Apple is the kind of company you can set your watch by, releasing its new smartphones around the same time every year. There’s not much in the way of surprises either, as leaks flow throughout the year, knowing in advance what we’re getting. Of course, not everything can be guessed from leaks and unofficial photos of the phones, so every year we discover something new. The iPhone 14 series is both one of Apple’s most hardware innovative in recent years and also one of the most boring, with relatively minor upgrades. Here are my impressions of the standard iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro Max models after a week of testing.
Design changes are minor on the iPhone 14 series
2022 is the year the separation of the “standard” and “Pro” iPhone models begins, with Apple offering significantly different hardware in both design and performance between the two “ranges”. On the one hand we have the “standard” iPhone 14, the base model, which comes with a design almost identical to last year’s iPhone 13. This phone still comes with a “notch” display at the top of the screen, is made of the same materials and changes only a few components on the inside. If it weren’t for a new color selection for the iPhone 14 range, you could extremely easily mistake it for a 2021 iPhone 13.
The iPhone 14 Pro range gets all the upgrades though, which are both design and hardware related. The biggest new feature is the new dual cutout at the top of the screen, which along with iOS 16 forms the so-called Dynamic Island, an area made up of the front-facing camera, Face ID sensors and a sort of multi-function bar. The frame around the screen is slightly smaller, resulting in a slightly larger screen, but this won’t be easily noticeable.
Otherwise, the 14 Pro Max phone we tested looks identical to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, except that the camera module is a little larger in area and the cameras a little more protruding, and the volume buttons have shifted position a little. These differences are enough to ensure that accessories from previous models are not compatible with the new ones.
Photo gallery 2 images
As expected, the boxes of the new phones only include a Lightning cable in the package, with the old charging and data transfer jack retained for another generation. What we do get in Europe, however, in addition to the American models, is a slot for physical nano-SIM cards. This component has been completely replaced by eSIM in the US.
The screens on the Pro models are among the best on the market
To quickly skip over the iPhone 14’s screen, I’ll say that it looks, under normal use identical to last year’s. We’ve got the same 6.1″ diagonal, the same brightness of around 1,000 nits in bright light, and the same 60 Hz refresh rate. If you used an iPhone 12 or 13, the iPhone 14 will offer a comparable screen in performance, with the same narrower notch on the 13. Apple uses some of the best screens on the market, and the software optimizations make even the 60 Hz experience feel very smooth, but you immediately feel the difference when you switch to a 90 or 120 Hz screen. The fact that Apple is selling a nearly €1,000 phone with a 60 Hz screen can no longer be overlooked in 2022, when phones under €300 offer high refresh rates.
Of course, on the iPhone 14 Pro Max, we’re dealing with one of the best screens you can buy right now, whether we’re talking phones, tablets, TVs or PC monitors. It uses one of the few OLED screens that can reach brightness of 2,000 nits, while the best-performing OLED TVs barely exceed 1,000. In bright light it remains perfectly legible, and the smoothness provided by ProMotion, which can reduce the frequency down to 1 Hz and increase it up to 120 Hz is almost unique in the market at the moment.
The variable refresh rate display, however, paves the way for low battery consumption when not much is happening on screen, as well as the integration of Always-On Display technology for the first time on an Apple device. I can’t say I’m impressed with the company’s solution compared to others of its kind, though. For one thing, I personally don’t use the feature on Android devices either, as it consumes battery, and in the case of the iPhone 14 Pro Max, the battery consumption is even higher. That’s because Apple has decided that an “always-on” display really does stay always on.
When you lock the screen, the brightness is minimized and certain elements on the screen, such as the clock and wallpaper, change their color tone to something less saturated. The result is a phone that you can constantly mistake for one with the screen on, which gets brighter from time to time when new notifications come in. I found the permanently lit screen a bit distracting. A more unobtrusive solution with the exact time on a black background would have been a better option for many users, and I hope Apple includes such an option. It’s a nice looking feature visually, but I don’t find it very practical, especially when it consumes about 10-15% per day.
Flagship performance remains valid for both models
The iPhone 13 generation was already one of the best performing on the market, even after the advent of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor models. So the iPhone 14, which uses the A15 Bionic version of the 13 Pro Max, which integrates an extra GPU core over the “standard” A15 on the iPhone 13, remains as capable as ever. Even though it doesn’t have a new processor, its performance won’t be a problem under any circumstances, and the 6GB of RAM is put to good use by iOS 16 so you don’t reset background apps too often when you return to them.
