The iPhone 15 feels a lot like last year’s iPhone 14 Pro, provided you can get past the simplified camera array and 60Hz screen
- Improved main camera
- Cheaper than last year
- Dynamic Island notch
- Battery life has taken a hit
- Display still only 60Hz
Apple couldn’t have had an easier job with the iPhone 15. After a year when it put the pause on major upgrades for the iPhone 14 – presumably in the interest of range differentiation – any changes, even minor ones, this year would have felt significant.
As such, Apple has opened the floodgates and the result is that the iPhone 15 is positively festooned with new features for 2023.
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Apple iPhone 15 review: What you need to know
There are four big upgrades to Apple’s cheapest iPhone this year. The first is that the processor has received a nice boost, from the A15 Bionic to the A16 Bionic, delivering performance on a par with last year’s iPhone 14 Pro handsets. That’s one big step forward over the iPhone 14, which Apple lumped with the same processor as the model before it.
The next big change is that the long-derided bathtub notch has gone, replaced by the Dynamic Island – a selfie camera cutout that not only looks nicer but also cleverly incorporates interactive notifications.
The phone’s main camera has received a major boost, moving from a 12MP (f/1.5) unit to a 48MP (f/1.6) camera. Let’s also not forget that, for Apple, 2023 is the year of USB-C and the iPhone 15 has not been left out.
Otherwise, this is largely the same phone physically as it was last year. It still has only two cameras on the rear, with a 12MP 13mm ultrawide camera accompanying the upgraded main camera, and a 12MP (f/1.9) selfie camera on the front.
And while the bezel has been slimmed down by a fraction, the phone is the same size it has been for years. It comes with an AMOLED display measuring 6.1in across the diagonal with a resolution of 2,556 x 1,179. It goes brighter than last year, peaking at a quoted 2,000 nits.
Apple iPhone 15 review: Price and competition
If all that doesn’t make you smile, perhaps the price will. The iPhone 15 is £50 cheaper than the iPhone 14 was at launch last year, now costing £799 for the 128GB model, £899 for the 256GB version and £1,099 for 512GB.
What are the alternatives? If you prefer a larger screen there’s the iPhone 15 Plus, which is the same phone with a bigger battery and a 6.7in display. For this, you’re paying a premium of £100 across the range – not bad value for a phone that’s going to last longer per charge and, therefore, have a longer lifespan overall.
Moving up to the iPhone 15 Pro, here you get a main camera with slightly better stabilisation and a 3x telephoto lens, but adds little else for the starting price of £999. However, if you’re spending this much, you might as well spend another £100 and go for the iPhone 15 Pro Max. This delivers better battery life, a 5x optical telephoto camera and base storage of 256GB.
There are plenty of Android alternatives to choose from if you’re willing to consider venturing outside the Apple ecosystem, and our pick here is the Google Pixel 7 Pro (soon to be replaced with the Pixel 8 Pro). It currently costs a mere £679 and comes with a stellar collection of cameras, including a 3x optical telephoto lens, and has a larger 6.7in screen.
And don’t forget the Samsung Galaxy S23, another fine phone that beats the iPhone 15 for features and value. It costs around £799 (although it’s often a lot cheaper on discount), has a 6.1in AMOLED display and three cameras on the rear, including a 50MP 3x telephoto lens.
Apple iPhone 15 review: Dynamic Island, USB-C and design
The only significant physical changes of note with the iPhone 14, as I’ve already mentioned, are the inclusion of the Dynamic Island and that notorious USB-C port on the bottom edge. The customisable Action button is a Pro only feature and that’s something I’m neither happy nor sad about. I’ve always rather liked the mute switch on iPhones.
The Dynamic Island you may already know about. It comes as a consequence of Apple moving its “True Depth” selfie camera out of the old bathtub notch and further into the screen. The result, you could argue, is a more elegant and streamlined look.
It’s also more useful, with Apple taking the opportunity to add extra interactivity around the cutout, effectively hiding it from view. This takes the form of various status indicators, showing, for instance, that you have an ongoing timer running or a tiny thumbnail of the podcast you’re listening to.
It can also show more information with a long press, while a quick tap whisks you off to the related app. It’s a genuinely useful addition to the iPhone 15’s capabilities, in other words – something no other non-fruit based phone can match.
There’s also a little more to the iPhone 15’s USB-C upgrade than meets the eye. Not only does it help cut down on cable clutter but it also adds new capabilities.
Support for DisplayPort means you can use it to mirror the screen of your iPhone to a monitor or TV. You can transfer files to and from external storage as well, although not at the same speed as you can with the iPhone 15 Pro. The USB-C port here is, rather needlessly in my view, restricted to USB 2 speeds of 480MB/sec.
In happier news, it’s possible to use the USB-C port on the iPhone 15 to charge other devices, either via USB-C to USB-C connections, or USB-C to Lightning. This is useful if your AirPods need a quick top-up or a friend’s phone is nearly dead.
Charging isn’t particularly quick, though. The phone will reach 50% charge in 30 minutes using a USB-PD capable charger of 20W or more. And reversed charging is positively glacial, limited to a meagre 4.5W.
There are other improvements, but they’re fairly minor. The bezels have been slimmed down a touch and softer, contoured edges applied, just as on the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max (although there’s no titanium here, just plain old recycled aluminium).
This makes the phone look and feel a touch smaller than its predecessor, despite the fact that it’s actually fractionally taller (146.6mm) and the same width (71.6mm) and depth (7.8mm).
