New iPhones get announced every year, but there’s always someone who scoffs and says Apple is selling last year’s iPhone in a new color at a new price. With the iPhone 14, though, unless you’re looking at the iPhone 14 Pro, that person is not entirely wrong.
A Departure From Normal iPhone Releases
With the introduction of the iPhone X as Apple’s very first bezel-less device, Apple’s lineup has been relatively simple to follow. Apple offers regular flagship phones, with aluminum builds and standard specifications, and “premium” flagship phones, with bleeding-edge features and a more premium build quality. The former phones are marketed to regular iPhone users, while the latter ones are marketed to enthusiasts and folks who don’t mind paying more to get the very best.
We saw that in 2017, when the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus were the “phone for everyone,” and the iPhone X was the ultra-premium flagship. The pattern repeated itself in 2018 with the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS, and XS Max. Things got a little clearer in 2019 when the iPhone 11 was introduced alongside the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max.
Through all of those releases, and since then, both the Pro and non-Pro iPhones got substantial improvements, both inside and outside. We didn’t always get external radical design changes, but we always got, at least, Apple’s newest system on a chip (SoC), alongside a handful of other generational improvements, like camera or battery upgrades.
This is where problems begin with the iPhone 14.
The iPhone 14’s Existential Problem
Once you get past the fact that Apple got rid of the Mini and replaced it with an iPhone 14 Plus, the iPhone 14 is… just a souped-up iPhone 13. Apple took most of the iPhone 14’s big upgrades, like the Dynamic Island, and made them exclusive to the Pro, with the base iPhone 14 being barely an upgrade.
Through the iPhone’s lifetime, Apple always did annual chip upgrades with its newest phones. That was something everyone always took for granted, even through boring upgrades like the iPhone 5s or the iPhone 6s. The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro have the A13 Bionic, the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro have the A14 Bionic, and the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro have the A15 Bionic.
The iPhone 14 Pro has the A16 Bionic CPU, but the iPhone 14 has… the A15. Again.
During its conference, Apple’s employees said the A15 was so good that they basically didn’t feel the need to change the chip. The company tried hard to make the news sound good (it has one extra GPU core compared to the iPhone 13!), but the real reason could be related to the ongoing chip shortage. Apple could be having trouble making enough A16 chips for all iPhone 14 buyers, and the company probably has a massive stockpile of A15 silicon it wants to get rid of. It did launch an A15-powered iPhone SE in early 2022, after all.
It’s the first time Apple recycled a chip since the iPhone 3G in 2008. You could count the iPhone 5C from 2013, but that phone was more of a precursor to the SE, with a plastic build and no Touch ID.
Even setting the previous generation chip aside, the phone is still just an iPhone 13 in most ways. It has the same exact design, the same 60Hz screen, and the same ol’ notch as the iPhone 13. Storage options are also the same, starting at 128GB. In some ways, it’s even worse. While Apple wants to force an eSIM-only future by removing the SIM tray with the iPhone 14, that’s coming at the cost of making some users switch carriers (since not all networks support eSIM) and hampering the ability of people to stay connected when traveling (if they would prefer getting a SIM card in another country.)
To Apple’s credit, the iPhone 14 does have a few upgrades. Emergency SoS via Satellite is legitimately great and lets you get help in situations where you otherwise wouldn’t have any cell signal or contact with the world. And crash detection is a great addition that could save your life if you’re ever involved in an ugly car accident.
Other than that, the iPhone 14 has a slightly bigger and wider 12MP rear camera sensor, an improved front camera with autofocus, and very slightly improved battery life. Otherwise, it’s identical to the iPhone 13, inside and out.
What about the iPhone 14 Plus?
Of course, we can’t talk about the iPhone 14 without mentioning its bigger sibling, the iPhone 14 Plus. Apple killed off the Mini and brought back the Plus branding for the first time since the iPhone 8 Plus, to give us a non-Pro alternative to the massive Pro Max phones.
If you want a massive phone but you don’t necessarily need everything the Pro phones have, you might be compelled to buy the iPhone 14 Plus. For what it’s worth, it’s pretty much the same iPhone 14, except with a larger 6.7-inch display instead of a 6.1-inch panel.
Of course, there isn’t an iPhone 13 Plus, so the 14 Plus is actually an all-new model. But unfortunately, the fact that it’s the same phone also means that it runs an A15 Bionic, and it suffers from the same deficiencies as the iPhone 14. Many of the same arguments that apply to the standard model also apply to the Plus, so unless you really want a non-Pro large iPhone, it’s probably a skip.
Skip the iPhone 14 (or Go Pro)
The fact that the iPhone 14 has so few improvements manages to make the iPhone 13 an amazing purchase, especially since the fact that the iPhone 14 was released means that the iPhone 13 got discounted.
If you already have the iPhone 13, the iPhone 14 overall isn’t much of an upgrade for you. The two big upgrades are Satellite Emergency SOS and crash detection, which are legitimately useful features.
If you’re planning to upgrade for those two things, or if those features made you consider an iPhone for the first time, we would still recommend skipping the base iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, and trying to fork over more money for an iPhone 14 Pro or an iPhone 14 Pro Max. It’s an extra $200, sure, but you’re also getting the full set of generational upgrades, such as the Dynamic Island, the A16 Bionic CPU, and way better cameras.
If you don’t care about satellite emergency services or crash detection, then you should keep your iPhone 13. And if you don’t have one, it’s the perfect time to buy one.
The iPhone 14’s MSRP is $800, while the iPhone 14 Plus will set you back $900. When this new phone was released, the iPhone 13 Mini’s price was lowered to $600, and the standard 13’s price dropped to $700. Since you’re getting basically the same phone for $100 less ($200 if you don’t mind going small), the decision seems pretty clear to us.
If you’re willing to give the second-hand market a look, you can probably score an even better deal, too. There are plenty of used, slightly used, open-box, or even sealed smartphones making the rounds selling for cheaper than Apple’s MSRP, so you can save some serious cash if you want to go down that route.
If you do go second-hand, you can also give the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max a look. That way, you can get a faster 120Hz display and a better camera setup for basically the same price Apple is asking for an iPhone 14, or even less.
As we said before, the iPhone 14 Pro is a massive upgrade. But I feel like Apple could’ve done a lot better with the non-Pro models.