Apple iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max review: Is this the start of a new era of iPhones?
Note: This review was first published on 30 September 2022.
For a company that prides itself on innovation, Apple did a strange thing this year by announcing the iPhone 14, which, apart from the larger iPhone 14 Plus, doesn’t seem all that different from last year’s phones at all.
And then there’s the new iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max, which are also curious because even though they look a lot like last year’s Pro iPhones, they have new displays, new internals, and thoroughly updated camera systems. They may look the same but are, in fact, almost completely different phones. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are unquestionably the more interesting phones, so let’s take a deeper look at them now.
Display & design
There are big updates to the display. Sizes and resolutions are unchanged but the displays are brighter than before – up to eye-searing 2,000 nits when you are outdoors. The big news, however, is that the displays are now always-on and there’s something Apple calls the Dynamic Island at the top. Let’s address the always-on aspect of it first.
Yes, Android phones have had always-on displays for a while but Apple’s implementation is, as always, different and arguably better. To start, it’s surprisingly vibrant. To the point where, for the first few days, I had to check if I had actually put the display to sleep. Instead of simply using a blanket setting to dim the entire display, the display intelligently highlights certain information on the screen, such as the date, time, and your widgets so they remain super legible even if the display is sleeping.
The Dynamic Island is, simply put, a UI element at the top that was designed to hide the pill-shaped cutout for the smaller TrueDepth camera module. Essentially, it turns the pill-shape notch into an area where status indicators and widgets reside. Swipe up on apps and they minimise into the Dynamic Island where they can stay and where you can interact with them.
For example, if you are playing music on the Music app and you wipe up, it becomes a mini-player in the Dynamic Island complete with a funky waveform animation. And if you tap on it, you immediately open the Music app again. You could also hold on to it to expand it to quickly play/pause and change tracks. It will also work with the Live Activities real-time notifications that will be coming later this year to iOS 16.
They say a video is worth a thousand pictures which then means it’s worth a million words, so here’s a video of it in action:
It’s a creative way of hiding the notch and it makes you wonder why hasn’t any Android phone maker think of it yet. At the time of writing, not all apps will work with Dynamic Island, but the notable ones that do include Apple Music, Apple Maps, Spotify, Amazon Music, Spotify Music, Audible, and more. It will be very interesting to see what developers do with it since there’s a rumour that says next year’s iPhones will all have the Dynamic Island.
There are also some concerns as to whether fingerprints and smudges will impact the TrueDepth camera and Face ID. The answer is no. Firstly, the Dynamic Island isn't designed to be something you interact with all the time. Think of it as a status or notification bar, and you may choose to interact with it from time to time if you need further utility from the app, but otherwise, it just sits there. Secondly, the TrueDepth camera never ever gets as dirty as the rear cameras do and that has never been a problem for the rear cameras so why would it be one for the front. Furthermore, Face ID relies more on the dot projector module and infrared camera rather than the lens camera to work.
As for design, nothing has really changed apart from the colours. Silver and Gold make their return and there’s a new Deep Purple which replaces Sierra Blue, and a new version of Space Black. My review units are the iPhone 14 Pro Max in Deep Purple and the iPhone 14 Pro in Space Black. Deep Purple looks grey in most situations and only reveals its purple hue under certain specific lighting conditions. Space Black looks like charcoal. Having seen all four colourways at the launch event, my pick of the four is Space Black.
These phones still have the same squared-off flat sides and rounded corners that debuted on the iPhone 12 series. The chassis is still stainless steel and we still have highly polished sides. Though the buttons are all in more or less the same positions, the camera bump is now larger (to accommodate the bigger sensor), which means you’ll need new phone casings – check out our guide to phone cases for the iPhone 14.
Emergency SOS & Crash Detection
Safety was a huge thing for Apple this year and the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max both come with a new safety feature called Emergency SOS via satellite that lets you send SOS messages via satellite if you don’t have a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. This can be extremely helpful if you somehow find yourself stranded in the wilderness. The service will go live in November and will be available initially only in the US and Canada.
International travellers who purchased their iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max outside of the US and Canada can also use the service in the US and Canada when it goes live, unless their phones were purchased in China mainland, Hong Kong, and Macao. iPhones purchased in these places will not have this feature.
Another safety feature coming to the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max is Crash Detection, which uses the phones’ highly sensitive accelerometer and other sensors to detect if you have been in a serious car crash. And if it does, it can help contact emergency services and your emergency contacts, even if you are unresponsive. This feature is present on the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra too.