Teardown: Apple iPhone Pro 13

At £999, the iPhone 13 Pro is not that far in price off a DSLR camera that can match it for resolution up to and including 4K video. You get a lot more functionality with an iPhone, but the comparison feels apt because Apple’s latest smartphone flagships – this handset and the 13 Pro Max – lean heavily on their visual capabilities.

The three-camera array – Wide, Ultra Wide and Telephoto – has undergone a sizeable upgrade, although resolution remains at 12MP. For example, Wide receives a wider aperture (f/2.8) as does Ultra Wide (f/1.5); Wide has a larger sensor, Ultra Wide a faster one and the Telephoto option now has a night mode. The camera can also automatically engage a Macro mode for very close subjects up to 2cm away.

The computation photography muscle in the 13 Pro is assisted by lidar scanning and a five-core GPU within the A15 Bionic apps processor. Apple claims this has 50 per cent higher graphics performance than rivals. Overall, Apple says that the Wide camera catches 220 per cent more light and the Ultra Wide 92 per cent more than the Pro 12.

Up to 4K video resolution is available as well as the inevitable clutch of enhancement options – and storage on the Pro 13 starts at 128GB, rising progressively to a 1TB version for £1,499.

Apple has also boosted battery life, with a more powerful L-shaped cell (11.97Wh vs the 12 Pro’s 10.78Wh) supported not only by greater efficiency within the octocore A15’s CPU (four high-performance and four low-power ARMv8 cores) but also, according to an iFixit teardown, potentially six separate power-management devices, three of which are custom Apple silicon.

With a claimed extra hour-and-a-half of battery life compared to its predecessor, the Pro 13 is set up for plenty of remote, on-
location creativity – charge life for relatively frequent use has reportedly approached and in some cases exceeded 40 hours, though if you lean heavily on the 4k capability the advice is to expect something nearer 10-12 hours.

Then, the latest SuperRetina XDR OLED display (6.1-inch diagonal, 2532x1170pi at 460ppi) has an ‘adaptive’ 120MHz refresh rate, intended to show off the user’s creativity on very much a there-and-then basis, as well as offering benefits such as more vivid and immersive gaming (although the shift to 120MHz can  apparently be capricious, missing some adds that would benefit from the feature).

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Teardown Xray - inline

Image credit: iFixit

The Pro 13 is an incremental entry from Apple, despite the shift to the A15 with its maximum 3.23GHz clock rate and extremely high performance (albeit this silicon upgrade is being sold more aggressively against devices such as the new iPad Mini rather than the latest phones).

With that in mind, most of the physical layout of the Pro 13 remains unchanged or has been only slightly tweaked, including the layered motherboard sandwich. There are a good number of modular components but still iFixit rates the Pro 13 at a middling 5 out of 10 for repairability. On this score, its engineers observed that Apple appears to have serial-locked the display to each handset.

“Any display replacement knocks out Face ID. We tried transferring the sensors from the old display and porting over the Face ID hardware, but no dice,” iFixit’s team noted. “Unless Apple revises this behaviour in software, screen replacements outside Apple’s authorised repair lose all Face ID functionality.”

Amid the current debate over the extent of a user’s ‘right to repair’, Apple seems to be taking an even tougher line than before. It will also be interesting to see if that proves wise politically, given that the company is now facing a stand-off with the EU over its preference for Lightning ports over any more widely available form of USB connection.

Nevertheless, this does feel like a smart and cannily delivered package of innovation in Covid-beset conditions, attacking a particular theme aggressively to get a healthy-looking offer in spite of the more constrained working conditions.

That said, Apple has tended to alternate between major product overhauls and more incremental improvements and the Pro 13 also conforms to that model. For most users, the message is therefore that, on balance, if you have a Pro 12, the upgrade here is less pressing. But if you don’t, you have a grand to spare and like your snaps, the pitch has been tailored though Apple’s choice of marketing and engineering priorities to be quite persuasive.

Apple iPhone Pro 13 key components

Exploded view

1. Main camera array

2. Layered motherboard

3. Display and front assembly

4. Rear assembly

5. Lidar sensor

6. Front camera and FaceTime units

7. Front camera and FaceTime assembly

8. Earpiece speaker

9. Ultra wideband antenna

10. Taptic engine

11. Main speaker

12. SIM tray

13. Battery

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Teardown Image 1 - inline

Image credit: iFixit


14. Power management, Apple

15. Front-end module, Skyworks

16. Front-end module, Skyworks

17. Power management, Apple

18. Electronic compass, Alps

19. Apps processor on DRAM, Apple/SKHynix

20. Power management, STMicroelectronics

21. Ultra wideband chip, Apple

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Teardown Image 2 - inline

Image credit: iFixit