The dust has settled on Apple’s phone launches for the year and unless you are a keen Apple follower, the mishmash of models—a regular 14, a new Plus, and two Pros—might be somewhat familiar yet confusing. Having put the lineup through its paces, we tackle the biggest questions about the iPhone 14 family, to sift marketing from reality and help you figure out which iPhone 14 is best for you—and whether you should buy one in the first place.
Is the iPhone 14 much of an upgrade?
On the surface, the iPhone 14 ( ₹79,900) feels a fair bit of an old wine-old bottle situation, what with the same 6.1-inch 60Hz OLED screen, same display notch and diagonal rear camera layout, and same flat aluminium sides and glass back that feel indistinguishable in the hand from the iPhone 13. Under the hood, the differences are again marginal—the iPhone 14 ships with the same A15 Bionic chip, with one additional graphics core, and 6GB of memory that the higher-end iPhone 13 Pro utilised, which means gaming performance will be slightly better than the 13, almost imperceptibly so for most titles. Battery gains too are marginal at best.
What’s new is the marquee Crash Detection emergency dialling you hope you will never have to use. The big improvements, though, are in the cameras. The main 12-megapixel camera sensor is physically bigger, with claimed 49% better light-gathering capabilities that benefit further from access to the new image-processing pipeline called Photonic Engine. Photos in edge scenarios in low light seem to benefit but most daytime shots are hard to tell apart from the iPhone 13. Selfies see an improvement as well, with a new 12-megapixel front camera with better low-light performance and autofocus. In addition, the iPhone 14 also gets the new imaging perks it shares with the 14 Pro series, such as a bumped-up-to-4K Cinematic mode (portrait mode for video, up from 1080p last year) and a new Action video mode that lets you capture super-stabilised videos in bright light but struggles in less than optimum lighting.
So, who’s the iPhone 14 really for?
Clearly, anyone with an iPhone 13 with its A15 Bionic needn’t apply—last year’s chip has enough performance headroom to ensure most users won’t notice any shortcomings for years to come; it helps that the iPhone 13 itself can be had for significant discounts in online sales. If you are upgrading from the iPhone 12 and prior, you will see big enough gains in battery and camera.
What about the iPhone 14 Plus?
The iPhone 14 Plus ( ₹89,900) is technically the newest entry to this year’s lineup, in that it fits an iPhone 14’s soul into a body that’s the same size as the iPhone 14 Pro Max, only much lighter—203g, compared to the Pro Max’s 240g and the Pro’s 206g, courtesy the weight savings from the aluminium frame and one camera less. Everything you have read about the iPhone 14 applies, with the extra ₹10,000 getting you a bigger display and battery. The bigger 6.7-inch, 2,778x1,284-pixel OLED screen is bright and beautifully tuned and the extra real estate is a joy while watching HDR content on OTT services. It’s still a 60Hz panel, so there’s none of that 120Hz ProMotion slickness that the Pros and several other Androids at this price point enjoy.
The extra space affords the iPhone 14 Plus a bigger battery, which makes it a shade better than the iPhone 14 Pro Max, easily lasting over a day of heavy use or nearly two in moderate use. Fast charging is still limited to 20W, slow by today’s standards. With the price difference (in India) between the Plus and the Pro far exceeding the $100 (around ₹8,200) difference stateside, the Plus makes a strong case for a big-screen iPhone, yet its pricing puts it in the cross-hairs of premium Android flagships that pack in a lot more—zoom cameras, fast charging speeds and high refresh rate displays—for the same price.
What does splurging on the iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max get you?
While the regular iPhone 14s share the improved autofocus cameras, action modes and crash detection capabilities with the pricier Pros, the Pro lineup ( ₹1,29,900/ ₹1,39,900 for the 6.1-inch Pro/6.7-inch Pro Max) differentiates itself in three big ways…aside from the 2,000-nits peak outdoor brightness, smoother ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate displays that have traditionally been exclusive to the Pros. The first is the most visible change—an interactive notch Apple calls “Dynamic Island”, which allows interaction and souped up notifications almost akin to a multi-tasking bar. The Pros are also the first iPhones to get a long-overdue always-on display, plus a bump up to a 48- megapixel main camera.
