iPhone 13 Pro review: a better display, the best camera, and incredible battery life

The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max are phones designed for people who care about the details. The improvements over last year’s iPhones are significant but not obvious at first glance.

Just as with the regular iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, the most important upgrades on the 13 Pro are to battery life and the camera system. The 13 Pro adds a third major improvement with a high refresh rate screen.

Upgrading the battery, camera, and screen sounds like an iterative, yearly update; they sound like the so-called “S” updates that Apple used to do for iPhones before its naming schemes became unpredictable. And it is true that the design is virtually identical to that of last year’s iPhone 12 Pros. But those assumptions — those words — don’t quite do justice to how big the changes really are.

We will update this review with a full score and scorecard for the iPhone 13 Pro Max after further battery testing, but see below for initial impressions.

The iPhone 13 Pro is a bit thicker because of a larger battery, so iPhone 12 Pro cases won’t fit.

The iPhone 13 Pro is a bit thicker because of a larger battery, so iPhone 12 Pro cases won’t fit.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max battery

The change that’s most likely to make the biggest impact for the most people is battery life. Apple is happy to tell you that the battery improvements come from a constellation of updates, including increased efficiency in the new A15 Bionic processor and changes to how the new display uses power. I am sure all that is true, but I’m just as sure that the biggest contributor is simply that the batteries are bigger than last year.

The 13 Pro has an 11 percent larger battery and the 13 Pro Max’s battery is an astonishing 18.5 percent larger. Apple’s quoted improvements over the 12 Pro models are one and a half hours more usage on the 13 Pro and two and a half hours on the 13 Pro Max — and the 12 Pro Max was already a battery life monster.

I’ve only had the phones for a little less than a week, so I focused most of my use on the smaller iPhone 13 Pro as a kind of worst-case test. And my results are in line with Apple’s claims. On a day when we really pushed the phone with lots of 4K video and max brightness on the screen, it still lasted from early morning to 11PM with 20 percent remaining — with somewhere north of four hours of very heavy use in the screen time tracking app. A day with less intense usage clocked me at seven hours of screen on time before the low battery warning kicked in.

Although I haven’t used the 13 Pro Max as much, I expect it will do even better. A few times the past week I caught myself doing a double take, wondering why its battery was so full even though I’d been using it intensively. I will check back in to this review with an update after I’ve had a chance to do more testing with it (and with its opposite, the regular iPhone 13 MIni).

Bottom line: I have much more confidence walking out of the house for a long day without carrying an external battery pack. For me, the line a smartphone needs to cross is that I trust I can get through a normal day without battery anxiety. Both the 13 Pro and the 13 Pro Max easily get there.

The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max keep the major redesigns introduced last year — they still feel fresh and modern.

The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max keep the major redesigns introduced last year — they still feel fresh and modern.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

iPhone 13 Pro design and specs

Last year was a big design update for the iPhone, with flat sides, 5G, and MagSafe charging. This year’s models inherit all of that, changing the design in only minor ways. The most obvious one is the notch on the screen. It’s slightly smaller, but only horizontally — it still pushes down into what you’re looking at to the same degree. Apple also didn’t do anything with that extra space at the top, meaning you still can’t see your battery percentage without pulling down the control center.

The other design change is that the new iPhones are almost imperceptibly heavier and also thicker across the entire body compared to last year’s models. But the camera bumps on both phones are significantly bigger, which means that 12 Pro cases are not going to fit on the 13 Pro. I think the tradeoffs are worth it for the improved battery life and camera system.

The smaller notch on the iPhone 13 Pro Max (left) compared to the 12 Pro Max (right)

The smaller notch on the iPhone 13 Pro Max (left) compared to the 12 Pro Max (right)
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Unlike many Android phones with gently curving displays at the edges, Apple does still have a small bezel around the screen. The rails on the edges are glossy stainless steel that pick up fingerprints, the glass on the back is a smooth matte. The front uses Apple’s Ceramic Shield finish to prevent cracks and the camera lenses are sapphire. It’s a beautiful phone, and I think it’s a huge step up from the curved sides we’ve seen on iPhones from the 6 all the way up through the 11.

The important spec outside of the camera system and the screen is the new A15 Bionic processor, which is indeed fast. But as always with iPhones, the primary purpose of that speed is ensuring the phone will still feel fast in years to come, not making it seem faster than last year’s device. There are a bunch of camera features that seem to be enabled by the A15, however. I’ll also just point out that the 13 Pro models get five GPU cores to the regular 13’s four, but that extra core doesn’t seem to enable anything specific beyond more speed.

Base storage still starts at 128GB, but at the top end there’s a new 1TB option. That is a ridiculous amount of storage for a phone, but if you’re planning on shooting a bunch of ProRes video then it might be something to actually consider. Screen sizes and resolutions are the same: 6.1 inches at 1170 x 2532 pixels for the 13 Pro and 6.7 inches at 1284 x 2778 pixels for the 13 Pro Max.

In terms of networking, Apple is focused on expanding support for Mid-Band 5G — the kind that will actually matter more than the UWB version that’s only really available on certain street corners. All that really means is that in the US, the 13 Pro is ready for a 5G future that could come if carriers keep their promises (they haven’t so far, but maybe next year). As usual, if you travel a lot you should keep an eye on the bands available on the several variants that are sold in different regions.

Finally, although I know it’s a lost cause and that I sound like a broken record, I still believe that Apple should switch the iPhone from the Lightning connector to USB-C. I also still believe Apple made a mistake by not taking advantage of the obvious opportunities to do so with the big iPhone X and iPhone 12 redesigns. I understand the reasons why it hasn’t switched and I disagree with them. Especially on a “Pro” phone, the standard cable would be incredibly convenient and useful for both charging and connecting other accessories without adapters.

The camera system on the iPhone 13 Pro is a major upgrade.

The camera system on the iPhone 13 Pro is a major upgrade.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

iPhone 13 Pro cameras

The camera systems on the iPhone 13 Pro and the 13 Pro Max are identical this year, which means you don’t have to buy the bigger and more expensive phone to get the best photos. And I do mean best photos, because there isn’t another phone on the market that can match the iPhone 13 Pro. (Google’s upcoming Pixel 6 hasn’t been released as of writing this, of course, but it will have its work cut out for it.)

Apple’s marketing for the camera system on the 13 Pro is that it’s the “biggest advancement ever.” I don’t know that I would go that far, but I also can’t remember the last time I’ve said “whoa, look at this photo” as many times as I have during this review.

I will start, however, by pointing out that this camera system is one of the things I’m referring to when I say that the 13 Pro is a phone for people who pay attention to the details. In bright sunlight or normal light, the pictures these phones take are very hard to distinguish from the iPhone 13 or even the iPhone 12. In good lighting, almost any high-end smartphone is very competent these days.

Where the Pro 13 camera system shines is in low light. The main wide-angle sensor has seen a massive upgrade this year. Unlike Android phones that are chasing big megapixel counts and then “pixel binning” to achieve low light performance, Apple is sticking with 12 megapixels, the same resolution it’s used since 2015’s iPhone 6S. The sensor itself is much bigger now and features 1.9 µm pixels, which are about as big as anything we’ve seen on a smartphone. And on top of all that, the lens now has an f/1.5 aperture.

All of that adds up to a camera that can very quickly take in a massive amount of light relative to other phones. Combined with some tuning and improvements to Apple’s computational photography, the low light performance on the 13 Pro is simply second to none.

The 13 Pro and Pro Max have much better low light performance, but it’s not immediately obvious on smaller screens

The 13 Pro and Pro Max have much better low light performance, but it’s not immediately obvious on smaller screens

Color reproduction in darker scenes is much improved compared to last year

Color reproduction in darker scenes is much improved compared to last year

There’s less image noise in low light and more dynamic range in low and even medium light. Apple also tells me it has adjusted how it handles the black point so shadow exposure is more accurate now too — the 13 Pro is just more willing to let darks be dark while accurately exposing lighter areas. In situations the 12 Pro would aggressively hop into night mode and lighten everything up, the 13 Pro often doesn’t need night mode. And when the 13 Pro does drop into night mode, it goes through that exposure process twice as quickly.

iPhone 13 Pro on the left, last year’s 12 Pro Max on the right. The year over year improvements in low light are obvious: better tone, more confidence in leaving dark areas dark in night mode.

We used this word last year in our 12 Pro Max review, but I think it applies even more this year. The camera on the 13 Pro is confident. As computational photography has become the norm over the past few years, I have seen lots of camera systems — including on the iPhone — just sort of panic and do the wrong things with exposure or tone. The iPhone 13 Pro has almost never done that in my testing.

iPhone 13 Pro on the left, regular iPhone 13 on the right in an incredibly challenging night mode scene. The 13 Pro is sharper overall.

Let’s bring things back to earth. Will most people notice the quality difference between the 13 Pro and the regular iPhone 13 or even last year’s iPhones? Most of the time, I think the answer is actually no. On phone screens, you really have to zoom in and pixel peep to see it. But if there’s any place where I think it makes sense to call an iPhone “Pro” as in “for professionals,” I think this main wide angle camera is it.

The ultrawide camera also got an upgrade in terms of taking in more light, but it’s not as dramatic a difference. A more interesting upgrade is adding autofocus to that camera, which allows it to pick up a new trick: macro photography.

Macro mode kicks in automatically at around 10cm from a subject

Macro mode kicks in automatically at around 10cm from a subject

The ultrawide camera has better low light performance, but not dramatically so

The ultrawide camera has better low light performance, but not dramatically so

When you bring the phone in close to a subject, you can see the camera frame switch over to the ultrawide when it’s about 10cm away. It tries to keep the same basic framing with a crop, but apparently not everybody is enthused: Apple emailed us the night before the review to say it would ship a software update later with an option to disable the automatic switchover. Then you can keep pushing in until you’re as close as 2cm away and still have an in-focus shot. The photos it takes are better than the bespoke, throwaway macro lenses on many Android phones these days. It’s a fun feature.

The wide angle camera has gotten the most impressive upgrade, but my favorite is the new telephoto lens. Apple has set it to a 3X zoom, the equivalent of a 77mm focal length and up from the 2.5X / 65mm in the 12 Pro Max. That extended zoom does mean that it drops to an f/2.8 aperture (from f/2.2), but whatever low light losses that entails are more than made up for by the addition of night mode for this lens. Apple isn’t playing the superzoom 100X game; instead, it’s focusing on quality at the 3X optical zoom for things like portrait photography.

The new telephoto lens takes amazing portrait photos, but takes some effort to get good shots in low light

The new telephoto lens takes amazing portrait photos, but takes some effort to get good shots in low light

And that quality is incredible. I simply love taking photos of people with the telephoto at 3X now, getting a natural bokeh effect without having to engage the software portrait mode. The telephoto lens gets the award this year for most improved.

Apple has held the crown for best smartphone video for a very long time now, challenged (but not losing) only briefly by the Samsung Galaxy Ultra series phones in the last year or two. This year, video quality is simply amazing, at least on the wide angle camera. That larger sensor and the fact that it’s using sensor-based stabilization instead of just OIS makes for stable and beautiful footage even in low light.

Apple will also let you shoot video in ProRes this year. I didn’t have much time to test that and ProRes isn’t really a part of our video workflow. But it’s there if you buy an iPhone that has enough storage to handle it.

I’ll state it plainly because it bears repeating: the iPhone 13 Pro has the best camera system on any smartphone available as of this writing.

