Two Years with the iPhone 13 Pro

UPDATE: Maybe I shouldn’t have made this post because I totally jinxed it. I didn’t think I was going to be impressed by the iPhone 15s, but as it turns out, I kind of was because it has a lot of quality of life updates for things I use the crap out of. As such, despite everything I ended up scoring a preorder for one. So the 13 Pro–for now–will hold the record at almost exactly two years of ownership. Still a good run, and we’ll see where the 15 Pro Max takes me.

What a hell of a run we’ve had.

(Warning, this post is going to be filled with rambling, reflecting on past devices, etc. You’ve been warned.).

The path to “settling down”

For a solid 11 years (from 2008 until 2018) I was really commitment-phobic toward my cellular devices (and by extension, carriers). I got my first taste of smartphone goodness with the iPhone 3G on AT&T, but at the same time this is when the iPhone was only on AT&T, so as you could probably imagine the novelty of having an iPhone on AT&T faded fast due to the endless service issues they were having from the unrelenting horde of Apple customers descending upon them. So eventually, I began looking elsewhere, and elsewhere is how I ended up on T-Mobile with an unlocked iPhone. Though eventually I got tired of that, too, and this was around the time the HTC G1 released, and this new Android thing looked pretty cool…so I jumped on that bandwagon, too.

I could go on and on about my phone history from there, but that whole thing began a long journey swapping between carriers as I saw fit due to service issues before finally “settling down” with T-Mobile in 2013 after realizing just how much better than Sprint they were (and also kind of enjoying their CEO’s antics at the time). Phone wise, though, I was still trying to find my place, and this didn’t end until 2018 when I got an iPhone X. An iPhone X that had a small problem with the speakers, but was still within warranty. I took it to a local Apple Store, played a song that demonstrated the issue very well, and was promptly mocked for using Spotify instead of Apple Music because “the horrible sound quality is probably causing the issue, you should use Apple Music instead.”

Thankfully pressing the issue got the speaker replaced, but the experience horribly pissed me off (and this was during the height of Apple really cramming Apple Music down your throat with ads in the Music app and such) such that I immediately sold the X to an interested friend and bought a Galaxy S9 with the funds. I stuck it out with the S9 for a good bit, but eventually grew tired of Android doing what Android do, and Samsung’s skin on top of it being kind of obtuse (thankfully I feel it’s gotten much better since, having owned an S21 as a secondary for a bit). So a nice combo formed: I was able to sell the S9 to an interested friend + a good friend gave me his old iPhone 6 to trade in + he helped cover the remainder + Apple’s desperation, and I got an iPhone XR.

(Goodness, the XR was such a weird name that almost makes me kinda cringe calling it that, these days. Phil Schiller said it was inspired by sports cars, but I really don’t buy that, honestly. It just sounds weird saying it. But enough about that.)

Back in late 2018, the XS/XR were kinda…not doing so well. I don’t want to say “flop”, because they likely sold in such a quantity that most on the Android side of things would consider a smashing success, but they weren’t selling as well as Apple had hoped. So Apple began rolling out aggressive trade deals for the XR and XS to try and stimulate growth, and as such an almost worthless iPhone 6 was worth a hefty chunk. Hence “Apple’s desperation”.

The XR was important, because this is the moment where I realized that for better or worse I was going to be sticking with the iPhone from here on out. There were (and still are) things that I liked better on Android, yes, but for the most part, the iPhone did everything I needed it to do, and didn’t present much fuss in doing so.

I kept the XR for a year and some change before doing an ill-fated move to an XS (to help the girlfriend upgrade to an iPhone 11, because the trade in value on my XR was really good, and I got an XS with the leftover credit as they were clearing out stock) before moving to another XR that lasted a few months. I had a mad crush on the 11 Pro, though, and right before the 12 series launch I went for it and bought a 11 Pro Max, selling my second XR and an iPhone 11 256GB to fund the purchase. Given that we were at the point where 5G was still just marketing gobbledygook by the carriers, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything with the iPhone 12, and kept rolling with my 11 Pro Max throughout the 12’s release cycle.

