Last year I praised the iPhone 13 Pro for being a worthy upgrade, and I’m happy to report the iPhone 14 Pro continues this upward trend. At first blush, it may not seem like a huge jump. The processor has been bumped up to the A16 chip, a subtle difference from last year’s model. We’re still dealing with a 6.1” all-screen OLED, Super Retina XDR display with refresh rates up to 120Hz, and most of the tech spec comparison reads pretty similarly.
The things that have been updated in the iPhone 14 Pro make a world of difference. First, the screen has a new Always On option that uses the A16 chip to refresh the display with minimal power. With this, you can leave your phone nearby while you’re working or otherwise occupied and still see the time or other widgets you’ve set up on your lock screen.
It can be handy to have the screen available when it’s not actively in use, especially if you customize the lock screen to your needs. Of course, your notifications won’t be laid out for the world to see; they remain hidden if Face ID can’t detect you. The auto-wake response time upon picking the device is also incredibly sharp (compared to my standard iPhone 13), which is an added bonus.
I can see some limited appeal to this, but in practice, it proved to have a more considerable impact on battery drain than I’d like. Out of curiosity, I left the iPhone 14 Pro face-up all day and only touched it to take a screenshot every couple of hours to track the battery life. Its charge dropped by about 11% every 6 hours—a considerable drain with no apps open, a WiFi connection, and occasional notifications making it brighten temporarily.
This feature’s worth will come down to individual users’ priorities. If you’re the type to squeeze as much time out of a single charge as possible, you’d be better off turning the iPhone 14 Pro facedown when you don’t need this feature or turning it off in the options menu altogether.
“…the iPhone 14 Pro makes a compelling package.”
Having a bigger drain is a shame, too, given that its 3,200 mAh lithium-ion battery feels more substantial than previous iterations. It was able to deal with prolonged gaming sessions with mobile games and the PS5’s Remote Play app with impressive longevity—experiences which run very smoothly on that A16 chip.
Another big selling point of the iPhone 14 Pro is its Dynamic Island, a new solution to the ongoing notch issue that’s been irking smartphone design for the last few years. Instead of simply trying to hide it away or asking users to ignore the hole, Apple has leaned into it.
The Dynamic Island makes the notch interactive, responding in real-time to show various updates. Unlock your phone, and the lock animation plays up at the top of the screen. Turn on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, and the island will show you the current album/show cover and a soundwave. When a call comes in, the island will instantly warp across the display to show caller ID and the response buttons. Apple Pay shows a more square popup while checking Face ID and processing your transactions.
It might not sound like a lot on paper. In practice, though, it’s a sly innovation that just makes sense. Notches haven’t been a huge inconvenience for me in the past unless an app allows it to eat something I should be seeing. But the adaptive nature of the Dynamic Island is a great boon to general iOS operation and feels like a natural evolutionary step it should have taken a couple of generations ago.
There’s one feature in the iPhone 14 Pro (and the rest of its line) that I hope never to have the chance to test: a new satellite-based SOS service. Rolling out in select regions in November 2022 will allow you to text emergency services and/or emergency contacts outside the range of cellular or WiFi coverage. There are a few caveats to its use, but expanding such capabilities is always a plus.
Last on the tour of the iPhone 14 Pro’s new features is the upgraded camera array. The main lens has made a huge jump to 48MP while the Ultra Wide, Telephoto, and front cameras remain at 12MP, like the 13 Pro. The front/selfie camera did get a slight aperture upgrade and now supports the Center Stage tech for FaceTime that last year’s model lacked.
But it’s more about what the iPhone 14 Pro does with those cameras this year. Apple’s new Photonic Engine takes the existing Deep Fusion process to the next level. By altering the series of processes that your snaps go through from the time you press the shutter to the time the file is saved, Apple has improved the overall quality of low- to mid-light captures.
This is one department where every digital camera could always use some help. The Photonic Engine can yield better results in this department compared to my iPhone 13, but the improvements seem a little circumstantial. I did, however, see a slight upgrade in the overall quality of photos taken in more optimal situations.
Sometimes the crisper quality of the iPhone 14 Pro’s photos isn’t immediate. There’s a remarkable retention of detail when you zoom in, however. Between the lens and the processing, it’s hands-down the best phone camera I’ve used to date.
Even more remarkable is one camera upgrade for the whole 14 range, not just the iPhone 14 Pro: the Action mode. Enabled with a touch while the camera is in video mode, this stabilization tech makes a world of difference—taking most of the shake out of your video automatically. Coupled with the Cinematic mode, the iPhone has some serious potential for amateur filmmakers and content creators—or even just to spice up your home videos.
One small flaw I found with the iPhone 13 Pro has also been addressed: balancing the device’s weight. Last year’s model felt somewhat off-balance, weighed down by the bulk of the camera array. The iPhone 14 Pro has fixed this, feeling more natural like other base iPhone models. Even better, the new Deep Purple finish option is one of the first times I’ve actually been tempted to pick a phone that isn’t black.
All told, the iPhone 14 Pro makes a compelling package. Everything I appreciated about the last model is back, refined, and supplemented by enough new features to justify an upgrade—maybe not directly from the 13th gen, but certainly from anything older. With each device generation, I think we must surely be hitting a design ceiling, but Apple manages to find fresh ways to smash through and keep innovating.