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iPhone 14 Pro review: Dynamic Island and massive camera sensor offer something n...

 2 months ago
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Out of the box, the new iPhone 14 Pro looks almost identical to its predecessor, the iPhone 13 Pro, with its frosted glass back, shiny steel band and triple-lens rear camera.

But switch it on, and you immediately see an obvious difference — the new Dynamic Island, a fun, interactive UI element that alone is almost worth the upgrade. But what cinches it is the new 48MP camera sensor, which takes absolutely fantastic pictures.

iPhone 14 Pro hands-on review

iPhone 14 Pro

The Good

  • Fantastic cameras
  • Dynamic Island FTW
  • Emergency satellite coms

The Bad

  • Not cheap!
  • Screen still breaks, despite Ceramic Shield

In testing the iPhone 14 Pro this past week, I focused on the things I care about day-to-day like battery life, connectivity, camera quality and durability.

I took the new iPhone on a long bike ride at the weekend where I snapped a few pics of the Golden Gate Bridge and around Marin. I tested 5G cell tower speeds in a few spots around San Francisco. I paid for groceries with Apple Pay, ordered some food, got directions, played music and movies, and texted, texted, texted.

iPhone 14 design and durability

iPhone 14 Pro covered in drops of water

Design-wise, the 14 Pro is almost exactly the same as the old 13 Pro, and that’s fine by me. I like the design, it’s a winner, even with the enormous camera bump.

Unlike some people, I love the look of the massive camera array. It’s cool and utilitarian. Remember the brouhaha about the tiny camera bump on the iPhone 6 — the first iPhone to have a protruding lens? It seems so ridiculous and overblown now.

The 14 is a smidge taller (by about 1mm) than the 13 Pro but effectively the same width, depth and weight. The biggest difference between the two is a slightly bigger camera cluster on the 14, which makes it incompatible with many older cases.

Is iPhone 14 Pro tough?

Based on my experience with the 13 Pro, the 14 Pro will prove to be pretty durable. However, you must absolutely get a case and screen protector, and I recommend AppleCare+ protection plan if you can afford it.

My iPhone 13 Pro survived a whole year with one tiny ding and a couple of small scratches despite a ton of epic drops.

The 13 Pro is the first phone I’ve had since the iPhone’s launch that I haven’t cracked, scratched or smashed to pieces. Admittedly, I had it in a protective case most of the year, plus a screen protector, which absorbed a lot of damage. Nonetheless I managed to drop it several times uncased — onto concrete or tile, face down of course — and was always flabbergasted to see no damage.

This is due to the iPhone’s ‘surgical grade’ stainless steel rim and the front panel’s Ceramic Shield, a toughening treatment that’s proved itself pretty durable.

However, I managed to crack the screen of my brand new iPhone Pro 14 within a week of getting it. Taking it out of my pocket for a photo, I dropped it face-down onto the concrete sidewalk. Despite having it in a case with a screen bezel, which should have protected it, the glass is cracked along the bottom half of the screen. It must have hit a pebble or some grit. Unfortunately I didn’t have a screen protector on it. The one I ordered arrived the following day, a quirk of fate that depresses me to this day.

Luckily I have AppleCare+, which starts at $199. Screen replacement is just $29, and Apple covers unlimited incidents of accidental damage.

In fact, AppleCare is so generous now, I’ve seen several people say AppleCare+ is their iPhone case. I’m not risking it though.

iPhone 14 Pro size and color

iPhone 14 Pro is a good size. Not perfect, but good.

I opted for Silver, which looks just marvelous. It’s a really good looking piece of hardware. iPhone 14 Pro is available in four colors: Gold, Silver, a new Space Black, and Deep Purple.

My advice: avoid the Deep Purple, which my colleague Lewis Wallace bought and now bitterly regrets. It looks more like Gloomy Grey. Hilariously, he bought the same color for his wife, and she hates it too!

With a 6.1 inch screen, the standard Pro is, I think, the second-best size. My favorite size is the mini, but alas Apple discontinued it this year because no one was buying it.

If the mini had better cameras, I’d use it to this day. Before that, I had Max-sized phones for many years, but after the initial excitement wore off, I found them too heavy and bulky. The prime advantage of the bigger phone — the bigger screen — didn’t make that much difference to me. Everything I could do on the Max I could do on the mini just fine. The extended battery life was the only thing I missed.

The 6.1-inch Pro is a fair compromise: battery life is great; it fits fine in my back jeans pocket; and the screen is big enough to enjoy videos and games.

