-in-chief has always maintained a preference for compact iPhones. Because it’s great to be able to operate an iPhone with one hand; I’d rather not have an iPhone for which you literally (and figuratively) need deep pockets. After the iPhone SE from 2016, Apple’s patience was severely tested, but last year there was finally the iPhone 12 mini: with 5.4 inches, quite mini, but certainly no less. I loved it! So I didn’t know how quickly I had to claim the iPhone 13 mini from the editorial collection. I also took the iPhone 13 (6.1 inch) with me for a while. This story applies to both devices, because they are otherwise the same.
At first glance, the iPhone 13 (mini) is indistinguishable from the iPhone 12 (mini). The same design with the glossy glass back and the matt flat edges. Same size and weight. Again a front that is all screen. Although: you can still see a small difference: the notch (the bite from the screen) has become twenty percent smaller. That is marginal, by the way, if you find the notch disturbing, that reduction will not change that. If you turn the device around, you will see the biggest change on the back compared to the iPhone 12 (mini): the lenses of the camera are in a diagonal arrangement, with the 12 it was still below each other. Apple has not moved for show with the lenses, the camera has been updated quite a bit.
Dual camera with new photo features
The iPhone 13 (mini) camera has a wide-angle and an ultra-wide-angle lens. You should miss the telephoto lens of the Pro: optical zooming is therefore not included. Digitally yes, but that causes some loss of quality. The lenses and camera island have been enlarged to accommodate new sensors. These ensure that more light and detail are captured. Also new is optical image stabilization with sensor shift: this results in less blurry photos. I take pictures with the 12 (mini) and the 13 (mini) at the same time and ask people to guess which picture was taken with which device. Everyone just gambles. Except for the night photos, they look much better on the 13.
The biggest difference for the camera is probably due to the A15 Bionic processor. The iPhone chip is now so smart that it can interpret photos much better and apply specific operations to them. With photos, you can see that starting with the new Smart HDR 4. Your iPhone is able to recognize up to four people in the photo, and adjust the contrast, exposure and skin tones for each individually. This all happens automatically. A new photo function that catches the eye and that you can also play with yourself are the so-called Photographic Styles.
Photographic styles are like photo filters, but more subtle. Where you apply filters to entire photos, the photographic styles only work on the parts where they are needed – and your iPhone knows exactly what it takes. In other words, the styles leave the shades that should remain natural, untouched. This way you give your photo a (color) boost, while skin tones and the sky, for example, continue to look normal. There are four basic styles. Rich contrast provides darker shadows, more intense colors and stronger contrast. Vivid provides bright and vibrant colors. Warm adds golden hues to your photo for a slightly nostalgic look. Cool just adds a little more blue. You can refine the styles even further by adjusting hue and warmth via handy sliders.
I think the Photographic Styles really add something, but it’s less intuitive than you’re used to from Apple. If you pull too much on the sliders, you can just change one style to another. Then see once again returning to the original settings. Plus, they’re pretty definitive. Did you shoot a photo in a certain style? Then you cannot change it afterwards. Do you have a pre-existing photo that would make a huge difference from a Photo Style? Unfortunately, you can’t retroactively apply the styles. So it pays to experiment with what really is your style before coming home with a series of chilled Christmas photos.
Focus on Movie mode
A feature that you would expect to be typically Pro has made its way straight to the iPhone 13 (mini): Movie Mode. Are you familiar with the portrait mode, where the subject is nicely sharp in the photo and the background remains aesthetically blurred? That effect is now also available for videos. But it’s more than that. Your iPhone automatically notices when something important happens and shifts the focus accordingly. For example: is a person in the foreground who is in focus looking at a second person in the background? Then the second person becomes sharp and the foreground blurred. Incidentally, it also works with objects: your iPhone ‘feels’ what in the image deserves the most attention. Is your iPhone making a mistake? Then the focus can still be adjusted during and after filming.
