Apple iPhone 14 review: The most iterative update ever to a great smartphone
The iPhone 14 is such an incredibly minor update that no iPhone 13 owner with a sane mind should consider upgrading to it. The fact that iPhone 14 doesn’t even do the bare minimum to justify an upgrade from its predecessor is a reminder of Apple’s incredible grip over the smartphone market and how it can afford to get away with controversial moves that others simply can’t. Can you imagine any Android brand releasing a flagship with the same chipset as its predecessor, and getting away with it?
The iPhone 14 is Apple trying to sell you the same old wine in the old bottle but with a new label. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little here. There are some notable upgrades here, and one of the biggest changes Apple didn’t even talk about during the event (but more on that later). The list of hardware upgrades is relatively small this year. You get the same chipset as the last year but with an extra GPU core, a brand new selfie shooter, an improved primary camera, basic satellite connectivity, and Crash Detection. In addition, the US models also drop the physical SIM card slot to fully embrace the eSIM future.
As you can see, there’s not a lot to convince the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 owners to make a switch. The divide between the standard and Pro models is wider than ever as most of the cool features, including Dynamic Island, the new A16 Bionic chipset, and a 48MP main camera, are exclusive to the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. That also means there’s more incentive to shell out extra money on the Pro models as the advantages and perks you get are more clearly defined and easy to rationalize.
Apple iPhone 14: Specifications
|Specification||Apple iPhone 14|
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About this review: This iPhone 14 is my personal purchase. Apple didn’t have any editorial input in this article. The review is written after spending ten days with the device.
Apple iPhone 14: Price & Availability
The iPhone 14, along with the iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max, are now available for purchase worldwide from Apple Store and other official retail channels. The standard iPhone 14 starts at $799, but you can save big by taking advantage of deals and discounts.
- The iPhone 14 starts at $799 for the base model and goes up to $1,099 for the 512GB model.
- It comes in Blue, Purple, Midnight, Starlight, and (PRODUCT)RED colors.
Design & Display
- The iPhone 14 has an identical design and display to the iPhone 13.
- However, Apple has redesigned the internal architecture of the phone.
If you’re trying to spot any visual difference between iPhone 14 and iPhone 13, you’ll find none, except for the different colorways. You’re looking at an identical exterior design as the last year. Not a bad thing, as the iPhone 13 was a pretty solid phone, but you can’t help but feel that the standard iPhone lineup is in dire need of a design overhaul. There’s still that unsightly notch at the top, and the flat side rails take some time getting used to if you have mostly used phones with curved backs. It’s not a bad-looking phone by any means, but just how many times can you get excited about the same design?
The iPhone 14 is 2g lighter than the iPhone 13, and expectedly, the difference wasn’t noticeable when I held both phones side by side. The front is still protected by a Ceramic Shield, while the flat aluminum frame provides a reassuring grip. As you would expect, the phone feels great in hand — solid and incredibly sturdy. I must admit, though, that after exclusively using Android phones with curved backs all these years, I found the iPhone 14 uncomfortable due to its sharp edges. But this was easy to address with a protective case.
At first, I was contemplating getting the iPhone 14 Plus as I feared the 6.1-inch size would be too small for me. But having used the iPhone 14 for over ten days, I feel like this is the perfect size — not too small, not too big.
The mute switch we all love and appreciate is still there, and so is the unwanted Lightning port we all hate and wish was already dead. Apple has removed the physical SIM tray in favor of eSIM on the US models, but those in Europe and Asia can still find it on the left side.
While the iPhone 14 looks identical to the iPhone 13 from the outside, it’s radically different under the hood. As revealed by iFixit’s teardown, Apple has completely redesigned the internal architecture of the iPhone 14, making it the most repairable iPhone to date. That’s a big win for the right-to-repair movement and great news for anyone who likes holding onto their phone for a long time.
The iPhone 14’s 6.1-inch display is the same as the last year. It’s an OLED panel with 1170 x 2532 resolution, DCI-P3 wide color gamut, and HDR10+ and Dolby Vision support. As you would expect, it’s a high-quality panel that offers true-to-life colors, deep blacks, and great viewing angles. Unfortunately, Apple still limits the higher refresh rate Pro Motion display to Pro models. As a result, you’ll have to put up with a 60Hz panel. But other than that, there’s not much to complain about here. It’s one of the best displays you can get at this price point in terms of color accuracy and brightness.
On max setting, the panel gets bright enough that I have had no issue using it even under harsh sunlight. Apple’s True Tone feature is on board, and it automatically adjusts the white balance and illumination based on your surround lighting to make text and content easier on the eyes. However, there’s no Always-on Display or a Dynamic Island similar to the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max. The display also has an oleophobic coating applied which makes it easier to wipe off fingerprints and smudges. However, using a screen protector would still be a good idea.
iPhone 14: Camera
- The iPhone 14’s main camera has been updated with a wider aperture and larger pixel size.
