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Apple iPhone 14 pro and iPhone 14 pro max review: A 48MP camera, always-on display and more

·11-min read

The new iPhones are here and I’ve been testing them since just after they were announced last week. I have reviewed all the new models, but here we share our thoughts on the iPhone 14 pro and iPhone 14 pro max.

There are four new iPhones for 2022: the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 pro and iPhone 14 pro max are joined by a different model, the iPhone 14 plus. This model, which doesn’t go on sale until Friday 7 October, has a screen as big as the pro max but for a much lower price.

The iPhone 14 has plenty of upgrades, such as a new front camera with autofocus included for the first time, and crash detection. The latter is a safety innovation – if, heaven forbid, you’re in a car crash, the new accelerometer in the iPhone will recognise what’s happened and automatically dial emergency services. Then there’s satellite connectivity (cool, huh?) which, from November – though only in the USA and Canada at first – will mean that if you have an emergency outdoors, away from cellular connection, you can send a text message to emergency services.

All these updates are in the iPhone 14 pro models, too, but for the really big differences, you need a pro. The pro models have two huge upgrades. First, there’s the camera system. Instead of three 12MP cameras, the iPhone 14 pro and iPhone 14 pro max have two 12MP cameras, plus – and this is a first for the iPhone – one camera with a 48MP sensor.

The second upgrade is something called Dynamic Island. No, you can’t visit it, but it’s an intrinsic part of the new pro handsets. It’s taken the least-loved part of recent iPhones – that is, the cut-out at the top of the screen where the Face ID sensor sits – and has created an information source that moves on demand. Oh, and there’s a spectacularly good always-on display, as well.

I used both phones for around a week. The iPhone 14 pro and iPhone 14 pro max differ in four important ways: the size of the handset and the fit in your hand, the size of the display (with ramifications for how easy it is to type on), the battery size and therefore how long the battery lasts, and, lastly, the price. In every other way (cameras. processor, software and so on) they are identical. So, below is a review of the iPhone 14 pro. Everything in that review applies to both pro handsets. But, in case you think you might prefer the larger pro max handset, there are details of how the max differs at the end, so you know which one will suit you best.

How we tested

I tested the iPhones by checking out ease of set-up and simplicity of transferring data from an earlier handset. We ran them hard all day in a mix of wifi and 5G environments. We played video, sent emails, updated social network feeds, activated mapping apps to use GPS, took photographs and videos in bright, dim and dark lighting and played power-hungry games.

I looked for responsiveness and speed in opening apps, smooth, glitch-free video playback, shutter lag in taking photos, and just how much battery was left at the end of the day. I even made some phone calls.

Apple iPhone 14 pro

The first thing you notice when you look at the new iPhone 14 pro (pictured on the left here, next to the larger iPhone 14 pro max) is that the cut-out has shrunk. Gone is the solid block with no touchscreen, in comes a sleek, slim lozenge of black. The cut-out, commonly called the notch, is necessary because it’s where the front-facing camera and the true depth camera sit. These are what power the facial recognition system and enable selfies.

But as well as shrinking the cut-out, Apple has made a virtue of it with software called ‘Dynamic Island’, of which more below (spoiler: it’s sensational).

The phone itself, at first glance, looks similar to the iPhone 13 pro. The big difference is apparent when you turn the phone over. The cameras have been improved with bigger lenses that protrude even further from the back. The new phone is very slightly taller than the iPhone 13 pro/pro max it replaces, a whisker thicker and a touch wider. In hand, you can’t tell the difference.

Read more: Which iPhone should I buy? Comparing Apple’s best phones, from the 13 to the SE

There are new colours this year: gold and silver are slightly tweaked, but the dark-grey version, called graphite last year, is replaced with the darker space black. Plus there’s an all-new shade called deep purple. In some lights, this just looks grey, which is nice enough, but catch it just right and it almost glows. The matte-finish back is complemented by the glossy camera panel, which is unmissably purple, and the stainless-steel edging glows with an understated mauve tinge. It looks tremendous.

Display and lock screen

Other brands have had always-on displays but, oh boy, this one was worth the wait. It is by a country mile the best always-on screen yet. Rival versions show the time, the date, and perhaps indicators of recent notifications. Sometimes there might even be a small, colourful animated character (Huawei is terrific at this). But this is something completely different.

Instead of a black screen with some small illuminations, this is the real deal, quietly illuminating the whole screen. Whether you choose one of your favourite photographs or an Apple wallpaper, the image remains on screen when the display is off, in muted colours but easily recognisable. Apple has new fonts for the digital clock, which shine out bright and clear. The quickest glance, without the slightest touch, tells you the time. And all without noticeable impact on the phone’s battery life.

Dynamic Island

This is the first software upgrade in years – perhaps since the dawn of pinch-to-zoom on the first iPhone – that has seemed as important as a hardware upgrade.

Display cut-outs have been common on smartphones since the iPhone X, but nobody has thought of making a virtue of the dead screen until now.

