Apple’s latest smartphones all have updated cameras and other improvements, yet they cost the same as the iPhone 13 models. Should you buy one?
From left: Apple iPhone Pro Max, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14
By Melanie Pinola
The new iPhone 14 smartphones are now available for purchase. If you’re thinking of upgrading this year, the choices are pretty clear.
That’s what I concluded after using three of the new phones over the past few days. (The iPhone 14 Plus wasn’t available yet.) Compared with some previous generations of iPhone, the differences between the regular and Pro models are more apparent this year. If you like significant new features in your iPhones, you’ll want the iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max.
But the regular iPhone 14 phones are great choices, too, and they cost less. These phones just don’t give you much that wasn’t already provided in the iPhone 13 models.
Finally, if you like smaller phones, the choice is really easy. Apple isn’t making a 5.4-inch Mini version of the iPhone 14. So you’ll be shopping for an iPhone 13 Mini or iPhone 12 Mini—or the even smaller 4.7-inch iPhone SE.
To review the basics, Apple has revamped its phone lineup to offer just two distinct size options: a midsized 6.1-inch phone and a large 6.7-inch one.
The 6.1-inch iPhone 14, $799, and iPhone 14 Pro, $999, should be easy for most people to use with one hand and will take up less room in a pocket or handbag. For $100 more, the 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Plus, $899, and iPhone 14 Pro Max, $1,099, offer more canvas for watching videos, playing games, or scrolling through content. Whether the phones are actually too big is a matter of personal preference.
To try out the phones, I borrowed press samples from Apple. I was particularly interested in this year’s camera upgrades and, for the Pro line, the always-on display and interactive notification feature dubbed the Dynamic Island. (Honestly, I’ve never been more excited to see a small bubble design on a gadget.)
In addition to the camera upgrades, Apple says the new iPhones have speedier performance and better battery life than the iPhone 13 models. We’ll see about that once we’ve bought the phones and run them through our testing labs. (Consumer Reports uses normal consumer outlets to buy all the products we rate, from printers to pickup trucks.)
But for now, here’s what it’s like to use the new iPhones, starting with the base iPhone 14.
iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus
If you own an iPhone 13, or have spent time in an Apple store playing with one, you know what it’s like to use an iPhone 14. They look and feel about the same.
But Apple did bring some improvements to the new models.
First, the phone’s new Action Mode stabilizes the camera when you’re shooting video. I tested that on a rumbling train careening from Manhattan out to Long Island. The iPhone 14 did a great job of minimizing the hand-shake as I filmed the buildings and people passing by—the video looks like it was filmed with a cell phone gimbal.
Action Mode won’t matter if you’re standing still and shooting your kid’s soccer game, but if you’re running along the sideline, it can make a big difference. (Turn off Action Mode if you’re going for hand-shake in your “Blair Witch Project” parody.)
Apple also introduced a new autofocus feature on the iPhone 14’s forward-facing camera. The benefit is subtle, at least to my untrained eye. The selfies I shot didn’t seem more Instagram-worthy than photos taken with the iPhone 13—or, to be honest, with my old iPhone XR, which was released in 2018.
As with the other phones in this latest series, the iPhone 14 can contact emergency services through a satellite link if you’re in an area without cellular service. The feature is supposed to become operational in November, and come free for two years. After that, you’ll need to spring for a paid subscription; the pricing information hasn’t been released yet.
This safety feature alone could push you toward the iPhone 14, if you’re choosing between it and a previous model, though the phones won’t have all the functionality of a dedicated backcountry device like the Garmin inReach. It might be particularly useful for hikers, but the satellite function would also be appealing if I was buying a phone for my teenager who’s just learning to drive. The new iPhones have a crash-detection feature, too, as does the Apple Watch, some Android phones, a number of apps, and many cars.
A friend bought an iPhone 13 a few months ago, and after reading all the news about the new phones, he said he has no regrets about not waiting to buy the latest model. That sounds about right to me, but your decision may depend on the kinds of iPhone 14 deals you can find.
iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max
Apple iPhone 14 Pro
Photo: Apple, Melanie Pinola/Consumer Reports
Apple saved its most notable upgrades for the iPhone 14 Pro phones.
The features I couldn’t wait to try were the always-on display and the Dynamic Island.
I’m surprised it took this long to bring an always-on display to the iPhone. The feature works like the always-on display on the Apple Watch and, let’s face it, many Android phones. The always-on display lets you see useful information, like the weather forecast and reminders, without having to interact with the phone.
If you do want a new way to interact with your iPhone, though, there’s the new Dynamic Island. Instead of the “notch” cutout at the top of the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus (and earlier phones), there’s now a pill-shaped cutout that shows system alerts and notifications. It can update you on your phone’s battery level, for example, or alert you to incoming calls.
It’s interactive, too. You can pause or skip songs on Spotify or audiobooks on Audible, manage calls from Google Voice, or adjust your route in Maps.
I kept trying to find ways new ways to use this tiny space on the screen—playing music and audiobooks, mostly, but also texting myself, as one often does. The Dynamic Island seems to have a lot of potential, but as of now the feature is limited to the Apple apps and handful of third-party apps that work with it.
Apple updated the Pro cameras as well. They both have the selfie autofocus and Action Mode that’s available on the standard iPhone 14 models. But the Pro and Pro Max also have a 48-megapixel main rear camera, instead of the 12-megapixel lens on the other models. More pixels mean the camera can capture more information to create crisper photos, the kind you can zoom in to see every freckle on a subject’s face. The improved cameras should perform better, particularly in low-light situations.
I found that to be true when taking photos after midnight in my backyard, with the new iPhone 14 Pro Max and the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The only lighting was a string of dim, solar-powered lights. Both phones did admirably well in this tough environment (below) but if you look carefully, you can see that the 14 Pro Max captured greater detail in the foliage in the background and that the color is warmer—closer to what it looked like in person.
Recent iPhones like the iPhone 13 Pro Max (left) and iPhone 14 Pro Max have excelled at shooting in low light—but the iPhone 14 version excels a bit more.
Photo: Melanie Pinola/Consumer Reports
The differences between the two phones was even subtler when I took photos of my poodle, who has the curliest hair of any dog I’ve ever seen. Look closely, though, and you can see that the iPhone 14 Pro Max captured more detail in the shadows and the details in his tail.
My curly-haired model is adorable no matter what, but looks just slightly sharper when photographed with the new iPhone 14 Pro Max (right) than with the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Photo: Melanie Pinola/Consumer Reports
These were informal experiments, however. CR’s lab testing is much more granular and rigorous, and will shed more light on the cameras’ performance.
The iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max have Apple’s latest chip, the A16. The company says the new chip is more powerful than any chip before it, which is to be expected. The A16 should also be more energy-efficient and can take credit for some of the Pro phones’ new camera tricks. We’ll know more about the phones’ battery life and performance after we test them in our labs. For reference, though, the 13 Pro Max tops our charts with a 52.5-hour battery life.
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