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Apple iPhone 13 Pro First Impressions

Posted December 18, 2021 | Apple iPhone | iOS | iPhone 13 Pro | Windows


Unhappy with the quality of the Google Pixel 6 Pro, I’ve turned to the only other pure platform play in the smartphone market: the Apple iPhone. I go into this with a clear head and an open mind, well aware of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the iPhone compared to Android. And I’m always ready to call a mulligan should Google’s December Pixel update—which I’ve still not received, somehow—do enough to right that ship. Or should the iPhone not work out.

I wrote about my decision to at least experiment with the latest iPhone a few weeks back in Pixel Imperfect, 2021 Edition (Premium). But for those not of a Premium persuasion, here’s the short version: after publishing a decidedly mixed Pixel 6 Pro review with no clear recommendations because of the even mix of pros and cons, I continued to experience issues with this flawed handset. And as those problems continued, I doubted my allegiance to technology that frustrates me regularly and delights me only sometimes more and more.

There is, perhaps, an interesting and more general conversation to be had around our often unhealthy relationships with technology. But for now, I’m just focusing on myself: I want to use tools that work and meet my needs. So I’m going to look around.

To be clear, there’s no endgame here where I adopt more and more Apple solutions over time. Instead, I will instead continue to use exactly the same apps and services I always use, I will just be doing them—for now—on an iPhone and not a Pixel. And I will evaluate the overall experience against that of the Pixel 6 Pro and see how they compare. I would like the iPhone to deliver much of what I like about the Pixel while solving some of the problems. And should that all work out, who knows? Maybe I go back to the iPhone after a several-year gap. We’ll see.

As for the day one experience, it’s been quite positive. The iPhone 13 Pro is, of course, a handsome and high-quality machine, and the Graphite version I ended up with is pleasant enough. I’m much less a fan of its hard, flat, and thick edges—this is the iPhone 4 look all over again—and I couldn’t care less that they’re made of shiny stainless steel instead of aluminum since I immediately covered it up with a Sequoia Green leather case anyway. Also handsome.

Apple includes a Lightning to USB-C cable in the box, but it also started the trend of not including a power adapter in the box. This results in a smaller package but also required me to make an additional purchase. I went with a $13 Anker 20-watt USB-C charger that is both cheaper and smaller than the Apple part. To be clear, the iPhone 13 Pro offers just 20-watts of charging power, a hair under that provided by the Pixel 6 Pro. But in the good news department, it charges faster, at least according to Apple and the reviews I’ve seen. I’ll verify that.

On that note, I’m not a fan of Lightning and cannot understand why Apple doesn’t use USB-C here, as it does with the iPad Air and MacBook Pro I also own. Maybe next year.

I went with the normal-sized iPhone 13 Pro—as opposed to humongous Pro Max—because I feel that that’s the right size for a smartphone (for me). It’s about the same size as the Pixel 5a, I guess, just a bit shorter and a bit wider. It’s pretty dense, but it’s so much smaller than the Pixel 6 Pro, and I really like that.

Size compare: Pixel 6 Pro (left), iPhone 13 Pro (middle), Pixel 5a (right)

It does, of course, have that damned notch, which further reduces the usable size of the display, especially in media apps like Netflix. I watch video content at the gym for about 30 minutes most days, so we’ll see how that goes. (This might be the one area in which the Pixel 6 Pro’s larger display is preferable.)

The iPhone out-of-box experience is straightforward, and it should be reasonably quick for most people, especially those upgrading from a previous iPhone. I wasn’t doing that, however, and I opted for a slower, more manual experience in which I spent a lot of time going over various settings and then finding all the apps I usually use and arranging them roughly the same way on a single iPhone home screen, as I do on Android.

Two notes from that process. One, Apple throws a prompt about notifications the first time you run an app, which I really like. On Android, I spend the first several days getting unwanted notifications and then turning them off as they appear; with the iPhone, this is more proactive. Two, Apple has implemented its app anti-tracking technology, and while you can prevent apps from tracking you one by one, you can also flip a switch in Settings and just disable it globally. This is a great feature and one that Google will never duplicate because that’s how it really makes money on Android. (I had been using DuckDuckGo App Tracking Protection to address this issue on the Pixel.)

The iPhone home screen is still less customizable than that of Android, and icons still fill in from the top left. But whatever: Thanks to the inclusion of widgets last year, I was able to layout my iPhone home screen very similarly to that of Android. And when you factor in the non-removable UI elements that Google inflicts on Pixel users—the Google search bar and At A Glance widget—it’s not really all that different. And Apple lets you configure a default web browser and mail app now, so I switched those to Chrome and Gmail, respectively.

After installing each app and positioning them wherever (or not) on the home screen, I slowly stepped through the process of signing into each as needed. This mostly went without any issues, though my Apple ID’s password stash is a bit out-of-date, so I needed to look up and add a few passwords. I’m looking at moving to a password manager in the New Year—1Password, most likely, so this may not be an issue soon. But it wasn’t a big deal.

Once that was all done, I shut down the iPhone and the Pixel, removed my Mint Mobile SIM from the latter, inserted it into the new handset, and restarted both. Mint Mobile has required some manual configuration in the past, but with the latest iPhones, at least, no configuration was required. In other words, it worked like it always should. So that was good.

Obviously, I need to actually use the thing over time, see what the notifications process is like, experience the apps and whether they’re different/better than their Android counterparts (as they often have been in the past), and so on. And I very much need to determine how well the camera system measures up; my understanding is that it should be roughly comparable to that of the Pixel, with each doing better in certain ways. We’ll see.

More soon.

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