Photographic Profiles make the iPhone take photos that look more like what Samsung and Google’s phones take

Photographic Profiles make the iPhone take photos that look more like what Samsung and Google’s phones take
GIF by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

Photographic Profiles

Apple has added two new camera modes to this year’s iPhones, both Pro and regular. Each is fascinating in its own way. Cinematic Mode is essentially Portrait Mode but for video, while Picture Profiles change the default way the iPhone takes photos. Picture Profiles are particularly interesting because they serve almost as an admission that Apple is feeling competitive pressure from the likes of Samsung and Google, so let’s start there.

Profiles are a new setting in the camera app that change the way your photos look by default. So instead of applying a filter after the photo is taken, you can set your iPhone to have a specific kind of “look” right away. In fact, Apple insists that Profiles are not filters at all, for reasons I’ll get into shortly.

The default options for Profiles include Standard, Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warm, and Cool. Each one has its own little sliders that you can manually tweak for both Tone and Warmth. If you tweak those sliders, the name of that profile cleverly changes to match your settings (my personal favorite name is “Rich Cool,” because I imagine that’s Apple’s target demographic). When you set one of these profiles, it becomes the new default way the camera takes pictures, though it will also pop up a button that lets you toggle it off. (The button is also clever, the way it looks changes based on what profile you’ve set).

The TL;DR for Profiles is that “Rich Contrast” makes the iPhone’s photos look more like a Google Pixel, with bluer tones and deeper contrast. And “Vibrant” makes the iPhone look more like a Samsung phone, with more extreme colors all around.

Historically, Apple has insisted that what it aims for in photography is the “truth” of what your eye would see. I will (regretfully) set aside philosophical questions about the nature of objective reality and what a photograph is and instead just point out that it’s fair to say that when it comes to photography, Apple is much less opinionated than the competition. Samsung and Google are both more willing to tune their images to be more pleasing to their customers than Apple is. With Profiles, Apple is essentially giving its customers the option to get pictures they like better without having to edit them after the shot.

Photographic Profiles on iPhone 13 Pro

Photographic Profiles on iPhone 13 Pro
GIF by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

Understanding how Profiles actually works is a little complicated. Apple’s computational photography process is called Smart HDR, and what it does is standard across many phones these days: it takes a bunch of photos at different exposures all at once and then combines them into a single, final image. Part of that process involves making choices about white balance, color, contrast, and so on. Another part of that process is the iPhone semantically recognizing different things in the scene — things like faces, people, grass, sky, cats, or whatever and exposing them differently.

When you set a profile, the iPhone makes different choices during the Smart HDR capture about white balance, color, contrast, and so on based on the preference you set. It also uses that semantic recognition to make better choices for things like skin tone. That’s why it’s not a filter — it’s not applied evenly across the entire image.

Profiles are not something you can undo in the edit — though Apple does label them in the metadata when you view them in the Photos app. You should also know that you can’t shoot with profiles and have RAW output on at the same time. Unlike a RAW photo where you can make all sorts of choices in the edit, Photographic Profiles lock your choices in to the file as it’s saved. In theory it might be possible for the iPhone to save all of that extra data, but Apple tells us that it would create huge files that it wouldn’t be worth it for ordinary use, and that people who do want to edit after the fact can just shoot RAW.

Editing a Cinematic Mode video on an iPhone 13 Pro Max

Editing a Cinematic Mode video on an iPhone 13 Pro Max
GIF by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

Cinematic Mode

Apple’s flashiest iPhone ads are for Cinematic Mode. It’s an entirely new mode for iPhone video that uses software to blur the background of a video, much as Portrait Mode does for photos. Unlike Portrait Mode, Cinematic doesn’t take advantage of the iPhone 13 Pro’s LIDAR sensor for creating a depth map — it just uses software to recognize human faces and bodies.

The reason Cinematic mode makes for such a great demo is that it can automatically shift the focus when something happens in the scene. It locks on to the biggest face that it sees, but if that face turns away the iPhone can automatically shift focus to somebody else in the background. It is fun to play around with and works with both the rear and front-facing Selfie cameras.

You can also change the focus point as you’re shooting by tapping something in the background and lock focus by tapping again. And then after you’re done shooting, you can change your focus decisions moment-to-moment in the Photos app and even change the amount of background blur for the entire video.

Cinematic Mode is limited to 1080p and doesn’t work in low light, despite what Apple’s ads show

Cinematic Mode is limited to 1080p and doesn’t work in low light, despite what Apple’s ads show
GIF by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Because it’s the equivalent of Portrait Mode for video, it can have the same problems as Portrait Mode for photos — it rarely works in low light, for example. (Apple’s own ads for Cinematic Mode show it working in low light, which I find misleading.) It can also have weird or bad cutouts around hair, which is a little less noticeable because it’s video, but it’s still there. Finally, Cinematic Mode only works in 1080p at 30FPS.

Cinematic Mode really only works well within Apple’s own ecosystem of apps. The depth map information is saved into an ancillary “sidecar” file that goes alongside the video, but only Apple apps like Photos or Final Cut can do anything with it right now. If you AirDrop it to a Mac that isn’t running MacOS Monterey, the iPhone will bake all your depth choices into the file before sending it along. Apple tells us that it hasn’t worked with third party companies like Adobe or Lumafusion to make that data editable in those apps.

I think Cinematic Mode is crazy fun but I’m not sure how much value it really adds to people who want to use their iPhone for actual, professional video work. I’m not going to say it’s a gimmick, but it is gimmick-adjacent. Like Portrait Mode in photos was at the beginning, Cinematic Mode feels like it’s a few years away from being truly useful for anything beyond casual use. Despite Apple’s promos, I have a hard time believing real movies will be made with this in its present state.

The LTPO displays on the 13 Pros have high refresh rates — finally

The LTPO displays on the 13 Pros have high refresh rates — finally
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max displays

The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max finally offer iPhone users a screen feature that flagship Android phones have had for quite a long time: higher refresh rates. Apple’s branding for its screen is “Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion,” and the important part is the ProMotion, which previously has only been on the iPad Pro.

Historically, the iPhone has been able to refresh its screen at 60Hz (or 60 times every second), but the new iPhone 13 Pros can vary the refresh rates from as little as 10Hz all the way up to 120Hz. Apple is using a type of OLED display called LTPO (Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Oxide) panel, technology first seen on Samsung phones. It has a wide dynamic range, can get much brighter, and also uses less power because it can ratchet down the refresh rate.

What all this means practically is that scrolling and animations look much smoother. It also has battery life benefits because if nothing’s moving on the screen, the screen needs to refresh less often and therefore uses less power.

None of this is news to Android users, but if you haven’t used a high refresh rate display on a phone before it can be a little hard to explain why it makes a difference. This is doubly true on iPhones, because Apple has gotten away with not putting a high refresh rate screen on an iPhone for so long because iOS is itself a very smooth OS without very much jank in its animations.

When I scroll on the iPhone 13 Pro, the text stays readable instead of turning into a blur. Things moving on the screen are smoother. It feels more like a direct interaction with my finger because the iPhone can literally change its refresh rate to match my movement.

Apple’s implementation is also smart: iOS keeps an eye on what activity is happening on the screen and adjusts the refresh rate to match. So the screen matches the 24FPS frame rate in video apps, for example. Apple tells me apps coded with its default tools like Swift will get these benefits for free and that developers will have access to tools to update their apps to support ProMotion if they like.

I get if all this sounds very silly. It is very much a premium feature that is more about experience than anything practical. That’s exactly what ProMotion is and it is exactly what I think we should expect from a phone that costs more than a thousand dollars. It was a similar story when Apple’s own high-density Retina Displays hit the scene. Once many people experienced the nicer thing, they were bothered by its lack.

I have heard all the speculation about why Apple waited this long to implement this feature and I don’t really buy any of them. I admit that high refresh rates are the epitome of “nice to have,” but part of the point of Apple’s extravagant Pro phones is to provide the nicest experience. Now, finally, they do. Crucially, Apple did an excellent job with its implementation.

The iPhone 13 Pro (left) and Pro Max (right)

The iPhone 13 Pro (left) and Pro Max (right)
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The ProMotion display is the perfect example of what you get with the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max. It’s an improvement that may only matter explicitly to a few but will subtly make life nicer for everybody who uses it. The battery life upgrade isn’t quite so subtle, of course.

As for the camera, I can see it both ways. When you’re sharing photos and videos to social media and looking at them on a phone, the differences are subtle at most — but they’re there if you look for them. And if you use your iPhone’s camera for more than just Instagram, you’ll appreciate the updates.

The list of significant things I have to complain about with these phones is almost astonishingly short. (Though, as you might expect, I can quibble for days about little things like the lack of a meaningful MagSafe ecosystem, the lightning port, or how iOS 15 handles notifications).

The story of the iPhone 13 Pro is a story of iteration, sure, but iteration matters. iPhone 12 Pro owners will have to pay a lot of attention to see some of the differences and an upgrade probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if you’re using something older, all that iteration comes on top of the major improvements from the iPhone 12 Pro — the upgrades will be very noticeable.

Either way, when you start to pay attention to the details, prepare to be impressed.

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iPhone 13 review: bigger batteries are better

What, really, do you want out of a new phone?

Assuming you’re starting with a good foundation, I think the list of what really makes a big difference in phone upgrades is actually short. The first thing on the list is improved battery life. The second is an improved camera.

Those are the two things that make a fundamental difference in your day-to-day experience of a smartphone (assuming, again, that the basics don’t stink). Those are also exactly the things Apple tried to make better in the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini.

Those two improvements come on top of the major changes the company introduced last year with the iPhone 12. If you already have an iPhone 12, this year’s update looks iterative because it is. If you have an older iPhone, the full list of what’s better on the iPhone 13 is almost too long to enumerate.

The iPhone 12 brought new technologies and a fancy new design (and a new, Mini-sized version). The iPhone 13’s battery and camera updates aren’t so flashy, but they’re more important.

We will update this review with a full score and scorecard for the iPhone 13 Mini after further battery testing, but see below for initial impressions.

The iPhone 13, in pink.

The iPhone 13, in pink.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

iPhone 13 and 13 Mini design and specs

Unless you look very closely, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the iPhone 13 devices and their predecessors. The iPhone 12 and 12 Mini introduced a striking and new flat-edged design that I still believe is a massive improvement on what came before. And of course, the iPhone 12 Mini was the first phone in a long time to bring a truly great experience to a smartphone with a smaller form factor.

They also switched over to OLED screens, which offer a superior experience to the LCDs that came before in several ways: contrast ratio, brightness, and power efficiency. They added 5G. They added the MagSafe charging system.

It’s worth revisiting all those big changes because people are hanging on to their smartphones for a longer time now — especially iPhones. I think it’s fair to give the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini credit for the design they’re based on since so many of the people that are likely to buy them will be new to what the iPhone 12 offered.

There are some changes to that design, however. The newer iPhones are just a tiny bit thicker overall with substantially bigger camera bumps. That means that cases designed for the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini are unlikely to fit the newer phones. The camera bump is not only thicker but the lenses have been rearranged to accommodate the giant new sensor that’s in the main wide-angle camera.

The last change is that the notch housing FaceID and the selfie camera has been shrunk down by 20 percent — but don’t get too excited by that. It’s only been reduced on the horizontal axis, so the extra screen you get doesn’t amount to much (and Apple isn’t using it to show more info, like battery percentage).

There is a new processor inside the iPhone 13, the A15 Bionic. As usual with iPhones, it’s difficult to discern significant speed improvements, but that is only because there’s so much headroom that iPhones tend to feel fast for longer. The Pro models get one more GPU core than the regular models, but I haven’t noticed that make a difference at all.

One difference that does matter this year: the base storage on the least expensive iPhone 13 and 13 Mini has been increased to 128GB. I’m frankly impressed that Apple actually managed to proactively increase the base storage on its own — historically it’s always done it far too late.