- Spectacular video performance as always.
While the Pro models get a brand new 48MP primary camera, the standard iPhone 14 and 14 Plus opt for the more conservative 12MP dual camera setup similar to its predecessors. There’s a 12MP main shooter, which now has a bigger aperture — f/1.5 compared to f/1.6 on the iPhone 13 — and a larger 1.9μm pixel size for improved low-light performance. The ultra-wide camera is seemingly unchanged.
In broad daylight, the iPhone 14 captures pleasant photos with an affinity for true-to-life colors that sometimes may appear a bit dull compared to Samsung’s more saturated and vibrant tones. If you prefer richer colors and higher contrast, you can always turn to the Photographic Styles from the camera settings.
Shots from the main camera have on-point white balance, accurate and repeatable exposure, and very little noise. Images generally resolve a good amount of detail, but we also observed oversharpening in tree leaves and water in some photos. High-contrast scenes are also handled quite well, with the camera striking a good balance between highlight and shadow details. However, the dynamic range isn’t as wide as what we have seen on the iPhone 14 Pro or Xiaomi 12S Ultra, which leads to blown-out highlights in certain conditions, such as when shooting under harsh sunlight or against the sun. But such instances have been far and few between during the review, and most of the time, Apple’s image processing does a good job of keeping highlights and shadows in check. In addition, the iPhone 14’s super fast autofocus and sensor-shift OIS make it possible to take great landscape shots while traveling by car or bus.
Low-light photos from the main camera are excellent and have good detail retention. They have accurate colors, great contrast, and low luminance noise. Night Mode automatically kicks in when the light is low and helps to bring out more detail in scenes by brightening up the darker portions. Low-light photos also benefit from Apple’s new image pipeline, Photonic Engine, which claims to improve mid-to-low light performance up to 2x on the ultra-wide camera and up to 2.5x on the main camera. Basically, Photonic Engine applies Deep Fusion’s computations on raw data much earlier in the imaging process. Apple says this leads to better color reproduction, retention of subtle textures, and more detail in photos.
I briefly compared the iPhone 14 with iPhone 13 in low light and didn’t notice any dramatic improvements in photo quality. The iPhone 14 was able to preserve more details and output a slightly brighter shot, but these differences were only noticeable after careful examination and pixel peeping.
All three cameras on the iPhone 14 are capable of shooting 4K videos at 60fps. You can also shoot HDR videos in Dolby Vision format with a 10-bit high dynamic range. In terms of real-world performance, the iPhone 14 delivers spectacular video performance and can easily outperform competing Android smartphones in this price range. No matter which format or resolution you opt for, the footage looks buttery smooth, showcasing exceptional dynamic range, great detail, and rich colors in both daylight and low-light conditions.
The only issue I have with video performance is the excessive camera lens flare and reflections when shooting in brightly lit areas. These issues are especially noticeable at night (see the third video sample).
The Cinematic mode that debuted on the iPhone 13 is still here, but now it’s available in 4K at 30fps and 4K at 24fps. It’s still a hit-and-miss and struggles a lot when multiple subjects are in the frame, but it’s fun to play with.
There’s also a new video feature called Action mode that lets you capture super-smooth hand-held videos even when there’s intense motion and activity, such as running or cycling. It definitely smooths out shakes and vibrations, but you’ll need to ensure there’s ample light in the scene. Otherwise, you’ll end up with grainy footage. In addition, you’re limited to 2.8K resolution. Just like Cinematic mode, it’s good to have and fun to play with once in a while, but for the most part, you’ll be better off shooting with the standard video mode.
Improved selfie camera
The biggest camera upgrade on the iPhone 14 is the selfie camera, which is the same as the one on the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. The new 12MP TrueDepth camera has a wider f/1.9 aperture and autofocus. Selfies from the new camera are excellent, offering accurate skin tone rendering, wide dynamic range, and great contrast. However, the iPhone 14’s insistence for selfies to be as true to life as possible and capturing everything to its finest detail may be a real turn-off for those accustomed to selfies with an overly processed or smoothened look. Portrait mode is available on the selfie camera, and it works quite well — it uses Face ID’s structured-light 3D scanner for more accurate edge detection.
The iPhone 14 doesn’t have a 3D LiDAR sensor for depth estimation, but it can capture portrait shots just fine — as long as lighting conditions are favorable, that is. Apple’s edge detection is still not on par with those of Samsung and Google, so you’ll notice the iPhone 14 sometimes not being able to accurately identify the subject and blurring out finer details such as strands of hair.
