Apple’s iPhone 13 is great, but these missing features are a letdown
With longer battery life, better cameras, a new Cinematic mode and more base-level storage space, Apple’s iPhone 13 lineup has a lot to offer over its predecessors. (Check out CNET’s iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro and Pro Max reviews.) Although there’s a lot to love about the iPhone 13, it’s missing a few features we had hoped to see from Apple’s latest smartphone. Many of these features are available on Android competitors, while others can be found on different Apple devices.
The iPhone 13, which is available for purchase, starts at $829 for the standard model without a carrier discount. The Mini begins at $729, the iPhone 13 Pro starts at $999 and the iPhone 13 Pro Max has an entry price of $1,099.
Read more: Should you upgrade to iPhone 13? We compared the last five years of iPhones to find out
From an in-screen fingerprint reader to a truly borderless screen, here are the features missing from the iPhone 13.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could use the same charger for your iPhone and the other gadgets in your home? Apple’s latest iPhone, however, is once again missing USB-C connectivity. As has been the case since 2012, the latest iPhones require Apple’s proprietary Lightning cable for wired charging.
Not only does that mean you can’t use chargers from other gadgets to power up your iPhone, but it also means chargers from other Apple mobile devices might not be compatible with your iPhone. Apple’s iPad Air, iPad Pro and newly announced iPad Mini, for example, all charge via USB-C. That means even if you’re an Apple loyalist, you’ll need to keep track of multiple charging cables.
An in-screen fingerprint reader
Face ID works great most of the time, but it would be nice to have the option of using your fingerprint to unlock your device as well. That’s especially true over the last year and a half since Face ID can’t accurately identify you while wearing a face mask. If you don’t have an Apple Watch, you’ve probably been typing in your passcode much more than usual over the past year.
Read more: New iPhone 13? How to transfer data from iPhone to iPhone
Many Android phones, such as those from Samsung, Motorola and OnePlus, have fingerprint readers built into their screens. A 2019 report from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is known for his sometimes accurate Apple predictions, said Apple would release an iPhone with Face ID and an in-display fingerprint sensor in 2021. That didn’t turn out to be true, but perhaps we’ll see it in the iPhone 14.
One of the most prominent rumors about the iPhone 13 in the weeks before its launch was that it would come with satellite connectivity for sending texts in emergency scenarios. That didn’t turn out to be true, at least not yet.
Kuo and Bloomberg both reported that the iPhone 13 would be able to use satellite connectivity in areas without cellular coverage. But Bloomberg’s report provided a bit more detail, saying that this feature would primarily serve as an SOS for contacting emergency services. Messages would have a length restriction, and you might have to walk to a certain location to connect.
However, the Bloomberg report did say that the feature could be scrapped, and it warned that the iPhone 13 may not have the feature at launch even if it has the hardware to support it.
Wi-Fi 6E support
Wi-Fi 6E is new and isn’t a must-have yet. But since many people buy an iPhone with the intention of keeping it for several years, it would have been helpful to see Wi-Fi 6E support in at least the Pro and Pro Max models.
Wi-Fi 6E is a special designation for Wi-Fi 6 devices that allows them to access the new 6GHz band of spectrum. As my colleague Ry Crist puts it, think of the 6GHz band as a “shiny, new seven-lane superhighway” that’s only available for select devices. The 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands we’re used to connecting on today’s routers are more like a “one-lane country highway” and a “three-lane interstate,” respectively.
There aren’t many smartphones out there that support Wi-Fi 6E yet. But Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of them, and we’re already seeing routers from Asus and Netgear that support 6E. If you’re paying for the top-of-the-line iPhone, it would be useful to at least have Wi-Fi 6E connectivity as an option.
An always-on display
My Apple Watch has an always-on display, and I only wish my iPhone could, too. For years, smartphones from Samsung, OnePlus and other Android device-makers have had screens that are capable of showing information onscreen even when the display is asleep.
That might not sound like a big deal, but I’ve found it to be surprisingly useful. Most phones with an always-on display will show information like the time and your next calendar event when the display is turned off.
Having this information available at a glance has made it easier to see when my next meeting is without having to actually pick up my phone, which is helpful for avoiding distractions. If you don’t own a smartwatch, an always-on display makes it easier to quickly see small bits of information while maintaining some distance from your phone.
A telephoto lens with a 10x optical zoom
The iPhone 13 lineup is getting major camera quality improvements. There’s a new Cinematic mode on all four models that automatically switches the focus between subjects as needed, and the iPhone 13 Pro is getting the ability to take macro shots.
