iPhone 15 review: a big step forward

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Apple iPhone 15

MSRP $799.00

“The iPhone 15 is one of the most significant iPhone upgrades ever. The Dynamic Island, USB-C, a 48MP camera, and more make it delightful to use.”

Pros

  • Big camera upgrade
  • USB-C
  • Matte glass feels incredible
  • Dynamic Island
  • Curved edges are more comfortable
  • Reverse wired charging

Cons

  • 60Hz refresh rate display
  • Most color options are too light
  • Can get warm when running intensive apps

Apple’s iPhone 15 lineup has arrived, and at the very base of the lineup is the standard iPhone 15. While most people may be fawning over the Pro models, the regular iPhone 15 is actually a big deal too.

Last year, Apple didn’t make a lot of changes with the iPhone 14 that made it worth getting over the iPhone 13 from two years ago. But with the iPhone 15, there are some pretty significant changes — including the Dynamic Island, USB-C charging, a 48MP main camera, and the A16 Bionic chipset.

Do all of these changes make the standard iPhone 15 worth it? You better believe it.

iPhone 15: design

Green iPhone 15 leaning against an arch in a rose garden.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

On the surface, the iPhone 15 looks similar to the iPhone 14 and iPhone 13 that came before it. You have flat edges, an aluminum frame, a glass back, and a diagonal dual camera layout. But that’s where the similarities end.

Previous models of the standard iPhone had a glossy glass back, which I was never a big fan of. The glossy texture meant it would always be a fingerprint and smudge magnet.

Thankfully, the iPhone 15 eliminates this problem by using a new, “color-infused” glass back that results in an incredibly nice matte finish. With this new matte glass, it’s very hard to see fingerprints, at least on the green model that I was sent. This should also apply to the other lighter colors as well, but I’m not sure about the black option.

The matte glass also seems like it makes it easier to hold the iPhone 15 without a case. At least for me, it does not feel as slippery as other models. My only complaint with the “color-infused” glass is that the colors are super light and pale for most of the lineup. It seems that pink looks the best, and green is not as bad as I originally thought. But the blue appears to look especially bad with how pale it is.

Side view of a green iPhone 15 showing the side button.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Also, unlike previous models, the iPhone 15 has a bit of curvature going on the edges, so it is not as sharp as before. This is a welcome change, as it definitely helps with making it feel more ergonomic to hold — especially when combined with the lightweight aluminum frame.

The iPhone 15 has an incredibly nice matte finish.

Speaking of aluminum frame, as someone who has only really used the Pro models of iPhones, I appreciate the aluminum being pretty resistant to fingerprints and smudges, unlike stainless steel and titanium.

Unlike the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, the standard iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus still have the Ring/Silent switch, so that is unchanged, along with the volume and side buttons.

On the bottom, however, you will now find a USB-C port for charging, as Apple finally eliminated Lightning. We’ll get more into that in a bit.

iPhone 15: screen

A green iPhone 15 lock screen.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

For the standard iPhone 15, we have a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display that supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Resolution is 1179 x 2556 pixels with a 19:5:9 aspect ratio and 461 pixels per inch (ppi) density. It reaches 1,000 nits for normal brightness and up to 2,000 nits for peak outdoor brightness.

The display on the iPhone 15 looks pretty good. The colors are bright and vibrant, text is sharp and crisp. For the average person, this display is great. But if you’re coming from a Pro model with ProMotion, or even an Android phone, then you might notice some janky scrolling and transition animations. That’s because Apple continues to use a 60Hz refresh rate for the standard iPhone displays, which is disappointing considering the $799 starting price.

When I first got the iPhone 15 and started using it, I honestly didn’t notice the 60Hz refresh rate. But that may be due to the newness of the device and my excitement about getting it. After I got my personal iPhone 15 Pro and have been using that, going back to the standard iPhone 15 display makes it easy to see that scrolling is slower and definitely not as smooth.

A green iPhone 15 home screen.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Still, while the refresh rate is disappointing compared to the competition, the average non-techie person probably is not going to notice. It certainly isn’t quite like going from non-Retina to Retina (iPhone 3GS to iPhone 4), which was a very obvious difference.

The iPhone 15 display isn’t bad, but the 60Hz is certainly dated when you look at other options on the market. Maybe at some point, Apple could go with at least 90Hz displays on the standard models.

A green iPhone 15 showing the Photos app.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Apple also brought the Dynamic Island to the standard iPhone 15 models after it was an iPhone 14 Pro exclusive last year. One of my issues with the Dynamic Island over the past year was the fact that not a lot of the apps that I use on a day-to-day basis really make use of the feature. However, now that even the regular iPhone 15 models have the Dynamic Island, I’m hoping to see more creative ways to make use of it.

