I've always appreciated an underdog and the iPhone 15 is exactly that. It's consistently overshadowed by its Pro sibling - which of course there is good reason for - but while the iPhone 15 Pro sits above it with all its bells and whistles, the iPhone 15 modestly delivers a great experience for a lot less money.
The thing I like most about the iPhone 15 and what makes it so exciting, is just how many upgrades it brings over its predecessor for 2023. The iPhone 14 was boring, it didn't offer much compared to the iPhone 13 so there was little reason to buy it unless you were running a much older iPhone. That's not the case for the iPhone 15 - there is every reason to buy this iPhone, and that applies even if you have an iPhone 14.
Apple iPhone 15
The Apple iPhone 15 doesn't have all the bells and whistles its Pro sibling does, but don't overlook it. It's the model that sees the greatest enhancements, all of which contribute to a superb overall experience. The design is great, performance is excellent, Dynamic Island brings a big interface change and that's before you consider the excellent camera upgrades. The Apple iPhone 15 delivers in abundance and at a great price too.
- Superb design
- Great performance
- Excellent camera results, including 2x zoom
- Good display upgrades
- No Always-On Display
- Only 60Hz
There's a lot to be said for subtle changes, especially when these changes make such a big difference to the overall feel of a device. The Apple iPhone 15 looks very similar to the iPhone 14 from a distance, but get yourself a little closer and there are a number of differences to take note of.
There's a matte glass back in place of the coloured glossy finish we've been accustomed to since the iPhone XR and its vibrant, colourful back. The iPhone 15 completely pivots on this design feature, opting for a much more subtle, pastel finish. The colours - of which there are six to choose from - have been infused into the glass and the result is a very, light shade of colour. And I mean very light, almost non-existent.
The aluminium frame - no titanium here like on the Pro models - does have a stronger colour presence however, matching the colour within the glass rear and complementing it beautifully. It's not just the softness in colour that makes the iPhone 15 stand out though. Like the iPhone 15 Pro models, the rear of the iPhone 15 is almost soft-to-touch with a lovely smooth finish that makes this phone really rather delightful to hold - trust me on this. The edges are also slightly contoured, removing the sharpness where the rear met the frame on the iPhone 14.
Talking of the frame, the iPhone 15 remains almost identical to the iPhone 14, retaining the silence-ringer toggle that's been on the iPhone since 2007 on the left edge. It was replaced for the iPhone 15 Pro models with an Action Button, which is more versatile and useful, but the silence-ringer toggle still serves a perfectly legitimate function and if you haven't used the Action Button, you won't know what you're missing.
Below the toggle are the volume controls, while the right edge has the power button. At the bottom, things are changed a little, with the introduction of USB-C over the Lighting port that's been around for over a decade - more on that a little later.
Flip the iPhone 15 onto its silky soft matte back and you'll notice some big changes to the front. The bezels have reduced slightly - not as much as the iPhone 15 Pro, but enough to make a noticeable difference if you look close enough. You probably won't though, because it will be the lack of notch at the top of the display that will likely capture your attention first.
That's right, the iPhone 15 replaces the notch in favour of an interactive pill-shaped cutout at the top of the display - a feature that Apple calls Dynamic Island, and which was introduced on the iPhone 14 Pro models in 2022.
Dynamic Island is a feature I found myself using daily on the iPhone 14 Pro - and have continued to do on the iPhone 15. It's become much more sophisticated since it launched too, with extra features like Live Activities now taking advantage of it. That means it's a great time for it to land on the regular iPhone model because there's support for a lot more apps than when it initially arrived, from flight tracking to your take-away order status.
It changes the way you interact with your iPhone for the better, and while you might find it takes a little bit of time to get used to, once you do, you won't look back. You can learn plenty about Dynamic Island in Pocket-lint's separate feature, but in a nutshell, it adapts to what is happening on your iPhone's display, giving you at-a-glance information or controls.
That might be expanding to show you a charging bar, turning into a square when Face ID authenticates you for Apple Pay, or turning into a larger rectangle that spans the width of your phone when you press and hold to change tracks on Apple Music. It splits in two if you are playing music and then you add a timer, for example, while if you are doing a voice recording - or similarly, you can press and hold it to get more control. It's smart, significantly better than the notch that had been kicking around since 2017, and it's a very intuitive way of using your device.