I don’t understand why the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro models don’t get access to features like Cinematic Mode at 4K or Action Mode stabilization though, since the feature is available on the iPhone 14 with the same processor and cameras as last year’s Pro model. In synthetic tests the results are within expectations: top single-core performance, flagship-level multi-core, top GPU, but cooling that doesn’t break the bank. In the 3DMark stress test, it retained only 63% of its performance at the end. Apple still has work to do on cooling these processors.
Benchmark iPhone 14
- AnTuTu – 799.427
- GeekBench – Single-Core: 1,726 / Multi-Core: 4,247
- GeekBench Compute – 12.247
- 3DMark Wild Life Extreme -2.781
- 3DMark Wild Life Extreme Stress Test – Best loop: 2.982 / Lowest loop: 1.906 / Stability: 63.9%
When it comes to the new processor, the A16 Bionic, Apple seems to have integrated a desktop processor into a smartphone in the new phones, with performance comparable to the M1 processor in the MacBook, iMac or iPad Pro. It delivers performance that seems about two years ahead of today’s competition, with multi-core scores approaching 6000 points in GeekBench and over 3000 points in 3DMark in the Extreme test. Only AnTuTu offers a lower score than the top Android competition, due to the 6GB memory, which is much smaller than comparable flagships with 8, 12 or even 16GB.
The cooling issue remains, however. The phone throttles after half an hour, maintaining only 65% of its gaming CPU performance in 3DMark testing. However, the lowest score after overheating is comparable to the highest score you can get on a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phone, so performance will be kept at a very good level. And the phone doesn’t get hot to the touch, with the heat efficiently distributed across the steel frame.
Benchmark iPhone 14 Pro Max
- AnTuTu – 907.430
- GeekBench – Single-Core: 1,878 / Multi-Core: 5,428
- GeekBench Compute – 15.638
- 3DMark Wild Life Extreme – 3.361
- 3DMark Wild Life Extreme Stress Test – Best loop: 3.357 / Lowest loop: 2.173 / Stability: 64.7%
Autonomy is at an all-time high on iPhone 14 models
Apple phones used to be derided in other brands’ ads for low battery life and reliance on chargers or portable batteries, but in the last three years Apple has become a true leader in battery life. The iPhone 14 has a slightly larger battery than the iPhone 13 on the inside, but in reality will offer similar battery life. Between 1.5 and 2 days of normal use or a full day with heavy use. Among 6.1″ phones, there aren’t many comparable models in terms of battery life.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max doesn’t fare as well though, compared to the previous model. That is, if you keep the Always-On screen active. If the 13 Pro Max goes into even its third day of “average” use, the 14 Pro Max approaches zero towards the end of the second day. It’s still a decent performance, but to extend the battery life to the performance of the previous model, you need to drop the new feature. You can “squeeze” almost two days of heavy use out of the iPhone 14 Pro Max lightly, or up to two and a half for those who aren’t dependent all day on their phone. Likewise, in its category, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is the champion among big-screen flagships in this department.
The two phones kind of “creak” in the fast charging department. Each requires over an hour, maybe more in the case of the Max model to charge with Apple’s original 20W adapter. Even with a MacBook charger that allows them to charge at 25-27W, we’re still talking about slow charging, and wireless charging at such high capacities at speeds up to 15W via MagSafe isn’t something you can say is practical in 2022. This is something Apple really needs to work on in the generations to come. Not to mention the fact that no iPhone 14 can charge accessories like the Apple Watch or AirPods wirelessly, as most competitors in the market do.
iOS 16 software a few new features but also some bugs
This year’s iOS 16 is a relatively minor upgrade, offering only a few really new things. First, we have the lock screen, which takes inspiration from the way the watch faces on the Apple Watch work and now allow for more thorough customization of the main screen on the iPhone. So you can now change the font for the watch display and its colour, as well as add widgets for quick information from certain apps. But you can save multiple lock screen styles so you can quickly change them as needed, and you can also attach them to focus modes like sleep, work, or sleep mode. Apple’s AI can even detect elements in photos and partially hide the watch behind them for a very pleasing effect. But this effect disappears as soon as you add widgets.
I can say that I like the way notifications now come from the bottom up, making them much easier to access, especially on large screens like on the 14 Pro Max, and new types of interactive notifications are coming soon, which can show you the progress of an Uber order, or the score of a match without you having to go into the app. These new features are present on all iOS 16 compatible phone models.
However, models from iPhone 11 upwards also get the ability to crop objects directly from photos, without having to enter them into dedicated photo editing software. Images are cropped without a background, and can be pasted into apps for making chat stickers or for use in collages or various photo editing apps. More interestingly, you can do this from one device to another via iCloud Clipboard. Clip a photo from your iPhone and quickly paste it onto your Mac or iPad.
