After Apple unveiled the iPhone 13 Pro Max back in September, I immediately placed a preorder to upgrade from my ailing iPhone X. That’s a pretty big deal, since I only splurge on a new iPhone whenever there’s a significant functionality change. For the past two years, I’d spent my days looking at a cracked, discolored screen on a phone barely clinging to life. A heavily deteriorated battery meant that my phone died within eight hours from full charge at inconvenient moments, like when relying on GPS directions or looking up something for work. The iPhone 13 Pro Max rectified every issue I faced with my worn iPhone X along with some major upgrades. With the biggest battery in an iPhone (at 4,352-milliampere-hour capable of lasting up to 28 hours), a large 6.7-inch display featuring a 120-Hz refresh rate (a first for iPhones), and a camera system capable of cinematic and macro photography shots, the top-of-the-line iPhone 13 Pro Max is the biggest transformation between iPhone generations in years. After two months of heavy daily use, I’m happy with my purchase. The 5G speeds are fast and make for smooth cloud gaming, the advanced camera system has my Canon M50 DSLR collecting dust, and the battery lasts from the minute I unplug the phone until my head hits the pillow for bed.
That said, the exorbitant $1,100 starting price for the 128-gigabyte model is more than most people are comfortable spending on a phone. Plus, its advanced features are overkill for those who need a simple smartphone that’s speedy, takes crisp pictures, and offers 5G service. The $699 entry-level 128-GB iPhone 13 Mini sits at the opposite end of the price spectrum as the least expensive model in the lineup. Don’t mistake the lower price for lower quality, however; the savings come from shrinking top-tier performance into a compact design with few concessions (the most notable being a shorter battery life and the lack of a third telephoto camera lens). While its $700 asking price is nothing to scoff at, the much more affordable phone is anything but basic, with surprising advantages in size and ease of everyday use over its pricier sibling. After two weeks pitting the iPhone 13 Mini head-to-head with the Pro Max, I’m impressed by this compact phone’s ability to keep up while looking cool doing so.
I’ve organized the testing notes and my thoughts below. Just note that, given it’d be an apples-to-oranges comparison to judge the more affordable Mini against the technically superior Pro Max in a spec-for-spec breakdown, I laid this guide out by broad facets of use and how you might employ any phone throughout the day.
Design: The Mini’s Highly Pocketable Body Makes It Easier to Use
In the two months that I’ve owned my 13 Pro Max, I’ve dropped it more times than I care to admit. (Okay fine, upwards of a dozen.) Whether I exited my Jeep and the behemoth slid out of my pants pocket or I simply dropped the phone on my face while reading the news in bed, the huge 6.3-inch size is a bit unwieldy. The larger body tends to slope downward, hanging out of my pocket, and doesn’t play nice with accessories like some gimbals and gaming controllers. Weighing half a pound, the tablet-like Pro Max requires two hands to operate, and—while in a protective case—its sharp lighting port cutouts dig into the fingers it rests on. On the left side sit volume buttons and a sound toggle switch. On the right is the power button. Flip the phone over and you find a triple lens camera system on the back made up of 12-megapixel wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses. Exclusive to the Pro lineup is a built-in LiDAR scanner for advanced auto-focus and low-light shot improvements.
The iPhone Mini’s 5.2-inch body comes in vibrant color options that accentuate the airy 0.3-pound build and less sharp as it rests solely on my pinky finger for support. While the single inch and 3.5 ounces of weight difference seem negligible, they make a big difference in grip and comfort. I’ve held the Mini for up to two hours at a time scrolling through Instagram or browsing Reddit without feeling strained. The same can’t be said for the Pro Max. And the compact shape fits into accessories like my Backbone iPhone gaming controller, backpack pockets, and gimbal mounts. Instead of two-handing the Mini, I can use just a single hand, since my thumb extends over the entirety of the keyboard without having to stretch. This portable, easy-to-grab design takes me back to the heyday of smaller phones, which have become victims in the race for more powerful smartphones with bigger screens. The physical buttons on the Mini for volume and power control are the same size as on the Pro Max, so it’s easy to control. Flip the phone backwards and you’ll find the second biggest difference aside from the size—the Mini (and regular iPhone 13) pack just a dual-lens camera system. While photos still come out crisp and well lit, there’s no telephoto lens.