The front camera is a little more prone to fingerprints because of Dynamic Island, as you're constantly touching it, but it's worth it. I find it great for multi-tasking, as you can be sending an email or writing a message, while you change your Apple Music track for example - all without needing to leave the Mail or Messages app.
Dynamic Island isn't the only thing worth shouting about on the iPhone 15's display either. Like the iPhone 14, there's a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display with an OLED panel and with that comes plenty of benefits. Colours are wonderfully rich and vibrant with plenty of pop, blacks are deep and whites and lovely and bright. Viewing angles are great too, and while the iPhone 15 doesn't have the highest resolution display in the flagship smartphone field, the 2556 x 1179 pixels deliver a 460ppi with plenty of detail and crispness, matching that of the Pro models.
Speaking of the Pro models, as you might expect, you miss out on a couple of the iPhone 15 Pro's features, one of which is ProMotion. That means the iPhone 15 has a standard 60Hz display, which certainly doesn't keep up with the Jones'. Most flagship smartphones have at least 90Hz, if not 120Hz, like the Pro models offer, so it's a little disappointing that the iPhone 15 didn't take it up just a notch here.
There is also the argument that this is just one of the latest buzzwords though, and many would be hard-pressed to notice refresh rate speeds unless doing something specific that requires them, like gaming. The lack of ProMotion technology does also mean a lack of Always-On Display for the iPhone 15 too, but again, while this is a feature I like on the Pro models, it's not a necessity, especially if you have never had it and therefore don't know what you're missing. Those considering switching from Android may find its omission frustrating, but if you're considering upgrading from an iPhone, you wouldn't know any different - it's still a novelty feature for iPhone users that's only been around since last year.
Despite those minor shortcomings, the iPhone 15 has increased its peak brightness to 1600nits, which is 400nits brighter than the iPhone 14 and its peak outdoor brightness to 2000nits, matching the iPhone 15 Pro. It's something that you might not appreciate during day-to-day use inside if like me, you drop your brightness down, but it is immediately helpful - and an obvious upgrade - in bright conditions outside.
Under the hood of the iPhone 15 is the same A16 Bionic processor that Apple placed inside the iPhone 14 Pro model in 2022. The iPhone 15 is therefore as powerful as the device, which - up until the September launch - was Apple's flagship iPhone and it was a great one. The A16 Bionic is a 4nm chip with a 6-core CPU with two performance cores and four efficiency cores, and a 5-core GPU. There's also a 16-core Neural Engine.
This equates to a buttery smooth performance across the board, and while the iPhone 15 Pro does feel speedier and a little snappier thanks to its 3nm A17 Pro chip, that's likely only noticeable because I was testing the two devices side-by-side and regularly moving between them. The iPhone 15 delivers excellent performance overall, from the mundane daily tasks we all use our phones for, to more heavy-duty ones.
Play Mario Kart Tour, and you'll get a solid performance (unless you're just bad at kicking Bowser's ass) without the iPhone 15 heating up, while switching between apps and moving around the interface is a breeze too. The only time I noticed some lag was the camera shutter button for low light shots, though rebooting the device helped correct this.
In terms of battery performance, the iPhone 15 promises the same as its predecessor at 20 hours of video playback and in my experience, it performs around the same too. Keep in mind that there's a brighter display on offer with the 2023 model, as well as Dynamic Island, so I'm pleased to say that doesn't appear to have had a huge impact on the number of hours you get out of it.
I'm still testing the iPhone 15 Plus, though I suspect this will be the regular model to choose for battery life, just as the iPhone 14 Plus was in 2022. I ended my day with around 20 per cent on the iPhone 15 versus about 30 per cent on the Pro model, running it from around 6AM to 11PM and that's with quite a bit of camera testing too. Sure, it's not going to match the iPhone 15 Pro Max or iPhone 15 Plus but for its size, it puts in a solid shift.
As I briefly mentioned, the iPhone 15 also benefits from a switch to USB-C over Lightning. I saw benefit because I am thrilled that I only need one cable to charge my iPhone, AirPods, iPad and Mac now. You don't get quite the same support on the regular iPhone 15 in that it only offers USB 2 rather than USB 3 - you can read Pocket-lint's separate feature on everything you need to know about USB-C and iPhone for more on that - but you can still charge other devices from your iPhone 15 now, which is very handy.
