Hands-On With The Latest Apple iPhone 14, Watch 8 And AirPods Pro

Like back-to-school and changing leaves, Apple kickstarts September each year with an event introducing its latest iPhones and watches. This year was no exception. And while last week’s news held few surprises (we’d already seen much of this in the form of leaks), we now have a clearer view of what are bound to become major holiday shopping staples. Joining the new iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus and iPhone 14 Pro Max was news of the new Apple Watch Series 8, Watch SE and the Watch Ultra–the latter being a brand new rugged design for adventurers and serious athletes. Slipped in between these announcements, Apple confirmed its second-generation AirPods Pro—and the first products are available for pre-order right now.

Apple continues to shape its iPhone and Watch lineup with interventional health and personal disaster protection support. Another theme on the phones: cutting-edge photo and video capabilities, with the Pro series introducing a 48-megapixel main camera, and all iPhone models adding a virtual gimbal for image stabilization.

All four variants of the iPhone 14 add a compelling new emergency satellite messaging feature, included at no charge for two years. Apple re-engineered its antennae to connect to satellite frequencies and it pre-populated the phone with common questions and responses to simplify use of this emergency messaging feature, dubbed Emergency SOS mode. Apple says a message can be sent in as little as 15 seconds with a clear view of the sky. Also new is Crash Detection, which features big in the Apple Watch line as well.

Gone is the familiar SIM card tray: All new iPhones use the newer eSIM protocol—essentially, a software-only SIM that requires no physical card at all—which allows you to easily swap out and store multiple SIMs, or easily shift between plans.

Want to know more (or pre-order your own gear)? Read-on for a summary of what’s new and noteworthy about Apple’s latest products, including our hands-on perspective direct from Apple’s Cupertino headquarters.

Apple Watch Series 8

A Focus On Safety And Health

The new Apple Watch Series 8 has a bevy of new features, some hardware, more software. Both of its most touted additions—Cycle Tracking and Crash Detection—do what Apple does best by tightly integrating the hardware and software to produce meaningful features. For example, the Watch Series 8 gains a temperature sensor, which works with Apple’s new women’s health software designed for tracking cycles and detecting ovulation. Apple emphasized privacy when speaking about these features, noting the data has end-to-end encryption and no one can see it other than you–critical points given the current political climate.

Likewise, Watch Series 8 uses refinements to the sensors to detect a severe car crash, and automatically connect you with emergency services. Crash Detection also shares your location and notifies emergency contacts as well. It works with cars, SUVs and pickup trucks.

Also new to Watch Series 8 is a low-power mode which extends battery life to 36 hours, and retains important features likes activity tracking and fall detection but skips the always-on display and auto-workout detection. (Series 4 and later owners running watchOS 9 will gain this feature, too.)

Apple Watch Series 8 comes in eight colors including midnight, starlight, silver, and Project Red, and starts at $399 with GPS and $499 with cellular. Pre-orders for all Apple Watch models start today, and ship September 16.

Apple Watch SE 2

More Options And Essential Features At A Low Price

The Apple Watch SE 2 gets an update with a redesigned rear panel and a 20% speed bump. It includes Crash Detection plus all the usual important features for tracking workouts and activities, monitoring heart rate and detecting falls.

The Apple Watch SE 2 comes in silver, midnight and starlight, and starts at $249 for the GPS version and $299 for the cellular version.

Apple Watch Ultra

Rugged Design With Full Apple iPhone Interaction

The Apple Watch Ultra represents the most dramatic addition to the Watch lineup since it debuted. The Watch Ultra stands apart from other ruggedized watches simply for its full messaging and voice compatibility with the Apple iPhone. The Watch Ultra has an enormous 49mm face and a case made of corrosion-resistant aerospace grade titanium. It has a larger crown dial, with grooves designed for use with gloves; it also has a large button in high-contrast orange. This watch adds a second speaker and an 86-decibel siren, and has three microphones positioned to help improved how you sound regardless of the wind and background noise. The watch comes in one model, with cellular built-in. The battery lasts 36 hours, or 60 hours with battery optimization enabled.

In addition to custom workouts, the Watch Ultra has software options for specific athletic activities, including outdoor adventures, water sports and endurance training—as well as the ability to backtrack and retrace steps and scuba diving support with the Huion Oceanic app and service. Inside, the watch has dual-frequency GPS and custom positioning algorithms, additions which help improve pinpointing location in tricky locations like skyscraper canyons in cities.

While the Watch Ultra looks imposing in pictures, Phelan reports from Cupertino that is not the case: The Watch Ultra looks and feels much less overwhelming than it looked. Its titanium frame means the watch is not heavy at all, although it’s certainly noticeably bigger than the biggest Series 7 or Series 8 Watch.

Some additional observations from early hands-on: The noticeably bigger Digital Crown feels good in the hand, as does the simple way to press both the side button and the newly added button on the opposite side, even with gloves on. The display is very big and has been configured to show maximum content clearly and legibly. And the new Watch face designed for the Ultra has a clever night mode, achieved by spinning the Digital Crown in one direction to display screen content in a deep red instead of multiple colors.

