|A17 Pro brings plenty of power||Not exactly an inexpensive phone|
|Action button adds a lot of functionality||Relatively few colour options|
|USB-C isn’t just about charging||Why are the Pro Max cameras better this year, Apple?|
|Buy The iPhone 15 Pro!||Buy On Amazon|
The iPhone 15 Pro is the smaller sibling of the iPhone 15 Pro Max, and in prior years the lines between Apple’s two Pro phones have typically rested just on screen size and battery inclusions.
That’s not the story in 2023, because Apple’s also decided to keep its very best camera optics for the pricier Pro Max line alone.
That might, on paper, leave the iPhone 15 Pro in a slightly awkward position. It still is, absolutely a premium priced smartphone, but if you’re in the market to spend that much money, it’s not hard to see that Apple has something slightly better if you’re willing to pull your wallet open just that little bit more.
However, if you really don’t like the larger size of the Pro Max phones – and there’s more than a couple of reasons why that might be so – then the iPhone 15 Pro is still a highly worthy contender, even if I do find Apple’s shift to leaving its best cameras on just one phone somewhat baffling.
At a glance, it might appear that Apple’s done relatively little to the iPhone 15 Pro relative to its iPhone 14 Pro predecessor. You’re still looking at a 6.1 inch OLED display with support for up to 120Hz refresh rates – “ProMotion” in Apple-speak – with a prominent FaceID camera that supports Apple’s nifty “Dynamic Island” animation feature, same as it did last year.
Actually, you don’t even need to buy a Pro model iPhone this year if you want Dynamic Island, because it’s across the entire range.
However, Apple has made some pretty significant design changes, and they become apparent as soon as you pick the iPhone 15 Pro up.
I don’t typically comment on phone weight outside of the chunkiest offerings, but there’s a big and perceptible difference between the iPhone 14 Pro’s 206g weight and the 187g of the iPhone 15 Pro. 19g shouldn’t feel like this much, but it’s down to the shift towards titanium frames for the new Pro models letting Apple drop some serious bulk from the new models.
Titanium also allows Apple to sell the iPhone 15 Pro in a variety of colour hues, although not quite as many as I might have liked. You can pick between Black, White, Blue or Natural Titanium finishes.
Apple loaned me a Blue Titanium model – I’m a noted sucker for blue phones, for purely aesthetic reasons – and it’s a nicely finished product, as you absolutely should expect when Apple’s asking a minimum of $1849 for a handset!
Mind you, while I like blue phones, I like protecting phones too, so I’d strongly advocate for throwing a case around your shiny new iPhone 15 Pro every single time.
Apple sent me one of its new MagSafe compatible “Fine Woven” cases that they’re touting as an environmentally friendly alternative to leather. As a case it’s OK, and I will say after a week’s testing I’ve not hit the extreme fraying issues that some reviewers have … but at the same time, it doesn’t quite feel like it’s durable enough to justify its $99 price point.
It’s an iPhone, it’s not like there won’t be hundreds of other options open to you in any case… pun very much intended.
At the base Apple’s reluctantly made the shift to USB-C (seriously, I was writing about Apple fighting EU charger edicts more than a decade ago! ) at the base of all the new iPhone models. More on that later.
At the sides, and only for the Pro models of the iPhone this year, Apple’s switched out the “classic” Mute switch for an all-new Action button.
The cynical side of my brain can’t help but see this as a sales tactic – I honestly can’t see why the regular iPhone 15/Plus models couldn’t handle what is a software switch, Apple – but equally I’ve been surprised at just how handy I’ve found the Action Button to be, especially when you match it up with a custom Shortcuts menu. Look, here’s me a couple of days into testing, talking about it:
I am, quite seriously, using the action button every single day.
You’re not compelled to, given it’s replicating other ways of launching apps or muting the phone or pretty much anything you might want to do on an iPhone, but it is seriously handy to have, and easily my favourite new feature on the iPhone 15 Pro.