One of the biggest reasons to buy the iPhone 15 is the new camera. In 2022, the iPhone 14 Pro models got an upgrade to a 48-megapixel sensor but the regular iPhone 14 models didn't get the same treatment. Don't get me wrong, the iPhone 14 was still a solid performer, but the iPhone 15 not only offers greater detail thanks to now also offering a 48-megapixel sensor - albeit slightly different from the iPhone 14 Pro with an f/1.6 aperture instead of f/1.78 - but it has a new trick too, in its 2x optical zoom.
Ok, so it's not quite the 5x optical zoom you'll find on the excellent iPhone 15 Pro Max, but the iPhone 15 delivers some impressive results with its 2x zoom, with great detail and clarity. For 2023, the iPhone 15 models are all producing 24-megapixel images instead of 12-megapixel images by default, and it's the extra data within the 24-megapixel shot that allows the main sensor to be reframed to deliver the 2x zoom. This is the same method Sony has adopted on its Xperia 5 V, where two lenses can be offered - main and Ultra Wide - rather than a third additional telephoto lens.
The main sensor is slightly different from the main sensor in the iPhone 15 Pro, despite both offering 48-megapixel resolutions, and you don't get the same functionality of 24mm, 28mm and 35mm framing by tapping the 1x icon on the interface, but the iPhone 15 delivers great results from both its lenses.
There's plenty of detail in shots, great colour accuracy and the iPhone 15 retains the super simple, point-and-shoot ease of use that iPhones are known for. I can't stress enough how much should be said for this. It doesn't matter how great a smartphone camera is if you have to fiddle around with various settings for several minutes to get your shot, resulting the moment passing by without capture. Where the iPhone 15 Pro models have added some complication to the camera interface to appeal to a variety of users, including pro photograghers, the iPhone 15 relishes in its simplicity.
Low light shots are good too and while you do have to hold still for a few seconds while the shot is taken, there's good stabilisation and the end results are a good representation of what you see in front of you.
There are also some clever software features on the iPhone 15 that filter down from the iPhone 15 Pro models, as well as to older models including the iPhone 13 and the iPhone 14. Rather than switching the shooting mode to Portrait, you can shoot in the traditional Photo mode and change an image of a person, dog or cat to a Portrait shot afterwards in the Edit menu. You can even adjust the background blur as well as the focus. I love this feature as I often shoot in standard Photo and wish I had used Portrait, so it's great to be able to get the shot as quickly as possible and then add the bokeh effect afterwards, rather than having to think about before I take it.
The iPhone 15 runs on iOS 17 and with that comes a whole host of features, from Check In, changes to Messages, AirPods features and plenty more. The latest software isn't exclusive to the iPhone 15 models so the majority of features are available on older iPhones too, though there are a couple of features that you do need an iPhone 15 to take advantage of.
For the iPhone 15 Pro models, that comes in the form of the Action Button among other things, though as I mentioned, the Action Button is something the iPhone 15 doesn't offer. It does have a feature called Voice Isolation however, which does exactly what you would expect - it isolates your voice when you're on a phone call in a busy environment. I've tested Voice Isolation on and off and there's definitely more clarity when it is turned on, making your voice sound much richer to the person on the other end of the phone.
Elsewhere in terms of software features, there's of course Dynamic Island that I detailed earlier, as well as a Roadside Assistance feature for those in some regions. The Roadside Assistance feature is an extension of the Emergency SOS feature that launched on the iPhone 14 models, making it easier for you to get help if you are in an area with no signal. There's also a 2nd generation Ultra Wideband chip inside the iPhone 15 that allows you to find friends in crowded places thanks to the addition of Precision Finding - though your friend also needs an iPhone 15, so keep that in mind.
The Apple iPhone 15 doesn't have all the bells and whistles its Pro sibling does, but don't overlook it. It's the model that sees the greatest enhancements, all of which contribute to a truly lovely overall experience.
From the refreshed design that makes a huge difference to not only what this device looks like, but how it feels to hold and use, to its huge power and camera upgrades. It might miss out on a higher refresh rate screen, Always-On Display and a third camera lens, but that's really all it misses out on - and none of those are essential.
The design is great, performance is excellent, Dynamic Island brings a big interface change and that's all before we consider those excellent camera upgrades. The Apple iPhone 15 delivers in abundance and at a great price too.