Finally, my favorite design improvement over the iPhone 12 is that there’s a new pink color option. Of all the colors offered on the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro lines, it is the best one.

The iPhone 13 Mini

The iPhone 13 Mini.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

iPhone 13 battery

Battery life on last year’s iPhone 12 wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. Battery life on last year’s iPhone 12 Mini was sadly exactly what I was expecting: not very good. So for this year’s iPhone 13, Apple did the obvious thing: it made the batteries bigger.

Those larger batteries (9 percent on the iPhone 13 Mini and 15.1 percent on the iPhone 13) are the main driver behind Apple’s battery claims this year. It says that the regular iPhone 13 should last for a whopping two-and-a-half hours of usage longer than the iPhone 12 while the Mini will last an extra one-and-a-half hours.

Of course, if you don’t have an iPhone 12 then the 13 lasting more than two hours longer is kind of meaningless. My takeaway for the regular iPhone 13 doesn’t require relative comparisons, though: battery life is excellent.

The best iPhone 13 color is pink.

The best iPhone 13 color is pink.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

On one day of my testing, the regular iPhone 13 made it from 7am to midnight before it tuckered out. That was with some camera testing, watching some video, the usual doomscrolling, emails, work, and some games. It was an intense set of work for the five hours of screentime that day, so that’s impressive. On another day with lighter usage, I didn’t see the battery warning until the following morning. But the iPhone 13’s battery isn’t magic. When we had a day of a lot more 4K video testing, I was looking for a charger by 7 or 8.

As for the iPhone 13 Mini, I just have to admit that I haven’t had a chance to fully test it yet. We don’t do video rundown tests here at The Verge, instead preferring to base our results on as much real world use as we can do. There are only so many phones I can actually use in the real world at a time. I will be doing a full, longer term battery test on the iPhone 13 Mini over the coming weeks and I will publish a full rundown — and update this review.

However, I do have an early impression of the iPhone 13 Mini’s battery life. It’s that Apple’s one-and-a-half hour longer claim seems reasonable, but that is faint praise. I used the iPhone 12 Mini a lot over the last year, and what I said when I first reviewed it turned out to be true: if you use this little phone like it’s a big smartphone, you will drain the battery by early afternoon or even lunch.

The iPhone 12 and 13 Minis are meant to be minimalistic both in size and also in how much you use them. If you are constantly using your phone all day, the smaller battery in the Mini isn’t likely to be enough.

My takeaway on the Mini is to not assume the improvements are enough to overcome the fundamental physics of smaller batteries. My takeaway on the regular iPhone 13 is also based on fundamental physics: a big battery means good battery life.

The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini have the same camera sensor as last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max

The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini have the same camera sensor as last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

iPhone 13 cameras

Both the iPhone 13 and the 13 Mini have the same camera system: a regular wide-angle camera and an ultrawide. Both have been upgraded, but the major improvement comes to the wide angle.

Just like the battery, the improvement to the wide-angle camera sensor is simple: make it bigger. A bigger camera sensor is able to take in more light more quickly and produce better results. Apple happened to have just such a sensor lying around: the one from last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max.

That’s notable because the 12 Pro Max stood apart from all the other iPhones last year by having a larger sensor, and now that sensor is the new default this year. And from the moment the 12 Pro Max was released up until now, it has been the best smartphone camera on the market for both photos and video.

In bright light, it can be difficult to see the improvement over last year’s iPhone 12

In bright light, it can be difficult to see the improvement over last year’s iPhone 12.

I am happy to report that the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini match or improve on those results. Details are sharp and accurate, colors are rich without being oversaturated, focusing is fast and reliable, portrait mode is good enough to use day to day, and low light and night sight are both exceptional.

Since the 13 and 13 Mini have the best camera sensor from last year’s 13 Pro Max, night mode performance is excellent

Since the 13 and 13 Mini have the best camera sensor from last year’s 13 Pro Max, night mode performance is excellent.

The iPhone 13 has good color reproduction at night, though it can tend to yellows sometimes

The iPhone 13 has good color reproduction at night, though it can tend to yellows sometimes.

Video quality is great. The main camera has sensor stabilization, which helps when you’re walking around. It can do all the modes that matter in terms of 4K and slow mo and handles them all super well.

Really, the only way to be unhappy with this camera is to compare it head to head with an iPhone 13 Pro — and even then I think you’d probably need to do it on a big screen with images taken in low light.

The ultrawide sensor was also updated for better low-light performance, but it’s fairly minor. What I mostly see is improved white balance and color when it’s in night mode. That’s something I’ve noticed across the board, actually. Especially in low light, colors are a bit more true to life than last year.

Ultrawide is much less noisy in dark photos

Ultrawide is much less noisy in dark photos.

The 13 and 13 Mini have the exact same camera system

The 13 and 13 Mini have the exact same camera system.

My main wish is that the selfie camera sensor had been updated. It has some software improvements just like the other cameras and it’s inside a smaller notch now, but the selfie camera is too important for Apple to just leave the same this many years in a row.

Apple has also introduced two new camera modes with the iPhone 13: Photographic Profiles and Cinematic Mode. I have gone in depth on both of those features in the iPhone 13 Pro review, so you can read the full details on how they work there. But I’ll briefly describe each here, too.

Photographic Profiles are a new option in the camera that change the default look of the picture you’re taking. You can customize the tone and contrast of how all the pictures you take look instead of doing it in edit after the fact.

You may know that Samsung phones take super vivid photos or that Google Pixel phones take photos that are more contrasty and blue. With Profiles, Apple is essentially admitting that people may prefer those looks and is providing an option to get them automatically. You can also customize each one to your own personal preferences.

Profiles aren’t like filters in that they don’t apply tone and warmth settings to the whole picture. The iPhone knows when it sees grass or faces or sky and so it adjusts how it applies those color preferences accordingly, so you don’t get weird looking skin tones or purple skies.

Photos taken with a Profile can’t have adjustments removed or changed (beyond normal editing) after the fact, and you can’t use RAW at the same time as profiles. It’s handy sometimes to think of them as presets, and I think I will use them from time to time. Apple claims that the A15 Bionic is necessary for the whole Profiles experience to work, but my feeling is that it ought to be possible to get this feature on older iPhones.

Cinematic Mode is a new feature that is essentially the equivalent of Portrait Mode but for video. It locks on to a face and blurs the rest of the scene, just like if you were using a lens with a big aperture. But it then tries to change the focus as it sees fit, shifting over to a face in the background if a face in the foreground turns away, for example. As you shoot the video, you can manually change focus yourself or you can do it after the fact in the edit — but only inside Apple’s own apps like Photos or Final Cut.

The results from Cinematic Mode are nowhere near as good as Apple’s own commercials would have you believe. It doesn’t work well (or really, at all) in low light and it has the same problems you may remember from the early days of Portrait Mode photos: weird cutouts around hair and glasses. It also only works in 1080p at 30fps.

But don’t let the fact that Cinematic Mode doesn’t live up the hype distract you. The camera systems on the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini are excellent. If there wasn’t also the iPhone 13 Pro in the world, they’d be the best you could get on a phone as of this writing.

The iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13

The iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

I think it’s all too easy to look at the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini and not think much of the updates this year. Cameras get better every year and every company promises good battery life, after all. And compared to the massive changes we saw on the iPhone last year, the 13 looks iterative, more like an iPhone 12S than truly new models.

I won’t pretend that reading is totally wrong, but I also think it misses the point. Fancy new features are fun, but the fundamentals of battery life and camera are more important. Because if you focus on the fundamentals, your whole game gets better. And the iPhone 13 has got some good game.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: nearly normal

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the best possible case Samsung can make for a phone that unfolds into a small tablet. It’s the fourth iteration of the same basic idea, refined and repaired over the course of years following an embarrassing false-start failure on the first attempt.

Because this is a story of refinement, the changes since the last model are minor. But added together, they make this the model that crosses that hard-to-define boundary between experimental and normal.

Although the Z Fold 3 feels like a refined, established product, it’s still not really normal. It’s a marvel of material science that’s by turns wonderful and awkward. And its price is also still far from normal, too — even after a price drop, it starts a $1,799.99.

If you like the basic idea of the Z Fold but have been waiting for Samsung to fix its biggest issues, the steady and relentless refinement on display here is worth a look. If you think the whole idea is an extravagant and silly technical flex, none of these changes will change your mind.

Even though those two opinions are almost diametrically opposed, I can’t really argue with either one. The Z Fold 3 is great and silly.

When closed, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is still an extremely tall, narrow, and thick slab of a device that’s more akin to a remote control than a traditional phone. It’s awkward to fit into a pocket both because of its shape and its weight — although it’s slightly lighter than last year, fundamentally it’s still the size of two phones and it has the weight to match.

Samsung’s big addition to the hardware is IPX8 water resistance. I’ve dunked it in a vase and held it under a fountain without issue. I won’t speak to whether the durability improvements Samsung made this year will be enough to keep the phone intact long term, but at least initially it seems solid. I don’t feel like I need to baby this device.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

There is still a gap between the two sides when closed.

There is still a gap between the two sides when closed.

There’s still a gap at the hinge when it’s closed, but otherwise all the tolerances between the parts are tight. Samsung is still using tiny brushes inside the hinge to keep dust and debris out, but I’d still recommend keeping it away from any serious amount of grit or sand.

The outer screen fills out the entire front of the display, and though it’s 6.2 inches diagonally, it feels much smaller because it’s so narrow. Samsung increased the refresh rate on the exterior display to 120Hz, so everything on it feels smooth; the main compromise when using it is that it’s just really hard to type on. Swipe-typing helps, but Samsung’s built-in keyboard still isn’t as good as Gboard at accuracy, and you’ll want to stick with Samsung’s keyboard since it has better options when in tablet mode.

Open the phone up and you’re treated to the 7.6-inch display, which is bright, sharp, and has the same 120Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling with less of the “jelly effect” that plagued the earlier versions. It’s a great screen with one glaring problem: the interior selfie camera.

Samsung opted for an under-display camera, one of the first to ship in the US. The camera itself is terrible, only 4 megapixels, and even those few are compromised by taking in light through a screen. Camera quality isn’t the problem, though — if I want to take a selfie, there are literally four other cameras I can use that are better. Think of it as a webcam for video calls.

The under display selfie camera is more distracting and annoying than a hole punch.

The under-display selfie camera is more distracting and annoying than a hole punch.

Instead, the problem is how the screen looks when the camera is off. When there’s a brighter background over it — or text — it has a screen-door look that is both ugly and distracting. If I shift my head or the phone even a little, there’s a moire effect that instantly draws my eye — even after a week of use it’s still happening.

Samsung wants the Z Fold 3 to be a showcase of its technical prowess, but that desire has led it into putting a too-experimental feature on a premium device. The under-display camera literally mars the experience. Samsung needs to put a setting in to turn the screen over the camera off entirely and just revert this thing back to a hole punch.

Surprisingly, that is my only real complaint about the interior screen. Which is saying something since it’s a giant, 7.6-inch display that folds in half. Samsung put a lot of emphasis on how it has made this screen stronger, thanks to how it re-layered the different internal components from the screen.

The crease is still visible at an angle but not bothersome at all when you look straight on.

The crease is still visible at an angle but not bothersome at all when you look straight on.

The S Pen won’t work on the outer screen, but works fine on the main interior screen.

The S Pen won’t work on the outer screen but works fine on the main interior screen.

It still uses Samsung’s so-called “Ultra Thin Glass,” but that glass is still covered with layers of plastic. The top layer is a PET screen protector which feels much more like any other screen protector you’ve used on a phone. It radically changes the experience of the Z Fold 3 as it’s a lot more resistant to smudges and indentations.

