Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max Review: Early adoption of the Dynamic Island lifestyle
The iPhone 14 Pro phones have a smidgen more premium attached to the price tags and cost upwards of ₹1,29,900. The Android competition starts with Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra, priced ₹1,00,999 onwards
If you had expected an incremental upgrade to the iPhone Pro series this year, you’ve been proven right. Partly. If you firmly believed it’ll define this cycle more, you’d be right too. Apple’s approach to the iPhones this year, particularly with how the Pro phones have been defined, hasn’t been binary. The familiar is interspersed with significant new additions.
Doing it later but doing it better – that’s just the iPhone way of life, whatever the Android congregation may have to say about it. You must appreciate the contrasting approaches, from the competing ecosystems. Android phone makers take more risks (some pay off and some don’t). Apple’s is a more measured approach, wherein the updates must balance the experience. More often than not, that’s the case.
Dynamic Island adoption: A year ahead
It is not always about the spec sheet. Which means we must first talk about the a second interactive interface, within the larger display (which is a newer tech too). The Dynamic Island take on display cutouts and the notch, for instance, is something no Android phone maker thought of till now. But we expect this to be replicated widely, in the coming months.
Essentially, this replaces the large notch (unusable and uninstructive – just an intrusive black space), spilling down from the top bezel. There’s visible display all around this new cutout (including at the top), and depending on app or interaction, the visible interactive area also changes width horizontally. Unlike the notch, which you were supposed to learn to ignore, the Dynamic Island is something you’re supposed to notice. How soon you get used to it is subjective.
The way Apple envisions it, and has developed its own apps in iOS 16, is to be able to use this space for active widgets. It’ll be the quick access to background tasks and notifications for instance, without having to switch apps every time. One example is quick access and control to music playback (at present, Apple Music app would be your best bet) by simply.
Beyond that, it’s a better illustrator for Face ID, charging status, ring modes and call indicator, for instance.
As is often the case with first generation implementations, it feels first generation. A simple tap on it returns you to the background app which overlays the Dynamic Island. You have to press and hold to open the quick interaction widget. That feels one step too many. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?
Now, it is over to the app developers, who will play a crucial role in ensuring Dynamic Island as a space, and is used to make things convenient for users. Apple is making the ActivityKit framework available to developers. Some are already at work.
Kriss Smolka’s Pong-style game, called Hit the Island, has a simple idea – you must bounce the ball with your paddle to hit the Dynamic Island (earn points, and life becomes self-explanatory at that point). Christian Selig, the man behind Apollo app for Reddit, feels the space above the Dynamic Island can be a great place for a virtual pet to hang out – a cat, dog, hedgehog, fox, or axolotl are your pet choices. ‘Chortley the Hedgehog’ has a nice ring to it.
At this point, we are yet to draw any conclusions on whether interacting with the expanded widgets will leave fingerprints and smudges that may get in the way of Face ID and selfies.
Performance boost alongside a longer lasting battery
Once we get past the initial excitement of usage (that’s when the battery stats stabilize), the A16 Bionic chip’s even faster performance alongside battery optimisations cannot be ignored. The iPhone in Pro Max avatar (particularly last year) has always delivered battery life bereft of anxiety. It is more of the same even this time.
An iPhone 14 Pro Max fully charged at 8 am, still registers around 37% on the metre after a moderately heavy day at work. Always on display, when turned off for comparison, figures no more than 2% drain for the entire day. This sort of battery stamina is a factor of the A16 Bionic’s power consumption improvements, because by all accounts, the battery capacity is a smidgen lesser this time around.
You probably wouldn’t have expected the A16 Bionic to be anything less than a significant step forward, year on year, over the A15 Bionic. The likes of Qualcomm and MediaTek are still far behind in the race – such is the advantage Apple has (it is almost Michael Schumacher or Mika Hakkinen-esque, those who follow Formula 1 would get the illustrative reference).
That also means the iPhones are yet to make the switch to the Apple Silicon, the M series chips that now power the iPads and MacBooks. Next year, perhaps?
