iPhone 13 vs Older iPhones

iPhone 13 Pro line might has all the highlights and latest tech, but one should not forgo the progress that the baseline iPhone 13 has made over the years. iPhone 13 compared to 12, 11, Xr, 8, 7 and 6s. Posted by erwinkarim on 9:23 AM, October 4, 2021 Last updated on 3:54 PM, October 8, 2021 Filed in: iphone, comparison, evolution,

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The iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the most technologically advanced smartphone that Apple ever make to date. The technologies that is packed in the Pro lines are class leading and in some cases, ahead of the competition. That being said, let’s not discount the “base” iPhone models. While Apple does not release sales figure by model types, but it is safe to assume that being at the lower price point than the Pro models, it’s a sales leader in Apple’s line up.

While the Pro models gets the press coverage due to it’s halo features, let’s not forget the evolution and improvements over the generations of “base” iPhone to see how far the iPhone has come. See how far the “common” tech of the iPhone reach to its over billion user base. We will do a generational comparison from iPhone 6s (amazingly still supported by Apple over iOS updates) to the latest iPhone 13.

From left: iPhone 6s Plus, 7 Plus, 8 Plus, Xr, 11, 12 and the current generation iPhone 13.

The Chip

The secret sauce of the iPhone is the system on chip (SOC) that powers the iPhone and Apple A-series chip is class leading example of human ingenuity in building nano-sized circuits that essentially powers the mordern world. In this case, the generational leap has been impressive. From 2 billion transistors in the A9 that powers that iPhone 6s Plus to over 15 billion in the A15 on the iPhone 13. What’s more impressive is how much the transistor density has grown over the years from 20 million per millimeter square in the A9 to the almost 135 million in the A14. What the translates into is that more work is capable to be done while using the same amount of power.

The iPhone 6s has a decent chip ...

... and Apple keep improving it ...

... to the point that the chip is a laptop rivaling chip in its own right.
Feature A9 A10 Fusion A11 Bionic A12 Bionic A13 Bionic A14 Bionic A15 Bionic
Introduced (iPhone) 2015 (iPhone 6s) 2016 (iPhone 7) 2017 (iPhone 8) 2018 (iPhone Xr) 2019 (iPhone 11) 2020 (iPhone 12) 2021 (iPhone 13)
Transistor Count (billions) 2 3.3 4.3 6.9 8.5 11.8 15
Production Process 16nm to 14nm 16nm 10nm 7nm 7nm 5nm 5nm
Estimated Die Size (mm^2) 104.5 125 87.66 83.27 98.48 88 ?
Estimated transistor density (million / mm^2) 19.13 26.4 49 82.87 86.32 134.90
Compute Cores 2x 1.85 Ghz 4x 2.34 Ghz 6x 2.34 Ghz 2x 2.49 Ghz and 4x 1.6 Ghz 2x 2.65 Ghz and 4x 1.8 Ghz 2x 3.1 Ghz and 4x 1.8 Ghz 2x 3.22 Ghz and 4x ?? Ghz
Graphic Cores PowerVR 6-cores PowerVR 6-cores Apple 3-cores Apple 4-cores Apple 4-cores Apple 4-cores Apple 4 or 5 cores
Neural Cores - - 2-cores 8-cores 8-cores 16-cores 16-cores
GeekBench 5 (single-core) 558 776 932 1118 1334 1592 1726
GeekBench 5 (multi-core) 1024 1422 2569 2764 3524 4112 4606

GeekBench 5 single core benchmark scores.

GeekBench 5 multi-core benchmark scores.

The Screen

At a glance, a screen is a screen, but beauty is more than skin deep. Over the years, the color accuracy gets better, you have an OLED screen, it can do HDR and respond to ambient light. In the future, the refresh rate might be variable depending on context.

The screen size does not change much over the years because unlike a television, you can use only have so much space in your pocket or in your messenger bag. However, the technology in displaying your content on the screen gets better and better. First, the color representation gets better because the gamut runs from sRBG to P3. Then, it has True Tone function where it can change the white balance of the screen to match your ambient light.

P3 allows you to see more colors in the screen.

The big leap was when the screen changed from LCD to OLED, where instead of having a back light to show the content, each of the pixel is bright enough to show the actual content. This means that is dark will stay dark instead of a dark grey. You can now see content in a higher dynamic range (a bigger difference between dark objects and a light object) to closer match real life. And of course the screen goes brighter after each generational change.

Feature iPhone 6s Plus iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 8 Plus iPhone Xr iPhone 11 iPhone 12 iPhone 13
Screen Tech LCD OLED
Screen Size (inches) 5.5 6.1
Resolution 1920 x 1080 1792 x 828 2532 x 1170
Typical Brightness 500 625 800
HDR Brightness - 1200
True Tone? No Yes
Gamut sRGB P3

The Camera

From a smartphone that takes pictures to a camera that take calls.

