Review: iPhone 14 Pro is the best you can get, but not a big jump from 13 Pro

The iPhone 14 Pro (and 14 Pro Max) are often regarded as the high watermark for smartphones. Has Apple achieved that again this year? Yes. Is it different enough from the iPhone 13 Pro (and 13 Pro Max) to justify the inflation-hit pricing of €1,339 to €2,139? Maybe. If you have an iPhone 13 Pro already, you won’t miss out on that much here.

Price: from €1,339 (iPhone 14 Pro) and €1,489 (iPhone 14 Pro Max)

Pros: best cameras, superb battery life, great screen, very powerful

Cons: ultra-expensive

This review is divided into two parts. The first is a summary of what’s good and bad. The second part is an in-depth look at the new camera system.

1. The very good

(i) Cameras: these are about the best you can get on a smartphone. Apple has introduced new sensors, increasing the size of the main rear sensor to 48 megapixels (from 12 megapixels last year). It has also introduced a new ‘2x’ range, alongside the 3x telephoto lens, which uses a crop from the 48-megapixel 1x lens. Video, again, is a particular highlight with stabilisation that is way, way better than any other phone on the market.

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Bigger cameras: this year’s iPhone 14 Pro Max (right) compared to last year’s iPhone 13 Pro Max (left). Photo: Adrian Weckler

(ii) Battery life: although I’ve only had the opportunity to use it for three full recharging cycles, this is roughly tracking with the iPhone 13 Pro, which was ground-breakingly good. Typically that leaves me with anywhere between 25pc and 50pc at the end of a normal day’s usage.

(iii) Build quality and appearance: the physical phone itself is just gorgeous. There’s a new metallic purple colour which some will love.

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New purple colour for iPhone 14 Pro

(iv) The engine: This has Apple’s A16 Bionic under the hood, which is as powerful in some tasks as an M1 iPad Pro. In other words, it is ridiculously fast. Despite having just 6GB of Ram, this is far more powerful and capable than pretty much any other phone on the market for most tasks.

2. The fairly good

(i) Always-on display; this is very handy. Apple’s upgraded screen lets it enter into an ultra low power mode so that you can see basic information on your phone, such as time and notifications. It’s intelligent, too, going completely off if it senses it doesn’t need to be on, such as if you’re wearing an Apple Watch and are a certain distance away from it.

(ii) ‘Dynamic Island’: when it was first revealed on stage last week, there were a few laughs from the floor. But this turns out to be a really nice, really clever effect that people will get used to very quickly.

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The ‘Dynamic Island’ around the notch is new

Apple shrank the ‘notch’ into a ‘pill’. But that made it a bit more samey-looking as other phones. So it has activated the bit of screen around the ‘pill’ to reflect whatever it is you have going in the background, tappable as a shortcut to that thing. This includes things like phone calls, Music, Spotify, TuneIn or YouTube. For example, if I have TuneIn or YouTube playing on the background, this becomes the ‘island’ up top that I can tap to get back into. If I’m using the phone as a hotspot for my laptop, the ‘island’ becomes the hotspot shortcut. If I’m hotspotting and also listening to TuneIn, the island becomes one of them while a small circle beside it becomes the other. Both are tappable.

It’s like a much less annoying, less intrusive version of the ‘window-within-a-window’ effect you sometimes see when you’re playing a video but want to do something else on the phone at the same time. I already know that I’ll miss it if and when I have to migrate away from the iPhone 14 Pro for other reviews.

(iii) Storage: the iPhone 14 Pro comes with a maximum of 1TB. There are two reasons to consider this much storage. The first is for those who want this as a professional photography or videography tool. If you’re shooting videos in 4K, you’d be surprised at how quickly you’ll get to 100GB, 200GB or 500GB. Those individuals aside, there are plenty of us who simply shoot lots of photos and videos, recreationally.

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iPhone 14 Pro comes in five different colours

(iv) The screen: even though it’s mostly the same as last year’s display, the 120hz Oled ‘ProMotion’ screen can now go to a startling 2,000 nits of brightness when you need it, in bright outdoors conditions. It’s brilliant, even though you won’t to have it at maximum brightness for too long if you want decent battery life.

