In short, the Apple iPhone 15 is not only more affordable than its predecessor but also boasts significantly improved specifications.
The device offers a more comfortable grip, featuring a new Dynamic Island screen with excellent color reproduction and much higher peak brightness compared to the older model. However, its 60Hz refresh rate may be considered outdated. The new 48-megapixel main camera captures sharp photos, providing the non-Pro iPhone with a decent zoom function, though not suitable for extreme zooming. The ultrawide camera is somewhat outdated, and a macro function is notably absent. The iPhone 15’s battery life is slightly better than its predecessor, making it the longest-lasting among smaller phones. Despite the shift to USB-C, charging remains relatively slow. The A16 chipset, while not brand new, is speedy, and users can expect long-term software updates.
- Fast hardware and software
- Clear display with excellent color reproduction
- Sharp main camera
- Long battery life
- Slow charging
- Screen still has a 60Hz refresh rate
- Underperforming ultrawide camera without macro
Over the past few years, those opting for a standard iPhone found themselves somewhat wanting.
Crafting a non-Pro iPhone is a delicate balancing act for Apple. On one hand, the device must incorporate enough innovations compared to its predecessor to stand as a solid choice on its own. On the other hand, it should not become so high-end that it poses a threat to the Pro series. After all, there must remain a compelling reason to invest over a thousand bucks in a phone.
Three years ago, when Apple last gave its iPhones a major overhaul, the added value of the Pro variant was limited. The iPhone 12 versus the iPhone 12 Pro had almost the same design, similar cameras minus a telephoto lens, and a nearly equally impressive display. In the subsequent years, the Pro series flagship models received increasingly sophisticated cameras, superior displays, and faster chips in their more luxurious design. Conversely, improvements for iPhones carrying only a numerical suffix came at a slower pace, almost entirely absent last year.
Not only did the iPhone 14 fall behind other manufacturers’ smartphones in terms of screen brightness and camera quality, but opting for an iPhone 13 last year, which remained readily available and was also cheaper than the new model, seemed just as viable.
With the iPhone 15 series, Apple’s ‘mid-range’ contender takes a more significant leap forward—
considering a device that costs nearly 1000 euros can still be termed as such. The device features an updated screen with rounded corners, Dynamic Island, and higher peak brightness introduced last year on the iPhone 14 Pro. It also includes a 48-megapixel camera, allowing for a 2x zoom without a significant drop in image quality. While the iPhone 15 lacks a dedicated telephoto lens like most high-end models, the addition of the 48-megapixel camera is indeed a welcome enhancement. Lastly, the USB-C port can serve as a reason to upgrade, aligning with the push towards a world where a single cable can charge all your devices, thanks to the European Commission’s influence.
In addition to the iPhone 15, Apple is also releasing an iPhone 15 Plus…
featuring a screen as large as the iPhone 15 Pro Max but with a lower price than the smaller iPhone 15 Pro. Speaking of prices, where Apple significantly raised them last year, the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus are actually a few tens of euros cheaper than their predecessors. Sufficient reason, in short, to thoroughly test the new iPhones. In doing so, we will naturally compare them with the new Pro iPhones, a comprehensive review of which you can find here on fingerprintresistant.
With rounded design and a much brighter display, the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus bear a much closer resemblance to the 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max than the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus
did to their Pro counterparts of that year, at least from the front. However, the difference is noticeable from the back.
The iPhone 15 and 15 Plus come in cheerful, light pastel colors and feature a slightly smaller camera bump with two lenses instead of three. Unlike the Pro iPhones, the matte glass lacks the subtle glow in the standard iPhone 15 models. While the side frame of the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus is made of aluminum, the frame of the 15 Pro models boasts a brushed titanium finish.
Though the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus may still appear less luxurious, the feel in hand seems more akin to the pricier models this year than ever before. All four iPhones this year have a matte back and a matte frame, a departure from previous years. Unlike the iPhones of the past, the 15 Pro models are no longer significantly heavier than the standard iPhones.
The less expensive models are about ten percent lighter, noticeable only in direct comparison.
The iPhone 15 series has a more rounded edge compared to the iPhone 12 through 14. Both the front and back are still entirely flat. The rounded edge makes a more significant difference in hand than expected, especially without a case. The smoother transition between the front and side makes the new iPhones more comfortable to hold. Without a case, I find the iPhone 15 even more pleasant to touch than the iPhone Xs and 11. Those had an even more rounded edge but also some sharp transitions at the speaker holes and Lightning port at the bottom, which could be a bit uncomfortable in hand.
As expected, all the buttons and ports are in their familiar locations on the iPhone 15 series—power button on the right, volume buttons on the left, with the traditional mute switch above them. The Pro models this year introduce the new Action button in that location. Considering Apple often introduces innovations on Pro models one year and then on non-Pro models the following year, the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus might be the last iPhones with the mute switch.
A smooth 120Hz screen refresh rate and the always-on display feature remain exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro series…
a disappointment considering you can already purchase phones from other brands for as low as 300 euros with both features. The less fluid 60Hz screen refresh rate on the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus doesn’t hinder practical usage; it might look a bit less smooth only when compared side by side with a 120Hz iPhone. The absence of the always-on display (aod) feature is a practical drawback as you need to activate the screen every time you want to check notifications. The new Stand-by feature in iOS 17 (see page 5) is much less useful without aod.