Unfortunately, the standard iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus do not have an always-on display like the Pro models. I was hoping that Apple would bring that Pro feature down to the standard models as well (Dynamic Island made the jump, after all), but alas, not this year. Perhaps in the next year or two? One can only hope.

iPhone 15: software and performance

A green iPhone 15 showing the Photos For You section.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Apple ships iOS 17 with the standard iPhone 15 models out of the box. Inside the iPhone 15, you have the A16 Bionic that launched last year with the iPhone 14 Pro models and 6GB RAM.

The iPhone 15 also uses Apple’s new second-generation ultra-wideband chip, which lets you find someone who shared their location with you by guiding you to them like with the AirTag Precision Finding feature. However, this feature only works with iPhone 15 models. Unless all of your friends and family are upgrading to an iPhone 15, you may not be able to make use of this feature. I certainly am not able to right now, but this could be different in the future.

A green iPhone 15 using the camera in landscape orientation.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

As you’d expect from a new iPhone, the iPhone 15 runs iOS 17 well, and everything feels fast and snappy. I mostly used the iPhone 15 for checking my personal and work email, sending messages in Microsoft Teams, endlessly scrolling through my social media (Threads, Instagram, Facebook, and Mastodon), taking a lot of photos and syncing with iCloud, music and video streaming, and some light gaming.

Switching between apps is seamless, editing photos is a breeze as the renders happen quickly, capturing photos has no lag, and so far, I haven’t had issues with apps crashing. I do notice that if you are running some more resource-intensive games or apps, then the iPhone 15 will start to feel warm.

Though I expect the iPhone 15 to get warm when using graphically intensive apps and games, current reports seem to indicate that the entire iPhone 15 lineup could have an overheating issue, though it’s more common with the Pro models.

Aside from the overheating issue, which I’m hoping can be resolved through software updates, the iPhone 15 has been solid in terms of performance.

iPhone 15: cameras

A green iPhone 15 showing the camera and matte glass back.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The iPhone 15 got a surprising camera upgrade this year, bringing a 48MP main camera and a 12MP ultrawide lens with a 120-degree field of view (FoV). The ultrawide doesn’t have any changes from last year, which is a bit of a letdown since it still does not have autofocus. The selfie camera is also still 12MP.

Unlike last year’s iPhone 14 Pro models, which could only shoot in 48MP full resolution with ProRAW and defaulted to 12MP for regular photos, the iPhone 15 defaults to 24MP photos. If you don’t want the slightly larger file size of a 24MP image, you could change it back to 12MP, but the 24MP photos do look better overall, and the size difference is negligible.

I’m actually quite impressed with the iPhone 15’s overall photo quality.

You can still shoot in full 48MP resolution if you really need to, but that setting needs to be enabled in the Settings app first. Honestly, the 24MP default should be fine for most, and the 48MP should be reserved for those images that you plan to print since the differences aren’t super noticeable.

Again, I typically always go for the Pro models because I prefer having a telephoto lens. But in my time with the regular iPhone 15, I’m actually quite impressed with the overall photo quality, despite lacking an actual telephoto camera.

The photos I’ve shot all came out with rich and vibrant colors, sharp details, and just look more detailed overall compared to what I was expecting. I especially love the Auto Portrait feature, which is available on all iPhone 15 models, so you no longer need to manually switch to Portrait mode. Instead, as long as the camera focuses on a person (or even a pet), it can automatically capture the depth data in the background, and you can turn it into a Portrait image after the fact.

I tend to take a lot of photos of my daughter, and the new Auto Portrait mode is definitely one of my favorite new features of the entire lineup. Since my daughter is a very active toddler, it’s hard for me to get good photos when she’s on the move, let alone portraits (every second counts!). This feature has allowed me to capture some pretty amazing portraits that I would never have been able to capture with my old iPhone 14 Pro. It’s super easy to turn on Portrait mode after the image is captured, and even adjusting the intensity of your background blur is super intuitive.

The larger sensors in the iPhone 15 cameras also allow it to reach 2x optical zoom without an actual telephoto lens, which is decent. You won’t get all of the finer details with an actual telephoto lens, but it doesn’t look half bad, all things considered. The iPhone 15 also seems to do well in low-light environments, as more details are captured even when the scene is dimly lit.

Overall, the cameras on the iPhone 15 are pretty good, especially if you’re upgrading from older models. If you need a bit more with the cameras, then you should consider the iPhone 15 Pro or iPhone 15 Pro Max.

iPhone 15: battery life

A green iPhone 15 showing battery life.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Apple included slightly larger batteries across the entire iPhone 15 lineup. For the iPhone 15 specifically, there’s a 3,349mAh battery inside, which is a slight bump from the 3,279mAh from its predecessor. Unfortunately, this is still very much a one-day phone.

An average day of phone usage for me looks like this: constantly checking email in Spark and Microsoft Outlook, sending messages in Teams, a lot of iMessage use, social media, Apple Music streaming, Disney+ streaming, web browsing in Safari, and some light gaming. In my time with the iPhone 15, I’ve been playing Hello Kitty Island Adventure on Apple Arcade.