There is still a crease between the two halves, and I still am not too bothered by it. It’s mostly visible at an angle and largely goes away when you’re looking at the phone straight on.

The other new layer on this screen is made up of a couple of Wacom digitizers so you can use a new kind of Samsung S Pen stylus with it. The Fold-specific S Pen is sold separately, and there’s no place to store it without a special case, which means you’ll be spending upward of $50 or even $80 more if you want to use stylus input.

Drawing and sketching with the S Pen on the large screen is nice — there’s not much lag, it seems accurate even across the crease (where algorithms detect position), and it glides cleanly across that new PET layer. Unfortunately, the Fold wobbles when you draw on a table, even with one of Samsung’s own cases.

You also can’t use the stylus on the outer display, which means it’s not as good at taking quick notes as the Galaxy Note. Hopefully Samsung won’t discontinue that line for people who really do depend on having quick and easy access to a stylus.

Flex mode on the Galaxy Z Flip 3

Flex mode on the Galaxy Z Flip 3

Samsung has also refined the software that runs the Z Fold 3. Shockingly, One UI 3 has made the Android tablet experience halfway decent.

That is a strange thing to type as I (and every reviewer I know) have been ragging on Android tablets for nearly a decade. But the subtle improvements Samsung made this year wrangle Android’s biggest tablet problems into flexible, usable little windows.

Too many Android apps don’t re-form themselves to work better on tablet-size screens; they’re just stretched-out phone apps. That’s still the case this year, but some basics like getting multiple columns in Gmail or tabs in a browser work. Others, like Twitter or Slack, still look a little dopey.

However, Samsung’s multitasking system for windowing and managing apps has become adept at putting those recalcitrant apps in their place. You can drag and drop icons from a sidebar to put things into split screen or into a three-up layout. You can even pin that sidebar to be permanently visible for an even more tablet-like experience.

The multitasking software on the Z Fold 3 is much more flexible than before.

The multitasking software on the Z Fold 3 is much more flexible than before.

Critically, you can more easily adjust the width and height of those various layouts now by simply dragging the dividers around. You can also tap those dividers to easily rearrange the various windows if you don’t want to deal with dragging them around. Saving those custom layouts to the sidebar is simple, too.

Finally, there’s a “labs” feature that lets you strong-arm apps into playing nice with this new system if they haven’t been updated to resize properly on a modern Android device. You can set Instagram to fill the entire screen, for example, or resize TikTok into a little distracting-as-hell side rail.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. The iPadOS ecosystem of apps is still light-years ahead of Android when it comes to tablet options. But Samsung and Google have finally managed to push the Android tablet experience to the point where I am comfortable doing more advanced things than I can on a phone.

But really, the thing about the big screen on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is that it is a big screen. Big screens are great. They’re nicer for watching movies, playing games, reading books, and everything else. All the things that people like about outsized slabs like Samsung’s Ultra line or Apple’s Max phones are even better on this big screen. Hell: I can actually read and annotate PDFs on this device without having to tediously pan, pinch, and scroll around.

It helps that the Z Fold 3 is excellent from a performance perspective. The Snapdragon 888 processor and 12GB of RAM keep up with multiple active windows at once. The 4,400mAh battery, however, isn’t quite what I would hope for in terms of longevity. I can get through a full day with four-ish hours of screentime, but getting more than that would require changing my usage in a way I wouldn’t want to. We’re used to tablets lasting forever, but this folding tablet is more akin to your average phone when it comes to battery life.

The cameras are also more akin to what you’ll get on an average phone, not a flagship. The main selfie camera on the outside is 10MP and it’s perfectly serviceable. On the rear, you’ve got three 12-megapixel sensors for wide, ultrawide, and 2X telephoto. The only real change Samsung made since last year was adding optical image stabilization to the telephoto.

The results are classic Samsung: punchy, bright, sharp, and vivid — too often to a fault. Samsung tunes its camera to look great on Samsung screens, not to be true to what your eye might see in the moment. It’s a choice I don’t love, but at least on a technical level the images are good enough to work with. Similarly, the Z Fold 3 does a passable job with night photos.

For $1,800 I’d like something better, but that money is going toward the screen, the waterproofing, and all the rest. If camera quality is your top priority, this isn’t the phone for you.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 under a waterfall.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 under a waterfall.

Samsung’s big goal for its folding phones this year is to make them “mainstream.” For the Z Flip 3, Samsung hopes it can become a premium alternative for people who would otherwise buy a “normal” phone. For the Z Fold 3, the goal is to creating an entirely new class of flagship that its competitors can’t match. In both cases, Samsung’s putting all this effort in because its more traditional flagship phones are plummeting in popularity as Xiaomi and others undercut it on price while matching quality.

Samsung’s goals aren’t our problem, but they do lead to a benefit: folding phones that we can simply judge on their merits instead of simply gawking at tech demos. They’re still too spendy in my opinion, but I wouldn’t second-guess anybody who decides to spring for one of them. You know how you’ll be using your phone and at some point you have to walk over to your laptop to actually get something done? With the Z Fold 3, it takes me longer to get to that point.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is as good as it gets when it comes to a phone that unfolds into a tablet. Until there’s another technological breakthrough that can change the flexibility of glass or the size of batteries, I don’t see anything fundamentally better than this coming along for some time.

However, it’s still an awkward thing to carry around and use one-handed, and it’s still super expensive. The tradeoffs just don’t seem worth it. Then again, once upon a time we all said the same thing about the tradeoffs for big-screened phones like the Note. For a small sliver of tech-savvy people who know what they’re getting into, I could actually recommend the Z Fold 3. But for most people, as good as it gets is still not good enough.

Photography by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

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Best cheap phone 2021: eight smartphones for under $500

If you’re shopping for a new phone on a budget, we’ve got good news: there are more great, affordable phones on the market than ever. Companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung are spreading the wealth of features enjoyed by their flagships down to less expensive options. Other brands like OnePlus are finding ways to challenge more established manufacturers with budget devices that make smart sacrifices to keep costs down.

The bad news is this makes the job of picking the best budget phone that much harder. Bear in mind that it’s impossible to buy a phone that does everything at this price point; instead, prioritize the features that matter most to you. You’ll have an easier time deciding, and you’ll end up with a great phone that you should be able to use for years to come.

Our pick for the best inexpensive iPhone is the 2020 edition of the Apple iPhone SE. Even though it’s well over a year old, we think it’s still the best bet for most people. While it does a competent job at everything, its standout feature is that it should last four or more years if treated well.

If you’re looking for the best cheap Android phone, then the Google Pixel 5A is our top choice right now. You won’t find a big, show-stopping screen here, or bells and whistles like a fast refresh rate screen. Instead, you get a phone that covers the basics really well, plus IP67 waterproofing and timely software updates — all at a lower price than last year’s model.

What most people are looking for in a sub-$500 smartphone are the same things people want in a more expensive model: long battery life, good screen, good camera, and decent performance. It’s difficult to get high straight A’s in every single one of those categories, but if you’re able to decide where you’ll tolerate the occasional B grade, you’ll find a phone you’ll love.

Google Pixel 5A

You won’t find any bells and whistles like a big, fast-refresh rate screen, but the Pixel 5A does the basics very well with IP67 water resistance, a great camera, and timely software updates.

The Apple iPhone SE is a great choice if you want a phone that lasts for years.

The Apple iPhone SE is a great choice if you want a phone that lasts for years.

The best smartphone under $500

The phone that strikes the right balance of camera, build quality, speed, battery life, software, and longevity for most people is the Apple iPhone SE 2020. Even though it’s over a year old now, it should still give you an excellent return on your investment. We recommend upgrading to the model with 128GB of storage for $449, which is $50 over the base price but well worth it long term.

The iPhone SE follows a very tried and true formula. It has the same body and 4.7-inch LCD screen that Apple has been using since the iPhone 6. That puts the display on the smaller end of screen sizes today and also means the phone’s bezels are bigger than anything else sold on the market. High refresh-rate screens with smoother animations and scrolling have been trickling down into the budget class recently, and you definitely won’t find one here.

It’s a familiar design and not one that screams “modern.” But in exchange, you get a lot of value. The 2020 SE is part of the iPhone 11 generation, so its A13 Bionic processor is a year behind the latest and greatest. (That would be the A14 chipset in the iPhone 12 lineup.) However, it’s still one of the fastest processors you can get on any phone, but especially one in this price bracket. Normally, speed isn’t something we prioritize on phones at this price point, but it’s nice to have.

Why that processor really matters, though, is overall longevity. Apple consistently supports its phones for four or more years with software updates. (That’s in opposition to Android, where getting software updates on anything but the Pixel is still a struggle.) So Apple’s choice of a fast processor means, in a few years, the iPhone SE will still feel snappy and still be supported with iOS updates.

Battery life is good but not best in class. It should last about a day. Luckily, this iPhone supports wireless charging, which is still uncommon at this price point. And because it has the exact same shape as the iPhone 6, 6S, 7, and 8, there is a huge ecosystem of chargers and cases for it. Unlike many inexpensive Android phones, finding compatible accessories for the iPhone SE will be a breeze.

The iPhone SE has just one camera on the back and just one selfie camera on the front, 12 megapixels and 7 megapixels, respectively. Neither is great by 2021 standards, but both are significantly better than what Apple shipped in older iPhones. It’s also fairly good by the standards of sub-$500 phones, though the Google Pixel 4A continues to win this category by a knockout. You will get a lot of camera features on the iPhone SE, including portrait and HDR, but unfortunately, there is no night mode.

As a total package, the 2020 iPhone SE is the best smartphone under $500 for most people. If you think of it on a cost-per-year metric, it ends up being significantly less expensive than the competition because it’s likely to last four or five years if you take care of it. Just as importantly, it’s a great phone on its own merits. You get access to the vast array of iOS apps, Apple’s strong support network, and a huge ecosystem of accessories.

The Pixel 5A’s 6.34-inch screen isn’t huge, but it’s just big enough to not look out of place next to the 6.5-inch competition.
Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

The best budget Android phone

The $449 Pixel 5A features a 6.34-inch OLED screen that’s on the smaller side for the budget class, but it’s bigger than the previous-gen 6.2-inch panel on the Pixel 4A 5G. There’s a bigger battery too, a 4,680mAh cell that will last through a full day of heavy use and well into day two if you’re a lighter user. The 5A also offers IP67 water resistance for added peace of mind in the event of accidental spills or tumbles into the water.

That’s more or less the extent of the 5A’s improvements over its predecessor, and that’s fine. The 4A 5G was already a well-equipped midrange device and the 5A makes some strategic updates to its foundation. The dual standard / ultrawide rear-facing camera, Snapdragon 765G processor, and 6GB RAM / 128GB storage combination served the 4A 5G well and still deliver solid performance in this iteration.

Another thing we can count on Pixel phones to do well is software, and the 5A is no exception. It ships with Google’s own Android 11 OS and is refreshingly free of the added clutter that other manufacturers sometimes pile onto it. The Pixel 5A is also guaranteed three years of OS platform upgrades and security updates, which isn’t quite as long as Apple or Samsung’s standard software support timespan, but is certainly better than a lot of the Android competition.

There’s also, of course, 5G connectivity. You won’t get the super-fast mmWave flavor of 5G support, but that’s a highly range-limited network that’s still pretty hard to find. That’s fine, but there’s a weird question mark over whether Google will support another set of frequencies that AT&T and Verizon will start using later this year called C-band. The company isn’t committing to making the necessary software update to use it, despite supporting it in hardware. It’s a strange blemish on the 5A’s otherwise strong feature set.

The 5A is also getting somewhat of a limited release — it’s only available in the US and Japan, and isn’t being sold through any of the major US wireless carriers. Taking all of that into consideration, the Pixel 5A is still the inexpensive Android phone that we’d recommend to most people. It’s not flashy, but it’s well priced and has it where it counts.

