Apple's iPhone 14 has subtle but not amazing upgrades

Apple’s iPhone 14 has subtle but not amazing upgrades


Take out the magnifying glass.

Apple’s iPhone 14 is better than the iPhones that came before it. But you have to look really, really close to the note.

How close? In our camera tests, we had to study a single 15-minute shot to tell it apart from a photo taken on a three-year-old iPhone 11 Pro. “Solid but subtle” is how we describe the iPhone 14’s upgrade, including a design that’s barely changed in three years, an emergency satellite connection we hope you’ll never need, modest battery gains, and a new front-facing shape for the 14 Pro models.

Gone are the days when iPhone updates bring upgrade improvements to everyone now, but millions of us are likely to buy a new iPhone anyway. It’s like staying with a good life partner long after the spark has passed.

The question these days is not so whether To upgrade your iPhone, but when. To help you decide, we answer questions we’ve heard from Washington Post readers through our website, email, and Instagram. (Excuse me Keep questions coming.)

To get started, the help desk ran a test to answer the most important question: Do you want a new phone?

Next, we’ve focused not only on how the iPhone 14 compares to last year’s iPhone 13 — but instead, what you might encounter from an iPhone 11, XS, 8 or earlier.

Here’s what you need to know:

Apple has four new iPhones at familiar prices, but the lineup is a little different this year. The standard iPhone 14 ($799) has a familiar design and last year’s processor, and will be joined on October 7 by a 14 Plus ($899) model with a larger screen and longer battery life.

Apple has kept a lot of the fun stuff, like the faster A16 Bionic processor, always-on display, and a nice new use of the front-facing camera called Dynamic Island, for the iPhone 14 Pro ($999+) and Pro Max ($1099).

So, should you go pro? These phones are for people who are obsessed with some features. We’ve found that Pro models can do some tasks, such as viewing some videos, a little faster than the Standard 14, but the difference is imperceptible in normal use. Pro screens are smoother and brighter too, although that might not mean much to people who don’t play graphic-rich games or spend a lot of time outside.

How about going pro for the camera? It’s totally worth it, but it helps if you want to take the time to look up your shots. (See our handy camera comparisons below.)

One of the most prevalent new features across all iPhone 14 models is Apple’s Satellite Emergency SOS feature. You’ll be able to send basic information like your location and status to emergency responders if you’re caught somewhere without cellular service, as well as share your location with others while you’re out of network. (Sorry, you cannot text your friends via satellite.)

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to test this one – it won’t be ready until November.

For folks who haven’t gotten a new phone in four or more years, the iPhone 14 is a good place to start.

The A15 Bionic processor inside is more than powerful enough for your daily routine and should last for many years of software updates. The battery lasts only an hour longer than the iPhone 13, but Apple has made even bigger improvements over the past five years, jumping from 13 hours of video playback in the 2017 iPhone X to 20 hours in the iPhone 14. We’ve managed to use full working days with Enough energy left to follow up on emails the next day.

But wait: “Is it the same as the iPhone 12?” asked reader Pablo Beltran on Instagram. The design of 14, 13 and 12 looks almost identical. The iPhone 12 of 2020 is now a good deal: it supports 5G networks and has a lower quality camera and battery. Apple is now selling the iPhone 12 for $599 – $200 less than the new model (Don’t forget, for $429, you can also buy the iPhone SE, which looks like the old iPhone 8 but is just as fast as the iPhone 13.)

Another question about cost: “What makes it so expensive,” Seungmin Ryu asked on Instagram. Apple didn’t raise their prices this year, but here’s our advice: Don’t pay the full price. Between exchange deals and promotions from your wireless carrier, you should be able to pick up almost any new iPhone at a solid discount.

If you are using iPhone 12 or later, wait for the next installment. Upgrade when you feel it’s right for you. There are some neat tech in the 14, but we’re all talking about getting as much use out of our devices as possible before upgrading.