The iPhone 15 Pro features a primary 48MP f/1.78 wide sensor, 12MP f/2.2 Ultra Wide 120° sensor and 12MP f/2.8 3x telephoto sensor at the rear, along with a 12MP f/1.9 “TrueDepth” FaceID sensor at the front. Apple also claims another telephoto lens at 2x, but that’s not actually separate hardware; instead it’s a specific crop in from the primary 48MP sensor, aided by Apple’s in-device camera processing.
As I’ve already noted, you get more if you opt for the bigger Pro Max model, because its telephoto lens punches up to 5x optical telephoto.
This is a reversal of what Apple did with the iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max phones, where the telephoto optics were identical, and I think it’s a big fat miss on Apple’s part. Yes, Apple shareholders will make a little more money from those who want 5x telephoto, but it’s more than that.
Given the choice between the 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max for taking photos, I’d take the 14 Pro every time, because its smaller frame makes it much easier for framing shots as distinct from the bigger 14 Pro Max. I don’t have that choice if I want 5x telephoto; I have to opt for a much bigger phone.
Plenty of Apple’s competitors have pushed the ways that prisms and periscope style lenses can manage optical zoom well beyond 5x in phones at the same sizes as the iPhone 15 Pro.
As such, rather like the Action Button, this feels to me like a move that Apple made to sell a few more bigger phones than one that’s particularly consumer focused.
That short rant aside, the iPhone 15 Pro’s cameras really are rather good, but again I would have been seriously disappointed with anything less given both the price points and Apple’s long standing as a serious competitor in the smartphone photography space. Much of what’s new here is more computationally driven than in the new hardware.
For example, if you’re taking a photo of a person, dog or cat, the iPhone 15 Pro can create a “portrait” mode shot without having to shift into its portrait mode in the iOS Camera app.
That was always a mostly-software-driven effect in any case, and it can be handy… but in my testing it doesn’t always kick in even for obvious subjects. If you want portraits, it’s wiser to opt for that mode directly, at least on current iOS.
What about zooming? While I couldn’t compare directly to the 5x telephoto on a Pro Max, I did take the iPhone 15 Pro out for a quick day’s shooting around the Sydney CBD. Let’s take in a wide shot of the iconic Centrepoint Tower, shall we?
Looking OK at ultra-wide, albeit distorted as you get from these lenses with this kind of shot.
What about with the standard wide 48MP lens – albeit taking a 24MP shot, because that’s the default for this camera? I’m glad you asked:
Here’s the 2x “cropped” shot, getting just a little closer in:
And then the 3x optical zoom shot – and the difference in sky colour with that change in aperture is quite apparent:
You can push the iPhone 15 Pro further, with up to 15x digital zoom, but predictably the quality does start to fall away the further you push it, especially for handheld shots.
I’ve seen worse 15x digital zooms, to be fair, but this isn’t stunning photographic representation either:
If you’re a camera pro keen on specific optical lengths, you may also find the primary lenses’ ability to take on specific lens sizes handy.
You can pick between 24mm, 28mm and 35mm equivalents, though naturally it’s not as though new lenses are actually being mechanically attached. They’re just different crops in effect, again aided by Apple’s particular take on computational photography.
Speaking of the computational side, Apple’s general approach towards camera shots in recent years has been towards more muted, natural colours as distinct from the punch super-saturated look a lot of its Android competitors favour.
In some ways that’s a matter of taste and preference, and naturally you could tweak in your favourite post-processing app to whatever extreme you prefer, especially if you shoot in RAW format.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Sample Photos
The iPhone 15 Pro gets Apple’s fanciest new processor, and the first (if you’re excited by very small numbers) built on a 3nm process. It’s the Apple A17 Pro – Bionic is apparently last year’s suffix – matched up with 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of internal storage.
One oddity here is that the Pro Max model doesn’t have a 128GB variant. Also, Apple continues its long trend of not disclosing RAM differences between models, although external sources suggest that you get 8GB of RAM (and this is backed up by what Geekbench’s CPU test reports, too).
