By now, you’re already on the same page as Apple regarding its 2022 line-up. Refinement over radicalism. Sitting like a crest atop Apple’s bejewelled crown, the iPhone “Pro” series has been the absolute state-of-the-art in terms of processing power and a general showcase of Apple’s engineering prowess. This year, that flex gets a bit more justification with the top-shelf chip, the A16 Bionic reserved only for the Pro models. Our review sample is the fully tricked-out 1TB option that opens up our appetite for 4K/30 ProRES videos, but that isn’t half the reason any potential buyer is looking at the 14 Pro Max.
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max
The great contrarian
Cue ‘Smoke on the Water’ and settle down. The only “new” element you’ll notice when you first unbox an iPhone 14 Pro Max is the new Deep Purple hue if you’re lucky enough to have the right light fall on it. The shade is so subtle that it’ll pass off as an iPhone 13 Pro Max in black if you don’t hold it like Simba during his christening. But boy, when you do, you realize the attention to detail in the shading, which extends to the purple-stained steel frame too and overall, even though it’s a design that is all too familiar, it can’t be topped for build and timelessness.
Turn it around, switch it on, and boom! You’re greeted by the biggest (yet smaller) change to any iPhone in years - Dynamic Island. That’s Apple speak for the ‘anti-notch’ and is probably the reason why more iPhone 13 Pro owners will be lured to the 14 Pro upgrade. Sure, it looks great in Apple promo videos and fortunately, it works just as magically in actual usage too! On the Pro Max’s 6.7in Super Retina XDR display, it looks totally unobtrusive, especially compared to the notch on the iPhone 12 and 13 series. The Dynamic Island holds a bit of hardware like the new True Depth 12MP front cam, IR sensor and flood illuminator, but the proximity sensor has found a new home, under the display. This makes for a much smaller-looking pill-shaped cutout but this is where the “Dynamic” in the Dynamic Island comes into play. Apple has brilliantly managed to use the true-black nature of the OLED pixels, making them one with the black hardware for the camera cutouts and together with the software, the pill elongates, shortens or even breaks up into two parts, all contextual to the active app and function.
One of my favourite implementations of it is how it displays incoming calls while you’re doing something on the phone. The Dynamic Island just stretches out to show the name/number of the caller along with call options, letting you continue with your task without being caught out in a full-screen hostage situation. The Dynamic Island will even split itself into two, a pill and a circle, if you have multiple apps open that need monitoring! It works across the board whether you plug the iPhone into a charger, toggle the ringer button, play music, open maps, or record a voice memo… the list is long and certain to grow with more third-party apps joining the island party. After using it for a few days, you start appreciating the thought behind it and the execution even more. This kind of fusion between hardware and software that is completely seamless is right up Apple’s alley due to the draconian control over their IPs and core technologies, all working in magical unison.
Of course, the Pro models get the pro mods for photography too. Powered by the 4nm process-driven A16 Bionic SoC, this is the 16-billion transistor that includes all the chops needed to let the Photonic engine do its magic. With an all-new image signal processing pipeline, a new 48MP primary camera, more focus pixels and a larger sensor for the Ultrawide, the iPhone 14 Pro Max comes off as a serious piece of kit on paper. How does it perform in the real world? Visibly superior to both, the iPhone 13 Pro and even most of the current Android competition!
Starting with the 48MP primary which now gathers 65% more light…the differences are instantly tangible. Especially in low light situations where the iPhone 14 Pro Max managed to capture details and retain accurate colours and sharpness even over a 3-second handheld Night Mode shot! The other advantages of the 48MP resolution include a ProRAW mode that is genuinely useful for professionals to export an image into Lightroom or Photoshop to really manipulate the DNG file. Mind you, such files will typically be upwards of 25MB and you can shoot at full 48MP resolution only with the 1x setting. ProRAW however, can be availed in all four focal range settings. Yes, four! Besides the usual 0.5x, 1x and 3x telephoto, the Apple Photonic engine uses the central area of the 48MP sensor to crop out a 12MP 2x (48mm) lossless image and is the default setting for Portrait mode. It’s well-judged and the results appear to be as advertised, free of digital noise or lossy compression artefacts. The 3x (77mm) is new and welcome too, but it’s still playing catch up to Samsung’s 10x optical.
