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Hands-on with Apple’s new iPhone 14 Pro: Hello, Dynamic Island!

To see photos of the new iPhones is one thing, but to hold them in your hand is another. This is especially true of Apple’s new iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, which represent the iPhone’s biggest redesign ever since the company did away with the top and bottom bezels, and introduced the notch on the iPhone X. Following today’s iPhone launch event, I was invited to check out all of the new devices in person at Apple Park, the first time Apple has invited journalists to its headquarters since the pre-pandemic times and the iPhone 11 launch in 2019. The iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max have a design that’s very different from their predecessors. The notch on top of the display is gone and is now replaced with a pill-shaped cutout for the selfie camera and Face ID sensors. But Apple took it a step further by making this area responsive and calling it the “Dynamic Island.” The Dynamic Island changes depending on what you do with the phone. I played some music on the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the pill-shaped area increased in size, indicating with an icon that there’s music playing in the background. Touching it opened the Music app; touching and holding expanded the pill into a bigger, widget-like Music app, allowing me to control various aspects of the playback. It’s a very interesting trick that makes you forget that the Dynamic Island’s primary function is to hide something. Instead, the cutout becomes yet another app or widget to interact with. It responds to what’s happening on the phone, but a lot of the time touching it did nothing. This will certainly change over time as Apple adds support for more apps. This early on, it’s hard to tell how useful the Dynamic Island will really be in everyday usage. I worry about having something essential on top of the display, where it’s near-impossible to reach with one hand. But it’s certainly the most innovative design change Apple has done to its phones in years (remember, some Android phones have had punch-hole and pill-shaped cutouts for a while now and not one of those smartphone makers thought to turn that black area into something more). Aside from the Dynamic Island, the new Pro models are similar to the last-generation iPhones, meaning they’re heavier and heftier in the hand than the regular iPhone 14 models, with larger, more imposing camera lenses on the back. They also have a brighter display, though it was hard to tell the difference in the artificial light of Apple’s showcase room. The iPhone 14 Pro has a lot of internal changes that can’t be tested quickly, including the new A16 Bionic chip which runs faster while drawing less energy than the previous generation chip. I took a quick peek at the phone’s camera, which now has an additional 2x zoom option, made possible by the main camera’s new 48-megapixel sensor (the iPhone 13 Pro also has maximum 3x zoom, but the 2x zoom option isn’t there). I know it’s basically a digital crop-out from a larger photo, but it does the job. The camera’s other new capabilities, including Apple’s new Photonic Engine image enhancements and the new Action mode, will have to wait for a full review. Every new iPhone gets at least one completely new color and for the iPhone 14 Pro, it’s purple — or as Apple calls it, Deep Purple. Apple does a good job of making the new color somehow more appealing than the other ones (i.e., Gold, Silver, and Space Black), though the new purple looked quite subdued to my eyes, at least under artificial light. If I had to choose, I’d definitely opt for the Deep Purple. The new iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max will be available for pre-order on Sept. 9, with availability starting on Sept. 16. Stay tuned for our full review.

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