iPhone 14 Pro review: One feature to rule them all makes Apple's newest smartphone the most exciting and accessible yet

iPhone 14 Pro review: One feature to rule them all makes Apple’s newest smartphone the most exciting and accessible yet

It’s worth quoting the lede from John Gruber’s iPhone 14 review here and saying that the iPhone 14 Pro is definitely more interesting than its sibling, the regular 14. This does not mean that 14 is a wrong device – on the contrary, the 14 is a stellar smartphone in its own right – it’s just that the 14 Pro is, I believe, the best software feature to come to the iPhone possibly ever. He singularly makes the Pro the iPhone to buy this year. That is, if you care about whimsy and accessibility.

A bold proclamation, sure, but excitement begets an emotional response.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been testing the new iPhone 14 Pro using review units provided by Apple. The company gave me three models: a 14 standard (in purple), a 14 Pro (in space black), and a 14 Pro Max (in dark purple). The 14 Plus isn’t available until early next month, so Apple hasn’t provided any to reviewers for testing. Since my size of choice is the Plus/Max variant, most of my testing was done with the 14 Pro Max as my everyday device.

The dynamic island

Let’s cut to the chase: the new Dynamic Island is amazing.

It’s not perfect – more on that below – but Apple hit the nail on the head by building out the fundamental aspects of this first pass. In a broad scope, the dynamic island is a clever way to utilize the technological black hole colloquially known as “the notch”. Instead of just sitting there soaking up energy like it does on the standard 14, the dynamic island of the 14 Pro exudes energy like a five-year-old on Christmas morning. He moves, he transforms, he smiles – he has an utterly delightful vitality and liveliness. So delicious, in fact, that it’s fun to repeatedly hit the ringer/silent switch just to watch the animation change.

The Dynamic Island is as accessible as it is practical. The usability winner here, in terms of accessibility, is simple: the island confines many types of system feedback (e.g. the aforementioned buzzer/silent alert) to a single area. An incoming phone call, a timer, or a multitude of these all live in this inanimate blob so it’s a concrete place to look for these things. For many people with visual and/or cognitive delays, this is a huge development; an iOS veteran might know where and how certain interface elements surface, but they can still be confusing. An incoming phone call might come from the top of the screen, but the timers and Face ID prompt are elsewhere. So the advent of Dynamic Island eliminates this complexity by contorting itself to house these different user interfaces in a small space. Gymnastics is much more meaningful than adding fun and fantasy; they have practice. sensible application in actual use.

Where the Dynamic Island falls is twofold, both ripe for refinement. First, the way a user handles it directly is backwards. Apple says you’re supposed to long-press to, say, bring up the Now Playing widget. A single click will open the Music app or Apple Podcasts or Overcast or whatever. The widget must take priority; that’s the whole point of Dynamic Island. You should be able to quickly access playback controls with a single tap, while a long press should take you into the app. A nuanced change, but worthy of the spirit of Dynamic Island. The aspiration should be to make it easier to maintain engagement with the island for as long as possible rather than dismissing you as if it were an episode of Survivor.

The other problem with Dynamic Island is that the text looks small. It can sometimes be difficult, for example, to see how much time is left on a timer. To my knowledge, there are no accessibility features to support for Dynamic Island except for VoiceOver. Much maligned as it was, the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar offered excellent accessibility features. In particular, Touch Bar Zoom is one of the best pieces of software Apple has ever delivered, on any platform. It would have been nice to see the company adapt this concept somehow – making the controls bigger as you hover over them – and apply it to the dynamic island. Maybe brush your finger from left to right on the island and have an overlay underneath showing the content, also similar to Hover Text on Mac. In addition to text, artwork for music and podcasts and audio waveform feel low contrast in dynamic island. It would be nice if they were lightened to have more prominence, thus having easier readability.

Permanent display

The 14 Pro gets always-on display technology three years after Apple made always-on display a flagship feature of the Apple Watch Series 5. It’s a welcome addition, but reception so far has been lukewarm. fun to watch unfold online.