But then, a year later: The 13 Pro was announced. For some reason in my brain, it checked all the right boxes. Macro camera? That’ll help immensely with circuit board repair. 120Hz display? Oh, maybe my dream of a fast-feeling iPhone reminiscent of the iPhone 5 (with iOS 6) will be realized. Available in blue? Oh man, sign me up. I didn’t even really try to pre-order it. I just happened to be awake when pre-orders started, and about 10 minutes in, I just said “screw it, if Citizens One approves me for financing, I’ll get it.”

And they did. Though the $550 my 11 Pro Max was worth on trade in probably convinced them, too.

Was it ever worth it. I got the phone in hand, and while I wasn’t previously convinced by 120Hz on Android, iOS for some reason made it feel way more fluid to my eyes. I was hooked.

The 13 Pro, itself, and the state of iOS

I got the Sierra Blue one, in 256GB.

From the start, iOS 15 was rough. Apple Watches wouldn’t pair, so I just had to let my poor Series 4 be orphaned until Apple managed to fix this. Past that, though, 15 managed to be relatively smooth, and I had no major complaints that I can remember. I really should have hung out on 15, because boy do I have words about 16.

iOS 16 is when things fell apart. 16 has been by far one of the most buggiest iOS releases that I can remember in recent memory. iOS 11 was pretty bad, but by the end of its release cycle it still felt more stable than 16 ever did. Off the top of my head, 16 has had:

  • Face ID fails (phone just won’t unlock. It’ll act like it’s trying to scan your face, but just kicks you back to the passcode.)
  • Animation weirdness (some animations not rendering in 120Hz)
  • Battery life issues throughout
  • Screenshots don’t work properly
  • Photos won’t load when trying to send them in Messages
  • Notification center animations are just…janky as hell
  • The weather app frequently breaks (and still does this on 17)
  • Keyboard autocorrect just…absolutely craps itself at random
  • Best and last: The screen randomly will not wake up.

Of all these, the last one has been the absolute worst and from posting on /r/iOSBeta before Reddit killed third party apps, I’m far from the only one with this issue. What happens is when you hit the side key, the phone just doesn’t wake up. If you hit it again, the phone acts like you’re trying to call up Siri. It’s like the phone has fallen into a really deep sleep and calling Siri is the only way to “wake it up”.

I’ve been running betas all throughout the 16 lifecycle just because of how unstable the release versions have been and how buggy they were. I’ll settle on a release version for a bit, realize Apple fixed almost nothing, then take a beta in hopes that something big got fixed.

The screen wake issue is the one that never, ever in 16’s entire life got fixed. I ran the latest 16 betas, and it never got fixed. At all. And it began happening enough to be immensely annoying. I think the part that seriously cheesed me off to say “screw it, I’m jumping on the 17 beta” was when I was trying to navigate a friend’s dark house and the screen absolutely refused to wake up so I could turn on the flashlight. I about threw the phone in the nearest toilet after that one.

I’m hopeful that 17 turns out to be a solid bugfix release because thus far the betas have been rock solid, and the phone still feels just as fast as it did when I first got it.

Right, the 13 Pro’s hardware:

Once I got the 13 Pro in hand, let me tell you: I was so glad I went with the Pro because that 120Hz screen to my eyes makes all the difference. Even if the underlying OS is no faster than it is on a regular 13, it presents the illusion of speed and to my brain that makes all the difference. Some may not see this, nor would they care. But for those that do, it’s a nice treat.

The 13 Pro got to get tested in a trial-by-fire fashion because not long after I got it, I had to deal with some family emergencies that involved traveling to Southern Oregon. My parents’ house up there has almost no internet service, so during the lull periods I had to keep myself entertained and I did this by going into town and downloading a bunch of YouTube videos to watch. This is another place in which investment into the 13 Pro saved me: 5G. I used to be a 5G skeptic, believing it was all just a bunch of marketing hoopla (and it honestly was, at first). But being able to download videos at a breakneck pace without waiting hours to do so like I would on the lackluster LTE in the area? Lifesaver.

