iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro: has Apple finally created a Pro worthy of the name?

Images of the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro
iPhone 13 Pro (left) vs iPhone 12 Pro (Image credit: Apple)

Our iPhone 13 Pro review sings the smartphone's praises, as this is the classy compact flagship of the family. But our iPhone 12 Pro review was similarly positive, so how do they compare?

These both rank among the best iPhones and arguably among the best smartphones, and there’s no escaping the fact that they look mightily similar. And while we gave both phones 8 out of 10 reviews, Apple has undoubtedly made some key improvements to keep things feeling fresh with the latest model.

So, should you upgrade to the iPhone 13 Pro? Let’s take a closer look at what’s being offered here.

iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro: price and availability

The iPhone 13 Pro hit shops on September 24, 2021. This fell a little earlier in the year than the iPhone 12 Pro, which landed on October 23, 2020.

Pricing largely matches the iPhone 12 Pro. The entry-level 128GB model of the iPhone 13 Pro will set you back $999 / £949 / AU$1,699, while the 256GB model will cost $1,099 / £1,049 / AU$1,869, and the 512GB model will cost $1,299 / £1,249 / AU$2,219.

For the first time, there’s also a 1TB model in the iPhone 13 Pro range. This will cost $1,499 / £1,449 / AU$2,569.

The iPhone 12 Pro also started at $999 / £999 / AU$1,699 for the 128GB model at launch. The 256GB model cost $1,099 / £1,099 / AU$1,899, while $1,299 / £1,299 / AU$2,219 got you the range-topping 512GB model.

As you can see, UK buyers are benefiting from a recent currency shift, which means they get a slightly better deal.

The iPhone 13 Pro in four different colors

The iPhone 13 Pro is available in a different selection of colors (Image credit: Apple)

iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro: design

The iPhone 13 Pro looks very similar to the iPhone 12 Pro, but we would have been extremely surprised if that weren’t the case. Apple switched up its iPhone design in a big way with last year’s models, so another wholesale change isn’t on the cards yet.

While you get the same angular design, parallel glass surfaces, and surgical-grade stainless steel rim, there are subtle differences.

The newer phone is a little bigger and heavier than its predecessor, reflecting its larger battery. While the iPhone 12 Pro measures 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm and weighs 189g, the iPhone 13 Pro measures 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.65mm and weighs 204g. The newer phone is a fraction thicker and 15g heavier.

You get a slightly different array of color options with this year’s iPhone too: Graphite, Gold, Silver, and Sierra Blue, the last being one of the most striking new colors we’ve seen from Apple in a while. The iPhone 12 Pro laid on Graphite, Gold, Silver, and Pacific Blue.

An iPhone 12 Pro with the screen on and grass behind it

The iPhone 12 Pro has a bigger notch (Image credit: TechRadar)

Both Pros have a matte finish to their glass rear panels, which we find preferable to the shiny non-Pro models.

Talking of the rears, the iPhone 13 Pro’s camera module takes a significant step up in size from the iPhone 12 Pro. This pays off in camera quality, as we’ll discuss, but it makes the phone a little unwieldy and more awkward to lay down flat than its predecessor.

As with the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 13 Pro covers its front with a Ceramic Shield, which is four times tougher than most other glass display materials.

Perhaps the most significant design change this time around is the display notch, which is 20% smaller on the iPhone 13 Pro than its iPhone 12 Pro counterpart. It’s not a transformational change, as it still stands out quite a lot, but it’s a step in the right direction.

iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro: display

At first glance, these two displays look identical. They’re both 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED displays with the same 1170 x 2532 resolutions. Both can hit a peak brightness of 1200 nits for HDR content.

There are a couple of differences, though. One is that the iPhone 13 Pro’s display gets brighter in outdoor lighting, to the tune of a mighty 1,000 nits. The iPhone 12 Pro can only manage 800 nits.

The key difference, however, is one that makes the iPhone 13 Pro earn its Pro name in a way that the iPhone 12 Pro really should have done 12 months before. The new version finally adds a 120Hz refresh rate to the equation.

This is a much-delayed feature, with Apple having introduced its super-smooth ProMotion standard with the 2017 iPad Pro. It basically means that content can scroll past twice as smoothly as on the iPhone 12 Pro’s 60Hz equivalent.

An iPhone 13 Pro with the screen on, against a white background

The iPhone 13 Pro has a higher refresh rate (Image credit: Apple)

Apple has used LTPO (low-temperature polycrystalline oxide) display technology here, so it can scale the iPhone 13 Pro display’s refresh rate from 10Hz right up to 120Hz according to the task at hand.

This LTPO technology has been present in Android phones for a while. The interesting point here is that iOS itself has been programmed to track the speed of your touch inputs and adjust the screen’s refresh rate accordingly. The result is that it should seamlessly scale without you even realizing it, thus saving vital battery life.

In the hand, we can confirm that the iPhone 13 Pro display represents a significant improvement over what’s gone before. You can really notice the difference when scrolling through menus or system apps. The difference will only get more noticeable and meaningful as the inevitable third-party app support increases.

iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro: camera

Like the iPhone 12 Pro before it, the iPhone 13 Pro packs in a trio of 12MP cameras.

This time around, the iPhone 13 Pro gets a larger wide sensor and a wider f/1.5 aperture (compared to the iPhone 12 Pro’s f/1.6) for a 2.2x improvement in low-light shots.

The iPhone 13 Pro’s ultra-wide sensor has been widened to an f/1.8 aperture, which is much larger than the iPhone 12 Pro’s f/2.4 equivalent. All in all, this sensor enjoys a 92% low-light improvement over the iPhone 12 Pro’s ultra-wide.