Always-on Display

The 14 Pro’s Super Retina XDR display is capable of producing up to 2,000 nits — twice as many as the 13 Pro — but tbh, I haven’t noticed the difference yet in day-to-day use. I do dig ProMotion, Apple’s name for the screen’s 120Hz refresh rate, which makes scrolling pleasant and smooth.

The always-on display has yet to prove useful to me. When not actively using the phone, the screen fades but still shows the time and information like directions and notifications.

So far, it’s useful only for telling the time. If my iPhone is sitting on the table or armrest, I’ll glance at it — but it’s hardly a game-changer.

Cleverly, the display turns dark when you place your phone face down or put it in your pocket to conserve battery. It also works in conjunction with your Apple Watch — the screen turns off when you walk far enough away from my phone (or so I was told!).

My favorite feature of iOS 16 by far is the new customizable lock screens. I’ve set it up to display photos from my library, and I get a kick out of it every time I pick up my phone, but alas the screen dims so much you can’t see photos, so that’s pretty useless too.

Dynamic Island

iPhone 14 Pro’s Dynamic Island showing music playing on local HomePod speakers

The Dynamic Island is a small pill cutout at the top of the display that acts as an interactive widget. It contains the front-facing camera and FaceID sensor, and replaces the ‘notch.’ It’s great for displaying alerts, notifications and background tasks like timers.

The pill shifts shape in accordance to what it’s being used for. So, if you are playing music it elongates to show album art, which is great. If you’re using two apps at once — like a timer and music — the Dynamic Island splits into two, with each acting as a widget for their respective apps.

At first, I found the Dynamic Island a hideous eyesore. It’s far more noticeable than the old notch because it’s disconnected from the display’s bezels. It looks like a big black hole sitting right over your content. But I soon got used to it and it’s pretty much invisible now, except when in use.

I was excited about the Dynamic Island and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It’s definitely fun to look at, but functionally, it’s a mixed bag so far.

It’s handy to see travel directions or to skip a track in Spotify, but I don’t think it it works well all apps. Answering the phone, of example, is now a thumb-stretching exercise because the answer button is now at the top of the screen; likewise for enabling the speaker to take a call. That’s a step backwards.

Nonetheless, the Dynamic Island is an important new UI element whose usage will only grow with the upcoming release of iOS 16.1 and Live Activities, which will open it up to third-party apps. So far, it can perform around 30 functions.

eSim and Setup

In North American, the 14 Pro is the first iPhone — and first phone for that matter — to ditch the physical SIM card tray. Instead the iPhone 14 uses eSIM to connect with your wireless carrier. The Pro can have up to two active eSIMs and stores eight or more, which means you can have multiple phone numbers on the same phone — handy if you have both work and personal numbers.

I have just one number and the eSim activation process was relatively smooth and easy. Most of the time the eSIM can be activated during the setup process, but because I have a business account with my carrier, T-Mobile, I had to make a quick call and read some ID numbers over the phone. It took about 10 minutes but after a restart it was all good to go.

Some people are complaining that the lack of a physical SIM tray will make traveling harder. It used to be easy to swap out your SIM card for one from a local provider. However, it looks like plenty of overseas carriers are offering eSIM plans for tourists, actually making it easier to travel.

Crash Detection and emergency satellite communications

One of the biggest features — emergency satellite communication — isn’t yet enabled and couldn’t be tested. Likewise, I didn’t test Crash Detection for obvious reasons.

Emergency satellite communication is a worst-case-scenario feature that lets you contact emergency services when in a remote area with no cell coverage. It works by pointing the phone’s antenna to an overhead satellite which connects you to nearby services. It’s slower than a cell connection and you need to be in an open area with nothing overhead.

Crash Detection is enabled by a couple of new sensors: a g-force accelerometer and an improved 3-axis gyroscope. It can now detect if you’ve gotten in a severe car crash and alert first responders and your emergency contacts.

I didn’t test it, but a YouTuber did, and it looks like it works like a champ. Let’s hope you never have to use it.

How long is iPhone 14 Pro battery life?

Apple rates the 14 Pro up to 23 hours of continuous video playback. In tests, I got 23.5 hours and 24 hours of battery life.

In day-to-day use, the iPhone 14 Pro battery lasts forever. Again, based on my experience with the 13 Pro, battery anxiety is a thing of the past. The phone can last for days with light usage. I don’t even have a battery-charging schedule any more. I just plonk it on a charger when it starts running low. Over the past year, I’ve only run out of juice a couple of times.

Admittedly, I’m usually not far from a charger at work, at home or in the car. But the days of keeping an eye on your battery are more or less over for me.