Is the Dynamic Island a party trick or is it really useful?
Many had hoped Apple would do away with the notch in the iPhone 14 series but the Dynamic Island is Apple doubling down on the notch, only this time in an interactive, pill-shaped avatar. Say, you are on a call, running a timer, listening to music (or any other persistent activity) and you go to the home screen, the Dynamic Island expands the pill-shaped cutout on the top of the screen with a little icon to show that you are still on the call, or the timer is counting down, or a song is still playing. Tapping these icons opens the app, while long pressing opens an overlaid widget to change tracks, pause the timer—not only are you interacting with the Dynamic Island, you are almost using it like a persistent second display to multi-task between open apps.
At other times, the Dynamic Island expands to show you when your AirPods are connected, or if your wireless hot spot is active. Most of the use cases around Dynamic Island initially came from first party apps but at the time of writing, Apple has released the iOS 16.1 update, which brings in support for Live Activities, so that more apps can let you track sports scores or see your taxi ride arrival updates from Uber directly on the Dynamic Island. Full marks to Apple on making software and an otherwise boring camera cutout interact this fluidly with each other. The potential to interact with notifications and Live Activities without having to drop into an app is appealing, even as app developers and Apple give the little pill more purpose than it delivers today.
Androids have had always-on displays for years. Is Apple’s AOD that much better?
Of course, Apple’s always-on display had to be different, coming years after the likes of Android. Instead of switching off completely and only using icons to indicate unread notifications, Apple uses a combination of the new LTPO display (which drops screen refresh rates down to 1Hz) and dimming the display so that your lockscreen wallpaper and widgets are still glanceable, in full colour no less, much like the AOD on the Apple Watch. It’s a somewhat anxiety-inducing approach since, for the first few days, one constantly gets the feeling that the screen has brightened because of an incoming notification, à la previous iPhones—at least the always-on display turns off when the phone is placed in a pocket, when low power or Sleep mode is active or when a connected Apple Watch moves away a certain distance.
Once you shake off the feeling of constantly having to check for new notifications, it’s a genuinely useful addition that unsurprisingly impacts battery life, particularly on the 14 Pro—anywhere between 5-10% anecdotally, depending on active widgets and ambient brightness levels.
Do the Pro/Pro Max’s camera improvements warrant an upgrade?
The always-on display and Dynamic Island are the most visible signs you are rocking a new Pro iPhone but the most meaningful upgrades—the reason you should consider a 14 Pro over a 14 or even a 13 Pro—are on the main camera sensor. The new 48-megapixel sensor allows Apple to use pixel-binning to cluster four pixels as one, allowing each quad-pixel to collect more light and improve image quality. Pro users at whom the Pro lineup is targeted can also switch to the ProRAW mode to capture full 48-megapixel shots for fine-grained control in post processing, but the massive files it yields will be less interesting for the average user.
In real world terms, photographs taken on the Pro Max packed in natural colours and rich detail, and tricky exposures were handled adeptly. Detail levels and colour reproduction in low light benefited as well. The new Photonic Engine, which takes multiple captures with each image to improve overall textures, colours and detail levels, both in bright and dimly lit conditions, results in far more information-rich exposures that the image signal processor can whittle down into the final 12-megapixel images—images that are far sharper even when pitted against the excellent iPhone 13 Pro. Interestingly, compared to the previous generation, even the new 3x telephoto produces less noise and more detail, and Apple offers a new 2x optical magnification by cropping the centre of the 48-megapixel sensor, which works really well for portrait shots. Even the ultra-wide is sharper around the edges. Videos are, as one has come to expect from an iPhone, class-leading and the new action mode and Cinematic Mode offer added versatility to trained hands that would be able to justify writing the asking price of the iPhone 14 Pros as a business expense.
Come to think of it, a lot of the improvements this year around justify the “Pro” naming—while most people can get better images and video, it’s the pros who can eke out the best performance from these highly complex shooters.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets at @2shar.
Also read: Apple iPhone 14 Pro review: Is the new display a ‘dynamic’ new step?