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Reviews

The iPhone 14 Pro is a serious leap forward for those ready to upgrade

iPhone 14 and 14 Pro Max-3

I’ve been testing the $999 iPhone 14 Pro and $1,099 iPhone 14 Pro Max for nearly a week. The updates to the 14 and 14 Pro lines this year are distinctive, setting the course not only for the iPhone 14 Pro lineup this year, but for iPhone models to follow in the next several years.

Apple debuted a new camera setup that’s a big step forward and a totally new way for users to interact with the front-facing camera cutout formerly called the notch. And then there’s a satellite communication feature that’s not yet live, but has the potential to save someone’s life in the future.

But, instead of focussing on what’s to come, let’s take some time to focus on what we have available to use right now. And that’s the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, two expensive but powerful phones. Below you’ll find some things I really like about Apple’s latest and greatest, and some things I’m not the biggest fan of.

Apple's best gets better
The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max's upgraded camera, interactive Dynamic Island and always-on display make for a major upgrade, one that's especially ideal for those coming from an iPhone 12 or older that are willing to invest in the best phone Apple has to offer.

What we liked about it

The Dynamic Island is full of fun

iPhone 14 and 14 Pro Max-4

The iPhone 14 Pro boasts a 6.1-inch display, while the iPhone 14 Pro Max sticks with its 6.7-inch screen size. When the phones are powered off, they don’t look all that different from their predecessors, but once the screen lights up, you immediately notice the notch has moved down, slightly, and now lives within the screen. Well, technically, it’s not called a notch. Instead of letting users and the media name the new cutout that houses the FaceID TrueDepth sensors and front-facing camera, Apple dubbed it the Dynamic Island.

But instead of simply delivering a less distracting camera cutout, Apple has built a software experience around this new module — and it’s where Dynamic Island truly earns its name.

The Dynamic Island is used as an interactive area, where you can view any Now Playing information from media apps like Spotify or Apple Music. You’ll also see information such as the volume status of your connected AirPods, a new FaceID unlock animation, or a timer icon when you have an active countdown going. The Dynamic Island can even display two icons at once, so you can, say, view your current song and the status of your timer at the same time.

And when Apple releases iOS 16.1, likely in October, a new Live Activities feature will roll out, allowing developers to integrate with the Dynamic Island and display more information — such as Lyft or Uber showing how far away your driver is.

Even though we’ve yet to see Apple tap the full potential of the Dynamic Island, it’s still a lot of fun to use and interact with. When you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to leave a supported app, it minimizes into the island with a fun animation as it transforms from what looks like a camera cutout that’s commonly found on Android phones into a spot where you can view information.

If you tap the island while it’s actively showing information, such as the album art for the currently playing song, it’ll launch the respective streaming app. However, if you long-press on the island, it’ll reveal media controls for you to skip or go back a track, or even control AirPlay settings in a smaller interface at the top of the display. This makes it much easier to quickly adjust your music playback or stop a timer without having to completely open their respective apps.

Great performance and battery life

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All of the interactions with Dynamic Island or across the entire iPhone 14 Pro experience have been fast and fluid, thanks to the new Apple A16 Bionic processor. The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max are the only 2022 iPhone models to use Apple’s newest processor. The iPhone 14 and 14 Plus use a nearly identical version of last year’s A15 Bionic processor.

I had no issues streaming YouTube videos using the recently released Picture in Picture feature, while also quickly moving between Tweetbot to keep tabs on my Twitter feed, checking email, Slack messages and even the occasional distraction that is Reddit in the Apollo app — which, by the way, has already figured out a totally adorable way to take advantage of the Dynamic Island for iPhone 14 Pro users.

When it came to relaxing, I tried my hand at a few games like Call of Duty Mobile or Apple Arcade’s Ballistic Baseball. Both of which were as smooth as my home run swing.

Running Geekbench 5 on the iPhone 14 Pro Max to measure the A16 Bionic’s performance backs up my anecdotal performance observations. For single-core and multi-core performance, the iPhone 14 Pro Max scored 1,853 and 5,279, respectively. That’s faster than the iPhone 14 scores of 1,737 and 4,503. And even more impressive is the performance difference between the iPhone 14 Pro and Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4, which uses Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor. In the same tests, the Z Fold 4 scored 1,297 and 3,886 for single and multi-core.

