Why you can trust ZDNET : ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.


iPhone 13 one week on review: Mostly disappointing

There's only one feature that feels truly useful.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

My shiny new iPhone 13 Pro Max has barely been out of my sweaty hands the past week. It's been tasked with doing everything that my old iPhone was responsible for -- handling emails, scrolling social media, flying drones, taking photos, shooting video, streaming audiobooks, getting me to my destinations, and much more.

So, what's my verdict?

Mostly disappointing.

I've been using an iPhone since the iPhone 3GS and have been regularly upgrading ever since. Sometimes a year goes by between upgrades, sometimes two. This time around, I went from the iPhone 11 Pro Max to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, with a few months of using the iPhone 12 Pro Max between the two.

Also: The iPhone 13 feels rough and unfinished

There's a lot to like about the iPhone 13 line on paper, especially the Pro and Pro Max line.

The camera upgrades seem stunning. The video enhancements break new ground. The ProMotion display promises a leap forward not seen since the Retina Display.

But here's the problem, in use, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is pretty much indistinguishable from the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Let's start with the camera. Yes, photos from the iPhone 13 look different from similar photos from an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12, but the closer I look, the more the differences seem to be in the processing.

The photos look different, but I find it hard to say that there's an improvement. They look brighter and more vivid, but if you're willing to do some on-iPhone post-processing, it's not hard to get similar results on older hardware.

The x3 optical zoom is nice, but the difference between x2 and x3 is not as dramatic as most think it is.

It's a small upgrade.

And the same can be said on the video front. A few tweaks here and there. Cinematic Mode for video is a lot like Portrait Mode for photos -- a fun feature that's buggy. We might see Cinematic Mode get fixed up down the line, but Portrait Mode has been around for several years, and it's still far from perfect.

Also: Hey, Apple and Samsung, stop fixating on cameras!

But what about the ProMotion display?

Well, aside from the fact that ProMotion is patchy and unreliable, I'm hard-pressed to say that it's much of an improvement even when it does work. Yes, things seem a bit smoother when they whiz past you as your twitchy thumb anxiously moves on to the next dopamine hit, but it's not all that impressive. I found that the novelty quickly wore off.

Also, the fact that ProMotion doesn't work some of the time actually makes the feature annoying and gives the user interface a glitchy feel.

Again, this might be me. In my spare time, I'm a pro/am photographer and videographer and have a pretty good eye for things. When to comes to display tech on the iPhone, however, pretty much everything beyond the introduction of the Retina Display and the switch to OLED has been underwhelming.

The extra battery life is appreciated. And it's the one change I find the most useful.

It's odd to come to the end of the day with more than 40% battery left. This is quite impressive and could be one of the biggest leaps forward in battery performance that Apple has made.

Being able to do more between recharges, and having to worry less about running out of power, is quite a productivity booster.

The extra storage is also nice. I suppose I could have always paid for more, but I never do.

All in all, I find the iPhone 13 underwhelming. My experience might be tainted by dealing with all the bugs, which Apple needs to address. Apple's adherence to its self-imposed schedule is causing headaches for people who are spending big money on a product.

Also: iPhone 13 Pro review: A trifecta of meaningful upgrades

Seeing the decline of not just quality but Apple's commitment to quality is rather disappointing.

Bottom line, the iPhone 13 is the hardware Apple had to make because it needs to release a new iPhone every year. Your mileage may vary, but if you're looking for real whiz-bang for your bucks, you need to be upgrading from an iPhone that's at least three years old or going up to a model with more features (say a regular to a Pro or Pro Max).

Understandably, coming out with a revolutionary product each and every year is impossible.

Tech moves in ebbs and flows.

I get that.

But the problem is compounded by half-finished features and buggy implementation.

That said, the extra battery life does save the day. This is the one useful change in an otherwise ocean of promises and poorly implemented features.

Editorial standards