The Galaxy A52 5G offers a 120Hz fast refresh-rate screen.

The best budget Android phone with a fast refresh-rate screen

On the Android side, the Galaxy A52 5G is a great option, albeit at the very top of the price range considered in this guide. It includes some features that aren’t too common in a budget phone, like its fast-refresh rate screen, an IP67 water resistance rating, and for now at least, monthly security updates for fast access to bug fixes and improvements.

The A52 5G’s 6.5-inch screen is an OLED panel that’s bright with good contrast that’s generally nice to look at. But its best feature is a subtle one: a 120Hz refresh rate that gives a much smoother appearance to animations and content as you swipe and scroll through menus and social feeds. We’ll likely see this feature make its way into more budget phones soon, but for now the A52 5G is one of only a few to offer better than the standard 60Hz screen in its class, and it makes the experience of using the phone that much nicer.

The phone overall performs well for its class with a Snapdragon 750G processor and 6GB of RAM. You may notice the occasional hesitation or stutter with heavy tasks, but otherwise everyday scrolling, app switching, and navigating is handled easily. And even with a power-hungry display, the Galaxy A52 5G’s 4,500mAh battery should get you through at least a day of moderate to heavy use before needing another charge.

One of the A52 5G’s not-so-bright-spots is Samsung’s current take on Android, which puts a lot of pre-downloaded apps on your phone that you probably don’t want, and it even includes the occasional ad in places like the native weather app. For a cleaner or more grown-up Android skin, look to the Pixel or OnePlus. The Galaxy A52 5G’s camera is another consideration: it’s capable, but it tends toward an oversaturated look. If you prefer a more natural look to your photos, then the Pixel 4A is the winner here.

There’s also 5G, which we still don’t think is a feature you should run out and buy a new phone for, but it is nice to have the support here — particularly if you plan to hold on to your phone for a few years. This device doesn’t support super-fast mmWave 5G, but it’s hard to come by so that’s not a huge loss. Importantly, it supports more widely available sub-6GHz bands and should be able to take advantage of improving 5G networks in the US over the next few years.

You can buy a much less expensive device to get you through the next couple of years, and that’s just fine. But if you do want to make more of an investment in a phone that you can keep using three or four years from now, the A52 5G is your best bet right now on Android.

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

The Galaxy A52 5G offers a great screen, healthy battery life, and a generous timeline for security updates that should ensure you’ll get many years out of your investment.

The Google Pixel 4A has an incredible camera.

The Google Pixel 4A has an incredible camera.

The best “get it while you can” affordable Android phone

If you want to spend a little less money, or just want the best camera, then the Google Pixel 4A is the obvious choice. Its screen is on the small side, lacks 5G support, and it doesn’t have the fastest processor, but it does have a clean version of Android and is first in line for updates from Google. The 4A came out in August last year, but it’s still guaranteed to get software updates until at least August 2023. It comes in either black or baby blue with 128GB of storage for $349 but you’ll have to act fast if you want one — with the Pixel 5A and Pixel 6 debuting this fall, Google won’t be selling the 4A for much longer.

The Pixel 4A’s main claim to fame is its camera. It’s based on generation-old technology at this point, but it’s still the best in this class and it can go head-to-head with smartphones that cost $1,000 or more. That’s because Google does so much of the image processing in software. (The sensor itself is actually quite old and not very special.) That means the Pixel 4A can take night photos, do astrophotography, and has a passable portrait mode.

The rest of the Pixel 4A’s specs are good but not great. It has a 5.8-inch screen, just enough RAM to keep apps from closing in the background, and a headphone jack. There’s no wireless charging, no fancy face unlock, and the body is made out of plastic instead of something more premium like glass. The Pixel 4A doesn’t even offer any IP water resistance ratings (but a splash of water is probably fine).

The Pixel 4A uses Google’s version of Android, which means it’s easy to navigate and free of extra stuff you probably don’t want. More importantly, it means that Google can supply the software updates directly instead of waiting for another manufacturer or carrier to approve it, putting you first in line for Android updates.

Unfortunately, in a little over a year’s time, it’s quite likely that the Pixel 4A will be slowing down. Android phones generally don’t last quite as long as iPhones do because Android tends to bog down on older hardware more quickly. The Pixel 4A’s processor is fast enough today to not be a bother, but over time, it’s possible that it won’t age well.

But for all that, the Pixel 4A is probably the safest bet if you want to get an Android phone for well under $500. You’ll get better software support and a better camera for $350. Not a bad deal — while you can still find it.

Google Pixel 4A

A very inexpensive smartphone with one of the best cameras for photography you can get on any smartphone at any price.

The Nord 2 covers the essentials with a couple of nice touches, like a 90Hz screen.
Photo by Jon Porter / The Verge

A great midrange option if you’re outside the US

The OnePlus Nord 2 isn’t sold in the US, and that’s our loss because this follow-up to the original Nord checks all the right boxes for its £399 / €399 price. Even more so than last year’s model, the Nord 2 feels like a pared-down flagship that covers all of the basics well, with (almost) nothing that you don’t need.

The Nord 2 offers a 6.43-inch display with 90Hz refresh rate — a bit faster than the standard 60Hz, but not quite the buttery smoothness of a 120Hz screen. We were a little apprehensive of the MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI chipset that OnePlus has opted for in favor of proven Snapdragon processors, but in testing, it was more than adequate for daily tasks.

The 4,500mAh battery will comfortably get you through a full day’s use, and although there’s no wireless charging included (not a surprise at this price), OnePlus’ signature fast wired charging is supported. With the included charger, you can power the phone from zero to fully charged in well under an hour.

OnePlus’ unfussy UI is another strong point. The Nord 2 ships with OxygenOS 11.3, and is the uncluttered, unfussy experience we’ve come to expect from OnePlus. The company says it will offer two OS upgrades and three years of security support for the Nord 2, which is a good, if not great update policy.

You won’t find the Hasselblad branding of the OnePlus 9 flagships on the Nord 2’s cameras, and that’s no great loss. What you do get is a capable camera system consisting of a 50-megapixel main stabilized rear camera, an 8-megapixel ultrawide, and a questionably useful 2-megapixel monochrome sensor, along with a 32-megapixel selfie camera. Image quality is good all around — photos from the main camera lean into a slightly saturated, punchy look, but nothing distracting. Low-light photos aren’t up there with the Pixel’s, but they work in a pinch.

It’s a shame that US customers can’t pick up the Nord 2 (technically you can import it, but it won’t work properly on our wireless bands so it’s not recommended), because it’s an ideal midrange device in a lot of ways. Our loss is the rest of the world’s gain.

OnePlus Nord 2

The Nord 2 offers a pared-down flagship experience with enough processing power to keep up with your daily tasks.

The N10 5G is priced well under $500.
Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

If you want an inexpensive 5G phone

At $299, the N10 5G is well below the threshold for this category. Given its price, you might expect to see some significant sacrifices compared to a $400 or $500 phone, and OnePlus has made a few. But they’re smart sacrifices that add up to a device that’s really quite good for the money.

You won’t find a fantastic screen here, although its large 6.46-inch LCD does come with a faster-than-average 90Hz refresh rate. Worth noting is the device’s somewhat “tall” 20:9 aspect ratio, which is a little unusual at first glance but makes the phone slightly narrower and easier to use with one hand. Its processor is capable enough, though it sometimes shows its limits. It also ships with Android 10, which OnePlus says it will update to 11, and is only offering two years of security updates in addition to that.

On the camera side, the N10 offers a 64-megapixel main camera that’s surprisingly good in daylight and even moderately low light. There’s an 8-megapixel ultrawide, too, along with macro and monochrome cameras that aren’t really worth talking about. It’s not Pixel 4A-level good, but if you don’t push it too hard, the N10’s main camera takes good photos in the right light.

The Samsung Galaxy A32 5G is also well worth considering in this price bracket for two very good reasons: it’s a bit less expensive and will be supported with security updates for the next four years. However, it lacks some of the N10’s nice features like a faster refresh rate screen, the camera isn’t as good, and its software feels more cluttered and bloated. The A32 5G is a better pick if you want to hang on to your phone for as many years as possible, but the N10 is a more likable device overall.

If budget is a major consideration, the N10 5G is about as good as it gets at this price. It offers the future-proofiness of sub-6GHz 5G support, a thoroughly decent camera, good battery life, a capable processor, and a fairly clean implementation of Android. It’s not a standout in any one way, but as a total package, it’s very hard to argue with its capabilities at this price.

The 2021 Moto G Power offers days-long battery performance but makes a lot of sacrifices for it.
Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

The budget phone with maximum battery life

The Moto G Power does exactly what it says it will: provide days and days of power on a single charge, thanks to its larger-than-average 5,000mAh battery. This is a slightly different version of last year’s phone with the same name, and it starts at a lower $200 price.

The lower price tag does come with trade-offs. It includes just 32GB of built-in storage, so adding a microSD card for some extra space is a must. There’s also a slightly slower processor on board, and while it’s capable enough for all of your daily needs, it’s a little laggy jumping between apps and opening the camera.

As for the camera: it’s just okay. Motorola did away with the ultrawide in this year’s models, so you’ll just be working with the 48-megapixel standard wide and 2-megapixel macro cameras in addition to an 8-megapixel selfie cam. Photos in bright outdoor light look good with plenty of detail, though colors can be a little washed out. The camera struggles with high-contrast scenes and low light, but all things considered, it’s fine for a $200 phone.

If top-notch battery performance is an extremely important feature in your smartphone, then the Moto G Power should be on your shortlist. It’s capable, and you really will get multiple days of battery life on a charge. But if you’re fine getting by on a battery that’s just average, then we think you’ll be happier with a more well-rounded device.

The Moto G Play covers all of the basics for well under $200.

The best phone under $200

There are plenty of options for those shopping on a tighter budget, but the Motorola Moto G Play is the one that stands out to us. It covers the basics well with a big 5,000mAh battery and a Snapdragon 460 processor that does a good enough job handling daily tasks.

The G Play has a generously sized 6.5-inch screen. It’s a lower-resolution panel at 720p and is difficult to see outside in direct light, but it’s more or less just fine. Camera specs are likewise basic: there’s just one rear-facing 13-megapixel camera that performs well in bright light but isn’t well suited for low-light photography.

You’ll also want to strongly consider a microSD card purchase with this phone. It only includes 32GB of built-in storage, a lot of which is already occupied by system files. Motorola has only promised security updates for two years, but realistically, the G Play isn’t built to last much longer than that.

It has its shortcomings — the G Play’s performance doesn’t keep up with many phones that are just $50-100 more expensive, for example — but it’s hard to argue with what it does offer for its price: good, basic performance without any major flaws. If there’s flexibility in your budget to spend a little more, you’ll get some meaningful upgrades, like a better camera or a longer-lasting device. But for its price, the G Play does just what it needs to.

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Samsung Galaxy A42 5G review

The Samsung Galaxy A42 5G is a thoroughly decent midrange phone that doesn’t really need to exist.

Taking it at face value, it’s fairly priced at $400 with a big 6.6-inch OLED screen, generous 5,000mAh battery, and a healthy support policy that will see it receiving security updates through the next few years. That’s a pretty good deal.

In the context of Samsung’s Galaxy A lineup, it’s situated between the Galaxy A52 5G and the A32 5G, two very good options in their own price brackets. The $499 A52 5G offers a few more high-end bells and whistles than the A42 5G, like a fast refresh screen and an IP67 waterproof rating. At $279, the more basic A32 5G includes an LCD rather than OLED.