The phone comes off the charger around 6 a.m., and by the time I go to bed around 10:30 p.m., it is at 30%. This seems pretty average, and unlike my iPhone 15 Pro, the iPhone 15 did not seem to have an overheating issue. It does get warm, but not to the point where I can’t comfortably hold it. I feel like this is maybe due to having the A16 Bionic rather than the A17 Pro chip.

A view of the USB-C port on the green iPhone 15.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

I have enjoyed having USB-C on the iPhone 15, though I do wish Apple improved charging speed with that change. With USB-C, I have more options of cables to use, rather than the proprietary Lightning cable. Plugging in the iPhone 15 with at least a 20W adapter gets you about 50% charge in 30 minutes, which is the same as before.

MagSafe charging remains at 15W speeds and 7.5W for Qi-compatible wireless charging. The new reverse wired charging, where you can use your iPhone 15 to charge up other devices through a USB-C cable, is capped at 4.5W. I’m a little surprised that Apple didn’t also add reverse wireless charging, as that is common with a lot of Android devices, and it’s less convenient to always have a spare USB-C cable handy.

iPhone 15: price and availability

Green iPhone 15 laying flat on a cement bench.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The iPhone 15 comes in five colors: black, pink, green, yellow, and blue. It starts at $799 for 128GB, and you can get more storage with the 256GB or 512GB variants.

It’s available on all major carriers, though you could save some money by checking out what iPhone 15 deals are currently available. In some cases, you could even get it for free (or close to it).

iPhone 15: verdict

A green iPhone 15 in hand in front of plant.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

This is one of Apple’s biggest upgrades for the standard iPhone model in years. It may not be a big change if you’re coming from an iPhone 13 or iPhone 14, but for those who are coming from older iPhone models, then this is a significant one.

The biggest upgrade is, of course, the cameras. The iPhone has been using 12MP cameras since the iPhone 6S in 2015, so with the jump to 48MP on the standard iPhone 15, it’s the first time Apple has bumped the camera up in almost a decade. The resulting photos with the main camera also look fantastic, with nicely saturated colors that don’t look washed out and have plenty of sharp details.

A green iPhone 15 leaning against a lamp post.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Apple ditching Lightning for USB-C is also quite a significant change, and it’s most welcome. Though the charging speed is still capped at around 20W, having USB-C gives you more options for cables since it’s a universal standard with most other electronics these days — including Apple’s own iPads and MacBooks. Plus, you’re able to use your iPhone 15 to charge up other devices when needed, which is handy, though it’s surprising that Apple didn’t choose reverse wireless charging instead.

The Dynamic Island is a fun addition, but for me, it hasn’t been an absolute must in the past year with the iPhone 14 Pro, though hopefully that changes now with wider adoption. The matte glass back just feels incredibly nice compared to older models, combined with the more ergonomic rounded edges, makes for an overall comfortable experience when using it. I just wish that Apple would bump up that refresh rate to be a bit more competitive with Android devices at that price point.

While this is a significant upgrade for the standard iPhone, it still doesn’t hold a candle to some of the competition.

Samsung Galaxy S23 leaning against a brick wall on a table.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The base model Samsung Galaxy S23 also costs $799 retail but has a 120Hz refresh rate on the 6.1-inch AMOLED display. You also have a triple-lens camera with 50MP main, 12MP ultrawide, and 10MP telephoto lenses, whereas the iPhone 15 doesn’t even have an actual telephoto lens. Though Samsung has a tendency to capture oversaturated colors in photos, it’s still a good camera that produces high-quality results. The battery is also more than the iPhone 15 with a 3,900mAh cell, and with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chip, the battery life is very impressive, lasting a full day. You also have reverse wireless charging.

Back of an obsidian black Google Pixel 7.
Google Pixel 7 Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Then there’s the Google Pixel 7, which is the base model of the current Pixel 7 lineup (the Pixel 7a is more of a budget version, like the iPhone SE). The retail price for the Pixel 7 is $599, making it a cheaper alternative to the iPhone 15, but you also get more features. The 6.3-inch AMOLED display of the Pixel 7 has a 90Hz refresh rate, which is more than the iPhone 15. The Pixel 7 also has a dual camera system with a 50MP main shooter and a 12MP ultrawide, but one of the Pixel’s greatest strengths is that they take fantastic photos that look natural and not overdone. The Pixel 7 also has the most stock Android experience, similar to iOS on the iPhone. And all of this should get even better when Google announces the Google Pixel 8 lineup at its upcoming October 2023 event.

A green iPhone 15 on a green bench.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

But if you’re set to stick with iOS and need an upgrade for your iPhone — or are just considering your first iPhone — the iPhone 15 is a great choice. It’s almost like getting last year’s iPhone 14 Pro at a cheaper price and with a better, more comfortable, and lightweight build. Though you still don’t get some things like the always-on display and telephoto camera, this is a pretty tough package to argue with for a $799 iPhone.

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