The unanimous advice for the latest iPhone 14 is that, this time around, the Pro version lives up to the higher price point. In past years, the Pro’s biggest advantage over the cheaper “regular” version of the phone has been improvements to the camera — but this year has a new twist.
The biggest differentiation between the two phones now is on the screen: The Pros have an “always-on” display and a “Dynamic Island” feature. And those two features (plus the usual camera upgrades) make the Pro worth the extra money.
First, the boilerplate disclaimer that BuzzFeed News has been saying since *checks notes* the iPhone XS: Spend what you can afford; get the newest device; keep your old one if it’s still working fine. Yes, the new phones are better than the previous models, but your old phone is also pretty good, too (there’s a caveat here I’ll get to in a bit). Phones are expensive, but AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have pretty decent trade-in offers. If you can afford it, the iPhone 14 is great, and the Pro version is worth investing in.
The big, new things for iPhone 14 are the satellite emergency calling, car crash detection (available on all models of 14 and Pro), the Dynamic Island and always-on display for the Pros, and as always, better cameras — with image-stabilizing “action mode” for video. None of these features by itself is a game changer, but all together, they make the iPhone 14 Pro into what a phone should be: seamlessly functional — it just works the way you want a phone to work.
Dynamic Island is a pill-shaped widget at the top of the screen that runs Face ID as well as multitasking for background apps (the regular iPhone 14 has the traditional “notch” where the front-facing camera is). This feature is all about multitasking and displaying apps that are running in the background.
Showing what music or podcast I’m playing is the most frequent (and useful) version of this for me. I keep my music and podcast apps all in one folder on my homescreen, which means that if I want to pause or change the track while I’m looking at another app, I used to have to either go to my homescreen, tap into my Music folder, open the Spotify app, and then hit pause or skip, or swipe up and find the app in the background. The new way is quicker, more convenient, and feels completely intuitive, as if it’s a feature that’s always been there.
However, aside from audio, the Dynamic Island feature wasn’t the huge game changer I thought it might be. It didn’t totally revolutionize the way I use my phone, but it was just…nice. Better.
In comparison, I did find the always-on display extremely useful. This is a feature that’s existed on some Android phones for a while, and for now, it’s an iPhone Pro 14–only feature. When you set your phone down, the clock still displays — which is extremely helpful if you use your phone as your main clock. However, it also showed me some notifications. For example, I got a Twitter ping, which of course made me want to immediately open the app (oh no).
This was an unpleasant side effect. We all struggle with our base urges to be constantly checking our phones: We are always trying to find the right balance between being connected in the way we need to be versus wasting our time mindlessly scrolling for dopamine hits. I had gotten to a good place in my screentime journey, but always-on threw everything for a loop.
Here’s the big caveat about whether you should buy this phone: If you camp or hike or spend time in places with no cell service, you should definitely get the new iPhone 14 (Pro or not) — if you can afford it, even if you have a very recent model phone. The satellite emergency calling is an absolutely killer feature if you are the kind of person who tangles in killer nature.
Being able to place an emergency call if you’re lost or injured while hiking, camping, skiing, boating, doing shrooms with your buddies you met in the Phish parking lot, or stuck in a 127 Hours–type situation is literally the difference between life and death. Please don’t die — we need all the readers we can get. If this seems like something you need, get it.
There are always incremental improvements to the cameras on iPhones, and usually the difference feels slight. But the upgrades to the iPhone 14 Pro camera feel really significant this time. The Pros have a 48-megapixel camera and upgraded sensors, and they have a new technology — Photonic Engine — to process images. The result is less noise, sharper photos, and crisper colors.
I was comparing the photos I took with the Pro 14 to my iPhone 12 Pro, and the difference in the images is significant and instantly obvious. The 14 Pro camera is simply a huge step up from the one on the 12 Pro.
For low-light photography, it’s significantly faster, which means if you’re taking a photo of a human (or a dog) in a dark room, they don’t have to stay perfectly still for as long.
iPhone 14 Pro Max versus iPhone 12 Pro Max in low light:
Another huge improvement is in the front-facing camera for the iPhone 14 Pro. This is key for two things: selfies and video calls. On a selfie, the image quality is superb; I could zoom in to see such extreme detail on my face that I was horrified by how obvious my pores were.
On FaceTime, my image came across much brighter and clearer to the person I was talking to. To test this, I made a FaceTime call to an iPhone 12 Pro, both held up to my own face, and compared how the quality looked. The iPhone 14 Pro’s camera had a significantly brighter and sharper image. Considering how much videoconferencing I do now, this is a huge feature.
FaceTime comparison with the front-facing camera. The image on the smaller screen is the video using the 14 Pro's front camera.
Lastly, I tested out “Action Mode,” the image stabilizing feature for shooting video. I tried filming while I jogged around a little. Look, it works exactly as you’d think: It’s an image stabilizer. The truth is, I don’t run and film video very much, so this isn’t a big deal for me. Maybe it is for you! I don’t know your life!
I’ve neglected the iPhone 14 a little here. The camera is better than the 13, sure, but really, the Pro is where it’s at. All in all, the iPhone 14 Pro just worked the way I want a phone to work. It takes amazing photos, the front-facing camera makes it look like I’m not joining a Zoom call from under the ocean, and the display and Dynamic Island, while not astounding, are quietly useful.
Think back to when you got your first cellphone. The biggest reason you got one for yourself back in 1999 — or, if you’re younger, the reason your parents decided you were allowed to have one — was to be able to make calls in emergencies. Having satellite emergency calling baked in is maybe the biggest change to the actual phone aspect of cellphones since unlimited roaming. That’s something truly exciting — and it’s a phone just working the way it should.