5G turned out to be an amazing play because little did I know 5G would really make the difference back home, too. In my home area, carriers have all but given up on anything not 5G. LTE still exists, but it feels like it exists in a compromised state, and barely works. My girlfriend (on the same carrier as me, Verizon) has to often ask to use my hotspot because LTE has become that bad. Which is mildly irritating, because her iPhone 11 works perfectly fine, only being sentenced to an early death by the carriers’ desire to rush to the next big thing rather than fix what they already have first. (Can you tell I miss the days when T-Mobile didn’t rush to the next big thing? They took their time with 3G, yes, but they had one hell of an EDGE network when AT&T was sputtering hard on both EDGE and 3G. But I digress.)

Back to the trial by fire testing: Not long after the family emergency resolved, I had to travel to Arizona, and it was here the 13 Pro would be seeing heavy use. Recording friends doing karting, taking tons of pictures, so on and so forth in almost literal fire: Phoenix around mid October is still very hot during the day. The 13 Pro never skipped a beat, and I really, really grew to love this phone that much more. Back home, even the macro cam turned out to be a huge help as I use it as a ghetto microscope to poke around boards during repair attempts (and to check my soldering work).

I’m pleased to say that even to this very day, going on two major software revisions in the 13 Pro still feels just as good as the day I pulled it out of the box. I don’t have that feeling of ick that I sometimes get with phones after owning them for a while. I don’t have that itch to upgrade. Kind of. I’ll touch on that in a second.

There are only two things I either don’t like, or regret.

1. The color. Sierra Blue is nice, but the Pacific Blue of the 12 Pro is just so much better than this. This hurts double when the mid-cycle color refresh happened and we got Alpine Green, which…is the shade of green I wished the 11 Pro would have had. Sigh. The Sierra Blue color feels a little too close to white/silver for my comfort (and I detest the white/silver colorway).

2. Video battery life. I use my 13 Pro as my primary video camera these days, and it takes amazing video, even at 4K. The thing I don’t like is that video mode absolutely melts the battery at an astonishing pace, even at 1080p. This made recording video in Arizona quite a fun little chore because I ran out my phone’s battery super fast without a good way to top it up. I suppose the solution here is to just strap a battery pack to it when recording, but part of me can’t help but regret not springing for the 13 Pro Max for the extra battery headroom. In fact, I’ve long considered trading out this 13 Pro for its bigger brother a number of times. Yeah, I could step up to a 14 Pro Max, but at the same time those phones aren’t doing so hot with their batteries, either.

Where to, from here

I don’t see myself stepping off the 13 Pro for a while at this point, especially when things have changed. I left the world of postpaid carriers (and am now on Verizon by way of their MVNO, Visible). This makes me ineligible to finance another iPhone the way I got the 13 Pro. Furthermore, I can’t finance via the Apple Card either, because Apple took that option away for MVNO users.

Visible goes through Affirm for financing, which I have a good relationship with, but Visible’s trade in values are abysmal.

The iPhone 15 would be the phone I would consider upgrading to just because of the inclusion of USB-C (trust me, trying to find Lightning cables when I need them sucks, but I have plenty of USB-C cables), but rumors of stock issues and price increases kind of put me off that prospect. Plus, I like the fact that I have a phone that has zero financial obligation to anyone. I truly own this thing. No one can tell me otherwise.

Who knows, maybe the 15 will draw me in enough that’ll I’ll justify making a bad financial decision to get one. But I don’t think that it will. USB-C is a huge draw, but not a big enough one to justify having to be on the hook for another $30 a month for a phone.

The goal is to run the 13 Pro such that I need to get it a replacement battery. That’ll be a huge achievement.

Stats as of 8/29/23:

Current case: UAG Monarch in blue/black
Battery Cycles: 594
Battery Health: 97.1%
Battery Health (iOS): 94%