We measured the screen of the Apple iPhone 15 and 15 Plus using our SpectraCal C6 colorimeter and Portrait Displays Calman Ultimate analysis software. For the measurement, we don’t need to choose a color mode, as iPhones don’t have them. However, we disable True Tone (default enabled) for this test. True Tone automatically adjusts the screen’s color temperature based on ambient light, a feature not yet available on many other phones.
Camera: 48 Megapixels and Digital Zoom
Last year, Apple upgraded the main camera of the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max with a 48-megapixel sensor.
This year, it’s the turn of the regular iPhones, which remained at 12 megapixels last year. The new sensor has pixels of 1μm, making the surface area about 50 percent smaller than the one in this year’s and last year’s Pro phones and approximately the same as that of the 12-megapixel sensor in the iPhone 14 (Plus) and 13 Pro (Max). The f/1.6 lens of the iPhone 15 (Plus) compensates for part of the theoretical difference in brightness. The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max have an f/1.8 lens that allows less light to pass through.
Like most other camera sensors with tens of megapixels used in smartphones, the sensor in the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus features a 2×2 Bayer layout.
Groups of four sensor pixels sitting side by side capture the same color of light.
Unlike most other devices that combine the information from four sensor pixels into one pixel in the final photo, resulting in 12-megapixel images from a 48-megapixel sensor.
The iPhone 15 and 15 Plus, like the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max, capture standard 24-megapixel photos. According to Apple, this higher resolution leads to improved image quality. Similar to the Pro models, you can choose to shoot in 12 megapixels, and not all photos are stored in high resolution even with the slider set to ’24MP.’ Images taken with a camera other than the main camera or when using digital zoom, night mode, portrait mode, or flash enabled always have a 12-megapixel resolution.
You can also opt to take 48-megapixel photos with the main camera on the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus, but this is only possible in HEIF or JPEG format. The ProRAW feature remains exclusive to the Pro models, along with the ability to save videos in ProRes format. Hardware-wise, the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus are trimmed compared to the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max.
As mentioned, the primary camera has a smaller sensor, and the same applies to the ultrawide camera, judging by the specifications, it appears to be the same as the one in the iPhone 12, 13, and 14
Software: iOS 17
The Apple iPhone 15 and 15 Plus run on the latest version of iOS, version 17, which is now also available for download on older iPhones from the Xs, Xr, and SE (2020) onwards.
Although Apple does not make specific promises, based on past experiences with devices, you can expect years of software updates for the new iPhones, longer than for the vast majority of Android smartphones. For instance, the iPhone X from 2017 is not receiving the latest iOS version this year for the first time. However, security fixes for older iOS versions will continue to be released for a while, ensuring that support for that device is not entirely discontinued.
iOS 17 is not a major update for Apple’s mobile operating system, but it does introduce several interesting new features.
One notable addition is the ability to quickly share photos or files via AirDrop by holding two iPhones close to each other, which was immediately noticeable during testing. Our test models frequently announced with a cheerful ‘pling’ that they had found each other again. Contacts can also be quickly shared through a feature called NameDrop.
Widgets, which have been available on the home screen alongside icons since iOS 14, can now be interactive for the first time in iOS 17. The same applies to widgets on the lock screen. This means that, for example, in the Podcasts widget, you can start a podcast directly or mark a task in the Reminders widget without going to the app. It remains to be seen how useful this feature will be. While Apple’s own widgets have been updated with interactive features, other developers still need to implement them in their apps. Some developers may prefer users to open the app to use it, potentially avoiding a loss in ad revenue.
Hardware: Old A16 Still Swift
The iPhone 15 and 15 Plus are not equipped with the new Apple A17 SoC found in the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max. Instead, they feature an A16 SoC, also present in the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max.
Despite being from the previous year, the A16 is still a lightning-fast chip that can compete with the fastest smartphone chips from other brands. Similar to the A17, it has six CPU cores, including two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores, a GPU designed by Apple, and a Neural Engine for AI calculations. The entire chip is manufactured using a 4nm process, reportedly the N4P process from TSMC, which indeed has a ‘4’ in the name but is, in reality, based on the existing 5nm process.
In recent weeks, there has been some discussion about overheating issues experienced by some early buyers of phones from the iPhone 15 series.
According to Apple, these problems are caused by a bug in iOS 17, which is said to be resolved in version 17.0.3. Interestingly, even with the old version that was still on our test devices, not all users seemed to be affected to the same extent.
For example, our test models became very warm during intensive benchmarks such as the 3DMark Wild Life Stress Test, but no issues arose during the execution of simple tasks.
Even after half an hour of Genshin Impact, the device was not excessively hot. Judging by the test results, the performance of the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus remains relatively constant over time, similar to their predecessors. The performance of the new Pro models, with their lighter cooling and, under certain conditions, less efficient A17 SoC, decreases further during longer computational tasks, although they are still faster overall.
Battery Life and Charging
Officially, Apple does not disclose the battery capacity of its iPhones, but this information usually becomes available quickly through certification agencies and teardowns. I
n the case of the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus, the respective battery capacities are approximately 3349mAh and 4383mAh. In both cases, this is a few percentage points larger than the previous model. There is not a significant difference in battery capacity between the Pro iPhones and the regular iPhones of this year.
In the browsing test with Wi-Fi and 4G, we make Android smartphones scroll through web pages hosted on our local server using the Chrome browser; for iOS devices, we use Safari (of course). We note the minutes it takes for the phone to shut down. In the video test, we also set smartphones to airplane mode at the same brightness and repeatedly play a specific video. Devices with OLED screens have an advantage here because videos often contain many dark parts, and pixels on an OLED screen can be turned off.