Apple’s had a fair lead over its Android rivals in the pure processing speed race for years now, and the iPhone 15 Pro doesn’t let up on that lead to any extent at all. It’s also – as you should expect – the fastest processor going in any Apple phone you can buy right now.
Here’s how that comparison stacks up against other premium smartphone models using Geekbench 6’s CPU test:
On the GPU front, here’s how the iPhone 15 Pro scores using 3DMark’s Wild Life Extreme Test:
All of which adds up to a very powerful smartphone. Apple does a lot of work to integrate its highly profitable phone lines in with its Mac and iPad lines to create an ecosystem of products, and there’s little doubt that this works rather well if you’re also rocking a MacBook or iPad Air, for example.
However, I’ve long made the observation that these premium smartphones getting faster is fine, but they need tools that really harness that power. Apple’s promising some games titles at the very least that will push the iPhone 15 Pro’s A17 Pro processor heavily, including Resident Evil Village running at the kinds of frame rates typically associated with a PS5 or Xbox Series X.
That’s more like it… but as they’re still to release, they’re essentially unquantifiable, especially around issues of battery life and overheating. It’s just a hunch, but I suspect you won’t be able to play through all of Resident Evil Village on a single iPhone 15 Pro battery charge.
It would be remiss of me not to note the issues that some have reported around the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max getting more than a little toasty in their titanium enclosures at launch; Apple insists that this is largely a rogue software problem for what that’s worth. Outside wireless charging, where I’ve always found iPhones get a little warmer than their Android brethren, I can’t say I’ve noted heating up as a problem, but your experience may vary.
Then there’s the USB-C side of the iPhone 15 Pro. Here again there’s a big difference between the Pro and regular iPhone 15 models, even though they might appear to have the same plug sockets at their base.
The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus are USB-C, yes, but they’re also USB 2 only, which means they’re stuck at the same data transfer speeds as they were when Lightning was Apple’s connector of choice, topping out at 480Mbps.
That’s not entirely surprising, given those phones are based around the A16 Bionic, which all but certainly only had USB 2 level speed controllers within its silicon. The A17 Pro can manage USB 3 speeds at up to 10Gbps. That’s quite the difference, and it does enable a few interesting features.
Apple’s big highlight feature here is that with an appropriately formatted USB-C connected drive, you can record 4K ProRes video directly to an external drive from the iPhone 15 Pro. You can also use a USB-C cable to externally charge other devices from the iPhone 15 Pro’s battery as needed.
But that’s not quite all the USB-C port can do. Apple’s taken much the same approach to USB-C on the iPhone 15 Pro as it did with the iPad Pro back when it shifted to USB-C. Back then, Apple’s approach was basically “Things might work. They might not. We won’t say.”
I very much doubt that Apple wasn’t testing and trying out different USB-C devices to see what would work, but it never explicitly states that things will work, which keeps it safe from any criticism in this respect. If you never promise anything, nobody can complain if something doesn’t work, you see.
I’ve tested just a few things with mixed results. A 1st Gen Razer Kishi would not register as a games controller, but I could get a USB-C flash drive to show up in Apple’s Files app easily, and I could load PDFs from it or listen to single music tracks that way too.
Still, Apple is going to, well, Apple… and while I could play those music tracks from an external drive or copy them to the downloads folder, I couldn’t get the Music app to recognise them at all.
That’s a very artificial limitation imposed by Apple no doubt to sell more Apple Music subscriptions, especially as I very much could shift those exact same files over from a Mac or PC’s storage drive using Apple Music or iTunes respectively.
Speaking of limitations, while the iPhone 15 Pro can manage up to 10Gbps speed, don’t expect that out of the cable that comes in the box.
