The iPhone 14 Pro is the best an iPhone has ever felt, and it will keep getting better over the year.
The “Dynamic Island” was possibly the most surprising announcement at Apple’s iPhone event. The company pushing past the earlier rumors of a hole punch and pill-shaped cutout on its Pro models was a surprise to many. In comes the single pill-shaped notch replacement – in an attempt to play catch up to its current competitors. The result: a nifty software trick that everyone else will be adopting in the near future.
The iPhone 14 Pro strikes a surprising balance between the past and present. With an innovative idea, Apple retains a design that seems to have been well appreciated but fixed the major blemish: the notch. A hardware upgrade was a given, but the company’s commitment to better photography has become evident. The bigger camera sensors would clearly have happened with Apple lagging behind the rest of the industry. The company went the extra mile by reimagining its Deep Fusion technology.
This may not be revolutionary as you might have expected, partly because Apple is rarely the first one to bring a major change to their devices. Sure, they were the reason the headphone jack is no more, but that is more of an omission.
What the 14 Pro gets you is a beautiful device with a feasible form factor, getting almost every aspect of a smartphone right. The Pro takes everything that the 13 Pro got right a step further: better cameras, a more refined design, and more powerful hardware.
The iPhone 14 Pro still costs $999 and up, but what you get is probably the perfect phone for most people. Sure, going to eSIM in the United States may hurt at first, but most people will be able to look past that when they experience the newest iPhone in all its glory.
This is Apple’s first step toward a new kind of device, and it is not meant to be perfect. However, it is a glimpse at what the most popular smartphone’s future may hold, and how it may very well change how we use these tiny screens.
Let’s get the most conspicuous change out of the way first. Yes, the new notch, or the lack thereof. This new pill-shaped cutout is where the front camera and the Face ID system are housed, and is the best current application of a hole in your screen.
Fun to see how much attention a hole in your screen receives. | Image: Apple
We thought that the notch was something you would have to get used to, and eventually ignore to get a more streamlined experience. Apple’s Dynamic Island is different. It wants you to know it’s there. And why is that? Because this is the new way of interacting with your phone to know what is going on, and it actually works.
Instead of a simple, static pill, the Dynamic Island expands depending on what your phone is doing. It unifies all the things iOS showed you in your status bar into a range of animations that show music playback, timers, and more. Taking all the things that clutter your status bar and moving them into an island that you can expand at will surely make things seem sleeker. It does not, however, take away the need for the status and notification bar.
The Dynamic Island comes with some neat tricks.
The easiest way to imagine this is a new widget that lives in the pill-shaped cutout, which can dynamically expand and contract based on contextual information. Here are some things the Dynamic Island can or will support:
The dynamic island carries some resemblance to the Samsung Z Flip 4’s cover display. It is meant to feel as if it’s part of the phone’s hardware, not just a software trick. Apple has certainly gone the extra mile to make sure it feels so.
Alan Dye, VP of Human Interface at Apple said:
“Our goal was to design a space that clearly and consistently surfaces alerts and background activity richly and delightfully, the result being an entirely new and intuitive way of interacting with iPhone, one that truly blurs the line between hardware and software.”
Apple has designed its animation to feel super fluid and responsive. The new A16 chip also has a new display engine, which allows for anti-aliasing on the Dynamic Island animations. Anti-aliasing is the smoothening of edges by averaging the colors of the pixels at a boundary. This makes it so that the animations feel smooth and continuous to curtain the fact that it’s all happening in software.
The Dynamic Island is not something that brings scads of functionality to a simple cutout. It does, however, make something that would just be sitting there into something more useful, tied into the phone’s software, but it is not all perfect. It still needs several third-party apps to support the miniature notifications for better applications. As of now, this is something that can be useful at times, but you will get over its appeal after spending some time with the phone.