Apple often likes to tout its A-series chips and their performance and industry-leading, and it’s hard to place blame for it. Part of that performance is battery life, and so far the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max have matched the performance I saw in last year’s iPhone 13 Pro models. That means that I get a full day of use on the iPhone 14 Pro, and I am typically left with anywhere between 30% and 40% of a charge at the end of the day with the larger iPhone 14 Pro Max.

A big, impressive camera upgrade

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For several years now, every new iPhone model has been equipped with 12-megapixel sensors. And even though Apple hasn’t taken part in the race to put the most megapixels in a smartphone sensor, the company has refined and improved the image quality, year over year, through its internal components, processors, and software.

This year, however, the iPhone 14 Pro lineup is receiving one of the biggest camera upgrades we’ve seen in an iPhone. The main camera sensor goes from 12 megapixels to 48 megapixels, while the ultra-wide and telephoto cameras stay at 12 megapixels.

Apple is using several new pieces of technology, in addition to the new sensor, to improve the camera experience on the iPhone. For example, when you take a regular photo with the main sensor, Apple uses what’s called pixel binning technology to combine the pixels captured by a 48-megapixel sensor and shrink it down to an image that’s just 12-megapixels. The end result is a picture with larger pixels that captures more detail, information and light.

This isn’t a new trick or new technology — Samsung and other smartphone makers have been doing it for the last few years. But this is the first time an iPhone has had the tech.

In the photos I’ve taken with the new main camera so far, the difference is apparent. Photos look slightly sharper, with more accurate colors and detail. The below photo is completely unedited and was actually captured using burst mode in the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s camera app.

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Apple didn’t stop at combining pixels in order to take advantage of the new main camera — there are two more rather impressive tricks here. The first one is a new 2x zoom option. The new option joins the 0.5 zoom that’s made possible by the ultra-wide camera, and the 3x zoom that’s courtesy of the telephoto lens. Apple didn’t add a fourth camera to the iPhone 14 Pro in order to get another zoom option, but is instead cropping the 48-megapixel sensor at 12-megapixels, which in turn creates a 2x zoom effect.

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To be clear, this isn’t the same type of digital zoom you’ll find if you go past the 3x zoom level — you’re getting a full 12-megapixel resolution photo at 2x. That means that any photos you take using one of the zoom buttons present in the camera app will look sharp and lack that grainy look that often happens when you’ve zoomed in too far and triggered digital zoom (anything past 3x is using digital zoom). In short, you don’t have to sacrifice the overall quality of the picture just to get closer to your shot.

And, finally, Apple has added a new Action video mode to the camera app. When enabled, the camera acts more like a dedicated action camera — GoPro or otherwise — to capture stabilized footage recording during activities with a lot of movement.

I’ve long wondered why Apple or Samsung hadn’t added an action-like feature to its cameras to continue putting the pressure on the likes of GoPro. And while I don’t think Action mode is nearly as good as HyperSmooth 5 in the GoPro Hero 11 Black, it’s nonetheless very impressive.

Here are two clips captured at the same exact time. In my left hand, I had the iPhone 14 Pro in standard video mode. In my right hand, I had the iPhone 14 Pro Max in video mode with the new Action feature turned on. I ran across my yard, holding both phones and the results speak for themselves.

The camera upgrades on the iPhone 14 are more iterative than substantial, but the upgrades on the iPhone 14 Pro Max are setting the tone for iPhone cameras for years to come.

Always on, always ready

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For years, Android users have stood atop a pile of broken and brand-new iPhones, screaming about the platform’s flexibility and superiority. One of those battle cries has almost always included the fact that many Android phones have an always-on display option. When enabled, the display of an Android phone transitions to a low power state while the phone sits idle, showing any pending alerts, the time, and other small tidbits of information.

But that battle cry will fall on deaf ears now that the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max are equipped with an always-on display. Apple took a similar approach as it did with the Apple Watch with the iPhone 14 Pro’s always-on display. That means that when your iPhone 14 Pro is sitting idle, on a desk or table, the display dims, but doesn’t fully turn off. You can still see the time, date and any widgets you’ve added to your lock screen — the latter of which is a new feature in iOS 16.

