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Apple iPhone 14 review: Improved cameras, crash detection and video action mode

·7-min read
The screen is tougher than the front of any other smartphone, according to the tech giant (iStock/The Independent)
The screen is tougher than the front of any other smartphone, according to the tech giant (iStock/The Independent)

The new iPhone 14 comes in two sizes, iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 plus. The plus is a new addition to the range and will be released on 7 October, but the regular-size phone, which is the one reviewed here, already has a lot to offer.

There are also two new pro iPhones, which you can learn more about in my review, which compares the latest pro and pro max models.

Many of the pro models’ features – such as improved cameras (front and back), and crash detection – are included in the noticeably cheaper iPhone 14. It even has satellite connectivity, so you can send an emergency text from almost anywhere outdoors, although this feature will be limited to the US and Canada to begin with.

From a first glance, the iPhone 14 doesn’t look much different from the iPhone 13, so can it stand out and impress? Read on to find out.

How we tested

I tested the iPhone 14 by exploring every aspect of the handset – how easy is it to set up and move data from your last phone? Does the screen do video justice? How much battery will you have left at the end of a regular day? And so on. Cameras, a GPS sensor and 5G are all capabilities I tested too.

Apple iPhone 14

This latest model looks largely similar to last year’s iPhone 13, but with new colours. It has a cut-out at the top of the screen where the front-facing camera and true depth camera system (for face ID) are located. This ‘notch’ is smaller than before (matching the cut-out on last year’s iPhone 13 pro) and is one of the two biggest cosmetic differences compared with the iPhone 13.

The other change relates to the new cameras. They sit diagonally together on the back as before but now the lenses are bigger, and so is the camera panel that houses them, meaning, alas, last year’s iPhone cases won’t fit this time. By the way, only one of the cameras is new and therefore needs a bigger lens. The other one is bigger because, well, it would look awful if they were uneven sizes. The new front camera is also improved.

Otherwise, it has the same 6.1in OLED display with durable ceramic shield protection that Apple says is tougher than the front of any other smartphone.

Read more: Apple iPhone 14 pro and iPhone 14 pro max review

In the US only, Apple has removed the SIM card tray, meaning users have to use an eSIM (embedded SIM) instead. If this is a success, Apple may do the same on international iPhones in the future, so be warned. Removing the SIM tray means you can use the space it takes up for other sensors or a bigger battery.

However, UK users can already take advantage of eSIM technology, and it enables you to have multiple phone numbers in one device, and two can be active at one time.

Those new colours – Apple always gently tweaks the shades it uses each year, so even the ones that are repeated from 2021: starlight, purple, midnight and product (red) are slightly different. But the big change is to the blue, which is a much lighter, more sky-blue than before. Tip: if you want everyone to know you have the new iPhone, choose the blue one.

Read more: The iPhone 13 pro and 13 pro max have impressive cameras and battery life

There are other ways this iPhone looks different, and that is the software. The introduction of iOS 16 brought an all-new lock screen, which is terrific, along with revisions to mail, messages, maps and dictation. But iOS 16 is compatible with all phones going as far back as the iPhone 8, so you don’t need to buy a new phone to take advantage of that.

Crash detection is accomplished by the addition of a new dual-core accelerometer. It’s capable of detecting the huge g-force associated with a severe car crash. You don’t want to be in that situation but, if you are, the iPhone can automatically dial emergency services and play a recording stating that you have been in a crash, and it can even provide your exact location. It will let your close contacts know what’s happened, too. You will understand that I haven’t put this to the test, but Apple claims to have trained its algorithms from more than one million hours of driving and crash data. So, assuming it works, it’s an incredible addition to any smartphone.

Cameras

Apple has added an all-new wide camera, the main camera you’ll use, while the second one is the same ultra-wide one as seen on the iPhone 13. The thing about cameras, digital, film or phone, is that low light doesn’t agree with them. Equally, the photos most of us like to take are often in situations with low light, such as indoors, let alone in modish restaurants or nightclubs.

The new camera is aimed at fixing this, with a wider aperture than before (f/1.5 instead of last year’s f/1.6), which draws in light faster. Then there’s the sensor itself, which has larger pixels than before, and promises, Apple says, a 49 per cent improvement in low light situations.

I really can’t judge the percentage points but the camera here is definitely better, in every situation. It is fast and effective, with zero shutter lag.

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

This year’s iPhones introduce the photonic engine. That’s a made-up word that makes me think of gin and tonic, and this is similarly something palatable, as it introduces Apple’s remarkable photographic smarts earlier into the creative pipeline than before. This means deep fusion, Apple’s stacking of multiple images to create a richer final result, happens earlier in the computational pipeline.

That’s important because it happens before any compression takes place, meaning there is more and better data for the processor to work with.

Essentially, Apple’s brilliant photographic engineers have been able to take an already good camera and make it excellent.

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

The front camera is also improved. It’s the same as on the iPhone 14 pro, and is a 12MP sensor, up from 7MP last time. It also has a wider f/1.9 aperture. The upshot of all this is that it also manages selfies that are twice as good in low light.

Video gets an upgrade with action mode, a new system for ensuring smooth video when the terrain you’re shooting on is anything but. The optical image stabilisation it offers is extremely good and adds usability to videos that would otherwise struggle.

Performance

For the first time, Apple has released a new, flagship phone with last year’s processor. Well, not exactly. The iPhone 13 and pricier iPhone 13 pro had versions of the same chip, the A15 Bionic. But the pro model had an advanced model with an extra graphics capability. That’s the processor in this new phone.

While it’s not as powerful as the one in the iPhone 14 pro, it’s more capable and advanced than most phone processors on the market. In any event, this is a fast, responsive phone that performs every task at speed.

Battery life is good, lasting a full day easily. The upcoming iPhone 14 plus, released on 7 October, is credited with having the longest battery life of any iPhone, if you would like a larger version (with a 6.7in display) that will last even longer.

Buy now £849.00, Apple.com

The verdict: Apple iPhone 14

Some have referred to this as an underwhelming update. While it’s true the design has hardly changed, the iPhone 14’s internal upgrades, from camera to crash detection, are pretty extraordinary.

Previously, Apple might have called this iPhone 13S, but to name it that while releasing it alongside the iPhone 14 pro would have been nonsensical. This is a fast and attractive smartphone, with Apple’s excellent design and build quality, the now-routine features, such as water resistance and strong screen, and a significantly improved camera.

All for a price less than the iPhone 13 pro, with which it shares the same processor. This is an accomplished iPhone, whose surprises lie on the inside.

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