The iPhone 14 is also not for people who prefer small phones. If you’re worried about this, try last year’s iPhone 13 mini for $599, or watch out for $999 from Samsung. Galaxy Z Flip 4A foldable smartphone is like a foldable phone.

What’s the deal with eSIMs?

All iPhone 14 models sold in the US are designed to work exclusively with built-in SIM cards or eSIMs, and so far, switching has been painless. Activating the phone with a test service line took about a minute, and it took about a minute to transfer a personal phone number from a physical SIM – and no calls to customer service.

But some travelers have written to say they are worried about taking these things abroad. Prepaid phone service via eSIM has become more and more popular in the past few years and many are Major travel destinations You have local carriers that offer eSIM without much of a fuss. However, it may not be long before we hear about the problems – rather odd situations can be inevitable while traveling.

How good is the camera?

“Tell me why the camera on the new 14 is better than the camera on the 11 Pro Max,” Florida’s Vicki asked. For some, a better camera is the number one reason to upgrade, and people like Vicki may be surprised.

For our tests, Chris hit town with a bunch full of iPhones from many years ago, as well as a few Android competitors. Then he took the same shots on all of them and asked Jeffrey (who didn’t know which photo came from which phone) to pick the best photos.

Jeffrey picked iPhone 14 Pro shots every time. This means the camera is really better, especially at capturing detail and shooting in dark conditions – a result of the way the 48MP main camera sensor works like the 12MP sensor to capture more light.

But keep in mind, in some cases, Jeffrey had to spend quite a bit of time zooming in on the pixels just to be able to tell the difference. A couple of times, it almost picked the shot from the iPhone 11 Pro – and there were cases where the old iPhone 7 shot looked good, too.

Differences are particularly difficult to spot when photographing during the day or in a brightly lit room. Take a look at these photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, taken on a Sunday afternoon:

If you zoom in on the original photos, you’ll see that the photo taken by the iPhone 14 Pro Max retained the most detail, closely followed by Photo 14. But when zoomed out, the 11 Pro caught our attention a bit more. Here’s the thing about smartphone photos: taste is just as important as technical prowess.

However, in low light, the differences between these cameras are more noticeable.

The iPhone 7 was worthless, but every subsequent iPhone did a better job at capturing the details and brightening the scene. (The iPhone 14 fails here for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.)

And even when you factor in phones known for their toughness in night photography, like Google’s Pixel 6 Pro, the image that came out of the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s large camera sensor was – in our eyes, anyway – the best combination of color and detail.

We didn’t find much benefit in another iPhone 14 camera upgrade: autofocus on the front camera for selfies. As with the normal photos, the 14 selfies showed fine details a little better but weren’t significantly different. And in the dark, selfies from Apple’s new iPhones didn’t look much better.

Another question about the camera: “Is portrait mode (main camera) faster?” asked a user named Sacafotos on Instagram. This is a big thing for parents. In our tests, the photo on the iPhone 14 Pro was a little faster — but it wasn’t nearly as fast as the regular camera.

How useful is a dynamic island?

Dynamic Island replaces the notch on the iPhone 14 Pros, and this shape-shifting dot covering the camera hole in the screen provides a quick visual reminder that your phone is still doing something in the background. (Think playing music or a countdown timer.) And if you need to go back to whatever app does the work, a quick tap on the island will get you there.

Instagram user Peter Philpott asked how many items can operate within Dynamic Island at the same time. For now, the answer is only two, but it doesn’t matter – we didn’t find ourselves relying on it much. Over time, app developers may come up with ways to use Dynamic Island. In the short time we’ve used it, though, the island has never felt terribly useful – rather nice.

What do you get from an always-on monitor?

What are the advantages of permanent display? asked Sam Dixon on Instagram.

iPhone 14 Pro models have screens that can stay on almost all the time at very low brightness and refresh themselves extremely rarely – only once per second sometimes.

It mostly boils down to one thing: you can look at your phone screen to see the time or check that notification popped up whenever you want. Fortunately, it’s not so glamorous that it stays on your nightstand. And the best part? The feature appears to hardly affect the battery life of the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max.

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