Up Close With The iPhone 14 Series

The Base Model: The Apple iPhone 14

The baseline iPhone 14 sees the fewest changes. The screen remains 6.1-inches, and it retains the same A15 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 13, but the graphics processor’s performance and cores get a boost, with its five-core GPU running 18% faster than before. Apple says it redesigned how the components are arranged inside to improve heat flow and performance, which should help keep the phone from overheating. The camera remains the same 12 megapixels, but it has an increased sensor size which in turn dramatically improves low light capture. The main camera also has a wider f/1.5 aperture lens and sensor-shift optical image stabilization–both features found in the iPhone 13 Pro lineup last year. It also has a faster night mode, all helpful for shooting in tricky lighting situations.

From on-site in Cupertino, writer David Phelan reports the iPhone 14 mostly felt like last year’s model: the same size and design, but with new colors like a noticeably brighter, livelier Product Red. Purple is the coolest color, though the name is a stretch—it’s such a light shade that mauve, lavender, or lilac seem better suited names than purple.

The iPhone 14 comes in five colors: Midnight, starlight, blue, purple and Product Red. Pricing stays the same, starting at $799. The phone ships on September 16.

Pro-sized screen, modest price: Apple iPhone 14 Plus

New to the lineup is the Apple iPhone 14 Plus. This model reflects the trend towards larger phones, given that Apple introduced this model and skipped updating the iPhone 13 Mini at this time. The iPhone 14 Plus features match up in every way with the iPhone 14 described above, except for its display size: It has a 6.7-inch screen, same as had been on the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

The iPhone 14 Plus comes in five colors this year: Midnight, starlight, blue, purple and Product Red. Pricing starts at $899. The phone ships on October 7.

Inside The iPhone 14 Pro Series

Pro Without A Price Hike: Apple iPhone Pro and iPhone Pro Max

In another interesting lineup tweak, features–and not screen size–distinguish the regular Apple iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus from the Apple iPhone Pro models. The iPhone Pro models come in two sizes, 6.1-inch and 6.7-inch.

The Pro models are where all the real innovations are for this year. The Pro models have an all-new A16 Bionz processor, with its 6-core CPU and lower power draw. The 5-core GPU has 50% more memory bandwidth. The LTPO display has 1,600 nits HDR brightness and a massive peak outdoor brightness of 2,000 nits. Furthermore, the display’s refresh rate can drop to power-conserving 1Hz–a critical detail which enables the iPhone Pro’s always-on display. On the iPhone, the software automatically dims the display and reduces the refresh rate, even while displaying wallpaper photos, to minimize the drain on battery life.

The main camera has a whopping 48 megapixel sensor, up from 12 megapixels. The quad-pixel sensor is larger, too, which helps contribute to the camera’s claimed 2x improvement in low-light handling. The lens carries f/1.78 aperture, so good for low-light. The ultrawide and telephoto cameras remain at 12 megapixels, but in software you now have four zoom options. In addition to the new Action Mode video stabilization, Apple adds video capture at 4K 30 frames per second, in addition to 4K 24 frames per second. The flash is now adaptive, dynamically adjusting intensity based on your subject’s position.

After handling both Pro models on-site in Cupertino, writer David Phelan reports: The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are fractionally different in size to the previous models. They have displays which measure the same as before–6.1 inches and 6.7 inches, respectively–but have slightly thinner bezels. You would only spot these changes, though, if you lined up the old and new phones together and looked very closely. In hand, these phones look and feel identical to last year’s handsets.

With the iPhone 14 Pro series, Apple introduced its Dynamic Island, a responsive and context aware alert bubble at the top of the display where the TrueDepth camera and front-facing cameras sit. In the flesh, Dynamic Island was extremely impressive. Where rival manufacturers have consistently sought to shrink the non-screen element to a peephole camera, Apple makes the most of that screen area by using it for something else entirely.

For example, when you’re in Apple Music and swipe the app offscreen, the cut-out expands to artfully display details like the track name playing. In some configurations, you can press on the Dynamic Island and it will react. Unbelievably, this happens not just when you’re tapping the screen next to the cut-out but even, through masterful design, if you’re actually tapping on the cameras. It’s hard to explain just how remarkable this feels in practical use. Dynamic Island clearly adds to the usability of the iPhone in a fresh and effective way, with smooth, attractive animations befitting this slick implementation.

The Pro models come in four colors: Black, silver, gold and purple. The pricing tiers are unchanged from last year’s Pro models: $999 for the Pro and $1,099 for the Pro Max. The phones are available on September 16.

Apple AirPods Pro (second generation)

Enhanced Spatial Audio, Noise Cancellation

The big news on the second-generation Apple AirPods Pro is its new H2 chip. Apple’s latest, and more powerful, chip in turn enables such feature enhancements as dramatically improved active noise cancellation, adaptive transparency mode and personalized spatial audio.

Touch controls are now added to the familiar posts, and the ear tips are redesigned for better fits. The new chip helps the battery life increase to 6 hours, and with the charging case the earbuds can gain an additional 24 hours. The charging case adds a lanyard loop and a speaker to make it easier to locate the case.

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