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iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max: 120Hz refresh rate, camera upgrades and every other feature announced

Apple revealed its iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max earlier this week. The two higher-end phones come with faster performance, ProMotion and more.

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Apple/Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple unveiled the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone Pro Max, its new high-end smartphones meant to succeed the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, on Tuesday. The announcement came during Apple's latest product launch event, where it also unveiled the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini. The biggest additions include three new cameras, a new 120Hz display and longer battery life

The phones will start at the same price as last year's Pro iPhones, with the iPhone 13 Pro beginning at $999 (£949, AU$1,699) and the iPhone 13 Pro Max starting at $1,099 (£1,049, AU$1,849). Here's how and when you can preorder the iPhone 13

Read more: CNET's iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max reviews

As is usually the case with Apple's Pro-level iPhones, the camera is one of the main differences between the iPhone 13 Pro and the standard model. But the phones are also getting a boost in performance, gains in battery life, a new 1-terabyte storage option and a new display that can bump its refresh rate up to 120Hz.

There's a new triple-lens camera system with a larger 77-millimeter telephoto lens that provides a 3x optical zoom for the first time on an iPhone. This represents an improvement on the iPhone 12 Pro's 2x optical zoom and the iPhone 12 Pro Max's 2.5x optical zoom. 

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Apple also says the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max should be better at capturing macro photography shots, since their cameras can magnify subjects with a minimum focus distance of 2 centimeters (less than an inch).

The new main wide-angle camera also has a larger sensor with bigger pixels, and the camera system should be better than the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max when it comes to taking low-light photos. 

The iPhone 13 Pro is also getting Apple's ProMotion feature, which boosts the screen's refresh rate for smoother performance. It's the first time Apple has brought this feature to the iPhone. ProMotion can ramp up the display refresh rate to 120Hz, or down to a lower rate for still images and text, conserving battery life. The refresh rate can vary depending on how apps use it, but when using it on an iPad Pro, it creates a smoother feel to general OS navigation, file and web browsing, and most everyday tasks. We'll have to wait until we get the phones in before we know exactly how it'll work on iPhone 13 Pro.

Apple CEO Tim Cook called the iPhone 13 Pro "the most pro iPhone ever" during Tuesday's event. It comes in four colors (sierra blue, silver, gold and graphite) and comes with stainless steel bands just like its predecessor. 

Just like last year, the iPhone 13 Pro has a 6.1-inch screen, while the iPhone 13 Pro Max has a 6.7-inch display. Both smartphones are also getting a boost in battery life, making them the longest-lasting iPhones ever made, according to Apple. The iPhone 13 Pro should last 1.5 hours longer than the iPhone 12 Pro, while the iPhone 13 Pro Max gets a 2.5-hour bump in battery life over its predecessor. 

The rest of the iPhone 13 lineup also comes with longer battery life, and features a redesigned TrueDepth camera system that's 20% smaller than the notch on previous iPhones. The standard iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini also come with more advanced camera features like Apple's new Cinematic Mode. This feature holds focus on the subject and automatically transfers it in real time.

The phones also are powered by Apple's A15 Bionic processor, but the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max will run on a version with a five-core GPU instead of the iPhone 13's four-core GPU. Using the four-core GPU on the lower-end phones could be a way to make use of chips that otherwise would have to be scrapped because of manufacturing defects on one of the GPU cores.

Apple launched its first iPhone Pro model in 2019 with the iPhone 11 Pro. It was positioned as a pricier alternative to the entry level iPhone for those willing to pay for more sophisticated cameras, a better screen and extra storage. 

Apple's fall launch -- which was virtual again this year because of the pandemic -- tends to be the company's most important of the year. It's when the company announces new iPhones, which represent about half its revenue. While the iPhone remains Apple's biggest moneymaker, the company also has been expanding its software and services efforts. In the past couple of years, its new offerings have included a $5-per-month Apple TV Plus entertainment package and a $10-per-month Apple Fitness Plus workout service

CNET's Ian Sherr contributed to this report.