Apple announced four new iPhones, three new Apple Watches, and new AirPods today, and though we won’t know what we’ll end up selecting as a Wirecutter pick until we get our hands on all of them, each announcement left us (mostly) impressed. With new features and surprisingly aggressive pricing that puts the new iPhone 14 line, as well as the Apple Watch Series 8, SE, and Ultra, at far lower prices than we expected, there’s a lot to be excited about in today’s announcement—especially with trade-in deals for previous-generation phones.
About those AirPods, though…
New Apple Watches with more health features (and an Ultra option)
Apple started its presentation with the debut of the Apple Watch Series 8, which features a bigger, brighter screen with a smaller bezel around the edges. It also adds a temperature sensor that Apple is making part of a stated new focus on women’s health. The temperature sensor is rolling into updates in the Apple Watch’s cycle-tracking functionality, which will now provide estimates of previous ovulation dates. “The basal temperature tracking in conjunction with tracking your period is convenient for folks trying to conceive,” said Wirecutter senior staff writer Lauren Dragan. “When I was trying to get pregnant, I had to keep a thermometer by the bed and take my temperature before I stood up, as even a trip to the bathroom could impact the data.”
As with all of the information that Apple tracks via the watch and its apps, the company is promising that its menstrual-cycle data will be end-to-end encrypted, which means even Apple won’t have access to the data.
Along with accelerometers designed to detect car crashes and alert emergency services, Apple is promising fast-charging support for the Series 8, as well as a new low-power mode that should get up to 36 hours of battery life out of the Series 8 (a feature that will also become available for Apple Watches from Series 4 upward). Apple Watches from Series 5 and up are also set to receive international roaming.
Apple also introduced two other watch models. The new Apple Watch SE includes the same motion sensors for crash detection as in the Series 8, along with international roaming and the low-power mode.
The big announcement was the Apple Watch Ultra, which features a new “rugged” design with a titanium case and sapphire face that should prevent cracking or shattering along the edges. Apple has also redesigned the buttons for use while you’re wearing gloves, and the Ultra’s new microphones should be able to detect commands in harsher conditions. The Ultra is also water resistant down to twice the depth of the Series 8, and it features a new precision, dual-frequency GPS and L5 sensor with a built-in compass and advanced route tracking. Because the company is marketing the Apple Watch Ultra to athletes and to people with more “extreme” environmental demands, it is also including a siren feature that should help wearers mark their location for search and rescue if they become lost. And the Ultra’s 36 to 60 hours of battery life might even give rescuers the chance to find you if you have to use it. We’ll reserve judgment about how useful this function is for the average person until we get our hands on it, but the Ultra’s features in general could prove attractive to more than just those in extreme conditions.
New AirPods Pro earbuds may struggle to justify their price tag
Apple announced a new version of the AirPods Pro earbuds with a disappointing six hours of battery life (our budget pick from our guide to wireless earbuds offers seven). The overall design is similar to that of previous models. To this version, Apple added touch-based volume controls, which is nice but still years behind competing earbuds (including those from Beats). Apple claims the active noise cancellation is “2x as effective,” but during its announcement the company wasn’t clear about what that means in practice. The current AirPods Pro set reduces a limited range of low frequencies, and the design allows you to hear more high-frequency noise (voices, cars, sirens) than competing earbuds that combine ANC in conjunction with isolation, such as the Soundcore Space A40 or Sony WF-1000XM4. Apple says the new earbuds have improved isolation, but we’ll need to test them to see whether the company has truly addressed that issue.
Apple’s new “adaptive transparency” feature sounds like it’s a volume limiter that reduces the hear-through volume when confronted with loud sounds—a feature that earbuds like the Jabra Elite 75t have had for years. We’d need to experience adaptive transparency to understand what, if any, benefits it offers. For Apple fans, the most impactful addition to the new AirPods Pro is that the case can charge on the Apple Watch charger.
Based on the specs alone, the $250 price range seems steep. You’re paying to be a part of the Apple ecosystem. This could be valuable to you if you are a heavy Siri user and don’t own an Apple Watch, but we’ll have to test the new earbuds ourselves to determine whether their performance is more compelling than the specs alone represent.
New iPhone cameras, Dynamic Islands, and satellite connectivity (as long as you don’t want something small)
Fans of the iPhone 13 mini are in for some disappointment, as Apple has eliminated that segment of its flagship line. Instead, the company has added another big phone, producing a lineup that consists of the 6.1-inch iPhone 14, the 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Plus, the 6.1-inch iPhone Pro, and the 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Pro Max.
We’ll give you a second to take all that in—yes, they’re all big phones. If you want something smaller, you’re stuck with this year’s second generation of the iPhone SE.
On the non-Pro models, the improvements from the iPhone 13 to the iPhone 14 are primarily in the camera, which introduces a higher-resolution sensor and a much faster aperture that should help to produce better pictures in low light—Apple is promising doubled performance with photos taken at night, for example. The front-facing camera has similar improvements to its aperture and its low-light performance, which means better selfies and FaceTime calls in dimly lit spaces.
The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max take that idea multiple steps further with a new 48-megapixel main camera, which Apple says should also provide dramatic improvements in images taken in darker situations. This feature will work by using only 12 megapixels of the sensor’s 48-megapixel total to take an image and using the other 36 megapixels to capture more light. These 12-megapixel images aren’t a downgrade, either, as previous generations of iPhones (even the Pro models) had a 12-megapixel camera anyway. This main-camera upgrade will almost certainly improve image quality across the board.
The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max introduce other improvements over the base iPhone 14. The marquee feature is the Dynamic Island, which one Wirecutter editor called “annoyingly smart.” The Dynamic Island takes the front-facing camera and depth sensor that used to live in the iPhone from the 11 onward and moves it down into the screen, surrounding it with a black background in software that transforms to feature various user experiences that support direct interaction.
The Dynamic Island is where active calls, audio playback, and other elements will live. It’s a clever way to work around the reality that every mobile phone maker is dealing with in an era of bigger screens and smaller bezels, but we’ll have to see how well it works in practice. The iPhone 14 Pro models also introduce always-on displays that provide notifications and widgets on the lock screen when you glance at the phone, so you no longer have to tap the device to turn on the screen as with previous iPhones.
Every iPhone 14 also comes with sensors that are designed to detect car crashes and then contact emergency services. On top of that, every iPhone 14 adds a feature that Apple has labeled Emergency SOS, which uses satellite radios to send emergency texts and location data to authorities in the event that you’re lost and outside of cellular or Wi-Fi coverage (and if you have an unobstructed view of the sky).
Despite these improvements (and what Apple claims is better battery life for the new phones), we can’t predict just yet whether the iPhone 14 will be our new iPhone recommendation. Apple didn’t use inflation or supply-chain excuses to increase prices over previous iPhones—the iPhone 14 starts at $800, with a $100 step up for each model from there, exactly in line with the iPhone 13. But the prices on the already very good iPhone 12 and 13 lines have dropped with the introduction of the new models, and the question will remain as to whether the iPhone 14 is worth the extra money until we can spend more time with it. We’ll update our respective guides with our verdict soon, but for now these new iPhones sound very promising.
This article was edited by Jason Chen.