The Movie mode is brilliant most of the time, it really gives you the cinematic feel. In my opinion, quiet videos with not too many jumps work best. If you hop from one subject to another, it becomes too restless. Focus transitions are sometimes just a bit too abrupt, the line between sharp and blurry just too sharp, with sometimes some artefacts in the image. What doesn’t help is that you record in 1080p at 30 frames per second (for sharing on social media, this is completely fine, by the way). It reminds me of the very first portrait mode photos. If you understand the limitations and work around them smartly, you will achieve very cool results.
No ProMotion screen
While testing the camera, it is noticeable that the screen of the iPhone 13 is easier to read outside in the sun than that of the iPhone 12. The maximum brightness is therefore 800 nits, compared to 625 nits last year. The iPhone 13 (mini) also still has the OLED screen that was so acclaimed last year, with a refresh rate that remains at a maximum of 60 Hz (60 frames per second). The iPhone 13 Pro (Max) has something new: a ProMotion screen with an adaptive refresh rate of up to 120 Hz.
Now there are two kinds of people. You have Team ‘On the iPhone 13 (mini) you have to miss ProMotion and that’s a shame’. And you have Team ‘On the iPhone 13 Pro (Max) you have Pro-Motion as a bonus, but you can do without it’. I’m clearly in the second team, but I’m surrounded by people from the first team: ‘With ProMotion the images are much smoother, your iPhone reacts much faster.’ Even if I’m using the 60 and 120 Hz iPhones side by side and consciously focusing on them, I have to struggle to notice. I notice the effect best when I scroll through large chunks of text at lightning speed. On a device with a ProMotion screen, the letters remain slightly more intact. Maybe it makes a difference in games. Not with movies, because they usually only have 30 frames per second.
ProMotion is not a must for me. Still, I can imagine that once you get used to 120 Hz, you can’t go back to 60 Hz. Because those very small improvements will settle in your brain after a few days. Apple does not make it attractive for Android switchers in this way, because 120 Hz has been in vogue for a while.
In the week that the iPhone 13 appeared, iOS 15 was also just new. While testing the iPhone 13 (mini), I find that the innovations that the new iPhone brings are much less exciting than the iOS 15 innovations. The differences between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 13 are less dramatic than the differences between an iPhone 12 with iOS 14 and an iPhone 12 with iOS 15. You won’t spend hours trying out the new camera options. But with setting up the new Focuses and Notifications overviews, organizing Notes with tags, redesigning your home screen, and all those dozens of little new iOS tricks. Being so busy with your iPhone is of course a good test for your battery.
Although I was a fan of the iPhone 12 mini last year, I wrote a very bad piece about this device here on this website and that had everything to do with the battery. The battery life of the mini was particularly disappointing, and that of the ‘regular’ iPhone 12 not much better. Where with previous new iPhones I usually still had more than 50 percent battery charge at the end of the day, the iPhone 12 mini invariably ended up far in the red. It wouldn’t surprise me that this contributed to the disappointing sales of the 12 mini. But the iPhone 13 (mini) takes revenge. Apple promises for the iPhone 13 mini one and a half hours extra battery life, for the iPhone 13 no less than two and a half hours. After a day of playing around with the new Photo Styles, Movie Mode and (especially) iOS 15, the mini’s remaining battery charge is still 56 percent. Far from the dreaded 20 percent limit.
The iPhone 13 is extremely similar to the iPhone 12 – but of course that was also an excellent device. The name ‘iPhone 12s’ might have been more appropriate. Apple has further perfected an already good device, with a much improved battery and new camera functions: the Movie mode may be the future. According to some, the ProMotion screen was also part of that. The iPhone 13 is a more than fine basic model, and then there is also a mini with really all the trimmings, but in a size that is more manageable for many. Do you have an iPhone XS or older? Maybe it’s time to update.
The iPhone 13 mini is available from € 809. You pay € 909 for the iPhone 13. The new iPhones are for sale at Apple, but also at, among others, amac.
- The camera has improvements that feel like Pro
- The battery life has been improved
- Also available in a compact size (the mini)
- Few innovations compared to the iPhone 12
- 60 Hz screen is a bit old-fashioned