One of the challenges inherent in reviewing new iPhones year after year is telling a story: a narrative through which I can best express my experiences of testing the device (s). My vanity is solid – focusing squarely on accessibility rather than camera comparisons and Geekbench scores – which puts me in a unique place among my peers in the critics’ racket. However, even with my niche perspective, I strive to tell a story; I strive to give a context to the technology that is more enriching and informative than simply stating whether a product is good or bad, accessible or inaccessible. With Apple, there is always a hook that I can hang my led on.
Thinking about the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro turned out to be difficult. What I wrote following the announcement of the new smartphones last month remains as relevant as it was a few weeks ago: the honest truth is that these iPhones have the least accessibility applicability than any other. in recent history. Aside from ProMotion, there’s nothing more to notice about the iPhone 13 lineup that I didn’t say last year about the iPhone 12. That doesn’t mean the latest and greatest iPhones Apple are commonplace; it’s just that their accessibility story isn’t particularly new or new to these specific phones.
Apple sent me review units of the four iPhone 13 models – the 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max – for testing. (For the curious, the 13 is pink and the 13 Pro Max is Sierra Blue.) I’ve spent the last couple of weeks primarily testing the 13 and 13 Pro Max, as well as my personal 12 Pro Max for reference. I have not I have used any exam unit as my daily transport phone (I really don’t go anywhere these days, despite being fully vaccinated), but have used them a lot to walk around the house and sit at my desk.
What is old can still be new
In my aforementioned article on the Apple event in September, I also said that the iPhone 13 line is spiritually like an S-year update despite Apple removing that nomenclature. The company would probably reject this characterization because it are better performing devices, but I think it’s accurate. That the iPhone 13 inherits the same industrial design as the iPhone 12 still for sale embodies this ideal; color finishes are new, but they are the definition of incrementalism. Overall, the iPhone 13’s hardware is exactly that of its predecessor, except for the faster guts and nicer cameras.
But the novelty is relative. From an accessibility standpoint, anyone coming from an iPhone 11 or earlier, i.e. an iPhone with the previous design language, will surely notice and appreciate the new design of the iPhone 13. As I argued a year ago, the flat-rimmed design and OLED display both have significant implications for accessibility. The flat edges should make the phone easier and safer because your fingers have a platform to rest on. Likewise, the brightness and sharpness of the OLED display should make it easier to read text or view images. And MagSafe, the magnetic charging technology introduced with the iPhone 12, makes charging more accessible because there’s no need to test your hand-eye coordination by finding the Lightning port and plugging in the cable. All in all, if you are a person with a disability who is using iPhone 13 from an older version, the “new” attributes of iPhone 13 should compel you. In this context, the faster A15 Bionic system-on-a-chip, better cameras and better battery life will be just the icing on the cake.
One notable difference between the iPhone 13 and the 12 is the weight. In particular, the 13 Pro Max feels considerably heavier in my hand than the 12 Pro Max. The increase is not unbearable, but it is indeed there. It is worth pointing out serial upgrades like me who madly buy a new phone every year and are sensitive to things like weight.
Think about ProMotion
One high-profile feature exclusive to the 13 Pro variants is ProMotion, which is finally coming to the iPhone after being a thing reserved for the iPad Pro for several years. The vast majority of critics and enthusiasts, especially YouTubers, greeted the arrival of ProMotion with a welcome from heroes not too different from returning soldiers. That is, Android phones have had high refresh rate screens for quite some time, and people are happy that Apple has decided to do so too. After all, why limit yourself to 60 Hz when you can be at 120? On paper, the sentiment makes perfect sense. Promotion is cool technology; iOS intelligently adapts such that the system increases or decreases the refresh rate depending on what the computer is doing.
From an accessibility standpoint, however, the practical relevance of ProMotion is questionable. In a nutshell, whether the iPhone 13’s display is at 60 Hz and that of the 13 Pro’s at 120 is largely unimportant for a visually impaired person, obviously for a blind person, but also for a blind person. visually impaired person like me. The simple reason is that our eyesight is so poor that we literally can’t discern a significant difference in screen quality between the iPhone 13 (or 12 Pro Max) and that of the 13 Pro. As a self-proclaimed critic and nerd, I know ProMotion is technically present and functional; in practice, I have no idea. In short, ProMotion doesn’t make the thinnest difference in my usage except maybe to give me better battery life.
It is essential to mention here that I am not implying that ProMotion is bad or worthless or that there is nothing to be excited about. Most “normal” users, the non-nerds among us, also probably won’t be able to tell a noticeable difference between the display of an iPhone 13 and a 13 Pro display. What I say is nuanced: once again, above all for the visually impaired, ProMotion has so little impact that it doesn’t exist. The aforementioned love for hardcore nerds feels like nothing more than another mark on a datasheet checkbox that only good seers can appreciate. If you are one of those people, I salute you. I am really happy that ProMotion is making a difference for you. For me, however, I’m decidedly meh on ProMotion, except ideologically.
Broadly speaking, my (in) experience with ProMotion is a fitting illustration of why accessibility-oriented reviews such as mine – again, I have strong vanity – are so valuable. Each of my fellow journalists recommended the 13 Pro models in large part thanks to ProMotion; get the Pro if you want the prettiest screen because the refresh rate is higher. Their analysis is not inherently wrong – as an objective measure, the 13 Pro has a better screen. The problem is, ProMotion is only really useful if you’re someone who can, you know, see the screen clearly. Otherwise, choosing a 13 Pro for ProMotion means giving priority to a technical sheet rather than real sensitivity. 99.9% of reviewers aren’t going to ask themselves if ProMotion has a real benefit for the visually impaired. The fact that I (and others like me) are drawing attention to it shows precisely why accessibility in traditional tech coverage is so important. In the case of ProMotion, my experience with it is literally unlike anyone else in the tech press.
The bottom line
Overall, the iPhone 13 lineup is excellent. It’s better than last year’s harvest.
For accessibility reasons, do not upgrade to ProMotion if you cannot see well. Upgrade for touch design changes if you’re coming from an older iPhone. And of course, there’s no reason not to upgrade if you’re in Apple’s inertia-inducing iPhone upgrade program. The new iPhone will always be better than the previous one.