Sitting on the edge of a phone and a seven-inch tablet, the Pro Max is a larger device for more immersive media consumption. Its larger design allows for a bigger battery, more powerful GPU, and larger 120-Hz screen. But if you don’t need a portable powerhouse, the Mini is a comfortable and classic design reminiscent of the groundbreaking iPhone 4. While both models are stellar 5G phones, the Mini is much easier to use, pull out of your pocket, and place up to your ear for a call.
Usefulness During Everyday Tasks: The Mini Wins Again
While using the Mini, I’m able to type messages and search queries up with ease ,either by tapping each individual key or swiping across the keyboard using just one hand. This is a godsend when I need to multitask and frees up my left hand for doing things like jotting down a quick note at work or throwing a meal into my microwave at home. Apps tailored to one-handed operation benefit from the condensed screen space, and it’s easier to play games like Mario Kart World Tour with more accuracy—swiping to steer and tapping to use an item. This benefits mobile content-creation apps like TikTok and Instagram, too, with less effort needed to drag and drop creative effects or text to vertical social-oriented video. I can pull elements to parts of a video on the fly across a smaller distance by just dragging a finger.
Usefulness For Work Tasks: The Pro Max’s Sheer Screen Real Estate Earns the Nod
Switching over to work now, when I use an app with a time line-based software like iMovie for professional-level widescreen video or more complex tasks such as using Photoshop to edit images, the ease of working on the Mini goes out the window. The larger screen of the Pro Max is better suited for juggling multiple elements, such as layering tracks in video edits or jumping between layers of a photo. I struggled to add text placement to videos and work on timelines on the smaller screen when using these more technically intense apps. Outside of creating visual content, the Mini also isn’t my first choice for working on a Google Doc. While I’ve hooked my Bluetooth keyboard up to my Pro Max over the past two months to quickly address edits or jot down ideas, the smaller screen of the Mini is comical for this task. Its virtual keyboard is smaller and the buttons feel slightly squished with a miniaturized space button. While I love the keyboard’s size for quick tasks like sending texts, you won’t want to write out your magnum opus on this.
Best For Viewing Media: The Pro Max’s Larger 120-Hz Screen and Speakers
Sitting the Pro Max side by side with the Mini, the smoother and brighter screen becomes apparent. Browsing through messages and perusing the app store are more vibrant thanks to the Pro Motion display. Pro Motion is Apple’s name for its 120-Hz adaptive refresh rate screen. While the standard smartphone refresh rate is 60 Hz, the doubled rate smooths out animations and scrolling for a more fluid and snappy feeling. Since iPhones haven’t had this technology, and it’s locked only to Pro models this year, you can’t miss what you don’t have. And if you’re making the shift from the 4.7-inch iPhone SE or 8, then the 5.4-inch screen of the Mini will feel like a substantial upgrade. With that said, media from YouTube videos to Instagram pictures pop better on the Pro Max. And the faster refresh rates improve the look of movies and games. Still, visuals are only one part of the equation for an immersive viewing experience.
While the sound on the Pro Max is fuller and comes from a front up-firing and bottom side-firing speaker, the Mini’s smaller speakers are both slightly quieter and flatter. Playing the song Notion by The Rare Occasions, the Pro Max provided a surround-sound-like effect where I clearly heard the drum backline. And vocals sounded great, as if coming from a stage. While the Mini’s speakers come close in terms of volume, the sound doesn’t wrap around in the same way, with drum taps and instruments sounding fainter, vocals coming through flatter, and the bass a bit tinny at maximum volume. This also meant effects in games like Call of Duty Mobile didn’t ring as lifelike. Truth be told, this didn’t bother me as I use wireless headphones or AirPods almost exclusively. And if I’m sharing content, I AirPlay it to TVs with sound bars or speakers anyway.
