Apple iPhone 13 vs Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max Review: Which iPhone 13 should you get?

Apple’s latest iPhone 13 series became available in Singapore last Friday (Sep 24). And if you are still sitting on the fence contemplating whether to get one or don’t know which model out of the available four to get, please read on before you put your moolah on one.

This is a long read, but well worth the time if you want to ensure your precious moolah is placed on the right model.

iPhone 13 (L) and iPhone 13 Pro Max. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

Like its predecessor – iPhone 12 series – the iPhone 13 series comes in four models, three screen sizes and two segments. There is a non-pro segment with the 5.4-inch iPhone 13 mini and the 6.1-inch iPhone 13. And you have the pro segment that consists of the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro and the 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max.

iPhone 13 miniiPhone 13iPhone 13 ProiPhone 13 Pro Max
PricingFrom S$1,149From S$1,299From S$1,649From S$1,799
Display5.4-inch Super Retina XDR6.1-inch Super Retina XDR6.1-inch Super Retina XDR with ProMotion6.7-inch Super Retina XDR with ProMotion
Display Refresh Rate60Hz60Hz120Hz120Hz
ProcessorA15 BionicA15 BionicA15 BionicA15 Bionic
CameraRear: 12MP ultra-wide-angle, 12MP wide-angle
Front: 12MP TrueDepth
Rear: 12MP ultra-wide-angle, 12MP wide-angle
Front: 12MP TrueDepth
Rear: 12MP ultra-wide-angle, 12MP wide-angle, 12MP telephoto (3x optical)
Front: 12MP TrueDepth
Rear: 12MP ultra-wide-angle, 12MP wide-angle, 12 MP telephoto (3x optical)
Front: 12MP TrueDepth
Coloursmidnight, blue, pink, red, starlightmidnight, blue, pink, red, starlightsierra blue, silver, gold, graphitesierra blue, silver, gold, graphite
Storage Size128GB to 512GB128GB to 512GB128GB to 1TB128GB to 1TB
Apple iPhone 13 models at a glance

The iPhone 13 and 13 mini are essentially the same smartphone apart from the differences in display size. And it is the same thing with the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

We reviewed the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro Max, as each represents the non-pro and pro segment respectively. So which iPhone 13 is ideal for you? Read on to find out!

Apart from their rear camera module size difference, all the iPhone 13 models feature the same flat sides and rounded corners. They all has the same ceramic shield front and strengthened tough glass back for better durability.

All iPhone 13 models also feature IP68 water resistance. In other words, they are water resistant down to 6m for up to 30 minutes as well as resist accidental coffee spills. One difference between the non-pro and pro versions is that the iPhone 13 Pro models have stainless steel frames while the iPhone 13 models use aluminium frames.

The iPhone 13 Pro colours. (Photo: Apple)

This is pretty evident when you pick up the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro Max side by side. You can immediately feel the difference in the frame material. However, due to the stainless steel frames, the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s sides tend to attract smudges and fingerprints compared to the iPhone 13.

But while the glass back is equally tough on all the iPhone 13 models, the iPhone 13 Pro Max does have a matte texture that makes it less of a smudge and fingerprint magnet. On the other hand, the rear of the iPhone 13 tends to get a lot of smudges.

Smudges on the glass back are evident on iPhone 13 (L) compared to the 13 Pro Max. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

The iPhone 13 and 13 mini is available in five colours – midnight (or black), starlight (or white), blue, red and the new pink, while the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max come in graphite, silver, gold and the all-new sierra blue.

The sierra blue deserves special mention, as it looks really and literally cool. Literally, as it has an icy blue finish that “changes” colour depending on the angle of the light. Not to mention, it is like a declaration to the world that you are holding the latest iPhone 13 Pro.

iPhone 13 Pro Max in sierra blue (L) meets iPhone 12 Pro Max in midnight blue. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

In terms of one-hand handling, I think the size of iPhone 13 or 13 Pro really hit the sweet spot. Having tried the iPhone 12 mini earlier this year and using the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the mini is too small while the 13 Pro Max might be too big for many.

Not to mention, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a tad heavy tipping the scales at 240g. That’s nearly a quarter of a kilogram.