But if you’re shopping for a new device with Verizon, you won’t see either the A52 5G or the A32 5G on the retailer’s shelves (digital or otherwise). Instead, you’ll only find the A42 5G, thanks to one feature it has and the others don’t: mmWave 5G support. Until recently, this was a feature reserved for premium phones, and the A42 5G is one of the least expensive devices that can connect with the network. Verizon in particular has been pushing this super-fast flavor of 5G hard over the past couple of years. Despite its efforts, mmWave is still scarce and highly range-limited, but the carrier is still heavily biasing its stock toward devices that support it.

That’s why the A42 5G exists, at least in the US, but I’m not convinced that’s a good enough reason for anyone besides Verizon.

The Galaxy A42 5G’s glossy, plastic back features a gradient pattern.

Samsung A42 5G screen, battery, and performance

The Galaxy A42 5G offers a big 6.6-inch 720p OLED screen. That’s not a lot of resolution stretched across a fairly big panel, and it shows — if you look closely at images you’ll see some pixelation. The screen gets bright enough for indoor use, but I had a hard time seeing it outside even with brightness maxed out. The OLED panel shows nice contrast compared to an LCD (i.e., what you’ll get in a less expensive model like the A32 5G), but otherwise the display is a little underwhelming.

The A42 5G offers an in-display fingerprint sensor for biometric unlocking and it’s one of the better ones I’ve come across in this budget-to-midrange class — it’s responsive and only occasionally fussy. Budget phones often have sensors that are less precise and require additional scans more frequently, and that is a real pain considering how many times we unlock our devices every day.

Battery life is excellent thanks to a large 5,000mAh cell — most days I only drained it to 70 percent by bedtime, but even a day with heavy use that included a Zoom call on cellular data only brought it down around 50 percent. A power user would definitely get a full day and a little extra from it, and with moderate use it can easily be stretched to two days on a charge.

Overall performance from the A42 5G’s Snapdragon 750 processor and 4GB of RAM (there’s a healthy 128GB of storage, too, and it’s expandable via MicroSD) is good for day-to-day tasks. The only slowness I noticed was a little bit of lag starting the camera app, and slight delays using more processing-intensive camera features like portrait mode.

The US version of the A42 5G ships with Android 11. Beyond that, Samsung has guaranteed two additional OS upgrades and four years of security support. In terms of device longevity, that puts it ahead of a lot of the midrange Android competition, which often only sees a couple of years of security support.

Samsung’s current implementation of Android is a little more cluttered than we prefer, and activating it on Verizon’s network means you’ll end up with even more pre-downloaded apps on top of that. It’s a lot. There’s some sort of game featuring a cartoon bear on the phone I’ve been using for the past few weeks, and I do not care for it but I haven’t been able to summon the energy to uninstall it either.

The A42 5G’s rear camera array is headlined by a 48-megapixel f/1.8 standard wide.

Samsung A42 5G camera

The A42 5G includes a 48-megapixel f/1.8 main rear camera, accompanied by an 8-megapixel f/2.2 ultrawide, and 2-megapixel depth sensor, which is all par for the midrange class. There’s also a 13-megapixel selfie camera around front. A version of the phone sold in the UK and Europe included a 5-megapixel macro and a slightly higher-res 5-megapixel depth sensor, but we’re not missing out on anything important by not having those cameras on the US version.

In good light outdoors, the Galaxy A42 5G takes vibrant, detailed photos. Like other Samsung devices before it, the A42 produces colors that lean toward oversaturated, which can be distracting if a more natural look is your thing. Portrait mode photos are convincing enough, and the camera can sometimes struggle deciding on white balance and exposure in mixed lighting situations.

Photos in very low light show a lot of smeared detail thanks to noise reduction, but outside of the Pixel phones in this price bracket, that’s not something we’d expect a midrange device to excel at. All told, the A42 5G’s photo capabilities are on par with its class. Spending a bit more on the A52 5G will get you a stabilized main camera that will get more sharp shots in dim lighting and slightly better low-light performance in general, but in the $400 range the A42 measures up well against most of its peers.

The A42 5G’s unique selling point — mmWave 5G support — is of limited value for most people.

The Galaxy A42 5G is a fine phone for $400, and if you’re committed to buying from Verizon, it’s one of the better options at that price. But if you’re able to buy an unlocked phone or you aren’t on Verizon, then there are other options, including in Samsung’s own midrange lineup, that are well worth your consideration. Unless you live in an area with good mmWave coverage and spend a lot of your time outside where the signal can actually be reached, the A42 5G’s unique feature is of limited value.

If you’d like to save a little money, the A32 5G is a viable alternative for $280. You’ll get the same security support longevity as the A42 5G along with similar photo capabilities, a huge battery, and 5G support that’s ready for upcoming improvements to Verizon’s and AT&T’s networks. Its processor is a little less robust and the LCD isn’t as nice to look at as the A42 5G’s OLED, but if these things aren’t priorities then you might as well save a little and go for the less expensive device.

If you think you’ll want a little more than the A42 5G has to offer, then the $500 A52 5G is a good step-up option with a bit of a better camera, a great high refresh rate screen, and the added peace of mind of IP-rated waterproofing. If you can find a Pixel 4A 5G in stock anywhere, that would be another good alternative at $500 with a better camera, faster processor, and cleaner software. It offers a smaller 6.2-inch screen, though, and again, you’ll have a hard time finding one new at this point since its successor, the Pixel 5A, will likely be arriving in the near future.

If none of the above suits you, then the A42 5G really isn’t a bad choice. Its healthy support policy, decent overall performance, and robust battery life make it one of the best options from Verizon for around $400. Just don’t get too excited about mmWave.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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OnePlus 9 Pro review: the best Android alternative to Samsung

The OnePlus 9 Pro is a legitimate flagship phone that is genuinely competitive with the best Android phones on the market — at least from a features and quality perspective. Yet in terms of market and mind share, it’s still destined to be a niche device for a small group of enthusiasts looking for a specific kind of elegance in their Android device.

And that’s great.

If you live in the US and you’re buying an Android phone, chances are very high that you’ll end up with a Samsung Galaxy phone. Samsung has the carrier relationships, quality, and marketing that have led directly to market share. LG, Motorola, and even Google sell more phones here than OnePlus does.

But after nearly seven years and dozens of phones, OnePlus has established itself as a brand that can make great phones that are serious alternatives to the mainstream. The $1069 OnePlus 9 Pro (the only option in North America, other parts of the world have access to a slightly less expensive model) achieves that goal with only a handful of notable compromises.

OnePlus’ flagship phones always come with a laundry list of top-of-the-line specs, but what makes the OnePlus 9 Pro good isn’t the numbers; it’s how well those specs translate into one of the best experiences you can get using Android.

The OnePlus 9 Pro has an elegant design, but won’t support 5G on all networks

The OnePlus 9 Pro has an elegant design but won’t support 5G on all networks.

OnePlus 9 Pro hardware design and 5G support

The hardware design on the OnePlus 9 Pro is the most seamless, elegant phone that the company has designed to date. It is, of course, big. It has a 6.7-inch screen that goes from edge to edge in a body that’s narrow enough to make it just barely usable for me in one hand.

What I can’t help but notice is how far OnePlus has come in build quality. The glass on the front and back curves into the aluminum rail on the edges with no seams at all. It’s well-balanced, beautiful, and solid.

Top: OnePlus 9 Pro; bottom: Galaxy S20 Plus. Both phones have similarly curved glass and molded aluminum rails.

Top: OnePlus 9 Pro. Bottom: Galaxy S20 Plus. Both phones have similarly curved glass and molded aluminum rails.

It has a three-stage ringer switch

It has a three-stage ringer switch.

It’s also the spitting image of a Galaxy S20 Plus. Shift a couple of buttons around, move the selfie camera to the middle, and swap out the logo, and it’s the same design. I get that there are only so many ways to sandwich curved glass and aluminum together, but it’s uncanny.

To be fair, OnePlus does keep some of its identity in the three-stage ringer switch, which easily lets you toggle between a ringer, vibration, and fully silent. It may still be my favorite feature on OnePlus phones, and I remain baffled as to why more Android phone makers don’t adopt a physical ringer switch.

Speaking of vibration, the haptics on the OnePlus 9 Pro aren’t sloppy at all, unlike many Android phones. Unfortunately, the trade-off is that they aren’t very strong; I often can’t feel it vibrate in my pocket.

The OnePlus 9 Pro has the top-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, which is paired with eight gigs of RAM on the 128GB model. Unfortunately, this configuration isn’t sold in North America — OnePlus originally expected to make it available, but later said that supply constraints led it to offer only the more expensive version with 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM. There’s no microSD card slot for storage expansion in either model. What you get is what you get.

It supports both Sub-6 and millimeter-wave (mmWave) styles of 5G, but there’s a significant caveat: the phone supports it, but OnePlus has only managed to land 5G certification from its carrier partner, T-Mobile. If you buy it unlocked, as of now, it will only work with T-Mobile’s 5G network. Everything else will be LTE. AT&T 5G support doesn’t appear to be in the cards at all, and as for Verizon, OnePlus says that it “continues to work with Verizon to certify both the 9 and 9 Pro on its 5G network.” Later, on March 26th, Verizon announced that it would support 5G on the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro.

OnePlus’ wireless warp charger can fully charge the phone in under 45 minutes

OnePlus’ wireless warp charger can fully charge the phone in under 45 minutes.

OnePlus 9 Pro battery and charging

For OnePlus, the standout spec is its proprietary charging technology. There’s a 65W charger included in the box, and it can charge up the phone ridiculously fast. The phone’s 4,500mAh battery is actually split in two, which helps further speed charging.

The 65W charger comes in the box (pictured with the regular OnePlus 9).

The 65W charger comes in the box (pictured with the regular OnePlus 9).

If you like, you can spend an additional $69 on OnePlus’ new Warp Charge 50 wireless charger. It charges at 25W, but since the battery is split, it’s essentially the same as charging at 50W, wirelessly. It also works if you set the phone on the charger in landscape mode. With the phone fully dead, it charged completely in 45 minutes. With ambient mode in Google Assistant on, it took a bit longer — but it was still wicked fast compared to other wireless chargers.

That 4,500mAh battery was enough to get me through a full day and a half of moderately heavy usage. However, OnePlus phones do tend to be a little more variable in their battery life depending on use. Spending a day shooting 4K video and pushing the processor with games meant I could kill it with less than four hours of screen-on time.

So while the battery life might not be best in class, the way OnePlus has built its ecosystem for charging means I’m able to top off faster than I can with other phones — provided I use OnePlus’ proprietary chargers, of course.

The OnePlus 9 Pro has an LTPO OLED screen, which can help with battery life

The OnePlus 9 Pro has an LTPO OLED screen, which can help with battery life.

OnePlus 9 Pro screen

After wireless charging, the next standout spec on the OnePlus 9 Pro is that 6.7-inch screen. Like Samsung, OnePlus has switched over to an LTPO style of OLED, which can be more power efficient and allows the company to have more control over the refresh rate.

The screen can go all the way from 120Hz on down to 1Hz, depending on what’s happening on the display. OnePlus has branded the touch response rate on the screen as “Hyper Touch,” clocked at 360Hz for certain games, and though I am dubious it makes that big a difference for gamers, OnePlus says it could. More consequential is the screen resolution: 1440 x 3216 at 525ppi. You can leave it at that high resolution and have the high refresh rate screen going at the same time. Doing so probably hits battery life, but to me, the point of this max-spec phone is to max the specs, so I didn’t turn down the resolution or the refresh rate.