There are new colours, with the iPhone available in classic black alongside pale blue, yellow, pink and green. And the rear glass now has a matte finish instead of the gloss of old.
The iPhone 15 is still IP68 dust- and water-resistant and, in Europe at least, it still comes with a SIM card slot, although you can switch to using an eSIM if you prefer.
Apple iPhone 15 review: Display
The screen is disappointing. Despite some improvements, which I will come to soon, it still only refreshes at 60Hz. That’s embarrassing for a company of Apple’s stature and it makes the iPhone 15 feel sluggish to use. Even low budget Android phones come with 90Hz screens these days.
At least colour performance is good, though. The panel can produce up to 90.17% of the P3 colour space and accuracy versus sRGB colour is also excellent, with a low average Delta E colour variance score of 1.05.
And there is one area that has seen an upgrade – brightness. In general usage, without auto-brightness enabled, I saw this peak at 832cd/m2, and it will go up to 2,000cd/m2 with auto brightness turned on, in the brightest of ambient light. Frankly, this is overkill and will murder your battery life if it goes this bright for any length of time, but it does at least ensure the screen will always be readable, wherever you happen to find yourself.
There is one area where improved brightness makes a real difference, though: HDR playback. I measured a 10% white window against a black background at 1,558cd/m2 on my colorimeter in HDR mode. That’s not quite as bright as the iPhone 15 Pro Max but it’s pretty close, and it results in super-impactful specular highlights while watching HDR content.
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Apple iPhone 15 review: Performance
The iPhone 15 is powered by Apple’s A16 Bionic chipset, a hexa-core part that runs at up to 3.46GHz, backed up by 6GB of RAM. It’s the chip that powered the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max last year and although it isn’t quite as quick as this year’s Apple A17 Pro, it isn’t a chip that wants for performance.
As you can see from the comparison charts, performance in Geekbench is better than the iPhone 14 – on a par with the fastest Android smartphones around – and it’s a long way in front of the Pixel 7 Pro. This is a phone that will feel quick to use for years, or at least until iOS throttles performance thanks to reduced battery health.
The picture isn’t all rosy, however. Surprisingly, graphics power seems to have stalled, with roughly the same scores in the GFXBench Car Chase benchmark as the iPhone 14. That doesn’t mean this is a slow phone, though. It’s still only a touch weaker in this test than the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and it’s again faster than the Pixel 7 Pro.
Battery life, on the other hand, isn’t all that impressive. With a quoted runtime of up to 20 hours of local video playback and 16 hours streamed video, and a result of 20hrs 24mins in our test, it lags behind the iPhone 14 significantly, by around three hours.
This isn’t a disastrous result, but you will find yourself needing to top up before you reach the end of the day with this phone, pretty much regardless of what you do with it.
Apple iPhone 15 review: Cameras
I like writing about the regular iPhone’s cameras and the reason is purely selfish: there aren’t many of them, so they’re quicker to test.
Here, you get the same 12MP (f/2.4) 120-degree ultrawide and 12MP (f/1.9) selfie camera as last year, so I’m not going to spend any time on those. If you want to read more about them, take a look at the camera section in my iPhone 14 review from last year.
However, there is plenty to get stuck into when it comes to the main camera. It’s now a 48MP (f/1.6) camera that by default shoots in 24MP resolution, but can capture images in 48MP as well.
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You don’t get the option to shoot in ProRAW, unfortunately, which is where the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max eke out a small advantage. However, the iPhone 15 does include the new automatic portrait mode that allows you to turn images captured in the normal Photo mode into portraits after the fact.
Image quality is a major step forward over the iPhone 14, too. In good light and shooting in the default 24MP resolution mode, the camera delivers subtle improvements, with sharper details and richer colours.
The differences are slightly more apparent if you shoot in 48MP “HEIF MAX” mode, with the iPhone 15 again delivering sharper details and more vibrant colours, as in the shot below.
It’s in low light where you really see the advantage of the new sensor, however. Images have more contrast, more detail and are richer in colour than they were on the iPhone 14, although one thing to be aware of is that, in these situations, the phone automatically drops out of 24MP mode and captures 12MP images instead.
As for video, the capabilities are the same as the iPhone 14. In standard mode, you can record in 4K Dolby Vision HDR at up to 60fps, fully stabilised. In slow motion mode, you can capture 1080p footage at up to 240fps. In Cinematic mode – with its fake background blur – you can record in 4K at 30fps, while the iPhone’s Action mode, which employs extreme action camera style image stabilisation, is captured in 2.8K at 60fps.
That improved 48MP camera again makes a small but noticeable difference to video quality, especially in low light. The below freeze-frame illustrates this clearly. Take a look at the people in the crowd in front of the left side of the stage; there’s more definition and contrast on the iPhone 15 side than the iPhone 14.
Apple iPhone 15 review: Verdict
The Apple iPhone 15’s improvements, taken individually, may not be all that significant, but accumulated they add up to what is a significant update.
Although battery life is shorter, the new standard iPhone has a superior main camera, faster overall performance and a brighter display, while the Dynamic Island selfie camera cutout makes it a nicer camera to use, as do the slimmer bezels and matte finish rear glass.
We’re still not talking about world-changing updates but there are far more compelling reasons to buy an iPhone 15 this year than there were to buy an iPhone 14 in 2022, not least because it’s £50 cheaper.