All the new iPhone 13 models now sport a smaller notch on their displays compared to their predecessors. It is still there but visibly smaller to give a wee bit more screen real estate.

The notch on iPhone 13 (L) compared to the notch on iPhone 12. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

But the biggest differentiator between the non-pro and pro versions is the display refresh rate. While the non-pro models’ display comes with the standard 60Hz refresh rate, the pro models’ display features ProMotion technology – found in iPad Pro – with an adaptive refresh rate of up to 120Hz.

There is no way to adjust the refresh rate to stay at 120Hz. Instead, the display will respond dynamically to the content from 10Hz to 120Hz. So, for example, if you are looking at a still image, 10Hz is more than enough. But when you are playing a game, like NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition, then the refresh rate should go up to 120Hz for smoother gameplay.

Playing NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition on the iPhone 13 Pro Max. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

In addition, whether you are scrolling through social media or just reading news website, the display is much more responsive. And you can see the difference when you scroll the same page with the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro Max side by side.

Another plus about the iPhone 13 Pro’s display is its higher maximum brightness at 1,000 nits, compared to 800 nits of iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series. It makes look at the display a wee bit easier under bright sunlight.

Perhaps, the only downer is still the lack of on-display fingerprint sensor. Given the Covid-19 situation not getting any better, wearing a face mask is still a necessity. This makes Face ID less ideal in unlocking the iPhone.

While there is the Apple Watch unlock iPhone feature as a stop gap, I think the on-display fingerprint sensor is much more convenient. Even a power button fingerprint sensor like in the latest iPad mini will be greatly welcomed.

The iPhone 13 features a re-designed rear dual-camera system featuring 12-megapixel (MP) ultra-wide-angle and wide-angle cameras.

On paper, this sounds the same as its predecessor. But the new wide-angle camera has the biggest image sensor ever – at 1.7 µm pixels – in an iPhone dual-camera system, which is capable of gathering more light. This camera module also uses the sensor-shift optical image stabilisation (OIS) technology found in iPhone 12 Pro Max.

For iPhone 13 pro models, they feature a new rear triple-camera system consisting of 12MP ultra-wide-angle, wide-angle and telephoto cameras with sapphire lens cover. No more having to worry about scratches to the lenses or buying lens cover from Taobao.

The rear triple-camera module of iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max. (Photo: Apple)

Unlike the iPhone 12 Pro Max having a longer 2.5x optical zoom over 12 Pro’s 2x optical zoom, there are no differences between the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max with both having a 3x optical zoom telephoto camera.

Plus, their ultra-wide-angle camera has a wider f/1.8 aperture and new autofocusing system that allows for macro photography with a minimum focus distance of 2cm. The wide-angle camera uses a larger image sensor of 1.9 µm pixels and a larger f/1.5 aperture for to capture more details.

So, for photography buffs, you certainly have to go for the pro models with its 3x optical zoom and macro mode. Not to mention, the pro models support ProRaw still images and ProRes videos (coming soon).

As you might expect, photos taken from both iPhones are excellent with very high dynamic range and sharp details in the dark areas, while keeping highlights from being over-exposed.

If you look at the night shots taken with the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro Max, there is essentially no difference. Of course, the iPhone 13 Pro Max has the incentive of having the telephoto camera to shoot in night mode.

In addition, Apple has introduced Photographic Styles in the new iPhone 13 models. Apple has always prided itself for capturing true-to-life photos, instead of over-saturated and vivid images like some of its competitor. But probably due to consumers’ demand, Apple is letting you choose how your captured photos look.

You can now choose your photographic styles. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

With Photographic Styles, you can now choose from one of four default styles – standard, rich contrast, vibrant and warm. You can change the styles in Settings > Camera > Photo Capture. Or you can customise a style of your own by adjusting warmth and tone and warmth in the camera app.

The macro mode is certainly a good to have and adds more repertoire to your photography portfolio. There is no way to manually activate macro mode. You just have to bring the camera close to the subject, like a flower or a leaf.

I was able to get a close-up of a community cat’s eye with much details including the cat’s fur. Perhaps, the only issue is the large iPhone blocking the light when shooting macro photos.