Do megapixels really matter?
We had said it before, and we’ll say it again – this was the year Apple had to reconsider the camera system. The 12-megapixel cameras have served well, paired with serious software smarts. But time was begging for a step forward. It’s a switch to 48 megapixels, which may not seem much in an around Samsung’s use of 108 megapixel cameras.
Regardless of the outright numbers, there is more captured light and data for the image processing algorithms to work with (including the new Photonic Engine). The results for low light photos immediately indicate an upgrade over last year’s Pro phones (as should be the case; you wouldn’t have expected anything lesser). There is more visible difference if you shoot in the uncompressed format, using the full 48 megapixels.
A little perspective on the change – the new sensor is 65% larger than the 12-megapixel primary sensor on the iPhone 13 Pro phones from last year. Even with the 48-megapixel camera, you’ll essentially still get 12-megapixel images which are putting the data of four pixels into one pixel. That means, elsewhere, there isn’t exactly a stark difference in photos between the iPhone 14 Pro series and the predecessors. Unless you’re selecting ‘RAW’ and using the full width of the 48 megapixel’s capabilities.
The extra detailing is very apparent as you zoom into photos. We put a few images through the Pixelmator Photo app (we can’t recommend this app enough if you are enthusiastic about editing photos), and the machine learning there had more to work with, which often gave us better-than-expected edits – and also at times told us the iPhone is still shooting warmer tones, though lesser than before.
But if Instagram is where your photography excitement begins and ends, you wouldn’t be able to tell the new camera system from the earlier one. More aggressive noise reduction in some scenarios is a giveaway. But then again, the iPhone 14 Pro Max camera is still more predictable than Android phone cameras, barring perhaps the Google Pixel phones.
The canvas becomes brighter, smoother, and always on
Never have we once complained that an iPhone Pro display isn’t bright enough. Yet, Apple have stretched the ceiling that much more, while adding a few more pixels into the mix. But that isn’t the highlight. By far.
This 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display is finally always-on ready. Android phones have had it for a while now, but again, the different approaches are worth noticing.
Android phones’ template for an always-on display is a completely dark screen with some icons lit up, in what is glorified monochrome. Apple’s take is to leave the entire screen on. Just a lot dimmer. The reason isn’t just a new-Gen OLED display for the Apple iPhone 14 Pro series, but also reducing the refresh rate to as low as 1Hz when dimmed.
It’ll be better to see the entire screen dimmed, than a black canvas with pockets of information overlayed. Yet, there is the sense it could have been darker still. We feel the dimmed, always-on display mode can go a step of two darker. At least having controls to tweak the intensity wouldn’t have been out of place.
By carrying forward ProMotion (that’s the 120Hz refresh rate), brightening the peak and adding always-on (which consumes a sip of battery life every day), Apple hasn’t changed the basics that have made iPhone displays the best in smartphones.
How Pro does the iPhone 14 Pro series need to be?
With the differentiation in processing power with the new line up, there’s more value added to the Pro equation. For the latest A16 Bionic processor, the Dynamic Island, the 48-megapixel cameras and the always-on display, you’ll need to spend that extra money for an iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max (depending on which size works the best for you). This is a step forward (in some cases, a couple of steps forward) over the Pro phones from 2021.
And they tick off the longevity aspect too, better than before. This processor isn’t going to slow down for years to come. The 48-megapixel camera also puts you in a more comfortable spot. As does the display. These are cutting edge iPhones, a privilege no longer available for the normal iPhone 14 series (we’ll review those too, stay tuned).
That said, the time may be too soon in the Dynamic Island (early adoption has its own charm) evolution cycle, for us to know where it’s headed.
There is distinctness to the fact that it needs a year of refinement and developer attention, which, if the indications offer any trend, is not going to be a problem. While also proving Apple still thinks beyond the spec sheet, morphing the notch into an island is all about improving user experience. The irrefutable advantage it has with the A16 Bionic chip isn’t unintended, but neither is it the only dimension.