OPINION: I have set up more iPhones than I care to remember, but the first time I booted up the iPhone 13 Pro Max something felt very different.
There wasn’t a new startup screen or anything, nor was it radically different to the iPhone 13 I set up moments before. What made it feel new was that this was my first experience of ProMotion on an iPhone – and it instantly made a difference.
ProMotion is Apple’s term for its variable refresh rate tech that first debuted a few years ago on the iPad. It allowed the tablet, and now the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, to alter the number of times the screen refreshes from 10 times a second to 120.
While I had wanted a faster screen on an iPhone since I first used the 90Hz Razer Phone in 2017, I didn’t ever feel it was all that necessary. See, Android phone makers often use these faster displays to make up for slower devices with slower animations and software that could be tuned better. Apple doesn’t have that problem and the 60Hz panels it has used for years often felt, to me, better than a 90Hz version on a competing device.
But as soon as I started the setup process on the iPhone 13 Pro Max, scrolling through a list to select the device’s region, ProMotion made itself clear and I was glad it was there. Scrolling was, pardon the cliche, buttery smooth with any form of judder a thing of the past.
Faster refresh rate panels are about more than just smooth scrolling, though. ProMotion, along with other VRR LTPO panels used on phones like the OnePlus 9 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, can alter the refresh rate on the fly.
Sometimes 120Hz is pointless and using it constantly can do more harm than good, so these screens adapt to the task. If you’re reading, for example, 10Hz is ideal; while streaming a YouTube video only needs 30Hz. A game that runs at 120fps could have menus render at 30 or 60Hz – another way to save juice. These ProMotion panels are part of the reason why Apple claims the iPhone 13 Pro Max can last 2.5 hours longer than the 12 Pro.
It’s too early yet to really know whether or not the general iPhone buyer will feel the benefits of this new screen tech. I’ve shown friends faster refresh rate screens before and while some notice it right away, some just don’t. Maybe this is why Apple is keeping it on the ‘Pro’ phones for now, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it trickled down to the regular iPhone 14 next year.
I’ve only spent a few days with the iPhone 13 Pro Max so far, so maybe after a week my mind will change and the new camera array or the Cinematic mode will be the best feature. However, right now it’s hard to look past ProMotion as the standout iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max addition.