The much touted Cinematic Mode is available on all iPhone 13 models. However, you can only shoot Cinematic mode videos in 1080p at 30fps only. No other resolution or frame rates are allowed. Plus, it works only with both the rear wide-angle camera and the front-facing TrueDepth camera.

Video shot using Cinematic Mode with iPhone 13 Pro Max. (Video: Trevor Tan)

Nonetheless, Cinematic Mode works superbly in focusing on one subject and keeping the other blur. Most importantly, you can manually adjust the focus during the shoot or after the shoot. This is probably the best part of Cinematic Mode, and allows you to truly mimic cinematographers in creating the movie-like clips on a small slab of electronics.

Both iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro Max use Apple’s latest A15 Bionic chip, hailed by the fruit company as the fastest chip in a smartphone.

Using 5nm technology, the new chip has nearly 15 billion transistors for much better performance than its predecessor. But the iPhone 13 Pro Max has a slightly faster 5-core graphics processing unit (GPU) compared to the iPhone 13’s 4-core GPU.

In the GeekBench 5 benchmark tests, both iPhones perform comparably. The iPhone 13 scores 1,748 points in the single-core test and 4,667 points in the multi-core test, while the 13 Pro Max is almost on par with scores of 1,737 (single-core) and 4,757 (multi-core) points.

Apple iPhone 13

+ Superb performance
+ Gorgeous display
+ Great camera performance
+ Cinematic mode works great

– Not cheap
– Display lacks 120Hz refresh rate
– Lack of on-display fingerprint sensor

DESIGN: 9/10

By comparison, the iPhone 12 scores 1,607 points (single-core) and 4,002 points (multi-core test), while the iPhone 12 Pro Max had a score of 1,605 (single-core) and 4,088 (multi-core) points. To put things into a bigger perspective, the recent Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 – which uses the flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip – only scored 1,118 (single-core) and 3,550 (multi-core).

In real life, all the apps start instantly and run effortlessly on both iPhones. When playing games, whether it is Pokemon Go or NBA2K 21 Arcade, the graphics look razor sharp with detailed textures on both phones.

In our usual video loopback battery stress test with Wi-Fi turned on and display at maximum brightness, the iPhone 13 lasted 12 hours and 6 minutes, while the iPhone 13 Pro Max lasted 14 hours and 22 minutes.

In comparison, the iPhone 12 went for 10 hours and 55 minutes, while my iPhone 12 Pro Max lasted 13 hours and 10 minutes. The battery improvement is almost as advertised.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

+ Superb performance
+ Gorgeous display with up to 120Hz refresh rate
+ Excellent rear triple-camera setup
+ Macro and Cinematic modes work great
+ Rear matte finish reduces slippage and smudges

– Expensive
– Lack of on-display fingerprint sensor
– A tad heavy

DESIGN: 9/10
OVERALL: 9/10 [SGEEK Editor’s Choice]

As mentioned earlier, Apple does not allow for manual adjustment of the display’s refresh rate. So I have no idea what is the refresh rate that the two review iPhones were running during the battery test.

Mileage will of course vary depending on usage. My daily usage revolves around constant checking of social media and e-mails as well as texting using WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger for work, with playing of Pokemon Go and NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition when I wind down for the evening.

During the tests, the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro Max still has around 20 per cent and 30 per cent of juice left respectively by the end of one day when I go to sleep. Some reviewers said the iPhones lasted two days.

The Apple iPhone 13 series offers great upgrades over its predecessors and performs superbly compared to the competition. Plus, the iPhone 13 line-up essentially has something for everyone who wants the latest iPhone.

If you want a compact iPhone above all else, get the iPhone 13 mini. Need a bigger screen over the mini but not the photo and pro features? Grab the iPhone 13.

So will you get the iPhone 13 or iPhone 13 Pro Max? (Photo: Trevor Tan)

For shutter bugs, there is no doubt you will want the pro models. So, if you want the pro features with ideal one-hand handling, the iPhone 13 Pro is perfect for you.

But if you are like me who wants the maximum screen size, pro features and great camera performance, you got to put your money on the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Trevor Tan

Started out with dreams to become a street photographer, Trevor Tan somehow became a tech journalist with over 16 years of consumer tech experience. Maybe he plays too much video games and buys too many new gadgets.
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