Those are the specs on the screen, but it’s the experience that matters. And again, I think OnePlus has done a remarkable job here. Something about the tuning of the animations in OxygenOS makes this phone feel just a little bit smoother than even Samsung phones. I also appreciate the color tuning — although it’s not as subdued as an iPhone or even a Pixel, it’s more restrained than Samsung’s default settings.

The whole camera system on the OnePlus 9 Pro is solid, but has room to improve

The whole camera system on the OnePlus 9 Pro is solid but has room to improve.

OnePlus 9 Pro camera

Without delving into a lot of history, I will just point out that until very recently, camera quality has been the main downfall for OnePlus phones. It’s a particularly bad way to fall down, too, because often, the clearest and simplest way to compare phones that otherwise look and perform nearly equivalently is to look at the photos they take.

OnePlus knows all of this and wants to position the OnePlus 9 Pro as a heads-up competitor — or at least a viable alternative — to the very best Samsung and even Apple have to offer. So it did a thing a lot of challenger brands do: called in a ringer.

That ringer is Hasselblad, which OnePlus is partnering with to improve its camera results. It will be a multiyear effort, and it’s far from guaranteed it’ll be a fruitful partnership. In fact, most of these sorts of deals don’t really do anything notable when it comes to the camera’s quality.

This year, Hasselblad’s participation with OnePlus’ development process amounted to helping the company tune the colors from the camera and lending a bit of its interface to the camera’s Pro mode. Oh, and most importantly for OnePlus, Hasselblad allowed its logo to be stamped next to the lenses.

I do think there’s some credit due to this color-tuning influence. In the same way that other smartphone brands have a “look” to their photos, I think OnePlus is developing its own. iPhone photos are generally flat and neutral, tending to the warm side of color; Pixel photos contrasty and blue; and Samsung photos have the vibrancy slider set to max.

OnePlus 9 Pro: indoor with mixed lighting handles color well

OnePlus 9 Pro: indoor with mixed lighting handles color well.

OnePlus tends to ramp up blue colors, which is usually fine but can sometimes get the camera into trouble

OnePlus tends to ramp up blue colors, which is usually fine but can sometimes get the camera into trouble.

OnePlus does a good job not adding too much vibrancy when it’s not there in the first place

OnePlus does a good job of not adding too much vibrancy when it’s not there in the first place.

The OnePlus 9 Pro’s image output lands mostly in the middle. It tends toward blue, and it definitely lifts up shadows to create more even lighting. Its photos are more striking but less accurate than what you’ll get out of an iPhone.

The camera system is good, but it can’t quite match the quality you get from an iPhone 12 Pro Max or Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra — both of which cost more than the OnePlus 9 Pro. It handles a variety of conditions quite well, but sometimes I just had to take an extra beat to compose my shot. It let me better judge what the viewfinder was showing and, honestly, gave me time to try the shot again.

Galaxy S21 Ultra (left) vs. OnePlus 9 Pro (right)

As usual with smartphone cameras, I think the difference comes down to software. I like the colors the 9 Pro produces, but sometimes it just tries too hard and whiffs. Similarly, OnePlus seems to want to bring a little of that Pixel contrast magic to bear but instead just oversharpens. And lightening shadows is sometimes laudable, but not when it adds completely unnecessary and distracting image noise.

The camera can try too hard to brighten shadows, introducing noise

The camera can try too hard to brighten shadows, introducing noise.

The camera oversharpens sometimes, too. Take a look at the fringing around the runners on the lake in this ultrawide shot

The camera oversharpens sometimes, too. Take a look at the fringing around the runners on the lake in this ultrawide shot.

The main camera uses a new 48-megapixel Sony sensor with OIS, though when I pressed OnePlus to tell me what exactly that sensor brings to the table, I didn’t really get a clear answer. You can shoot 12-bit RAW images in the Pro mode (which is two bits more than last year, if you’re keeping count).

That’s all nice, but the interface on Pro mode is what gets me. You can clearly see what’s set to manual and what’s in auto mode. It’s simple and easy to use, too. Best of all is focus peaking, which draws little lines over the part of the image that’s in focus. It is a lot clearer and more fun to use than the tap-to-focus you need to use on other phones. (You can do that here, too, of course.)

The OnePlus 9 Pro’s other cameras include a big, 50-megapixel ultrawide with a sensor that’s quite a lot nicer than the usual step-down sensors ultrawides get stuck with. I loved using it right up until it went haywire with sharpening. OnePlus put in a custom lens to help with distortion at the edges, and it works as well or better than pure software fixes at keeping straight lines from bowing.

The telephoto camera is 3.3x, and it’s not anything special at that zoom level. Beyond it, digital zoom is kind of a mess. It gets pantsed by the S21 Ultra with its periscope-style lens. There’s also a monochrome camera that serves only as a helper for the rest of the system, but I suspect it’s not doing anything especially important. OnePlus did drop the gimmicky and pointless “color filter” camera from last year’s 8 Pro this time around. It will probably drop the monochrome camera next year, if I had to guess.

30X zoom. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (left) vs OnePlus Pro 9 (right).

OnePlus’ software-focused Nightscape mode works really well for capturing nighttime shots, although to my tastes, it over-brightens the image. Portrait mode is a mixed bag; heads often look artificially cut out from the blurry background. Again, I can get good shots, but portrait mode was often one of those situations where I needed to try the shot a second time. The selfie camera is passable in good light but falls down fast in the dark.

Unfortunately, video is equally messy. The OnePlus 9 Pro will let you shoot up to 8K 30 or 4K 120, but neither looked good. In fact, regular old 4K 30 has that overprocessed and oversharpened look you see so often from smartphones. The big new feature is improved HDR for backlit subjects, but the effect is minimal at best.

That’s a whole pile of critical takes compared to phones that cost more than this phone. But despite the price difference, I think the OnePlus 9 Pro’s camera should be held to as high a standard as possible — it’s a flagship phone. It can sometimes hang with the best of the best, and that’s a win.

You can put all your widgets in a drop-down menu instead of on your home screen.

You can put all your widgets in a drop-down menu instead of on your home screen.

OnePlus 9 Pro performance and OxygenOS 11

Even though the camera is often the main differentiator for an Android phone, it’s not necessarily everybody’s highest priority. When I’m not pixel-peeping photos, the OnePlus 9 Pro is the best Android phone I’ve used so far this year. The performance is great. I’m especially impressed with the optical in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is super fast and doesn’t seem to be thrown by weird lighting conditions.

OnePlus’ version of Android is called OxygenOS, and it’s now at version 11. The company has borrowed Samsung’s idea of shifting content down to meet your thumb and added in support for an always-on ambient display. The animations feel smooth, and OnePlus has learned its lesson about how annoying it can be to have apps close in the background too often.

OnePlus has committed to two major OS updates and three years of bimonthly security updates, which puts it ahead of brands like LG but behind Samsung and Google.

You can customize a few things like the font and icons, too. My favorite customization is an ambient display mode that displays a colorful bar that shows how often you’ve been using your phone throughout the day.

One feature borrowed from Apple and / or Microsoft is the ability to put your widgets into a separate panel so they’re not littering your main home screen, accessible via a quick swipe down. I love it, but I wish it wasn’t mapped to the same thing other Android phones use to quickly bring down notifications.

Mostly, though, OxygenOS just feels chill, especially compared to Samsung. OnePlus isn’t pushing its own ecosystem of apps and services (though with a new OnePlus Watch coming, perhaps that may change). It’s also not festooning its own apps with advertisements, unlike Samsung.

OxygenOS 11 is smooth and less annoying than other versions of Android

OxygenOS 11 is smooth and less annoying than other versions of Android.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The OnePlus 9 Pro (top) and OnePlus 9

The OnePlus 9 Pro (top) and OnePlus 9.

The OnePlus 9 has a slightly smaller screen

The OnePlus 9 (right) has a slightly smaller screen.

The OnePlus 9 Pro is not a “flagship killer.” It’s a flagship. Although it still costs a little less than its top-tier competitors, it nevertheless is a pricey phone that makes a lot of promises. Mostly, it delivers on them. Even though a tiny fraction of customers buy OnePlus phones compared to Apple and Samsung, the company has built a track record long enough to deserve its status as an established brand.

If you’re considering one of the new OnePlus phones, I am actually hard-pressed to make the case for the OnePlus 9 Pro over the regular OnePlus 9, which Allison Johnson reviewed. The regular OnePlus 9 is $240 less, and the things you lose are mostly the nice-to-haves that justify the Pro’s existence: fast wireless charging, OIS, a telephoto lens, mmWave 5G, and the slightly larger screen. The cheaper OnePlus 9 lacks telephoto, but its other cameras take photos that are nearly equivalent to the pro. It has a high refresh rate screen, fast wired charging, wireless charging (though it’s not as fast), and most importantly, a nice OnePlus software experience with great performance.

The reason to opt for the 9 Pro over the regular 9 is in some ways the same reason you’d opt for a OnePlus phone over a Samsung phone in the first place: it’s just a little nicer and a little different than what everybody else has in their pocket.

Update March 26th, 2021 5pm ET: Verizon announced it would support 5G on the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro and OnePlus confirmed they will not work on AT&T’s 5G network. The review has been updated to note the new information.

Update July 27th, 2021 4pm ET: OnePlus has stated that despite its original intention to do so, it won’t sell the base model OnePlus 9 Pro in North America.

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NY Mets 2021 MLB Draft Review: Rounds 1 through 3

Between July 11th and 13th 2021, the New York Mets selected their future franchise pieces In the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.  Needless to say, it was an exciting one for the blue and orange!

After 2020’s draft, 20-rounds is a complete breath of fresh air, as the prospect market was HOT!  The Mets began round one in the 10th selection spot. I’ve mentioned before that the Mets are 19th ranked of 30 MLB teams in farm systems, with only 3 of the top 10 prospects being pitchers. You can never have enough pitching. This year, the Mets drafted 12 pitchers alone!

Also, may I remind everyone, 3 months ago I wrote an article titled, “New York Mets: Pitchers to watch for in the 2021 MLB Draft”.  Although I had high hopes, I sort of mentioned that the Mets 10th overall pick did not look hopeful to draft Kumar Rocker… well, the “baseball gods” heard that…

That being said, let’s take a look at the future of the New York Mets.

2021 New York Mets Draft Picks and Summaries

ROUND 1: 10th Pick, RHP Kumar Rocker

A part of Vanderbilt’s 1-2 pitching punch, Kumar Rocker sits 6th overall in Major League Baseball’s top 100 prospect list.  This kid is monstrous on the mound, with a football body type similar to his father who was an NFL player.  Rocker stands 6’5”, 245lbs, displaying strength in a muscular body type with good usage of power from the legs and hips.  He’s a strike-thrower, not afraid to attack the zone, can paint corners, and work top and bottom shelf.  He works a fastball, slider, and changeup. His fastball is most relied on, carries impressive velocity, sitting 95-96mph with great command.  He’s touched up to 99 max on his fastball from time to time.  His slider is his out-pitch and will be very crucial as he climbs the Mets ranks.  His slider can be used like a curveball as well, changing movement, direction, and placement. His changeup was very absent from his game repertoire; it’s a usual back-pocket option but not a needed one.

Rocker has started 39 career games for Vanderbilt, going 28-10 over 236 and 2/3 innings, 321 strikeouts with only 68 walks. Rocker finished the 2021 season with a 2.73 ERA.  His career headlines also were impressive, being named Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year, 2019 College World Series Most Outstanding Player, and he also threw a no-hitter in 2019.

Rocker is a strikeout machine and considered elite; this was a 10th round steal by the Mets, and truly is a boost for the future of this organization.