Apple’s implementation is different from various Android devices because the entire screen is still visible. On Android devices, only the time and app icons for any pending alerts are typically shown.

For the first two or three days of testing, I was constantly questioning whether the phone wasn’t auto-locking itself or if something was keeping the screen awake. Notifications even show up in real-time as the screen is in its low power state, and I often would try to open one or swipe up on the display to view the entire list, but nothing would happen. To fully wake the device, you have to pick it up, press the side button or double-tap the display.

When your phone is face-down on a table or even in your pocket, the always-on display is turned off to conserve battery life. The same goes for leaving the phone in a different room while you’re wearing an Apple Watch. Once the phone detects the watch is far away, it’ll turn off the always-on display. Not only does that save battery life, but in my mind, it’s also a privacy feature so that no one can see what alerts you’ve received.

There are plenty of upsides to the always-on display, but there’s also one downside — in social settings, I can see how it’ll give the impression that you’re distracted by your phone. If you do find yourself distracted by the screen, you can either turn it over and place it face down on the table, or turn off the always-on display in the settings app.

The display itself looks as good as it did on the iPhone 13 Pro Max. That is to say – great, especially when viewing it outdoors or in an overly bright area thanks to support of up to 2,000 nits of total brightness, another new feature on the iPhone 14 Pro line. I had no issues looking at and easily making sense of what was on the screen in direct sunlight. The added brightness joins ProMotion, a now-staple of Apple’s Pro iPhone line that dynamically adjusts the refresh rate of the screen based on what you’re doing at a specific time. The end result is a screen that moves very smoothly when you’re gaming or scrolling through a long email, but slows down when you’re looking at a photo.

What we didn’t like about it

Ditching a physical SIM makes sense, but…

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For the last few years, Apple’s iPhone lineup has supported both a physical SIM card and a relatively new technology called eSIM. The “e” stands for embedded, and it allows you to program and reprogram your iPhone’s SIM card — digitally — without having to swap out the small plastic card to tell your phone which carrier and phone number to use.

With the entire iPhone 14 lineup, Apple has completely removed the SIM card tray, forcing iPhone owners to use an eSIM. When you order your iPhone from Apple or a wireless carrier, your phone number is linked to an eSIM that gets activated during the setup process once you get your new phone.

The process for me was seamless and took under a minute, with the iPhone 14 Pro Max asking if I wanted to transfer my phone number from the iPhone I had been using. I had to confirm the request on both devices, and a few seconds later my number was active on the new iPhone.

Ultimately, a move to eSIM technology simplifies the activation process and removes one more piece of hardware and element of connecting a phone to a cellular network. However, in the near term, it’s going to lead to frustrating scenarios for those who are frequent international travelers who need to seek out a data plan while traveling overseas to avoid roaming fees. Apple has a support page that lists all of the wireless carriers that support using an eSIM, but the international options are very limited. So, for instance, if you found a wireless carrier with a cheaper data plan, but it doesn’t support eSIM technology, you’re out of luck.

It’ll take some time for carriers to catch up to Apple on this one, and in the meantime, you may find yourself paying more.

Pro users deserve more than a Lightning port

Despite Apple having swapped the Lightning connector on several iPad models in favor of a faster and more feature-rich USB-C connection, Apple’s entire iPhone lineup has stuck with the Lightning port. Sure, it’s convenient not to have to buy new cables when you finally upgrade your iPhone, but it’s time for — at the very least — the Pro iPhone models to get treated like their namesake.

By limiting the iPhone 14 Pro to a Lighting connection, Apple is creating a data transfer bottleneck for those taking advantage of the advanced camera features that the Pro lineup offers. I took several ProRAW photos using the new 48-megapixel sensor. The result of shooting RAW photos — a more advanced file type designed for folks who want to edit their photos with professional software — with such a larger sensor is an even bigger file size.

In the iPhone 14 Pro’s settings app, Apple estimates a ProRAW photo captured at 12MP will be roughly 25MB in size, while a 48MP photo will take up approximately 75MB of storage. A cursory look at a few ProRAW photos I captured puts the high-end of the file size at around 60MB.