That’s not the only way in which the iPhone 13 Pro’s ultra-wide camera is an improvement. It also has the ability to capture sharp super-close-up macro shots from as close as 2cm away from the subject.

Elsewhere, the 12MP telephoto lens gets a boost from a 2x optical zoom on the iPhone 12 Pro to a 3x optical zoom on the iPhone 13 Pro. You can also take Night mode shots using the telephoto sensor this time around.

An iPhone 12 Pro from the back, resting on its box

The iPhone 12 Pro has a triple-lens camera (Image credit: TechRadar)

Apple has brought the sensor shift optical image stabilization system over from last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max, which makes for even steadier shots than you can achieve on the iPhone 12 Pro.

Apple always comes to the table with fresh photographic tricks. In the iPhone 13 Pro those include a new feature that lets you select from various Photo­graphic Styles, altering the tone and warmth without making things like skin and skies look unnatural.

We found this to be a fun mode to play around with, though by no means a core reason to upgrade. The fundamental hardware improvements of the iPhone 13 Pro are far more consequential.

Smart HDR 4, meanwhile, can make adjustments for multiple people in a scene.

On the video front, the new Cinematic mode will automatically select the point of focus for movie theater-worthy productions, even following a subject’s gaze and anticipating when a subject is about to come into view. It also lets you edit the depth effects after you shoot.

We’ve been testing this mode quite a bit and found it to work quite well. It’s clearly a first-generation feature though, so we’re expecting it to become much smarter and more consistent over time.

Later in the year, a feature called ProRes video is coming. This will let you record, edit, and deliver broadcast-ready content on the go at 4K/30fps - or at 1080p if you opt for a 128GB model.

It’s a healthy bump up from what remains one of the finest smartphone cameras on the market in the iPhone 12 Pro.

The iPhone 13 Pro's camera module on a blue background

The iPhone 13 Pro has a similar but upgraded camera (Image credit: Apple)

iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro: specs and performance

Apple’s A-series chips are always at the very top of the smartphone performance tree, and that hasn’t changed with the iPhone 13 Pro’s A15 Bionic.

This offers a 6-core CPU that’s 50% faster than the leading competition on the Android side. When it comes to the GPU, the A15 Bionic in the iPhone 13 Pro is even meatier than the A15 Bionic found in the iPhone 13, with a 5-core GPU (rather than 4-core) proving a claimed 50% boost over its nearest rival.

Apple didn’t provide much in the way of direct comparisons with its immediate past, but we do know that the A15 Bionic chip’s new Neural Engine is capable of 15.8 trillion operations per second, which represents a more than 40% increase over the iPhone 12 Pro’s A14 Bionic’s 11 trillion operations per second.

The iPhone 13 Pro also achieved 4718 in our CPU-focused Geekbench 5 multi-core tests, which is around a 30% bump over the iPhone 12 Pro’s 3669.

An iPhone 13 Pro being interacted with

The iPhone 13 Pro has more storage and a faster chipset (Image credit: Apple)

In general performance we didn’t notice any stutters or pauses with the iPhone 13 Pro, regardless of what we threw at it. But then, the same can still be said for the iPhone 12 Pro. You’re simply not going to notice much of a difference in performance if you’re upgrading from one to the other, which is a testament to Apple’s chip design and ongoing support rather than a criticism.

You get most of the same storage options as before, which equates to 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB. For the first time ever, though, Apple has also launched a mighty 1TB storage option.

Apple also reckons that the iPhone 13 Pro supports more 5G bands than the iPhone 12 Pro. But we doubt that’ll matter much to the vast majority of people.

iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro: battery

We were a little concerned last year when the iPhone 12 Pro rolled out with a 2,815mAh battery, which was a regression from its predecessor. Thankfully, the iPhone 13 Pro ups the capacity to 3,095mAh.

With the inclusion of a 120Hz display, you might assume that the iPhone 13 Pro needs that extra juice. But the use of LTPO (low-temperature polycrystalline oxide) display technology, and Apple’s extensive software optimization, means that this screen is actually more efficient than its old 60Hz displays in many scenarios.

Apple is claiming that the iPhone 13 Pro gains 1.5 hours of battery life per charge compared to the iPhone 12 Pro, and we wouldn’t dispute that claim.

In practice, we’ve found the new phone to enjoy significantly better battery life than the iPhone 12 Pro and other Pro handsets before it. We’ve found the iPhone 13 Pro is capable of lasting a long day of high-frequency usage, generally ending the day with 10–20% left in the tank.

Lighter use days may see you ending the day with around half a tankful.

Apple hasn’t improved the iPhone 13 Pro’s charging provision at all. We’re still looking at 20W wired, 15W wireless, and absolutely no charging brick bundled in. Just like the iPhone 12 Pro, in other words.

An iPhone 12 Pro from the back, resting on its box

The iPhone 12 Pro is ultimately quite similar to the iPhone 13 Pro (Image credit: TechRadar)

iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro: takeaway

As was widely expected, this is an ‘evolution not revolution’ year for Apple’s iPhone family.

Make no mistake, the iPhone 13 Pro represents a step forward in several ways. It might look almost identical to its predecessor, but a healthy speed boost, better cameras, improved battery life, and a significantly more fluid display all add up to a superior device.

That 120Hz refresh rate is the headline news here. It’s a feature the iPhone 12 Pro really should have had a year earlier, and it makes the whole experience of using the iPhone 13 Pro feel smoother and more ‘pro’.

Despite all this, we wouldn’t recommend that you upgrade from the iPhone 12 Pro to the iPhone 13 Pro, as the differences simply aren’t sufficiently pronounced to warrant the high expenditure. However, the iPhone 13 Pro is a more than worthwhile upgrade for anyone coming from an iPhone 11 Pro or earlier.

You might also want to check out the iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max comparison.