Overall, there’s hardly anything to complain about here, as the iPhone 14’s cameras rarely fail. In most cases, you can point and shoot and walk away confident that you have captured the moment perfectly. I was amazed how I rarely had to take a second shot, which I often have to do when using other phones. This is the camera system you can rely on to take solid photos and video, no matter the lighting conditions. Not many smartphones offer this peace of mind, and it’s empowering for average users who want to take good photos without much effort.
- The iPhone 14 packs last year’s A15 Bionic chipset but with an extra core of GPU.
- Overall performance is fantastic but the 60Hz display means scrolling feels sluggish.
For the first time, the standard iPhone doesn’t feature Apple’s latest and greatest chipset. The new A16 Bionic chipset is exclusive to Pro models this year, while the standard models have to settle for the same A15 chipset as the iPhone 13 series. This is more than likely to start a new trend where all future iPhones, including the upcoming iPhone 15, will continue to feature a year-old chipset. That means those wanting to get their hands on the latest Apple silicone will now have to shell out more money for the Pro model.
That said, the A15 chip inside the iPhone 14 is still one of the most powerful smartphone chipsets on the market and can handily beat Qualcomm’s latest and greatest Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1. It has two performance cores running at 3.23GHz speed and four efficiency cores at 1.82GHz.
Although the iPhone 14 has the same chipset as its predecessor, it comes with several performance improvements. For one, the new model has a 5-core GPU which Apple says is 18% faster than the iPhone 13’s 4-core GPU. Secondly, the phone has 6GB of RAM, up from 4GB in the iPhone 13. Finally, it has an updated internal design for better heat management.
Coming to real-world performance, the iPhone 14 is a fast and reliable performer. Apps and game launch quickly, and iOS’s animations are as smooth and silky as ever. Gaming performance isn’t an issue, either. I tried out Genshin Impact and Call of Duty, and they ran smoothly for the most part. The device starts to get warm when you game for an extended period, but there was no serious performance throttling or frame dropping or such.
While the overall performance is fantastic, scrolling is a different story. The iPhone 14 continues to use a 60Hz panel, and that means the scrolling and moving around the system feel less fluid compared to phones with a higher refresh rate display. If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 11 or have never used a phone with a higher refresh rate display, you have nothing to worry about. But as someone who has been exclusively using an Android phone with a 120Hz display, the difference was immediately noticeable and felt quite jarring. iOS animations do their part in masking this shortcoming, but they don’t compensate enough. There’s no excuse for Apple not to include a higher refresh rate display when it’s the only smartphone brand still shipping a 60Hz panel on its premium phones. Even budget Android smartphones nowadays come with a 90Hz or 120Hz panel. Hopefully, this will finally change with the iPhone 15.
Battery Life & Charging
- The iPhone 14 delivers all-day battery life.
- The charging speed is still really slow.
The iPhone 14 packs a 3,279mAh battery, an insignificant 39mAh increase from the iPhone 13’s 3,240mAh battery. With this minor capacity bump and other efficiency improvements, Apple promises an extra hour of endurance over last year’s model. However, the charging speed hasn’t improved at all. The phone tops out at 20W with USB Power Delivery, 15W with MagSafe, and a measly 7.5W with Qi wireless charging.
The iPhone 13 already had great battery life, and the iPhone 14 isn’t any different. During my ten days with the phone, it consistently delivered a full-day battery with average 4.5 to 5 hours of screen on time. Even on weekend days when I used the phone heavily, I didn’t find myself in need of a quick top-up before bedtime. As long as you start your day with more than 80% battery and don’t play demanding games for an extended period, you shouldn’t have any issues getting a full day of usage.
The iPhone 14’s 20W charging feels painfully slow in comparison to what OnePlus and Xiaomi have to offer. Not to mention it still uses the proprietary Lightning cable. With a 20W or faster charger, you can get up to 50% of the charge, which isn’t too bad. But it takes roughly two hours to go from 0 to 100%, which may seem like an eternity if you’re like me and have been spoiled by phones with super fast charging speeds.
We know that crazy charging speeds can wreak havoc on battery health in the long run, and we certainly don’t expect or want Apple to go to the extent of OnePlus or Oppo. That said, 20W is definitely on the conservative side, and a small boost to 25W or 30W would have been nice—one more thing to add to the iPhone 15 wishlist.
- There is a lot to love about iOS 16’s new, highly customizable Lock Screen.
