Now that Apple has officially taken the wraps off its iPhone 13 lineup, it’s time to decide whether you’re going to upgrade—and if so, which phone is the best for your needs.
iPhone 13 preorders began today, Friday, Sept. 17 at 5 a.m. PT/8 a.m. ET, and will ship on Sept. 24. Like last year, we didn’t get to have any hands-on time with the devices due to the pandemic, but you can expect to see more in-depth reviews and impressions in the coming weeks. We usually recommend waiting until then, but we get it. Sometimes you just really need a new phone ASAP.
The base 128 GB iPhone 13 ($799).
This year, the major upgrades for the iPhone 13 lineup were all about the cameras. The iPhone 13 has two cameras, a 12-MP main camera and another 12-MP ultra-wide camera. This time around, Apple’s arranged them diagonally and they have the same sensor-shift stabilization features as last year’s 12 Pro models. The new cameras have better low-light performance and the front-facing camera also supports new filters, Dolby Vision HDR recording, night mode selfies, and all that jazz. They also get the same Cinematic mode for videos that the Pro models do. Sure, the Pro models have an extra telephoto lens, but do you really need it? Be honest with yourself about the pictures you take. If you don’t obsess over your photos, have zero interest in editing them, and mostly take candid shots for friends and family, the iPhone 13's cameras are good enough for your needs.
Performance-wise, all the iPhone 13 models will get the A15 Bionic chip and are 5G-compatible. The iPhone 13's battery life is also pretty similar to the $999 13 Pro. It gets an estimated 19 hours of video playback (15 hours if streamed) and 75 hours of audio playback. The Pro gets 22 hours (20 streamed) of video playback and 75 hours of audio playback. And while the iPhone 13 Mini’s battery has improved this year, the iPhone 13's battery life is more likely to last you the entire day. We think that’s worth the extra $100.
Apple’s doubled its base storage option on the iPhone 13 to 128GB. For the average person, a combination of 128GB and cloud storage is enough for your videos, music, and all those pet pics you took during quarantine. Meanwhile, the base Pro model is $200 more for an extra camera, variable refresh rate, and slightly better battery life. Most people would likely prefer the extra savings, and all-around the iPhone 13 offers a good set of features for under $1,000.
The Pro models are meant for power users or anyone who needs a little extra to get things done. If you’re a gamer, the LTPO displays with their variable refresh rates (up to 120Hz) might be worth the splurge. If you need a good camera for work (or if you’re serious about photography), then the Pro models’ additional telephoto lens and ProRaw formats are worth the extra splurge. If you’re a filmmaker or amateur video creator, the ProRes format and extra storage options are also attractive options. The Pro models also offer more storage. While the regular iPhone 13 and 13 Mini max out at 512 GB, the Pro models go up to 1TB.
As for whether you should opt for the $999 Pro or $1,099 Pro Max, that’s going to come down to your individual battery and screen preferences. The Pro Max will get you a larger 6.7-inch screen compared to the Pro’s 6.1 inches. For battery, the Pro Max gets up to 28 hours of video playback (25 streamed) and 95 hours of audio playback. The Pro gets 22 hours of video playback (20 hours streamed), and 75 hours of video playback. You just have to decide if the Pro Max’s extra screen real estate and longer battery life are worth the extra $100.
Rumor has it this is likely to be the iPhone Mini’s last hurrah. If you’ve always wanted a smaller phone, but aren’t a fan of the iPhone SE’s bezels, the $699 iPhone 13 Mini may be your last shot for a while. The new Mini has a bigger battery that promises an extra 1.5 hours of battery life over the iPhone 12 Mini, but 1.5 extra hours isn’t as much as we’d hoped and may not last you the full day depending on your usage habits.
Whether you get the Mini or SE will depend on your priorities for cost, camera, and 5G. There’s no question that the Mini will take better pictures, but in our review, we found the iPhone SE’s camera holds up pretty well. Cost-wise, the base SE is $399, which is much cheaper than the Mini. However, the base iPhone SE only gets you 64GB of storage, while the base Mini gets you 128GB. You’ll have to pay $100 for a 128GB SE.
You still shouldn’t upgrade just to get 5G. If it’s not a priority, opting for the SE will save you some cash. If you do care about 5G, you might want to go for the Mini or hang tight for a 5G SE (if there is one).
If you’re set on saving some moolah by opting for a last-gen iPhone, we’d recommend the iPhone 12. Sure, the iPhone 11 is $100 cheaper at $499, but the iPhone 12 is the better investment. It supports 5G, has newer hardware, and will retain a better trade-in value for longer.
Each carrier has an iPhone 13 trade-in deal, so you’ll have to consider what your current carrier is offering, what you might get for switching, and also the strengths of each carrier’s network (particularly its 5G support) in your area. Overall, T-Mobile currently has the best 5G service but this will heavily depend on where you live. If you want more detail, you can check out our State of 5G in 2021 report.
As far as trade-ins, here’s what each carrier is offering:
- AT&T is offering up an iPhone 13, 13 Mini, and 13 Pro for free to new and existing customers with any of the carrier’s unlimited plans who trade in an eligible device. The full list can be found on AT&T’s site, but iPhones eligible for the full trade-in value include the iPhone XS Max, all of the iPhone 12 lineup, and the iPhone 11 lineup. The iPhones X, XR, and XS will get a $700 credit, and the iPhones 7, 7Plus, SE (2nd gen), 8, and 8 Plus will get a $350 credit.
- Verizon is offering current and new customers on certain unlimited plans up to $800 off on the iPhone 13 lineup if they trade in an eligible device. Customers who switch can get up to an additional $500. Some iPad models will also be up to $250 off and Apple Watch models are up to $150 off if they buy an iPhone 13. Each plan also includes six months of Apple Music.
- New and existing T-Mobile customers can get a free iPhone 13 if they’re on a Magenta MAX plan and lock in up to $800 in trade-in value every two years via its new Forever Upgrade plan. You can also get a free iPhone 13 Pro (or up to $1,000 off on other iPhone 13 models) via 30 monthly bill credits when on a Magenta MAX plan and if you trade in an eligible device. Customers on other T-Mobile plans can get an iPhone 13 Pro for half off, or up to $500 off on other iPhone 13 models via 30 monthly bill credits and eligible trade-ins.
- Walmart (not a carrier) is also offering $100 off retail price for all four iPhone 13 models.
Confused? We don’t blame you. Carrier deals are usually a headache to parse. You can, however, go through Apple’s website or head to an Apple retail store in person and compare carrier discounts there as well to see which deal makes the most sense for you. It’s a smidge easier if you want to compare pricing, as well as Apple Card or iPhone Upgrade Program financing options. If you have an iPhone 8 or later, you can also get anywhere between $110-$790 off. New and existing members of Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program can already go through the pre-approval process ahead of Sept. 17 either on the web or using the Apple Store app.