Thursday, May 30, 2024
Smart Phones

iPhone 15 Review: big camera upgrade, but still no ProMotion


iPhone 15 Intro

The iPhone 15 is the new base flagship from Apple, and it brings along crucial improvements that for all intents and purposes should have been a part of the previous generation, the iPhone 14. That said, we are happy to see the subtle, but noticeable design changes including the much-awaited USB-C port.
Hardware-wise, the new vanilla iPhone comes with a new chipset, a brand new 48MP main camera (the main star of the show), and a brighter display. There are also some improvements made to the camera app and some of its AI features, making the iPhone 15 a smarter camera phone compared to previous iterations.

To put it simply, the iPhone 15 comes with small but meaningful design alterations and new hardware in key areas such as the camera system, display, and processor. It is not all sunshine and rainbows though, as there are some choices Apple has made with the iPhone 15 which we are not too happy about. Let’s dive in and and go through everything together.

What’s new about the iPhone 15?

  • 48MP main camera
  • 2x sensor crop
  • Improved camera features
  • A16 Bionic chipset
  • Dynamic Island
  • USB-C
  • Higher peak brightness
  • A textured matte back panel

Table of contents:

iPhone 15 Unboxing

The unboxing experience with the iPhone 15 is the same as it was with other iPhone models during the past few years, with the one exception being the new USB-C to USB-C braided cable inside. This new cable should be more durable compared to the rubberized ones we used to get, but only time will tell.

Other than that, not much else has changed about the unboxing experience or the box itself.

iPhone 15 Specs

Check out the iPhone 15 specs in the table below.

 

iPhone 15 Design and Colors

It’s been a while since the last time Apple made any visible changes to its entry-level flagship, but the iPhone 15 is different in that regard. The first thing you notice is that the notch has been replaced with the Dynamic Island which debuted with last year’s Pro models, so now all of the lineup looks the same at the front.

The second thing you notice when you grab the iPhone 15 in your hand — it feels arguably more comfortable to hold than the last three generations. That’s because of the new every so slightly curved/contoured edges. The physical difference is small, but for me it felt like the handling it was noticeably more comfortable and pleasant.

Apple has gone a little fancy with the back panel this year, with a new color-infused back glass panel which comes in a new matte finish. I am happy to say that this new matte texture does reduce greasy fingerprints, keeping the back clean and good-looking!

There’s also the new USB-C port at the bottom of the phone, which we will talk about more a bit later when we touch upon the charging speeds. For now, all you need to know is that it does not come with the faster transfer speeds as the Pro models, they remain the same as before (USB 2.0 speeds).

In terms of colors, the iPhone 15 comes in five variants. The one we have here is the black version, and there’s something very nice about it. Most of the back panel has a graphite hue to it, while the camera island and Apple logo are in jet-black.

iPhone 15 Display

The display of the iPhone 15 is a bit of a mixed bag. The previously Pro-exclusive Dynamic Island has now trickled down to the less expensive models alongside all of its software functionality and features, such as Live Activities which show real-time information from apps. This could be your next direction in Maps, the amount of time you have until your flight starts boarding, your food delivery status, and more.

Sadly, Apple has decided to keep the screen refresh rate capped at 60Hz on the iPhone 15 (and 15 Plus), most likely to push more people into buying one of the more premium models. This is probably the biggest let-down, which we did expect, but it still feels like a letdown.

Most other phones on the Android side in this price category (and cheaper ones) have been offering a higher refresh rate display for years now, so it is hard to not see this as an obvious flaw in the iPhone 15. Of course, if you are coming from an older non-Pro iPhone you might not register this as an issue or a deal-breaker, but if your eyes have ever experienced the glory that is a smooth 120Hz or even a 90Hz screen refresh rate, then you would definitely feel its absence here.

Display Benchmarks

Apple has made this year’s iPhones capable of reaching a higher 1600 nits peak HDR brightness and 2000 nits peak outdoor brightness (almost 2x more than iPhone 14). This is not a change you will notice immediately when you buy the phone, but if you were to place it against an iPhone 14 or older, the difference is visible. HDR content in streaming platforms like Netflix look better too, with improved contrast levels that make the image pop out more than before.