Finally, we have Dynamic Island, probably the most talked about topic around the iPhone 14 and the easiest for the competition to copy. While copycats have assumed this is an interactive notifications area, the truth is that it adds a quick functionality addition that complements the experience so far. Notifications still go into their dedicated drawer, and widgets still remain on the home or lock screen.
Dynamic Island, however, allows you to interact with certain apps in the background without necessarily opening them full screen. The easiest is in the music one by being able to long-press and hold on the area around the cameras to access the control buttons for playback. But you can also use the function to quickly see how much time you have left on a set timer, or how long you’ve recorded the screen, and you can quickly turn these functions off or on in this mode. Or you can quickly switch from another app to the one that’s put in the “island” without having to access the standard multitasking area.
I have to admit that I really like Dynamic Island and I’m waiting to see what other features will appear here, but I can’t say this is enough to convince me to upgrade from the iPhone 11 Pro Max I’ve been using daily for almost three years now.
iOS 16 did, however, launch with some bugs that we encountered on both the personal phone and the test units, and Apple seems to have fixed some of them in the last few days, but small issues still remain such as the lock screen customization interface sometimes displaying incorrectly. In terms of stability, I haven’t encountered situations where apps close more often than in the past or cause the phone to lock up. iOS remains even at a buggy stage a very stable, fluid and easy to use operating system.
Apple isn’t going back to the fingerprint
Another area where Apple is the market leader is in stereo speakers on its flagships. Few phones offer sound as loud and well-defined as those in the iPhone 14 range, and the “standard” 14 model holds very closely to the Pro Max, despite the smaller body and thus less room for audio enclosures. You can also hear a little bass from the iPhone models’ speakers, something we rarely see on mobile phones in general.
On the security front we’re still dealing with Face ID, which doesn’t seem to be any slower or faster than before. New would be that these models can also unlock in landscape mode, whereas previous models only worked in portrait mode. However, this feature is also available on iPhone 13 models after the iOS 16 update. Apple doesn’t seem to want the return of the fingerprint sensor, but does offer options for face unlock with a surgical mask on the face or an alternate appearance, in case you shave and the phone has problems with the original appearance. These features are available on all models with Face ID.
The cameras on the iPhone 14 and 14 Pro Max are very good, but not perfect
All the talk about processors, battery life, or screens around flagships would be pointless if in 2022 they didn’t launch with the best cameras ever. It’s hard to give a verdict on whether the iPhone 14 Pro Max really does have the best camera on the market, but in some respects it certainly comes out ahead of the competition. The “standard” iPhone 14, however, inherits two of the three cameras from last year’s iPhone 13 Pro.
So we have a 12 megapixel, wide and ultrawide dual camera system on the standard and Plus 14s, with stabilisation on the main sensor, and a completely new three camera system on the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max. The biggest news, however, is that on the iPhone 14 Pro we have a 48-megapixel main camera for the first time crossing the 12-megapixel threshold, while the ultrawide and 3x optical zoom cameras remain at 12 megapixels, but with better performance especially in low light. All models also get a new front-facing camera with autofocus for the first time on the iPhone.
Apple also talked about something called “Photonic Engine”, a new AI processing algorithm for photos that allows for improved detail, faster color adjustment, and generally better final shots. Basically, Photonic Engine replaces the old Smart HDR and Deep Fusion, combining multiple frames with varying exposure levels in any situation, whether we’re talking bright natural light or night shots, or in low light.
Photonic Engine should deliver better performance on the iPhone 14 than the 13, despite the lack of real upgrades, but I for one haven’t seen them. The ultrawide camera is the same one I first encountered on the iPhone 11, which was also outdated at the time by other solutions on the market anyway. Thus, during the day, it doesn’t have enough dynamic range to not burn out very bright areas, and at night the photos are noisy and unfocused. The camera is decent in certain conditions, but it’s not flagship-level. The main one though is excellent during the day and very good at night, with results comparable to the 13 Pro series. Basically, with the iPhone 14 you have a truly flagship camera.
iPhone 14 Pro Max
On the iPhone 14 Pro Max, the discussion is a bit broader. First, we get a better performing ultrawide camera that can focus at close range for the macro function, with very good results. During the day it’s better, but at night it produces only slightly better results than the standard 14. I would recommend avoiding the ultrawide camera on night mode.
The main camera is actually the big news, with the first 48 megapixel sensor on the iPhone. Despite the higher resolution, Apple chooses to still shoot at 12 megapixels, but with pixel binning for better detail and reduced image noise, especially at night. The camera on the iPhone 14 Pro Max is probably the camera you can rely on every time that will automatically take the best photos on your phone, but not necessarily the best looking ones. Apple tries to keep as much of the “realness” as possible, without enriching saturation or other elements.