(v) iOS 16: okay, this is available to any iPhone in the last five years. But it’s still worth mentioning, as it was released this week. New features include the ability to edit (or ‘unsend’) iMessages, using your iPhone as a pass key for other services and the ability to ‘cut out’ bits of your photos easily, a Photoshop-like feature.

(vi) Face ID camera angle: you can unlock your iPhone 14 Pro from any angle other than upside-down. This has made unlocking the phone quicker for me.

(vii) Crash detection: although you will hopefully never need to use it, this is a somewhat comforting new feature that the iPhone 14 introduces. Basically, the phone uses its accelerometer, microphones and gyroscope to figure out whether you have come to an overly-abrupt halt for some reason. It then gives you a few seconds to tell it that you haven’t been in a crash, before notifying emergency services and close contacts.

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iPhone 14 Pro comes with crash detection

3. The not-so-good

(i) Pricing: the weak euro means that the iPhone 14 Pro starts at a heart-quickening €1,339, way up on last year’s €1,179 for the iPhone 13 Pro. It’s even steeper for the 14 Pro Max, which starts at €1,489. It’s not that Apple is profiteering; the price of the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max in the US ($999 and $1,099) is unchanged from the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max last year. It’s simply reacting to the weak euro, which is now at parity with the dollar. But you’re the one who now pays for that, in a way that’s not replicated by other phone manufacturers.

(ii) Lightning port: Apple knows that it has to replace its relatively slow, old Lightning connection system with USB-C by 2024, to meet EU rules. All other phone systems have had it for the last five years. While it’s not something that most people probably care about all that much, USB-C is a lot faster and more useful than Apple’s old Lightning system, both for charging speed and transferring data. This is why Apple has mostly adopted it for its iPads.

(iii) Lack of satellite connectivity: US and Canadian iPhone 14 Pro buyers get a nice new feature that lets you send an SOS message via satellite in areas with no cellular coverage. Apple is taking this very seriously, with staff assigned to help co-ordinate the messages. But it won’t be available in Ireland or Europe, at least for the foreseeable future.

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PART II: The camera (in depth)

In any new iPhone, the camera system is always one of – if not the outright – biggest upgrade. This is definitely the case here. The iPhone 14 Pro’s new camera system is worth talking about in some detail, even if it’s arguably only the kind of iterative upgrade that could be expected, as opposed to some step-change in photo quality. As was the case last year, the improvements have been applied equally to the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max, which have identical camera systems.

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iPhone 14 Pro camera system has a new 48-megapixel main 1x lens

(i) Larger sensors: while Apple doesn’t break down the technical specifications, it says that the sensors for at least three of the four cameras on the iPhone 14 Pro are larger than last year’s model. That includes the ultrawide 0.5x lens, the main 1x lens and the selfie ‘TrueDepth’ lens. A larger sensor means more light into the lens and more flexibility for things like portraits, depth of field and additional megapixels. In my testing, the improvement is most obvious on the new 12-megapixel TrueDepth selfie camera, which is significantly brighter than the selfie camera on the iPhone 13 Pro, especially for video. In photographic jargon, it’s the equivalent of a ‘full stop’ of light, jumping from f2.2 to f1.9 (in relative f-stop values: the actual f-stop values are more like f15 to f10). I found that this new brighter, bigger selfie camera let in a lot more light in dark rooms, especially when using video.

(ii) A new main lens: other than the sensor sizes, the biggest single upgrade to the iPhone 14 Pro’s camera system is the new 48-megapixel main (1x) camera. Apple has also widened it slightly, from 26mm to 24mm, which is not without its potential downsides. Personally, I like the extra width as I love wide shots; they make the world look a lot more interesting. But I can see why some would take against it. The tradeoff for wider photos being a little more creative and arty is that they’re slightly less flattering when used for portraits of humans. Put your phone on its 0.5x ultrawide setting and test this yourself by snapping a family member. Now show them the photo and take in their response: it may not be that positive. The wider a photo, the more you’ll see facial features slightly stretched or exaggerated compared to more zoomed in focal lengths. This is one reason why dedicated portrait lenses on standalone professional cameras are generally somewhere between 50mm and 85mm (roughly 2x to 3x in phone camera terms); they condense facial features in a way that’s considered to be more flattering than wide shots.