It’s a USB 2 cable only, and that’s no doubt in order to save Apple a few cents per cable as they can then ship the same one across every iPhone 15. If you want full speed transfers, you’ll have to pay even more for a 10Gbps compatible cable. Does Apple sell such a cable? Of course it does, but it won’t bundle it in a phone that’ll sap your wallet for $1849 at a minimum…
The iPhone 15 Pro is a 5G phone, and it hit much the same kinds of speed notes in my own testing as most other 5G devices in Australia do right now.
Irritatingly, while it’s a premium phone that does come with support for mmWave and sub-6Ghz 5G in the US, we’re still stuck in the 5G slow lane with the needed band support absent from Australian – and most international – models.
5G mmWave coverage is limited in Australia, it’s true, but it’s hardly new technology, and to date only Google with its Pixel Pro lines has cared to include it. I find it a pity that Apple can’t do likewise.
Apple famously never actually says how big the batteries are in its iPhones, preferring instead to take a usage-centric view of battery life, though third party teardown suggest it’s packing 3,274mAh of power inside its titanium frame.
According to its official specifications, the iPhone 15 Pro can manage up to 23 hours of local video playback (29 hours on the Pro Max), up to 20 hours of streamed video (25 on the Pro Max) and up to 75 hours of audio playback – or up to 95 hours on the bigger Pro Max model.
Hands up if you only ever use your iPhone as a fancy iPod.
Yeah, me neither.
This called for more indepth testing. First of all, I ran the iPhone 15 Pro through my standard YouTube test, running a 1080p video at full brightness and moderate volume for an hour from a full battery.
That gives me a comparative score to work with, as well as a general idea on battery endurance. Phones that can’t leave at least 90% remaining at the end of that test often struggle to last out a day, though it’s only been the iPhone 13 Mini that truly struggled in that respect recently. Here’s how the iPhone 15 Pro compares:
It’s a fair trade off, I’d say, getting more performance for the same battery life, though clearly the iPhone 15 Pro isn’t the best performer under the Apple Tree. I don’t have an iPhone 15 Pro Max to test with for comparison, but I would be surprised if it didn’t outclass the iPhone 15 Pro here.
In more anecdotal day to day testing, I’ve not often run out of power within a day unless I was really brutally pushing the iPhone 15 Pro with a lot of video shooting or hotspot usage or the like. As with any phone, you can run it flat if you use it a lot, but on lighter days you’d probably get into a second day with little fuss.
USB-C is a new charging standard for Apple on the iPhone side of matters – though it’s old hat on the MacBook and iPad side – but that hasn’t brought with it any particular pushes towards faster charging at either a wired or wireless level. That’s still capped at just above 20W (Around 25.49W according to independent tests) for wired connections, and a maximum of 15W using a certified MagSafe Qi charger – or just 7.5W with regular old Qi wireless.
That’s not particularly swift, and not a sign that Apple’s doing much with that USB-C connection given it could support higher power rates. The flip side of that argument is that faster charging can often lead to compromised long term battery life. If you’ve got the patience, slower charging is typically better for the kinds of batteries used in smartphones.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro: Alex’s Verdict
The iPhone 15 Pro is an interesting upgrade device. At some levels it’s purely iterative, and I absolutely can’t see the sense in upgrading from an iPhone 14 Pro if you’ve got one of those based on the smaller gains in processing power and camera optics. If you’re coming from an older Pro or regular iPhone model, those changes will seem far more significant, however.
Where Apple has made the biggest changes that appeal to me most are in a feature I kind of figured was an afterthought. The Action Button really is handy, and for that computer that most of us use many times in a given day, it’s genuinely useful.
All of this has to be weighed against the iPhone 15 Pro’s premium price, and the fact that if you’re already spending this much, while the iPhone 15 Pro Max is even more pricey, you’re getting a bigger screen, bigger battery and even better camera optics for your money.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro: Pricing and availability
The iPhone 15 Pro retails in Australia with pricing starting at $1849.
|Buy The iPhone 15 Pro!||Buy On Amazon|