This might change when the live activities API update comes later this year. It will allow you to keep an eye on things happening in real-time, like ride arrivals or a sports game right from your Dynamic Island (and the Lock Screen). The current concepts seem pretty enticing, but it all depends on how much of a pull this functionality has on third-party app developers.
A visibly larger camera module to accommodate the larger sensor.
The feature that you may care the most about is the new camera system on the iPhone 14 Pro, with the new 48-megapixel main camera sensor leading the way. While the ultrawide and telephoto sensors receive upgrades as well, they remain 12-megapixel sensors.
First things first, the images you will mostly be capturing from the main sensor will be 12-megapixel shots. Despite a larger megapixel count, Apple utilizes pixel binning, just like most other smartphones, combining four pixels to create one gigantic, virtual pixel.
The idea behind pixel binning is pretty simple. Clusters of adjacent pixels are grouped together to form a larger pixel, where the captured information is meant to provide better low-light performance and reduce noise at the cost of image resolution.
Before getting to the results of this improved hardware, there is one more thing you need to know. Apple introduced its Deep Fusion computational photography technology with the iPhone 11 series. It is meant to aid mid- to low-light photography by making images sharper, improving lighting, and giving them in general a more natural look.
Deep Fusion worked by shooting nine images in total: four before you press the shutter button and four after, along with a long exposure image. The data from these images are then merged to result in a single image with the best parts of all pictures.
Apple has rebranded this technology to what they now call the “Photonic Engine”. The big difference: this is the same concept as Deep Fusion, but more intricate. The process of pixel-by-pixel analysis will begin at the uncompressed level. Apple claims that this technology makes images in low light up to three times better on the main sensor, and up to two times better on all the secondary cameras.
In real-world usage, the images from the iPhone 14 Pro look largely the same as their predecessor. There’s a noticeable improvement in low-light photography, but that’s when you really go out looking for more detail. The larger sensor gets you slightly more detailed shots, but it mostly depends on what images you prefer.
The iPhone’s main competitors, at least globally, are the Pixel 6 Pro and Samsung’s S22 Ultra. Both phones offer some pretty capable cameras, but the Pixel came in ahead in most comparisons.
The iPhone 14 Pro tends to process images with a cooler look, while the Pixel 6 leans towards more natural skin tones. The S22 Ultra, on the other hand, gets you a warmer look. This does not mean that any of the devices is lacking in the camera department.
The only area where Google commands a sizeable lead is in low-light photography, but the gap has been narrowing every year. In the end, it all comes down to what looks the most pleasing to your eyes, and you won’t be disappointed with either.
One thing I noticed with the 14 Pro’s shots, especially low-light ones, was how the device sometimes tends to overexpose shots. At times it seems like there are no shadows visible at all, and the images look simply blown out. This may simply be a software issue that could be fixed with an update.
Pixel devices tend to go for more natural tones, while the new iPhones tend to capture images with a cooler color temperature. Both results in some stunning shots, but it comes down to what pleases your eyes more, and you probably won’t be disappointed with either.
You also get the option to capture full 48-megapixel images in ProRaw, but it’s more suited to people who are used to fiddling around with their shots. If it is your jam, however, you get a lot of room to revise and polish things.
Cinematic Mode was not a smooth ride last year, but Apple is determined to make this one of the key features for the iPhone. It is evident that the company has put in more work with the 14 Pro. It does a better job with sensing depth, but it still struggles to keep the subjects in focus.
Action mode is the new video feature this year, meant to bring gimbal-like stabilization right into your pocket. You can turn it on by tapping the Action mode icon (running person) in the video section of the Camera app.
The action mode defaults to the iPhone’s ultrawide camera, which gets cropped in.
To activate Action mode, open the camera app, go to the video section, and in the top left corner tap the Action mode icon of a person running. Once activated, the camera defaults to the iPhone’s ultrawide camera, which gets cropped in compared to footage shot on the ultrawide without Action mode.