Even the Utrawide and macro get a performance boost with better low-light captures while Portrait mode has much better segmentation on hard to cut-out subjects like pets or trees and human hair. The processing time for Portrait mode and Night Mode shots is marginally quicker, but you can only notice the difference if you’re comparing it with an iPhone 13 Pro directly.
For those sceptical about the similar-looking lens modules of the iPhone 13 Pro and the 14 Pro, rest assured that the images on the 14 Pro have visibly more resolution and detail with better handling of contrast and highlights. Exposure compensation has always been iPhone’s forte and with the Photonic engine, it just manages to get a usable picture even if the subject’s face is directly blocking the sun. Even the HDR is dialled back a bit for more realism rather than dramatic showboating and night mode highlights the improvements the best between last year’s iPhone and this. The front camera hasn’t had a bump in the sensor but does get a larger aperture and Auto Focus now, so your selfies will look brighter and sharper now, regardless of whether you want it or not.
iPhone has always been the king of video and it’s unlikely that Apple is going to lose that crown this year. The much loved and abused Cinematic mode gets even closer to film with a 24fps mode but the Action mode is what’s going to get the most amount of love this time around. Cropping ever so slightly into the frame and using the A16 Bionic’s processing horsepower, it really does provide the next level of video stabilisation on a smartphone. Shooting out of a car window on probably the roughest patch of tarmac in Mumbai, the footage that I replayed was shocking. It smoothened out the road almost and was as close to a gimbal-braced phone as I’ve ever seen. The only caveat here is that your resolution is capped at 2.8K/60, which is more than fine for most folks unless your last name is Russo.
On the performance front, this is still an iPhone, so regardless of the chipset and memory, everything is buttery smooth, especially with iOS16 where the animations and lock screen are amped up to 11. But what you do notice is the non-existent times for any video edits you make, which take effect in real time, prompting you to do a double take just to check if the changes really have taken place or not!
The only area I was left wanting for more was in the battery and charging. The Always On display, even at its 1Hz refresh rate seemed to sap the battery faster than I anticipated. On a packed day with events, launches, relentless coordination on calls and text, photo editing and video clips, the 14 Pro Max barely made it till 6pm before dropping to a critical 11%, prompting me to switch the Always On Display off after which the rate of drop slowed down a bit. On the contrary, the iPhone 13 Pro Max which was given almost the same kind of treatment over the same day stood at a comfortable 31% at the same time.
Apple claims an all-day battery life but it’s clearly dependent on use-case scenario and generally speaking, if you’re a power user lost without a power bank, my advice would be to take a hit on coolness and take the practical approach by keeping the AoD off. Probably even the haptic keyboard, which is another new addition to iOS16. The issue is compounded by the fact that the iPhone still doesn’t support fast-charging speeds and Apple remains glued to the Lightning port for some reason. Having said that, the haptics themselves remain the most refined of any smartphone on the market. From the subtle sensation you get while switching between lock screens to a more tactile hit when you deep press or the lightness of it when you use it on the virtual keypad, the iPhone’s repertoire is wide and that makes it such a pleasant and involved experience to use on a day to day basis.
During the keynote, the Crash Detection sensors and Satellite calling were the headlining features besides the new camera upgrades for the iPhones and while they are no-doubt game changing and life-saving, not being able to test them limits their appeal somewhat. At least in terms of reading material. So what we have then is a product that is a solid improvement over its predecessor and competitors, but they will be appreciated only by those who take photography seriously… like their job depends on it seriously. Assuming you’re an owner of an iPhone 13 Pro, the upgrade to the 14 Pro is certainly worth it but again, with the same caveat. For everyday use and every person’s needs, the iPhone 14 comes close without the fancy Dynamic Island and 48MP primary cam. But hey, flagship products are not made to appeal to the pragmatic senses but rather to the indulgent soul and the iPhone 14 Pro Max in Deep Purple is deeply attractive in a sinful way.
Still the best overall camera system on any phone and Dynamic Island is the stuff of Apple legends
|6.7in Super Retina XDR
|1600nits (peak) 2000nits (outdoor)
|Apple A16 Bionic
|48MP+12MP+12MP (rear) 12MP (front)