Apple ProRes video takes up even more storage space, with each minute of video captured in 1080p HD taking 1.7GB of storage, while 4K ProRes video eats up a whopping 6GB of storage for each minute captured.

The large file sizes is why Apple only enables 4K ProRes video recording for iPhone 14 Pro models with 256GB or more of storage.

How does all of this relate to the iPhone’s Lightning port? The Lightning port transfers data at USB 2.0 speeds, or 480 megabits per second. While that may sound fast, compared to the transfer speed of 10 gigabits per second with the USB-C port on the iPad Air, or up to 40 gigabits per second on the iPad Pro — and you can quickly see just how outdated and slow the transfer speed of the iPhone 14 Pro is.

Offloading your photos and videos from your new phone with a best-in-class camera is going to take awhile. And that’s not how it should be. Sure, you could rely on uploading the files to some form of cloud storage and then downloading them to your computer, but that’s still a time-consuming process.

It’s time for Apple to move, at the very least, the Pro model iPhones over to USB-C, especially as the company continues to invest and improve the camera systems.

The Pro colors are getting boring

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Don’t get me wrong, I think Deep Purple looks great. It’s likely the color I’m going to order for myself, but that’s not because I’m in love with it. It’s simply because the rest of the iPhone 14 Pro colors — gold, silver, and space black — have been around for years, and are downright boring.

I’d love to see Apple mix up the Pro color options at launch, instead of adding another color in the spring as happened with the release of the green iPhone 13 Pro earlier this year.

Granted, I’m sure Apple has the data to back up the fact that only releasing a single color outside of the staple black, silver and white lineup is more than sufficient to keep Pro users happy. Odds are, most iPhone 14 Pro owners will end up with a case on their shiny new phone, covering up the subtle colors anyways.

At the end of the day, it’s fair to say I’m a little jealous that iPhone 14 owners have more color options, including the bolder Product(RED) model.

How the iPhone 14 Pro compares

Display

6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion and an always-on display

6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion and an always-on display

6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display

6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display

Processor

Apple A16 Bionic

Apple A16 Bionic

Apple A15 Bionic

Apple A15 Bionic

Storage

128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB

128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB

128GB / 256GB / 512GB

128GB / 256GB / 512GB

Memory

6GB

6GB

6GB

6GB

Battery

Up to 23 hours of video playback

Up to 29 hours of video playback

Up to 20 hours of video playback

Up to 26 hours of video playback

Rear cameras

48MP main camera, 12MP ultra-wide camera, 12-megapixel telephoto

48MP main camera, 12MP ultra-wide camera, 12-megapixel telephoto

12MP main, 12MP ultra-wide

12MP main, 12MP ultra-wide

Front camera

12MP TrueDepth camera

12MP TrueDepth camera

12MP TrueDepth camera

12MP TrueDepth camera

Connectivity

5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.3, Emergency SOS via satellite

5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.3, Emergency SOS via satellite

5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.3, Emergency SOS via satellite

5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.3, Emergency SOS via satellite

Colors

Deep purple, gold, silver, space black

Deep purple, gold, silver, space black

Blue, purple, midnight, starlight, Product(RED)

Blue, purple, midnight, starlight, Product(RED)

Price $999 $1,099 $799 $899

Bottom line

Now it’s time to answer the age old question of whether or not someone should upgrade to the newest iPhone. The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max are bigger upgrades than the iPhone 14 when compared directly to the iPhone 13 line, but most people don’t upgrade every year. That’s the reasonable approach, at least.

For someone who is upgrading from an iPhone 11, or even an iPhone 12, the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max are significant upgrades that improve upon the iPhone and iOS experience in nearly every single aspect. From a better experience the moment you power on the display, to improved performance and fancy camera tricks — the iPhone 14 Pro is one of the best smartphones you can buy, and a big leap forward for anyone ready for a new iPhone.

If you’re looking to save some money, the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus offer the same core experience and are still a big upgrade for those with older iPhones. And with the addition of the iPhone 14 Plus that’s coming Oct. 7, you can have a big-screen iPhone without having to pay over $1,000 for it. You’ll just need to wait a couple of extra weeks for it to arrive.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed price at the time of publication.