Action mode tops out at a 2.8K resolution. While this is not as good as a GoPro, it’s surprising how close the two are. The GoPro will have a greater lead during more intense sessions, but Apple’s alternative sure is fun to use.
Apple has improved the displays on its newest iPhone yet again, and it now has a much-awaited feature: an Always-On display mode. The refresh rate now drops down all the way to 1Hz to conserve battery life (the 13 Pro went as low as 10Hz). The display is also slightly brighter than before, with a peak brightness of 2,000 nits. That’s the same as Apple’s $4,999 Pro Display XDR. The high 120Hz refresh rate keeps any sort of interaction with the device super smooth.
Apple has specifically made adjustments to the A16 Bionic to have the display run as efficiently as possible, especially with concerns about the always-on display negatively impacting the battery life. The mode is enabled by default, but you can easily turn it off in the Display and Brightness menu.
The A16 Bionic is one of the most capable chipsets you would find in any device, so performance is no concern, at least not for the next few years. The iPhone 14 lineup sits in a weird spot in terms of internals. While the 14 Pro and Pro Max get the new A16 Bionic, the non-Pro models stick with the same chipset as the iPhone 13. While this is not a deal breaker, it seems weird considering last year’s iPhone 13 Mini and even the significantly cheaper SE got the same treatment as the highest-end iPhone.
Battery life on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) vs the iPhone 13 (right). The 14 Pro struggles even with Always-On turned off.
Apple claims the 14 Pro to be a slight improvement over the 13 Pro in terms of battery life. In real-world usage, the Always-On display takes its toll on the device, with the 14 Pro consistently getting lower numbers that the 13 Pro across tests. Turning off the Always-On display gave me an extra hour and a half of usage on any given day, even more at times. The most surprising was how the 14 Pro’s battery fared against the iPhone 13. While the former got 4 hours of screen time on most days, the 13 easily got me through a day and a half of usage with every full charge.
This is still an all-day device, but not without some compromises. If you want superior battery life, the 14 Pro Max seems like the better choice. The non-Max variant gets you through the day, but I can’t deny the disappointment I felt when I had to make some sacrifices to do so.
During the final few days before the iPhone 14 Pro’s announcement, leaks about the device getting satellite connectivity surfaced. The system is meant to help you in emergencies by prompting you to make an emergency call in distress with a satellite option. The device will guide you by pointing your phone towards the satellite. This feature will not be rolling out before November, and it comes with a catch: you will have to pay for this service, although it is free for the first two years on the iPhone 14 lineup. While Apple has not given any numbers for how much the service will cost, it does appeal to a very niche population.
The most unexpected move this year was Apple’s decision to go all eSIM for iPhones in the US. The iPhone 14 will allow you to store at least 8 eSIMs at once, with the capability of keeping two of them active at the same time. This is a big decision, but it seems like Apple is first testing the waters by keeping the change exclusive to the US. In theory, it will allow you to add and switch networks on your phone pretty quickly.
I really enjoyed using the 14 Pro. It’s fast, it’s responsive, and even comes with some pretty neat tricks. Despite all the flair, there is something about the device that feels like it’s still in the beta stage. The Dynamic Island is not as useful as you might think, and battery life is still here or there.
What I’m looking forward to is the future of the iPhone. And not just a distant feature, but the next few months as well. As Live APIs start rolling out, its up to other companies to make it useful in their own way. With the new Photonic Engine, Apple may figure out a way to make considerable leaps in photography, at least in low-light images. You might want to sit out for another year, as the corners really start to get smoothed out.
At this point, the iPhone 13 Pro seems like a smarter upgrade even if you’re coming from a regular 13 or the now-dead 13 Mini. You get a telephoto camera and a higher refresh rate panel on what now will be a sub-$700 smartphone.
If you want to experience the best of Apple, however, the 14 Pro is right there for you. I personally find the 14 Pro Max too big for comfortable usage, but you might like the extra battery life. Basically, this is the best phone for most people, if they’re willing to spend a $1,000 that is.