When you do one of a whole list of things, the lozenge of black where the cameras sit becomes something bigger. Turn the phone’s silent mode on or off, connect your AirPods, unlock your Apple Watch or do one of a dozen activities and the cut-out responds so elegantly that it’s hard to know where the cut-out finishes and the display begins.

Read more: Apple’s iPhone SE is astonishingly fast, affordable and way ahead of its rivals

It grows to a large square to confirm face ID is working or widens to show album art when you’re listening to Apple Music or Spotify. When you’re playing music and swipe the app off screen, the Dynamic Island widens to show album art. Touch it and the app reappears on screen. Want to add a timer? That shows up in a separate spot alongside.

And although much of the area is made up of lenses, even if you tap the camera rather than the touchscreen, it still springs into life almost magically.

It’s an exciting and impressive visual indicator that catches your eye and enhances how you use your iPhone. Oh, and it distracts from the fact there’s a bit of the display that’s not a display, in the most elegant way.

Cameras

The new cameras are significantly improved this time around, and not just because of the 48MP sensor for the wide camera. In most cases, the iPhone combines four adjacent pixels, so they can work as one bigger site to draw in more light quickly, for better images in all lighting conditions. This is a process normally called pixel binning, though Apple calls it quad pixels.

There are three lenses, but this iPhone promises four zoom levels. Digital zoom, which is essentially cropping to zoom in, is not what you want, as it reduces resolution. However, Apple has cunningly realised that if you crop into the central part of the 48MP sensor, that is, the middle 12 megapixels, you can legitimately claim that the extra zoom level is a full 12MP image. Of course, there’s no pixel binning in this case.

Read more: The Apple iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have blazing-fast performance and immaculate design

The results across this camera are routinely stunning, even in low light, and make you wish Apple had jumped to a 48MP sensor years ago, although it, without doubt, needed the latest processor to work as well as it does. You can even shoot in ProRAW and choose to record full 48MP images, though, be warned, the files are huge, often 75MB or more, so they can fill up your phone storage fast. And shooting ProRAW at full 48MP resolution takes time to process, so expect a second or so pause between shots.

New features

Crash detection, also found on the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 plus, may literally turn out to be a lifesaver. The improved accelerometer spots when you’re in a car crash and can alert emergency services. It’s the feature we hope none of us ever have to use, and you’ll understand, dear reader, that I haven’t tested it.

There’s another cool new extra feature: emergency satellite connection, which means that if you find yourself in trouble in a place with no network coverage, you can point your iPhone at the sky to send short messages by satellite to the emergency services. Clever software means you can know where to aim the phone. It will work in the USA and Canada from November but I’m sure it will come to the UK in due course. Although it’s not something you would use every day, it’s another feature that adds peace of mind.

Performance

The non-pro iPhone 14, in a break with tradition, has a less powerful processor than these handsets. The iPhone 14 takes the souped-up A15 bionic processor originally found in the iPhone 13 pro. Here, though, is the A16 bionic, the first Apple chip using a four-nanometer process, which basically allows for more transistors, greater efficiency and faster performance overall.

Read more: Apple’s iPhone 13 pro and iPhone pro max feature impressive cameras, battery life and fast performance

The phone is extremely fast and responsive, with apps opening super-fast, video playing smoothly, games rendering detailed graphics and the camera is instantaneous, 48MP shots apart.

Battery life remains as good as last year’s models – easily enough for a full day, even with the always-on screen.

Buy now £1099.00, Apple.com

Apple iPhone 14 pro max

This is a big phone (pictured on the right, next to the smaller iPhone 14 pro), and although it looks the same as the iPhone 14 pro, it’s so much bigger than its smaller sibling that I’d definitely try it in your hand before you buy it. It’s too big for smaller mitts.

On the other hand, if you’ve enjoyed a max or plus-size iPhone before, you may find the switch to a regular phone hard on the eyes or the fingers when you’re typing on screen. At least the screen pixel density (460px per inch) is the same on the pro and pro max.

Both phones are identical in thickness, 7.85mm, but neither disappears in your pocket easily. The other big difference is the price: the max adds a £100 premium to each storage level, which is not inconsiderable on an already expensive phone.

Battery life

The other big difference between the iPhone 14 pro and the max is the battery life. It’s great on the iPhone 14 pro but significantly longer on the bigger handset. Apple says that, for example, the pro can play video on-device for 23 hours, but the pro max manages 29 hours.

Buy now £1199.00, Apple.com

The verdict: Apple iPhone 14 pro and iPhone 14 pro max

The iPhone 14 pro and iPhone 14 pro max are powerful, beautiful smartphones. Which is better for you will come down to size and price alone – there’s no difference in performance except the max battery lasting even longer.

Both have new features that are original and innovative, from great safety protections to dazzling visual features. At a time when many talk of incremental improvements or how phones have plateaued, the new pro handsets are real, chunky upgrades, offering slick new software, much better cameras and, in Dynamic Island, the kind of genuine innovation I’ve come to expect from Apple.

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