Everything else about the display remains the same, meaning a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED panel with a pixel resolution of 2532 x 1170 and a pixel density of 457 PPI (pixels per inch).

iPhone 15 Camera

Probably the most exciting upgrade the iPhone 15 comes with (that is if you like shooting photos and videos with your phone) is its new camera system and the improvements in some of the camera features.

For starters, there is the new 48MP main camera which can shoot full 48MP images resulting in highly-detailed shots. By default, however, the camera uses pixel binning technology (which combines multiple pixels into larger ones to capture more light) to produce more storage-efficient 24MP photos, while still offering higher more detail compared to the last generation.Compared to the 12MP shots that the iPhone 14 and previous generations were shooting at, the new 24MP default does take up a bit more space, but not too much. Of course, you can still go into the phone’s settings and make the camera default to 12MP shots if you want to save more space, and they still look better than before thanks to the larger sensor.

We initially thought that Apple wouldn’t let users utilize the full 48MP on the non-Pro models, but to our surprise there is also a toggle in the Settings app that makes that possible. Ones turned on from settings, you get a an option to switch between the full 48MP and whatever default mode (12/24MP) you have. Just keep in mind that when shooting in 48MP it is advisable to have an abundance of light, as that mode sacrifices some of the low-light capabilities of the camera.

The higher megapixel count also allows the iPhone 15 to crop in on the image sensor and achieve a high-quality 2x zoom compared to its predecessor. Keep in mind, however, that this is not the same as a dedicated telephoto camera. That said, there is a neat little feature that comes along with this 2x sensor crop and it is continuous zoom, meaning that while you zoom in and out from 1x to 2x the movement stays smooth and seamless.

Apple has automated, so to speak, the Portrait mode this year. With iPhone 15, even if you don’t switch to Portrait mode, the phone will automatically detect if there is a person or pet and capture the required depth information automatically. Users can then go to the Photos app and turn the photo into a portrait after it has already been taken, as well as switch the focus from one subject to another.

Main Camera – Day

The new 48MP camera and the 24MP photos it churns out are simply gorgeous! The higher levels of detail are definitely noticeable and set the new iPhone 15 apart from its predecessor. This is probably the most defining upgrade from all. HDR also seems to be better, meaning that it no longer tries to overcompensate the shadows by brightening them up too much.

Main Camera – Low-light

When the amount of light in the scene is exceptionally low, the iPhone 15 goes down to shooting in 12MP, in an effort to capture more light. This results in a less detailed and sharp image, but one that is well exposed. Again, we are happy to see here that the shadows remain dark and are not overly lifted to make the image appear brighter.

You might notice that the third image is sharper compared to the first two. That’s because the phone decided there is enough light to shoot in the new 24MP default setting, so as long as you have enough artificial light you can still make use of the improvements in detail.

Zoom Quality

When it comes to zoom quality, the iPhone 15 can now utilize a 2X sensor crop mode that offers better quality than a simple 2X digital zoom. Despite that, the lack of a dedicated telephoto camera is still sorely missed on the vanilla iPhones. As you can probably tell from the sample images above, a 2X sensor crop simply does not cut it. Zooming in even further makes text appear weird as the phone does its AI “magic” to make the photo look better.

Ultra-wide Camera

Not much has changed with the ultra-wide camera. It still shoots 12-megapixel photos with an extra wide field of view. Apple did mention that HDR and Night Mode shots should be better with all the cameras though, and while it does seem that the HDR performance has improved, it is hard to say the same about the low-light shots.

Selfies

There are slight tweaks to the quality of pictures coming from the front camera, but they mostly look similar to before.

Video Quality

Video Thumbnail

When it comes to video quality, the iPhone 15 remains one of the best devices in the industry beating most of the Android competition with cleaner, crisper video and top-notch video stabilization. And we should add that the video quality between the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro series is actually not all that big.
Video Thumbnail

There is only one real downside you should consider: it uses digital zoom, so it’s not the best for zooming.

