iPhone 14 upgrades are so minimal — just get the discounted iPhone 13

iPhone 14
(Image credit: Apple)

The iPhone 14 series launched this week at Apple’s event, and we were introduced to four new phones: the base iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro and an iPhone 14 Pro Max. The bulk of the upgrades this year are seen on the Pro models, leaving the iPhone 14 with minimal improvements, especially when compared to last year’s iPhone 13.

That’s not to say the iPhone 14 doesn’t offer anything over its predecessor. Apple has given the iPhone 14 notable safety features like Emergency SOS via satellite and Crash Detection, which is also available in the new Apple Watch 8. The iPhone 14 also has slightly larger camera sensors, and the phone uses a new process Apple calls the “Photonic Engine” that specifically improves low light shots. With video, there is also a new Action mode that can take smooth videos on-the-go. 

But that’s where the big upgrades over 2021’s iPhone 13 seem to end. 

Comparison image of iPhone 14 vs iPhone 13

(Image credit: Apple/Future)

Similarities outweigh the minor differences 

In our detailed iPhone 14 vs iPhone 13 comparison we found that the similarities between the two phones outweigh their differences. For one, they look very similar, with the same size and a very similar design. 

Apple has given the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max the new Dynamic Island (which replaces the “notch”) and a beautiful always-on display, but that’s not seen on the iPhone 14, which has the same notch as the 13. Instead, the phone relies on iOS 16’s new lock screen customization features for its “new'' look — something the iPhone 13 will also eventually get. For US models, Apple has eliminated the SIM card tray on the iPhone 14 as well. 

Both the iPhone 14 and the 13 have a 6.1-inch display with similar display technology —  Super Retina XDR OLED with 1200 nits of HDR brightness.

In terms of the processor powering the flagship phones, the story isn't much better. Apple has snuck in last year’s A15 Bionic chip with a minor 5-core GPU upgrade on the iPhone 14. The iPhone 13 of course sports the same chip, albeit with a 4-core GPU. This minute difference is easy to miss and may not be noticeable even in day-to-day use, although Apple says it is an 18% improvement over what the iPhone 13 delivers. 

Apple reserving the newer A16 Bionic chip for the pricey Pros makes it seems like the company is really trying to expand the difference between their base iPhone models and the premium ones this year.

Apple claims the battery life has improved slightly on the new iPhone 14. That's welcome news — but considering how good the battery was on iPhone 13, lasting well over 10 hours in our tests, this doesn’t feel like something we desperately needed this year. 

The same goes for the improvement in low light photos. Both the iPhone 14 and iPhone 13 have dual 12MP lenses, but the 14 gets bigger pixels (1.9 microns) in its main sensor, with a faster f/1.5 aperture and sensor-shift image stabilization. Apple claims this translates to a 49% boost for low light shots. Considering that the iPhone 13 was one of the best camera phones already, this feels like a minor improvement.

When considered against the iPhone 13, the new iPhone 14 doesn’t make a compelling case for itself. This is especially true when we look at the current selling prices of the phones. 

The iPhone 14 is priced at $799 to start, which is the same price the iPhone 13 was launched at. Now Apple has taken off $100 on the iPhone 13, bringing it down to an attractive $699 price. However, with the iPhone 14 Plus coming in at $899, I have a feeling that it will be Apple’s most popular model this year, offering a Pro-like big size without the mega-premium price tag.

Bottom line 

So which of the two phones should you buy — the $799 iPhone 14 or the iPhone 13 with a $100 discount? With the phones looking so alike and with only a few distinguishable upgrades, my recommendation would be to go for the discounted iPhone 13. 

The minor upgrades this year have made me look at iPhone 13 a lot more favorably. Moreover, the underwhelming upgrades have put me off the iPhone 14, and after being an Apple user for many years now, I'm also considering a shift to Android — I have my eyes on the Google Pixel 7, which is set to launch next month. 

If you do go for the iPhone 13 you will still get many of Apple’s new software features courtesy of iOS 16, which is coming next week, and you still have a solid flagship that is backed by a really powerful A15 processor. If you really want the new upgrades like Action mode or the SOS satellite feature, then I would recommend skipping the iPhone 14 and getting the iPhone 14 Plus since it should at least offer a slightly larger design and better battery. 

While we work on our detailed reviews, you can check out our iPhone 14 Plus hands-on review and iPhone 14 Pro Max hands-on review for our first impressions on the phones.  

Next: You can also check out our quick guide to the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max — reasons to buy and skip.

Sanjana Prakash
News Editor

Sanjana loves all things tech. From the latest phones, to quirky gadgets and the best deals, she's in sync with it all. Based in Atlanta, she is the news editor at Tom's Guide. Previously, she produced India's top technology show for NDTV and has been a tech news reporter on TV. Outside work, you can find her on a tennis court or sipping her favorite latte in instagrammable coffee shops in the city. Her work has appeared on NDTV Gadgets 360 and CNBC.