But the iPhone 13’s telephoto camera still doesn’t have as close a zoom as Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra. The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max have 6x optical zoom range, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra has two telephoto lenses that support a 3x and 10x optical zoom.
Samsung’s smartphones are known for their zooming capabilities, which is why the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was named our favorite phone for camera zoom in 2020. But we’ll have to wait until we’ve tested the iPhone 13 Pro to see how it really stacks up against Samsung’s latest flagships.
iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini: Check out the redesigned camera module and smaller notch
A notchless screen
Yes, Apple fans are probably used to the notch by now since it’s been present on iPhones since 2017. But it’s hard to overlook it when you consider the progress Android device-makers have made in this regard.
Most Android smartphones come with notch-free screens that include just a subtle hole-shaped cutout for the camera. Samsung was among the earliest to embrace this design back in 2019 with the Galaxy S10 family. But now, this design is common across the Android landscape, whether you’re looking at phones from Samsung, Google, OnePlus or Motorola.
However, it’s worth pointing out that part of the reason why the iPhone’s notch is so large is because that’s where all of its Face ID sensors are located. Apple’s facial recognition system has generally been considered to be ahead of the competition, especially around the time it launched.
The flexibility to control the screen’s refresh rate
The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max are the first iPhones to get Apple’s ProMotion feature, which boosts the display’s refresh rate to up to 120Hz for smoother scrolling and increased responsiveness. To conserve battery life, it throttles the screen to a lower refresh rate to maintain battery life.
Other phones like the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S20 give you more control and flexibility by allowing you to choose when you want to crank the refresh rate up to 120Hz rather than having the phone decide for you. It’s possible to choose between a smoother scrolling option and a battery life option in Samsung’s settings menu. You’ll have to be willing to sacrifice some image quality and battery life, however.
Faster wireless charging
Wireless charging has been standard on the iPhone since 2017, but we still have yet to see meaningful improvements when it comes to charging speeds. If you’re not using a MagSafe wireless charger, which can deliver 15-watt wireless charging speeds, you’ll only be able to charge your iPhone at 7.5 watts.
That’s a lot slower than most Android phones. Samsung’s Galaxy S21, for example, supports 10-watt wireless charging, while the Galaxy S20 FE supports faster 15-watt wireless charging. The OnePlus 9 Pro supports 50-watt wireless charging.
Now that wireless charging is a given and is no longer considered a rarity on smartphones, it would be nice to see Apple boost the iPhone’s wireless charging speeds the way it has done for the Apple Watch.
Reverse wireless charging
We’ve all been there. Maybe you’re on the bus or train, and you pull out your AirPods only to see that dreaded red light signaling that your battery is about to run out. If only you could rest your AirPods case on the back of your iPhone to give it a little power boost.
This feature, broadly known as reverse wireless charging, is available on Android phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S21 line and the Google Pixel 5, but not on the iPhone 13. It essentially enables the back of your phone to act as a wireless charging pad for accessories like smartphones, wireless earbuds and even other phones.
Although this feature isn’t available now, there are clues that Apple may be thinking about it. Filings with the Federal Communications Commission from October 2020 suggests Apple may have built the necessary technology into the iPhone even if it’s not enabled.
Apple Pencil support
Apple has brought Apple Pencil support to every iPad in its lineup, but there’s still no compatibility with the iPhone. I could particularly see the Apple Pencil being useful on the iPhone 13 Pro Max and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, both of which have nearly tablet-size 6.7-inch screens that are ideal for sketching and note taking. Plus, adding Apple Pencil support to the supersize Pro Max phones would give Apple yet another way to differentiate the Pro Max from the 6.1-inch Pro and make more use of its larger screen.
Lossless audio over Bluetooth
With chipmaker Qualcomm debuting its proprietary audio format for delivering lossless audio over Bluetooth, it would have been nice to hear similar ambitions from Apple.
Lossless audio uses a different compression method that preserves more detail than the process that’s used to make Bluetooth audio files small enough to store on your phone. Qualcomm expects devices that support its lossless audio format should be launching in early 2022, so there’s a chance we’ll hear more about it around CES in January.
In the meantime, you’ll have to use wired headphones or your iPhone’s built-in speakers to listen to lossless music from your mobile device.
Center Stage for video calls
The entry-level iPad and iPad Mini now have Center Stage, the feature that automatically keeps your face in frame when video chatting. It works automatically and has been super convenient now that many of us are communicating with friends, co-workers and family members over video calls.
It would be more useful, however, if Center Stage was available across all of Apple’s products, including iPhones and Macs. In fact, I do most of my video chatting on an iPhone or a Mac rather than an iPad, especially since phones are smaller and usually easier to hold at eye level in portrait orientation.