Those who really care about super high quality video and editing in post, however, should know that the vanilla iPhone 15 does not support ProRES recording, you only get that feature on the Pro iPhones.

iPhone 15 Performance

Last year Apple decided to equip its non-Pro iPhones with identical chipsets to those featured in the iPhone 13 series. The iPhone 15, however, comes with the A16 Bionic (4 nm) that debuted with the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max in 2022.

There is no visible difference between how the iPhone 15 feels when using it, and the iPhone 14 from last year. The A16 Bionic is faster, but not by too much. We didn’t encounter any hiccups while using the phone whatsoever, with every task and navigating the UI being absolutely smooth. Would have been even smoother with a faster display refresh rate though!

Performance Benchmarks:

Compared to the A15, the A16 chipset offers 18% increased graphics performance and 7-11% increased processing speeds. It is also slightly more power-efficient. The RAM is still be 6GB, but that shouldn’t bother you too much as at this point these are mainly numbers. What matters more is how the manufacturer, in this case Apple, utilizes those numbers and I can say that the iPhone 15 does not disappoint in terms of performance.

iPhone 15 Connectivity

The iPhone 15 is equipped with a second generation Ultra Wideband chip letting it connect to other devices using the same chip at up to a 3 times longer distance than before. Apple showcased this upgrade by combining Precision Finding with the Find My friends feature, allowing users to find exactly where someone who’s shared their location with them is.

A new connectivity-related feature coming with the iPhone 15 is something Apple aptly calls Roadside Assistance via satellite, and it is exactly what it sounds like — an extension of SOS via Satellite that’s meant for situations where your trusted vehicle has left you stranded somewhere on the road. The feature is first launching in the U.S. with AAA, and it will be free for 2 years with an iPhone 15 purchase.

iPhone 15 Software

The iPhone 15 comes with the latest update, iOS 17 , which brings a set of new features, apps, and design changes. This year there is a big focus on improving the way you communicate and connect both with others and yourself.
One of the cooler new features of iOS 17 that is bound to be loved by many users is the ability to customize how you appear on a recipient’s call screen. Speaking of calls, sharing your contact information is now easier too, thanks to NameDrop, a new feature that brings out a Contact Poster with your phone number when you get your phone really close to someone else’s.

Apple also announced a brand new app coming with the iOS 17  update called Journal. It is exactly what it sounds like — a dedicated place for journaling your daily life and experiences. Journal uses the places you’ve traveled to, photos you’ve taken, music that you’ve listened to, to offer you suggestions for some reflection.

iPhone 15 Battery and Charging

Battery life on the iPhone has been top notch since the iPhone 13 series, with the iPhone 14 bringing small improvements on that front. Unfortunately, the iPhone 15 doesn’t seem to have anything new to offer here, so and the results are more or less similar to what we got with the last generation.

PhoneArena Battery Test Results:

Now, one would think the iPhone 15 charging speed would increase given the new USB-C port but, unfortunately, it remains capped at the same 20W wired charging. Besides the lack of a faster display refresh rate, this is the second big letdown with the iPhone 15. The 15W MagSafe wireless charging is also unchanged.

Audio Quality

Audio quality remains similar to that of the iPhone 14, with the iPhone 15 keeping its title of one of the best-sounding smartphones currently on the market. Nothing new to mention here though, and the same goes for the haptic feedback, which is just as amazing as ever thanks to that TapTic engine.

Summary

Compared to the iPhone 14 from last year, the iPhone 15 is somewhat more worthy of being called a “new generation”. It has a significantly better main camera compared to its latest predecessors, a more refined design with incremental but very effective changes like the USB-C and curved edges, and finally replaces the outdated notch with the Dynamic Island.

But when we factor in the lack of a higher display refresh rate and the fact that there is zero utilization of the USB-C port, the iPhone 15 leaves us wanting more. It almost feels like a slightly worse version of the iPhone 14 Pro, which can be the better purchase if found refurbished or second-hand for the same price tag as the iPhone 15, which is $799. That is if you don’t want USB-C with your new iPhone.
Of course, you can wait for Google’s Pixel 8 to see if that tickles your fancy, or take a look at Samsung’s Galaxy S23 which does have a 120Hz screen refresh rate and a dedicated telephoto camera, often enjoying healthy discounts, unlike Apple’s iPhones.



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