Home U.S. Review: The iPhone 14 is exactly as good as it needed to be

Review: The iPhone 14 is exactly as good as it needed to be

by Shashank
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iphone 14 pro and pro max.jpg

Pros

  • Improved camera
  • Strong performance
  • Improved repairability is consumer-friendly

Cons

  • Lack of SIM card tray will be an issue for some
  • Battery life is a concern

Let’s get this out of the way right now — the $799 iPhone 14 is a fantastic smartphone with strong camera performance and reliable overall performance, and battery life that’s a little concerning. I’ve been using Apple’s latest base iPhone model, the iPhone 14, for about 10 days alongside the iPhone 14 Pro Max. The iPhone 14 and 14 Pro Max are very similar but quite different at the same time.

Upgrading from an iPhone 13 to an iPhone 14, or even from an iPhone 12, isn’t the most compelling move, but for everyone else who just needs a new iPhone — the iPhone 14 is well worth the investment.

However, if you’re someone who wants a larger phone, you can either pick up the iPhone 14 Pro Max right now (assuming you can find it in stock) or wait for the $899 iPhone 14 Plus to launch on Oct. 7. Preorders for the larger-screen iPhone 14 model are currently live.

How and why did I come to those conclusions? Let’s dig in.

Also: How to get the best deal on the new iPhone 14 models

Specifications

Processor Apple A15 Bionic
Display 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR
Memory 6GB
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Cameras 12-megapixel main, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel TrueDepth
Battery Up to 20 hours
Connectivity 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.3, 5G (Sub6/mmWave)
Operating system iOS 16
Colors Midnight, Starlight, Blue, Purple, Product RED

Familiar design, with one exception

Aside from the color options, the iPhone 14 is nearly identical to the iPhone 13 in design. There’s really only one noticeable change to my eye, and that’s the lack of a SIM card tray on the iPhone 14. Apple has made the decision to go all-in on eSIM, the digital version of the small plastic card we’ve all moved between phones.

During the initial setup of the iPhone 14, I was asked if I wanted to transfer my existing phone number from my personal iPhone 13 Pro Max to the iPhone 14. Keep in mind, before powering on the iPhone 14 and signing in with my Apple ID, there was no way for the iPhone 14 to know which phone number I had or that would be assigned to it.

Also: Here’s how the major carriers are handling the iPhone 14 eSIM

After selecting that I did want the iPhone 14 to use my phone number, Apple and my carrier did some magic behind the scenes and my number was transferred to the new iPhone in under two minutes. It was truly an easy experience.

I covered more details about making the switch from SIM card to iPhone 14 eSIM here, which should help you get started.

As for the colors, you can get the iPhone 14 in Midnight, Starlight, Blue, Purple, or Product RED, with storage starting at 128GB, with 256GB and 512GB options.

iPhone 14 standing on edge, showing its lack of SIM card slot

The side of the iPhone no longer has a SIM card slot.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Performance and battery life

If you visit Apple’s comparison toolpitting the iPhone 13 against the iPhone 14, you’ll notice that the phones use the same A15 Bionic processor. This is the first time Apple has used the previous-generation processor in a new iPhone model, with the iPhone maker relying on the already solid performance the A15 Bionic brought to the iPhone 13.

To be clear, there is a slight difference between the A15 Bionic that’s used in the iPhone 14. It has a five-core GPU, as opposed to the four cores in the iPhone 13 version. Apple says that extra core brings a roughly 18% boost in GPU performance to the iPhone 14.

I haven’t noticed any significant performance improvement over the iPhone 13 Pro Max, but I never had a complaint about performance on the iPhone 13 in general. That’s to say — I don’t think performance is an issue with the iPhone 14. I had no issues when multitasking between apps, or playing Ballistic Baseball. Apple has a track record of supporting devices via software updates for several years, so I’m not worried about the company dropping support for the iPhone 14 anytime soon, despite having the same processor as the now 1-year-old iPhone 13.

Another internal difference between the two generations is a boost in memory, going from 4GB in the iPhone 13 to 6GB in the iPhone 14. That added memory will help keep apps and tabs open in memory longer and improve multitasking overall.

iPhone 14 on a table
Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Battery life is supposed to be ever-so-slightly better, with the iPhone 14 gaining an extra hour of video playback. After over a week of testing, the battery life is my lone area of concern for the iPhone 14. Maybe it’s because I came from the iPhone 13 Pro Max with a bigger battery, but I pushed the iPhone 14’s battery charge to its limit on a daily basis. On a busy day, or even a day full of traveling for a work trip, I have no doubt I’d have to charge the battery before the end of the day to ensure that I’d have enough power to make it.

Also: Bad battery after installing iOS 16? Don’t panic, do this instead

I’m intrigued to see what battery life is like on the iPhone 14 Plus, the 6.7-inch version of the iPhone 14. Battery life is usually better on the larger-screened iPhone models, and if that’s also the case this year, then the Plus may end up being very popular.

iPhone 14 back showing cameras
Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Camera upgrades

The biggest changes Apple made to the iPhone 14 all have to do with the camera. Apple calls the iPhone 14’s camera system an “advanced dual-camera system,” thanks in part to some hardware upgrades but also because of some iOS camera software features that are new this year.

There’s a new 12-megapixel main camera with a larger sensor that harnesses Apple’s new Photonic Engine for better performance. Apple promises improved low-light performance from the engine, and the addition of a new Action mode for capturing video.

Also: iPhone 14 Pro: Huge new camera sensor, same slow Lightning transfers

When enabled, Action mode will stabilize your recorded video in a similar fashion to GoPro cameras. You’ll want to use the new mode outdoors, or at least in an area with plenty of light. I’ve done a couple of random jogs around my home and backyard and can confirm, Action mode does indeed keep the iPhone’s video smooth and stable.

I can’t wait to play around with this feature some more to see where it really excels, and where it falls short. The fact that it needs a well-lit environment is a bit of a letdown.

As for the main camera, I’ve taken a bunch of photos and the iPhone 14’s main camera is definitely an improvement over the iPhone 13. From a quick portrait mode photo that I took of my bulldog, Emoji, to the photo of a sunset you can see below, the iPhone 14’s camera does a great job of capturing and reflecting colors, lighting, and details.

Sundown illuminating the end of a street
Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

The above photo hasn’t been edited other than cropping the image in order to publish it. All of the color and saturation settings have remained untouched.

Safety first

You can expect more features to be enabled on the iPhone 14 in future. The new Emergency SOS via Satellite feature, for example, isn’t available yet. That’s supposed to go live in November and will remain a free service for the next two years. Pricing after that isn’t yet known. Garmin offers a similar service on stand-alone devices with price plans starting at $15 a month, but I imagine Apple will figure out a way to bundle it into its Apple One plans.

The new emergency communication feature comes alongside a dedicated crash detection feature that will automatically identify when you’re in a car crash and contact emergency services to get you help.

Also: The iPhone 14 Pro packs a lot more innovation for the same price as last year

Bottom line

It’s easy to call out Apple as having repurposed the iPhone 13’s internals, made a small tweak here and there, and called it the iPhone 14. This year, Apple drew a deeper line in the sand to differentiate the iPhone 14 from the iPhone 14 Pro lineup. The iPhone 14 Pro line is clearly for those who want a major change from last year’s design.

As I said at the top, the iPhone 14 is a great phone, and for someone who is coming from an iPhone 11 or older, the iPhone 14 is a major upgrade. The camera, design, and overall performance are well worth investing in Apple’s latest.

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