The iPhone 14 runs iOS 16 out of the box and comes packed with several exciting features. The most exciting of all is the new Lock Screen experience. There are various customizations to fully personalize the look and feel of the lock screen to your liking. You can choose from many different photo styles, change font and color, add a blur effect to the home screen, and more. In addition, you can also add lock screen widgets to quickly glance at important information that normally requires unlocking the device and opening an app. These include calendar events, reminders, weather, stocks update, and news flash.
You can add up to five widgets on the lock screen at a time. And you can set up multiple lock screens, each with its own widgets and Focus mode, and easily switch between them with a swipe.
There is also a clever photo cutout feature that lets you remove a photo’s background by simply long pressing on the subject. You can then copy and paste the subject to a photo editing app or share it with your friends for fun. Meanwhile, Live Text in videos is a neat feature that lets you copy text from a paused video. This is very handy when you’re watching a tutorial and want to take a quick note of something.
Other notable additions in iOS 16 include the ability to unsend and edit iMessages, Live Activities that display score cards and your ongoing workout right on your lock screen, improvements to Live Text and Focus mode, haptic feedback for the keyboard, Safety Check, and more. Check out our separate feature on iOS 16 if you want to learn more about the new software.
Connectivity, Call Quality, and Audio
- Superb connectivity and call quality.
- Stereo speakers get plenty loud.
Crash Detection and satellite connectivity are two new features of the iPhone 14. Crash Detection works similarly to Google’s Car Crash Detection. The feature uses a new high g-force accelerometer and 3-axis gyroscope to detect if you were in a car crash and can automatically notify your contacts and emergency services. It’s also available on the Apple Watch Series 8. Emergency SOS via satellite is one of the main highlights of the iPhone 14. It can help you get a message out to emergency services when you’re lost or stuck in a remote place with no cellular connectivity. The feature isn’t available at launch so I wasn’t able to test it out. It will go live sometime in November in the US and Canada. It’s unclear if it will be coming to other markets later on.
The iPhone 14 delivers exceptional network performance. I have had no instances of unexpected call drops or connectivity issues during my review period. 5G isn’t available yet in India, so I couldn’t test it, but I got excellent download and upload speeds on Jio and Airtel’s LTE networks. Call quality has also been quite good; some people even complimented how clearer I sounded and asked if I was calling from a new phone. And as for stereo speakers, they’re really loud and one of the best I have tested. They deliver clean sound with punchy bass as long as you don’t push the volume slider all the way up — as the audio starts to distort at near max volume.
Should you buy the iPhone 14?
You should buy the iPhone 14 if:
- You’re coming from an iPhone 11 or older.
- You want a phone that can shoot exceptional photos and videos without much effort.
- You want a phone that’s relatively easier to repair.
- You foresee the use of the SOS satellite connectivity feature and live in supported markets.
You shouldn’t buy the iPhone 14 if:
- You own an iPhone 13 or iPhone 12.
- You want a telephoto camera.
- You want a higher refresh rate display and fast charging.
The iPhone 14 is the most incremental upgrade ever if looked at from the lens of year-on-year improvements. You can even say Apple took the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” a bit too seriously with the iPhone 14, because it practically is an iPhone 13, which in itself was a small bump up from the iPhone 12. But for someone coming from an iPhone 11 or iPhone XS, it’s a worthwhile upgrade as there are many notable improvements and refinements in store that they will definitely notice and appreciate. This is to say that the iPhone 14 is a good product, but the iPhone 13 was almost equally good as well.
The bottom line is that the iPhone 14 plays it way too safe, and that makes the Pro models even more appealing and stand out options this year. Dynamic Island, a brand new 48MP camera, and the A16 chipset are all reserved for the iPhone 14 Pro lineup.
Apple’s decision to once again go with a 60Hz is hard to swallow, especially considering pretty much every OEM has now switched to a higher refresh rate panel. In fact, the iPhone 14 is the only smartphone at this price point with a standard 60Hz panel. And while the iPhone 14 promises big improvements in low-light camera performance with Photonic Engine, the difference is hardly noticeable in most situations, especially on the main camera. And I also fail to see why a software feature like Photonic Engine can’t be expanded to the iPhone 13 Pro or iPhone 13, which have the same processing package.
The iPhone 14’s Emergency SOS via satellite is a cool feature, but it’s not live at launch. Moreover, it will be limited to the US and Canada, so it’s unlikely to be deciding factor for those in other markets. The feature will also move towards a paid plan after the expiry of its free trial, details of which are not immediately available.
There is no compelling reason to choose the iPhone 14 over last year’s iPhone 13 unless you want satellite SOS (which isn’t even available yet), slightly better cameras, or a more repairable phone. Picking up the iPhone 13 at a discounted price looks like a wise choice. You won’t be missing out on anything major.