Of course, you can avoid this effect on the new iPhone 14 Pro 1x camera by just pinching in a little or choosing the new 2x focal range on the iPhone 14 Pro. But people most often just open the camera on a phone and shoot without adjusting the range.

As for the quality of this new 48-megapixel 1x camera, it’s generally excellent, though not really that distinguishable from the iPhone 13 Pro’s 1x camera, despite the new sensor system. Overall, I found shots to be slightly more revealing of minute details than shots taken on the iPhone 13 Pro, but only just.

(iii) The new 2x range: there is another feature that Apple has included in its Pro line: a new 2x telephoto range. This isn’t a separate lens (like the 0.5x and 3x lenses on the back), but a 12-megapixel crop within the main 48-megapixel 1x lens. Apple is confident enough in its separateness to give it its own button choice beside 0.5x, 1x and 3x on the camera’s zoom range when you open the Camera app.

Isn’t this just a digital zoom, though? Apple says no, that the way its pixels are arranged on its new camera sensor means that it can be counted as a distinctly separate optical range in itself. Oddly, there may be something to Apple’s claims. I’ve taken a number of photos at the new 2x range and then shot the exact same scene at 1x. When I zoom in on small details in both photos, the 2x ones are indeed slightly sharper and more revealing. I can’t say why this should be, as it is exactly the same lens shooting both photos. But Apple has somehow rigged its computational system to render this 2x shot in a slightly clearer way than you get when shooting a 1x shot and zooming in to 2x in post-editing.

(iv) Video: as with the iPhone 13 Pro, and every iPhone in the last four or five years, the video quality here is just spectacular. The iPhone is head and shoulders above any other phone system for video quality, for one main reason: stabilisation. Shooting a video on the iPhone 14 Pro is like renting a €10,000 professional DSLR rig and spending an hour afterwards editing it. It’s ridiculously, broadcast-quality smooth. As if it needed to, this year’s entire iPhone 14 range now has an ‘action mode’ added, which uses a system called ‘overscanning’ to make even smoother video roll. This works by cropping in a little (from 0.5x to about 0.8x, or from 1x to about 1.5x and so on) and using the unseen framing to reinforce the accuracy and clarity of the framing (video) you see using massive computer processing power. It’s the kind of thing you would only have seen Hollywood studios capable of a few years ago. But the iPhone 14 Pro’s engine is so strong that it can process all of this on the spot, creating these unbelievably good videos. As a camera enthusiast with several Canon, Panasonic, Leica and Fujifilm cameras and dozens of professional lenses, I can say that this iPhone 14 Pro is the single best videography-on-the-move tool I now own.

(v) ‘Photonic Engine’: Apple has lots of terms to describe its computational photography system, which is a mixture of hardware and software in the engine, as opposed to the actual optical lenses. It came up with ‘Deep Fusion’ a few years ago. But the latest jargon, in the iPhone 14 range, is what Apple calls a ‘Photonic Engine’. The basic meaning is the same – Apple’s high-end chip can process the photos on the spot in evermore advanced ways which allow creative and pleasing effects. It’s difficult to know where the optical technology (such as larger camera sensors or slightly better lens optics) end and the computational stuff starts. (It’s a fair bet that it’s the latter that has more impact than the former.) I can’t say what difference, in particular, this may or may not have made to the individual photos of videos I shot. Overall, this iPhone makes better judgements on how to treat a photo, with fewer unpleasant effects, than, say, an iPhone 11. But compared to an iPhone 13 Pro, it’s really too hard to call.

https://www.independent.ie/business/technology/review-iphone-14-pro-is-the-best-you-can-get-but-not-a-big-jump-from-13-pro-41988862.html Review: iPhone 14 Pro is the best you can get, but not a big jump from 13 Pro

Fry Electronics Team

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