Apple’s new iPhone 14 models hit stores Friday, with the exception of the iPhone 14 Plus, which will be available starting Oct. 7. I’ve been testing the $799 iPhone 14, $999 iPhone 14 Pro, and the $1,099 iPhone 14 Pro Max for the past several days.
While I used all of them, the core of this review focuses on the Pro Max because it’s the best new iPhone you can get from Apple.
If you’re looking for a real upgrade, the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are the way to go. Don’t expect many big changes if you have an iPhone 13 and are thinking of getting the base iPhone 14.
Despite higher costs, Apple kept the prices of the iPhone 14 series the same as the iPhone 13 lineup in the U.S. In other countries, including the U.K., Australia, Japan and Germany, Apple has hiked prices by as much as $146.
Delivery wait times for the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are already longer than last year’s waiting period for the iPhone 13 Pro models. That’s a positive sign for Apple, as higher-end products remain popular despite historic inflation and slowing consumer spending.
The iPhone 14 Pro models have improved battery life and new cameras. They also have brand new features: an always-on display and the Dynamic Island –an interactive new display area that sits around the selfie camera.
I’ll walk you through the differences and help you figure out which phone, if any, is right for you.
iPhone 14 Pro Max: What’s good?
The 14 Pro Max is similar in size to last year’s iPhone 13 Pro Max. But its large 6.7-inch screen is brighter than ever, which makes it great for gaming and watching TV shows and movies, even if you’re outside.
Dynamic Island is the coolest new feature Apple introduced this year. Instead of that blank notch that used to house the selfie camera and microphone, there’s a new interactive pill display that has the ability to shape-shift.
Dynamic Island blurs the lines between hardware and software, since the front-facing camera is still underneath. Instead of cutting into your viewing experience like the notch on previous iPhones, it becomes part of what you’re already doing when using the iPhone 14 Pro or Pro Max.
Let’s say you’re reading an article. You can also control the music you’re listening to by tapping Dynamic Island instead of switching applications. It’s useful.
The space can be used to show other things, such as directions, AirPod connection status and battery life, or a timer. It can even split into two separate cutouts, so you can see a timer on one side and track the arrival time of your Lyft simultaneously, for example.
There’s also a new always-on display. This allows you to glance over at your lock screen on your phone while it’s sitting on your desk and see dim but useful information. That’s something Samsung, Google and other Android phone makers have been including for years, but Apple’s approach is different. It lights up the whole screen instead of just tiny sections.
It’s neat, but I turned it off because I try not to look at my phone all the time, especially when someone is talking to me. This is a personal preference, and I understand why some people may find it useful. If you put your iPhone 14 Pro or Pro Max face down on a table, or in your pocket, the always-on display is deactivated.
The only time I really liked using the always-on display was when I was watching “House of the Dragon” on HBO Max and needed to access my Apple TV remote. Instead of having to open the Apple Remote every time I needed to pause, the always-on display meant the remote stayed on my iPhone screen. It was as if the actual remote, which I always seem to lose, was right next to me.
The front and back cameras are better than the iPhone 13 Pro. Apple improved its low-light performance by 2x thanks to the new Photonic Engine and improved camera sensors, making photos taken at night sharper. The 48-megapixel camera captures great detail. Take a look at the scenic picture I captured while visiting New York City’s Little Island public park last weekend.
Apple also unveiled an action mode that allows you to shoot smooth videos. I often use a gimbal to capture video, but action mode has eliminated that need by stabilizing the picture for me. It means you should be able to run around filming your kids without the video looking bumpy.
The battery life on the 14 Pro Max is a noticeable improvement. Apple boasts that both the 14 Pro and Pro Max have all-day battery life and I was able to go about my day streaming audio, watching YouTube videos, scrolling through social media, making calls, and sending texts. On a full charge, I was able to get past bedtime and didn’t need to charge again until 11 a.m. the next day.
The Pro and Pro Max have a new A16 processor that’s supposed to improve performance by 40%. I didn’t really notice this in daily usage, but professionals who record lots of videos should notice faster rendering times. It also futureproofs the phone so that when more powerful games and apps come out, the operating system will be able to keep up.
Apple debuted new safety features such as car crash detection and satellite connectivity. I wasn’t able to test out car crash detection, for obvious reasons. Satellite connectivity sounds promising – it will allow you to connect to emergency services when you don’t have WiFi or cell service – but Apple won’t release the feature until November.
iPhone 14 Pro Max: What’s bad?
All of the iPhone 14s still have a Lightning port instead of USB-C. I wasn’t expecting Apple to switch, but it would be really useful to just carry the same USB-C charger that I use to power a MacBook and an iPad.
The 14 Pro Max is a bit bulkier and heavier than the iPhone 13 Pro Max. If you don’t often have pockets and prefer not to carry around such a large screen, you may want to opt for the 14 Pro which has a smaller display than the Pro Max.
iPhone 14 Pro: Same phone, smaller screen
The iPhone 14 Pro, which starts at $999, is effectively the same phone as the iPhone 14 Pro Max, with slightly less battery life and a smaller 6.1-inch screen. You still get the great display, and the cameras are the same.
iPhone 14: What’s missing?
Then there’s the regular iPhone 14, which is a small update over last year’s iPhone 13. It starts at $799 and has upgraded cameras over the iPhone 13, slightly improved graphics processing and the same car-crash and satellite SOS features in the iPhone 14 Pro. But, it’s missing the following features that you can get in the Pro:
- The cameras are new, but they aren’t as sharp as the ones on the iPhone 14 Pro.
- There’s still no ProMotion display, so scrolling isn’t as smooth as on the Pro.
- The sides are made of aluminum instead of stainless steel.
- The iPhone 14 uses last year’s A15 chip, but with an additional graphics processing core for improved gaming performance.
- There’s no always-on display and no Dynamic Island.
There’s one more member of the lineup this year. The iPhone 14 Plus has the same features as the regular iPhone 14, but the screen size of the Pro Max, and starts at $899. It seems compelling for people who want a bigger screen without shelling out the $1,099, but it won’t be released until Oct. 7, so I haven’t had the chance to review it yet.
Which iPhone 14 should you buy?
Go for the iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max if you’re looking to experience the best Apple has to offer. There are a lot of good upgrades, from the cameras to the screen, that you’ll appreciate.
I wouldn’t upgrade from the iPhone 13 to the regular iPhone 14 since there aren’t a ton of big changes, outside of crash detection, improved cameras and satellite SOS. You won’t notice a big difference. Still, the iPhone 14 Plus might be a compelling option if you want a bigger display without shelling out for the Pro Max. Just know it doesn’t have Apple’s two most innovative new features: Dynamic Island and the always-on display.