ROUND 2: 46TH Pick: RHP Calvin Ziegler

The New York Mets round 2 selection (46th overall) is a fairly familiar face.  Right-hander Calvin Ziegler was their pick, the top pitching prospect in all of Canada.  I spent time scouting Ontario and eastern Canada; Ziegler competed in the Canadian Premier Baseball League with the Great Lakes Canadians which I coached against.  Watching this kid was like watching magic; high schooler throwing 97mph? Yep, unheard of.  Aside from the CPBL, Ziegler was throwing for the TNXL Academy in Florida, prepping for the Draft.  He was a commit to Auburn University.

He’s ranked 268th of 500 top-ranked prospects by Baseball America, and 134th on MLB Pipeline.  Ziegler is a right-hander with a ton of talent.  He’s 6’0”, 205lbs, tall with an athletic build from top to bottom.  He has a loose arm, repeats his delivery well with solid fundamentals and arm action.  Ziegler is known for his fastball; better yet he’s known for the drastic increase in fastball velocity between 2019 and present.  We’ve seen 89-91 maximum transpire to 91-94 average, with a top-velocity of 97mph. His fastball is his hottest tool currently, with great command and ability to move around the zone.  His curveball is a well-hooking breaking ball between 82-84mph that can be thrown for strikes, accompanied by his most dominant option, the slider. His changeup is also complimentary to his repertoire.

Ziegler will be a key took for the future of the Mets on the pitching side.  He recently signed his contract and is excited to start the journey!

ROUND 3: 81st Pick: RHP Dominic Hamel

Another arm to the system, out of Dallas Baptist University, right-handed pitcher, Dominic Hamel.  The 96th ranked prospect by MLB is impressive on the rapsodo charts.  Hamel is an overall 50 on the 20-80 scale, however, spin rates on his pitches are phenomenal.  He throws a fastball, maxing 96mph which can touch all of the strike box.  His curveball breaks well, shoots downward into and off the zone.  The slider bites late in the early 80s with good late-breaking action, and the changeup works low with good velocity reduction.  He’s struck out 136 batters over 91.2 innings going 13-2.  The Mets can see good innings out of this kid in the near future.

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NSA review finds no evidence supporting Tucker Carlson’s claims NSA was spying on him, sources say

Carlson had claimed that the agency was spying on him and planned to leak his communications to take him off air.

One of the sources said that Carlson’s name was picked up in third-party communications and his identity was unmasked, meaning others mentioned him in their communications. In the NSA foreign intelligence reports, the names of Americans are redacted, or “masked.” Certain authorized US officials have the authority to request the names of those individuals if they have a justifiable reason.

The Record first reported this story.
The NSA declined to comment on Saturday. Last month, when the accusations were made, the NSA tweeted a statement indicating the Fox host’s claim “is untrue.”

“Tucker Carlson has never been an intelligence target of the Agency and the NSA has never had any plans to try to take his program off the air,” the statement said.

“For the NSA to unmask Tucker Carlson or any journalist attempting to secure a newsworthy interview is entirely unacceptable and raises serious questions about their activities as well as their original denial, which was wildly misleading,” a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

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The Week in Review: Merrick Garland Visits Chicago to Tout Gun Trafficking Strike Force | Chicago News

The U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland, spends two days here touting a new task force to combat surging summer violence. The Illinois native arrived right after three mass shootings happened in Chicago in one day. Police Supt. David Brown said after the mass shootings, “we are in a battle for the heart and soul of these communities.”

Read: Garland Launches Gun Trafficking Strike Forces in 5 Cities

Meanwhile, after years of negotiations, an elected police reform board passes City Council.

Read: City Council Approves Elected Board to Oversee Chicago Police with 36-13 Vote

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is going to what could be the summer’s biggest super-spreader event, Lollapalooza.

Read: Pritzker Says He Plans to Attend Lollapalooza

However, Mayor Lori Lightfoot warns COVID-19 restrictions could return with the current spike in cases of the Delta variant. 

Read: Lightfoot Again Sounds the Alarm About COVID-19 Infections Amid Delta Variant Surge

Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools announce a mask mandate when schools reopen in the fall.

Read: CPS Will Require Students, Staff to Wear Masks Indoors When School Resumes Next Month

In politics, Gov. Pritzker makes his reelection bid official after playing coy for months.

Read: Pritzker Makes Reelection Bid Official with Tweet, Video

Will Speaker Pelosi appoint Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger to the Jan. 6 investigation panel?

Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, pulls another Illinois Representative, Rodney Davis, as well as all other GOP members from the panel after the Speaker rejects outspoken loyalists to Donald Trump, Reps. Jim Jordan and Jim Banks from serving on the committee.

Read: Pelosi Bars Trump Allies from Jan. 6 Probe; GOP Vows Boycott

And, Illinois’ unemployment fraud losses total nearly $15 million as of now and could reach $1 billion.

Read:  Illinois Officials Warn of Fraud Linked to Federal Pandemic Unemployment Program


Craig Dellimore, WBBM Newsradio | @CraigDellimore@WBBMNewsradio

Sarah Schulte, ABC-7 News | @SchulteABC7, @ABC7Chicago

Lourdes Duarte, WGN-TV | @WGNNews@LourdesWGN

Joan Esposito, WCPT-820 | @WCPT820, @JoanEspositoCHI

Did you miss us? Check out more episodes of The Week in Review.

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Tales of Scientists Gone Rogue (or Worse)

Walter Freeman was itching for a shortcut. Since the 1930s, the Washington, D.C. neurologist had been drilling through the skulls of psychiatric patients to scoop out brain chunks in the hopes of calming their mental torment. But Freeman decided he wanted something simpler than a bone drill — he wanted a rod-like implement that could pass directly through the eye socket to penetrate the brain. He’d then swirl the rod around to scramble the patient’s frontal lobes, the brain regions that control higher-level thinking and judgment.

Rummaging in his kitchen drawer, Freeman found the perfect tool: a sharp pick of the sort used to shear ice from large blocks. He knew his close colleague, surgeon James Watts, wouldn’t sanction his new approach, so he closed the office door and did his “ice-pick lobotomies” — more formally, transorbital lobotomies — without Watts’ knowledge.

BOOK REVIEW“The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science,” by Sam Kean (Little, Brown, & Company, 368 pages).

Though the amoral scientist has been a familiar trope since Victor Frankenstein, we seldom consider what sets these technicians on the path to iniquity. Journalist Sam Kean’s “The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science,” helps fill that void, describing how dozens of promising scientists broke bad throughout history — and arguing that the better we understand their moral decay, the more prepared we’ll be to quash the next Freeman. “Understanding what good and evil look like in science — and the path from one to the other — is more vital than ever,” Kean writes. “Science has its own sins to answer for.”

Expert at spinning historical science yarns — his last book, “The Bastard Brigade,” was about the failed Nazi atom bomb — Kean presents a scientific rogues’ gallery that’s both entertaining and chilling. Naturalist William Dampier, who influenced Charles Darwin’s work, resorted to piracy to fund his fieldwork in the 17th century. He joined a band of buccaneers that seized gems, scads of valuable silk, and stocks of perfume in raids throughout Central and South America.

A century later, celebrated Scottish surgeon John Hunter worked with grave robbers to obtain bodies so he could study human anatomy. His colleagues emulated his approach, and the pipeline from corpse-snatchers to anatomists continued for decades. The practice was tacitly accepted because it could yield valuable insights — Hunter discovered the tear ducts and the olfactory nerve, among other things — but the human toll was horrifying nonetheless. At public hangings, so-called sack-‘em-up men “sometimes even yanked people off the gibbet who weren’t quite dead yet,” Kean writes. “They’d merely passed out from lack of air — only to pop awake later on the dissection table.”

In a way, though, the gruesome endpoints Kean describes — the scrambled brains, the ransacked ships, the deathbeds — are the least interesting part of his story. They mostly confirm philosopher Simone Weil’s impression that real-world evil is “gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring.”

What’s more compelling is Kean’s take on how the scientists justified their actions. They pushed aside thoughts of collateral damage — the lives they disrespected and damaged — by rationalizing that their contributions outweighed any harm they were doing. Freeman’s work at an early 20th-century psychiatric asylum convinced him of the unalloyed good of calming agitated patients via lobotomy. “The ward could be brightened when curtains and flowerpots were no longer in danger of being used as weapons,” Freeman observed.

“Understanding what good and evil look like in science — and the path from one to the other — is more vital than ever,” Kean writes.

But it wasn’t long before the downsides of Freeman’s blinkered strategy showed up. Botched lobotomies killed some patients, while others, like John F. Kennedy’s sister Rosemary Kennedy, emerged unable to speak normally or care for themselves.

Kean excels at conveying each scientist’s slide into corruption — one so gradual that, like the fabled boiling frog, they scarcely noticed they were in hot water. Freeman was once a wunderkind neurology professor, beloved by his students. At some point, he opened a book by Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz and got religion. Moniz claimed excising brain tissue helped end-stage patients recover enough to leave asylums, and Freeman felt inspired to help his own severely ill patients in the same way. At first, it seemed like a reasonable approach of last resort. In Moniz’s midcentury heyday, lobotomies became an accepted part of medical practice at asylums, and Moniz even won the Nobel Prize in 1949 for his advances in psychosurgery.

But then Freeman started performing more and more lobotomies, with fewer ethical misgivings. He increasingly used the crude ice pick to probe patients’ brains, rather than Moniz’s more traditional surgical tools. And he started offering the surgery to adult patients with less severe mental illness and, finally, to young children with mood disturbances. Why not operate as early as possible, he argued, before things had a chance to get out of control?

English naturalist Henry Smeathman likewise began with the highest intentions — he was an ardent opponent of the slave trade. But years later, on a lonely posting to Sierra Leone, he yukked it up with slave ship captains in his free time, then signed on as a slave-trading agent himself. His rationale? By putting his oar in, he could ensure his field specimens got fast passage on slave ships from Africa to England. “Preserving dead bugs and plants meant more to him than preserving his morals,” Kean notes.

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Kean’s catalogue of scientific ne’er-do-wells does have some notable gaps. While he briefly mentions Nazi doctors and their horrifying experiments on concentration-camp prisoners, he skips entirely over early 20th-century U.S. eugenics, a branch of pseudoscience concerned with preserving “fit” human bloodlines and discarding the “unfit.” Founders of this movement, including researcher Francis Galton, in many ways prepared the ground for the genocidal crimes of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen.

Yet Kean makes up for his omissions, at least in part, with the complexity of the portraits he does include. We learn about Smeathman’s respect for his Sierra Leonean guides’ natural history knowledge, and about how carefully Freeman followed up with each of his patients to document their progress. Many unscrupulous scientists, Kean reveals, are far more like us than not. Though it’s comforting to view them as alien, we have many of the same human tendencies they do — and, like them, we have a hard time detecting when the drip-drip-drip of moral compromise turns into a flood.

“Any one of us might have fallen into similar traps,” Kean writes. “Honestly admitting this is the best vigilance we have.”

To avoid such traps, Kean advises scientists to adopt clear ethical guidelines before launching any project, based on research showing that people behave more ethically when they assert their honesty at the start of a task. He also advocates for a technique developed by psychologist Gary Klein and championed by Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman called the premortem — thorough assessments of all the ways a planned research venture could go awry. But the book stops short of specific policy implications on this score; there’s no analysis of how well scientific premortems might work to forestall future dastardly deeds.

What’s more, some scientists are already so far into the morass that premortems are out of the question. It’s fitting that Freeman’s final surgery, an early 1967 lobotomy, ended in disaster. He failed to aim his pick just right, and the patient sustained a brain bleed and died. No doctor in the U.S. has performed such a procedure since — at least, so far as the medical record shows. It may be true that, thanks to Freeman’s surgeries, some patients left asylums and returned to their families. But decades later, what is remembered most are the lives the ice pick destroyed.

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