Next to the screen, the camera is the next single most important feature of any smartphone, and the iPhone has been consistently excellent in this area for each generation. Now, with the iPhone 13, we now no longer have a smartphone that can take pictures, but a camera that can take calls. iPhone and their Android counterpart has single handedly killed the point and shoot market.

For each generation, Apple make the camera bigger, a larger camera hump (you still can’t cheat physics), the sensor more sensitive and a the neural engine more powerful so it will have more clever camera tricks like changing the render, potrait mode (artifically blurring the background to mimic a larger sensor), night mode (enhancing night photos), night sky mode (easier to take pictures of stars at night) and now photographic styles (auto adjust the style settings) and cinematic mode (adjust the focus intelligently by detecting faces.)

So the biggest improvement that the iPhone 13 has over previous generation is the improvement of the camera sensor and function.

Feature iPhone 6s Plus iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 8 Plus iPhone Xr iPhone 11 iPhone 12 iPhone 13
Ultrawide Lens - 12 MP, f/2.4, 13mm
Wide Lens 12 MP, f/2.2, 29mm, 1.22 micrometer 12 MP, f/1.8, 28mm 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, 1.4 micrometer 12 MP, f/1.6 26mm, 1.6 micrometer 12 MP, f/1.6 26mm, 1.7 micrometer
Telephoto - 12 MP, f/2.8, 56mm 12 MP, f/2.8, 57mm -
Selfie 5MP, f/2.2, 31mm 7MP, f/2.2, 32mm 12 MP, f/2.2, 23mm
Photo capabilities
Night Mode - Yes
Portrait Mode - Yes
Photographic Styles - Yes
Video capabilities
Slow-Mo Up to 240fps @ 720p; 120fps @ 1080p Up to 240fps @ 1080p
Time-lapse Yes
4K 4K30 4K24, 4K30, 4K60
HDR - Yes
Cinematic Mode - Yes

Other technologies

Technologies are added every few generation but sometimes removed (we miss you Force Touch). Overall, every generational change makes the iPhone more and more capable than ever.

Apple has stack a few technologies on the iPhone to make the iPhone more capable and convenient over the generations. The iPhones are more aware with their surrounding with an integrated motion co-processor which have integrated accelerometer, gyroscopes and compasses. Now they are more aware with ultra-wide band sensors which can communicate with nearby compatible devices

Charging is also another area which the iPhone improves over generations. There’s always the lightning cable (which might go away pending EU’s directive). Then there are magnetic induction charging using the Qi standard makes it more convenient to charge the iPhone and later the MagSafe make it charge faster by properly aligning the magnetic coils perfectly through a series of magnets around the coils.

A smartphone now no longer is used just to take calls and send messages. It now can go to the internet to give and receive data from various servers from around the world. Cellular communications are now advanced that you can now stream multi-gigabit video right from your phone. Not only getting terrestrial service, but the iPhone can also get data from satellite that orbits the earth. What a time to be alive.

Battery is perhaps the most researched component in the smartphone after the screen and the camera. Since the widespread use of the smartphone, billions of dollars of R&D money has been poured into making better batteries so the devices will last longer and be more durable. Advances in chip manufacturing also makes new chip that is more energy efficiency while being more powerful. The iPhone 13 has the biggest battery that Apple makes and combine with the higher efficiency of the A15, it package a powerful punch of having a highly capable iPhone that can also last a long time.

Feature iPhone 6s Plus iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 8 Plus iPhone Xr iPhone 11 iPhone 12 iPhone 13
Extra sensors
U1 Chip - Yes
Motion Co-processor M9 M10 (embedded with A10) M11 (embedded with A11) embedded
Screen Durability Gorilla Glass Apple Internal Glass Ceramic Glass
IP Rating - 67 68
Fast Charging No Up to 10 W Up to 20 W
Qi Charging - Yes
Mag Safe - Yes
Celluar connectivity 4G 5G
WiFi Wifi 5 Wifi 6
Bluetooth 4.2 5
Capacity (mAh) 2750 2900 2691 2642 3110 2815 3240
Video Playback Up to 14 hours Up to 16 hours Up to 17 hours Up to 19 hours
Video Playback (streamed) - Up to 10 hours Up to 11 hours Up to 15 hours
Audio Playback Up to 80 hours Up to 60 hours Up to 65 hours Up to 75 hours


So while smartphones in general has reached a maturity level which does not warrants a yearly upgrade, but judging by how much technology advancements has been made over the years, you will find that that is is justifiable to upgrade your phone from 2 years ago and more so when you have an even older phone. So the take home message is this: You don’t need to upgrade your phone every year, so buy what you need at that moment and use it until you can’t. You will be rewarded on the next upgrade cycle which instead of a yearly, it’s a 2-3 years now, which you will see vast improvements.


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