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When Apple unveiled its new iPhone 13 lineup earlier this month, it promised some substantial battery life improvements across the board, with each model gaining an average of 1.5–2.5 hours of battery life over their predecessors. However, more detailed specs and early reviews suggest that Apple was perhaps being a bit modest in these estimations.
Since your mileage will vary, it’s fair to say that Apple doesn’t want to set unrealistic expectations. People use their iPhones in different ways, which means there are many variables affecting battery life.
For example, downloading large amounts of data on an mmWave 5G network will almost certainly provide battery improvements on the lower end of the scale. This was true with the iPhone 12 last year, and there’s no indication that the 5G hardware in the iPhone 13 is significantly more power-efficient. The bigger battery and other improvements will still give you more battery life, but there’s still a power hit that comes with staying on ultra-fast 5G networks all the time.
Apple is still mitigating this on the iPhone 13 with its Smart Data Mode, which will keep the 5G radios off when they’re not needed — which, for most users, is almost never. 4G/LTE speeds are more than fast enough for what most people use their iPhone for, and you definitely don’t even need those speeds when your iPhone is sitting in your pocket.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, Apple is promising an absolutely staggering improvement in streaming video performance on the iPhone 13 Pro models — more than double the playback time that their predecessors offered.
Specifically, the iPhone 13 Pro Max gets up to 25 hours of streaming video playback — a substantial increase over the 12 hours offered by the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Even though the iPhone 13 models pack in larger batteries and the more power-efficient A15 chip, there’s another critical factor that’s driving the streaming video play times to such astonishing heights: The new ProMotion display.
Most of the focus on the new display technology in the iPhone 13 Pro have focused on the fact that it’s faster, offering refresh rates of up to 120Hz. This certainly provides a much more noticeable and cool user experience — scrolling is buttery smooth, and high-performance games can run like never before.
But there’s an important flip side to these variable refresh-rate displays, and it’s something that makes all the difference to your iPhone 13 Pro’s battery.
While Apple’s new displays can ramp the refresh rates all the way UP to 120Hz — twice the speed of the traditional 60Hz displays — it can also throttle them all the way down to 10Hz.
As you might expect, higher refresh rates consume more power, as the display has to be updated much more often. Conversely, however, lower refresh rates save battery life. In fact, this is the secret of the Always-On Display that came to the Apple Watch Series 5 two years ago. It basically runs at a refresh rate of only 1Hz when you’re not looking at it.
While the iPhone 13 Pro’s ProMotion display doesn’t get nearly that low — which probably also explains why we didn’t see the rumoured Always-On Display this year — it does get low enough to offer significant power savings, and this is especially true when watching video.
The refresh rate of a screen refers to how many times per second an image is displayed, so naturally there’s a direct correlation between a screen’s refresh rates and the frames-per-second, or fps, for a video. If a video is only running at 30 frames per second, then the screen only needs a refresh rate of 30Hz to keep up.
Having a refresh rate that’s higher than the fps of the video you’re playing is actually a waste since the screen is updating much more often than it needs to.
For example, if you’re playing a 30fps video on a 60Hz display, every frame gets rendered by the display twice, even though nothing has changed between frames.
As almost all movies are shown at 24fps, and most broadcast television shows run at 30fps, this means that the iPhone 13 Pro can now choose a much more appropriate refresh rate — 24Hz or 30Hz, respectively — to save on battery life. Running the display at 30Hz takes half the power that it does to run the display at 60Hz, so it’s easy to see how the play time for streaming video could effectively double over last year’s iPhone 12 Pro models.
Unfortunately, only the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max gain this big boost, since they’re the only models with the new ProMotion displays. The streaming play time for the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have still improved noticeably, jumping by about 3–4 hours, but that’s consistent with the general battery life improvements that Apple promised for both models.
In the case of the iPhone 13 Pro lineup, however, the ProMotion display will certainly offer battery life improvements in other areas as well, since it appears Apple is being fairly aggressive about adjusting the refresh rates. For example, the display can run at its lowest setting — 10Hz — when you’re simply reading a static web page, and then immediately ramp up as soon as you start scrolling. This will likely result in much longer life when using the iPhone 13 Pro for tasks like reading ebooks.
The Reviews Are In
All the reviewers generally agree that Apple is being conservative in its battery life estimates for the iPhone 13 models, and particularly the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
One YouTuber, economics student Arun Maini (aka Mrwhosetheboss), actually put every iPhone that Apple currently sells through some real-world battery tests, from the iPhone 11 and iPhone SE to the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The results were not only impressive, but the iPhone 13 Pro Max came out “miles ahead of anything else.”
The Pro Max lasted just under 10 hours. This is not just the highest score I’ve ever recorded. It is miles ahead of anything else.Arun Maini, Mrwhosetheboss on YouTube
iPhone Battery Life Test
In his testing, Maini said the iPhone 13 Pro ran for 8 hours and 17 minutes, which put it in the top 5-10% run times of all the phones that he’s tested. However, the iPhone 13 Pro Max came in at a staggering 9 hours and 52 minutes, putting it in “a league of its own.” Here’s the full breakdown from Maini’s tests:
|iPhone SE||3h 38m|
|iPhone 11||4h 20m|
|iPhone 12||5h 54m|
|iPhone 13 mini||6h 26m|
|iPhone 13||7h 45m|
|iPhone 13 Pro||8h 17m|
|iPhone 13 Pro Max||9h 52m|
Notably, Maini didn’t test the iPhone 12 mini this year, even though Apple is also still selling that model. It’s notable, however, that this year’s iPhone 13 mini actually beat out the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 by 32 minutes, which should quell any of the fears that the smallest 5.4-inch iPhone won’t be able to keep up with the rest.