Speed: Tie—Both Models Use The Same A15 Processor Chip
I’m impressed that the Mini can hang with the Pro Max in general load times. Web browsing is equally as fast, social media navigation is snappy, and video buffering did not take discernibly longer. Functionally both phones are fast and smooth and in some cases, like opening apps and webpages, the Mini clocked in milliseconds faster. While both phones have the same A15 Bionic processor, the Pro has an extra GPU core for a total of five, meaning it’s able to mix down video edits and trims much faster. I created a 15-second test clip in iMovie and added a green screen object, sound effect, and fade to black transition. This exported at a rate of 10 seconds on the Pro Max versus the 21 it took the Mini. Negligible. If you don’t create content or play graphics-intensive games, you can save big bucks foregoing the extra GPU core by opting for the Mini.
Camera: The Pro Max’s Triple-Lens System Wins
Outside of screen real estate, things get interesting quickly with camera capabilities. Neither the iPhone or iPhone Mini models get ProRes shooting, which makes cinematic videos by blurring out the background. The same goes for the macro camera that allows me to stick my iPhone within millimeters of an object like a flower to see the texture. If you like to use your phone beyond the occasional shot of family events, then the DSLR-rivaling camera system on the Pro Max creates rich shot composition and lighting. The dual-lens system on the Mini is plenty capable, but shots definitely don’t look as great. When posting a video to TikTok, I noticed the flushed cheeks, brown tones in my skin, and overall better lighting for the Pro Max as expected.
Battery Life: The Pro Max Decimates
The iPhone 13 Mini’s battery life is surprisingly good for such a small phone, and a big step up from last years iPhone 12 Mini. But it folds under processor-demanding tasks. The phone lasted an average of a typical day for me, from 8:30 A.M. at full charge to 10:30 P.M. at 14 percent. The iPhone 13 Pro Max, in that same time frame and under the same demand, ended the day with an average of 30 percent. I tested this by using the phones to perform equal task throughout the day: If I used one for GPS, I used the other at the same time; watched an hour of TikTok, switched to the other phone and did the same; et cetera. While the battery life isn’t bad in this scenario, I took for granted that I was able to play Xbox Cloud Gaming for an hour on my Pro Max with it draining just 10 percent. After one hour of Halo Infinite on the Mini, the battery dropped an average of 50 percent. The massive battery on my Pro Max and large, dreamy 120-Hz screen had me forget all about reaching for my console controllers. The taxing battery drain on the Mini, on the other hand, made me run back to my Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5.
Across the board, every iPhone 13 model is impressive this year, but the entry-level Mini really cuts its teeth with an impressive battery life for standard tasks, a speedy chip, and excellent cameras. While the lower refresh rate and lack of telephoto lens capable of macrophotography on the Mini are a bit disappointing, these are minor sacrifices for an equally fast phone in a more compact body. The 2,438-mAh battery is a step up from the weak 2,227 found in the iPhone 12 Mini last year, but the more efficient processor stretches the difference beyond a simple 10 percent jump in capacity. If you’re looking for an iPhone for standard tasks like watching videos, browsing the web, and light gaming, the Mini is a sleek option that delivers a similar experience for $400 less than the Pro Max. It’s not for frequently rendering video projects or playing GPU-taxing 3D games on the go, which is exactly why the Pro Max exists.
Still, the iPhone 13 Mini doesn’t feel entry-level and is one of the most powerful compact phone options available. Because of this, I instructed my parents to upgrade to this model from their respective 2016 iPhone SEs, which still gives them a bigger screen and much faster processor that suits their needs since it’s easy to navigate and smooth. For the price of a base iPhone 13, they can get 256 GB of memory at the cost of a slightly shorter battery life, which is in my opinion a better value. If you know you’ll be playing a lot of games or creating content, head straight for the Pro Max. Otherwise, for a small, reliable, and fast smartphone, the Mini is hard to beat.
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