The same is true of the 14 Pro. The battery lasts for a long time and the days of having to plug it in every night without fail are long gone.

How fast does the iPhone 14 Pro charge?

The iPhone 14 Pro is fast-charge capable. Apple claims the iPhone 14 Pro charges to 50% in around 30 minutes with 20W adapter or higher.

In a test using a 20W charger and a wired cable, the iPhone 14 Pro charged from dead to 20% in 15 minutes and 44% in 30 minutes, just short of Apple’s claims.

There are several ways to charge the 1Phone 14 Pro:

  • MagSafe wireless charging up to 15W
  • Qi wireless charging up to 7.5W
  • Charging via USB to computer system or power adapter up to 20W

Of course, the lower the wattage, the longer the charge time. With fast charging, charge times aren’t a big issue any longer. Don’t forget: the iPhone no longer comes with a charger in the box.

iPhone 14 Pro cameras

iPhone 14 Pro boasts an even larger three-lens camera array.

The big difference between the 13 Pro and the 14 Pro is that the main camera now has a 48MP sensor, and it produces some pretty amazing results.

The 48MP sensor is 65% larger than the iPhone 13 Pro’s sensor, which is a giant leap for Apple. Since the release of the 6S back in 2015, iPhones have had a 12MP camera even as competitors have moved to bigger sized sensors — until now.

iPhone 14 Pro’s camera module

The 14 Pro can take images in two modes: at 12MP, the camera optimizes for light capture using a clever technique called ‘pixel binning,’ which combines four pixels into one larger, virtual pixel. This keeps photo files at a manageable size and keeps the image-processing pathway quick and responsive.

Or, you can go for detail and use the full power of the 48MPs by switching into ProRAW mode, which produces giant sized, highly-detailed photos.

The advantage of shooting 48MP images is that there are a lot more pixels to play with. This allows you to crop, zoom in or reframe the image without penalty. You can also print out these images at much larger sizes. I wish I had this camera when my kids were younger; getting poster-sized images of the kids was the main reason I carried a heavy DSLR around for years.

The UltraWide camera still uses a 12MP sensor but has gotten some upgrades too. It has a larger sensor, and combined with Apple’s Photonic Engine, can now capture up to three times better low-light photos than the 13 Pro.

On the front of the iPhone 14 Pro, the 12MP front-facing camera has a new TrueDepth feature which keeps selfies in focus at different distances from the camera. A larger aperture lets in much more light.

Maybe it’s the new camera, but one noticeable improvement is that Face ID is definitely snappier than it was on the 13.

Sample iPhone 14 Pro pictures

Note: I converted the HEIC files coming out of the iPhone to JPEG images for this post, but you can still differences in detail, color and quality.

Sample iPhone 14 Pro pictures vs. iPhone 13 pictures

Picture comparison: Flowers

Picture comparison: Bernal rock

Zoom: iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 13

The iPhone 14 Pro’s zoom has also been improved and in these test shots you can see the clear difference. The pictures were taken overlooking San Francisco. I zoomed in on the Bay Bridge and a nearby street, which are marked in red circles on the top image. Notice the better detail in the iPhone 14 Pro images.

iPhone 14 Pro San Francisco panorama

Zoom photo of Bay Bridge

Zoom photo of SF street

How fast is iPhone 14 Pro’s 5G networking?

In my tests around San Francisco, 5G was almost as fast as my home broadband (which is capped), but damn. I did half-a-dozen tests using Ookla’s Speedtest app, and averaged between 60 and 100Mbps download speeds. The fastest test returned downloads of 171Mbps, which is plenty fast for anything I might be doing. I’m on T-Mobile.

Bottom line

The iPhone 14 is a great smartphone that’s perfect for everyday mobile computing.

With this latest generation of iPhone, Apple seems to have solved a lot of the pain points of past. The hardware is tough and durable. The battery lasts forever and can go ages without charging. The cameras are amazing and capable of outshining my meagre photography skills. The 14 Pro is basically waterproof. The cellular networking is super fast. FaceID is the best security system yet developed, and works better and faster than ever. The dynamic island is fun and functional. The display is gorgeous and I will never go back to a lesser screen.

Of course, a lot of this is available on the iPhone 13 and even the 12, but not all of it.

If you have an iPhone 13 this is an incremental upgrade, though a fun one. If you have the cash to spare, I’m sure you’ll be tempted to splurge. If you have an iPhone 12 or older, it’s a no-brainer: the iPhone 14 Pro is a great upgrade.

Yes, the iPhone 14 Pro costs a small fortune, but it’s oh so worth it.

Where to buy: Apple
★★★★★


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