Also the main camera allows you to take RAW photos at 48 megapixels, for those who want to edit their images in specialized software. These results are truly impressive, comparable to what we’ve seen on some mirrorless cameras. I would have preferred that Apple also offered the option of 48 megapixels without RAW, processed by its algorithms. You can zoom in without losing detail in RAW photos, and this capability is also used for a new, intermediate zoom.
Like the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the new 14 has a 3X zoom camera, but also allows 2x zoom without losing quality by cropping on the main sensor. The results are very good in daylight, almost without feeling any difference between 1x and 2x. However, at night extra image noise on the 2X mode can be noticed immediately. This is a welcome feature, but far from impressive. Other brands have been doing such zooms for years already.
The 3X zoom camera is very good, but only during the day. On night mode it is almost never used, due to lack of light. Apple, like other brands, only turn the zoom camera on at night when there is a lot of light in the frame, sometimes you get night zoom shots with low image noise and good detail, other times you get a noisy and detail free shot taken with digital zoom on the main camera.
Even though the shooting resolution remains 4K at a maximum of 60 frames per second on all cameras, there are a few new additions to the lineup. Personally, I haven’t seen much improvement in quality between the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14, nor between the Pro versions of the two generations. What all the new phones do get, however, is Cinematic Mode in 4K resolution on all cameras and Action Mode, advanced electronic stabilisation.
Cinematic mode seems to crop subjects a little better and works decently even with objects, adding a natural blur around them and giving the feeling that you’re shooting with a much more advanced camera than a mobile phone. Of course, the effect isn’t perfect, but at a quick glance you don’t realise that the blur has been added by software. This capability is especially attractive for those who will be using their phone for vlogging, being able to film even with the main camera, on the move, with very good results. Cinematic mode is good for a few shots now and then, but it’s still not suitable to completely replace a professional camera. There’d also be the advantage of being able to change focus after shooting, but probably not many people will use it.
To test Cinematic Mode, I shot the video review partially with the phone, and the result is decent, but some elements are cropped a bit aggressively, such as hair and beard. Also, after filming, the phone processed the video in “cinematic” mode for another hour before I could output it to my PC. Incidentally, copying to PC was also problematic not only because of the Lightning port, but also because of the way the transfer is done on Windows with import. And Apple organizes photos oddly in folders, making it hard to find the Cinematic Mode clip. Interestingly, though, Apple also keeps a copy of the “original” without the blur, so you can also access an “unprocessed” version if you don’t like how it came out with Cinematic Mode.
Action Mode is activated from the shooting menu and crops from 4K to 2.8K, but with much better stabilization. Already the stabilization on video on the iPhone was very good, and now it can almost replace a gimbal, being able to walk with the camera on or even run without unwanted effects or vibration in the clip. Will this feature replace a GoPro or a gimbal? Probably not, but it will come in handy when you don’t have other solutions at hand, and it can save you the wait time for software stabilization in professional editing programs.
Overall, the iPhone 14 Pro gets the biggest upgrades, while the 14 kinda beats the heck out of this generation in the camera department.
And that’s pretty much the conclusion. The iPhone 14 is a slightly improved iPhone 13 that wouldn’t even qualify to be called the iPhone 13S in previous years. That’s because it’s not faster and borrows elements from the old model and Pro variants to create a new hybrid. The problem with this model is that it’s too expensive, with Apple increasing prices by about 20% over last year. So the iPhone 13 even at full price, but especially at discount would be a better choice than the “standard” 14.
When we talk about the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max, we really have hardware upgrades across the board. Screen, processor, cameras and the new Dynamic Island are all new. But the ones on last year’s iPhone 13 Pro Max were about as good. And so were the ones on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It’s getting harder and harder for those who have bought the flagship models so far to justify buying a new model, especially at today’s prices. At the same time, this is definitely the best iPhone yet, and it’s sure to be a hit in the market among those who are way behind on the iPhone 8/X or XS/XR generation. Personally, I’d say that if you’re still holding onto the battery on the iPhone 11, there’s still not many serious reasons to upgrade.
And there’s one more thing. The iPhone 14 could be the last series to use Lightning jacks for data transfer. Because of this outdated port, Apple can’t significantly increase charging speeds or USB transfer speeds, which are still limited to USB 2.0 speeds. So getting RAW photos or ProRes video out of 256, 512 or 1TB iPhones becomes a real exercise in patience. And alternative solutions like AirDrop or iCloud aren’t much faster either. Upgrading to USB-C could solve all these problems, and perhaps the wait for the iPhone 15 could be more justified. That is, of course, unless you need a new phone now and want the one with the fastest processor and probably the best camera. In that case, the iPhone 14 Pro or Pro Max are excellent choices, but don’t expect miracles if you’re coming from one of the recent generations.