Several other reviewers have complained that the new iPhone’s always-on display is too bright or “too bright,” so to speak. As someone with incredibly low vision, I find this feeling hilarious. In my tests, I find myself having to squint to even read the clock, let alone notifications or widgets. Suffice it to say that luminosity resides in the eye of the beholder. The feature works well, exactly as Apple intended, but it’s really not conducive to someone with less than typical eyesight. As it stands, the always-on display is way too weak to reap genuine utility in addition to perhaps telling the time. Does this realization make iOS 16’s vaunted lock screen feature less appealing? To some extent, yes. Is it bad enough to completely disable always-on display (in settings)? No, if only for the love of the battery.

The lesson here is that different points of view matter. Were it not for the growing prominence of accessibility coverage in tech newsrooms, most readers would take mainstream reviews at face value and conclude that Apple has made the 14 Pro’s always-on display far too bright. . And that might be fine if, again, you have good vision, but the fact is, a lot of people don’t. If you have good vision reading this, great; cherish it! It’s important for disabled reviewers like me to point out the flip side and say that the always-on display isn’t, in fact, one-sidedly too bright. The popular narrative, as hilarious as it is, is certainly favored for most.

A Brief Interregnum on a USB-C iPhone

Throughout rumor season, Apple watchers hoped and prayed that this would be the year Apple would (finally) switch the iPhone from Lightning to USB-C. Alas, this never happened – instead, Next the high-end iPhone of the year will allegedly ditch Lightning for USB-C. The reason is obvious: a USB-C iPhone would be handy. With MacBooks and iPads having USB-C ports — oddly enough, the new AirPods Pro don’t — most people want to live in a the Lord of the Rings world where a single cable could charge them all. That makes perfect sense, but that’s not the whole story.

Convenience isn’t everything.

It is extremely likely that a similar, if not an exact replica, of this statement will appear in this column in about a year. Namely, moving iPhone from USB-C to Lightning isn’t as easy as swapping connectors and calling it a day. It’s not innovative. Apple’s real innovation would be finding a way to merge USB-C with MagSafe, bringing a MacBook-style MagSafe port to the iPhone. Otherwise, people with suboptimal hand-eye coordination (due to visual delays and fine motor skills) will experience the same problems that Lightning – and before that, the 30-pin iPod connector – presented for a decade. It’s just not easy for many people, myself included, to plug (or unplug) their iPhones from power. Qi charging is a solution, but only sidesteps the real problem. If people are clamoring for USB-C for more flexibility, it stands to reason that it also needs to be more flexible and more suitable for people with disabilities. Right now, USB-C ranks poorly in the accessibility department. There’s a big difference between just tolerating Lightning or USB-C and being able to use it easily. Apple should always strive to achieve the latter in the name of diversity and inclusiveness.

The excitement of eSIM

I’ve had the privilege of reviewing every new iPhone since the 6 and 6 Plus launched 8 years ago. This context is important, as it correlates with this next, albeit esoteric, observation about the 14 Pro’s overall affordability story.

Despite being the epitome of a first-world problem, the fact is that traditional SIM trays have been the bane of my reviewer existence.

The problem is no different from the complaints filed against Lightning/USB-C in the previous section. Historically, it has been extremely, shall we say, adventurous to test my hand-eye coordination by swapping SIM cards between personal and exam devices every September. A SIM card ejector tool (or paper clip) is great, but only if you can reliably maneuver the small piece of metal. That the 14 Pro has switched to eSIM will now be much easier for it and all models in terms of swapping cellular service. In my testing, it only took about a minute to transfer my phone number and AT&T service from my outgoing 12 Pro Max to the 14 Pro Max.

The essential

Is the iPhone 14 Pro recommendable? Is it worth $200 more than the standard 14?

Judging by Apple’s marketing machine, the company thinks it is. To reiterate what was said at the outset, the vibrant island is absolutely worth the price of admission. Time will tell, but right now it feels like the island will have considerably longer legs than 3D Touch or the Touch Bar to hold Apple’s attention and commit to iterating in coming years.

Dynamic Island and eSIM aside, the 14 Pro’s security features, seriously improved camera capabilities, and A16 system-on-chip give Apple’s high-end smartphone one of its most compelling updates in these last years.

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