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A First Look at iPhone 15: Steps Forward, Steps Back

nextpit Apple iPhone 15 Review
© nextpit

Faster performance, a higher-resolution camera, and the ultimate hub for all your applications: this is the new iPhone 15. However, although Apple has made advancements with its iconic smartphone in 2023, there are still gaps that have not been bridged. I will analyze these gaps closely in this first-impression review of the iPhone 15.

In a nutshell

I've been using the iPhone 15 for less than 24 hours. I transferred all my data from my iPhone 14 Pro Max to the new device as seamlessly as transferring data from one iPhone to another can be.

Everything was in place after a few hours of iCloud synchronization and some logins to financial apps. I just had the phone-exchanging experience I believe everyone deserves in 2023.

I switched from last year's most advanced Apple phone to this year's current vanilla variant. So, naturally, I was aware of the potential for a downgraded experience. However, aside from the weight difference and the display quality, I'm quite impressed with the performance of this new generation.

Apple iPhone 15 front camera software in detail
The iPhone 15 is lightweight and can be easily handled with one hand. / © nextpit

The few shots I took with the new 48 MP camera were convincing. The fact that I didn't need to search for the Lightning cable to charge the iPhone 15 was a real relief. And the performance is really consistent. These are clear steps forward in the iPhone 15 lineup. However...

... it doesn't take long with the phone for some questions to start popping up: Why only a 60 Hz refresh rate on the display? Where is the Always-On Display (AoD) feature? Why limit the USB-C port transfer speeds? I understand Apple's sales strategies, but in a world where mid-range Android phones have offered 2x the refresh rate of the iPhone 15 lineup for years, there's no reason why Apple should deprive its users of these basic features.

Apple iPhone 15 design and build quality

Like last year, the iPhone 15 feels impressively light in the hands—171 grams in total weight. Our review unit came in a pleasant green color option. The glass on the back and the aluminum edge are well integrated, offering a secure grip, and the 6.12-inch display diagonal is a great size for my hands. I can easily reach the physical buttons with one hand and interact with content on the screen without any issues .

In terms of durability, the iPhone 15 features a Ceramic Shield on the front cover and is water and dust-resistant with a rating of IP68, allowing for submersion at a maximum depth of 6 meters for up to 30 minutes.

Apple iPhone 15 silent key in detail
I am certainly pleased that the iPhone 15 lineup has retained the silent key in its original form. / © nextpit

I am a great fan of the silent button, and I'm thrilled that the non-Pro models have kept it as simple and straightforward as it always was. However, I understand that for some people, this could represent a drawback, as it doesn’t allow for remapping like on the iPhone 15 Pro Series.

Regarding build quality, I would like to mention the praiseworthy initiatives that Apple is taking with recycled materials—75% recycled aluminum in the enclosure, 100% recycled gold in the USB-C connector, and over 99% of the packaging is fiber-based. I believe this is the start of a conversation on incorporating more recycled materials in smartphones, and as a trendsetter, Apple will probably prompt other brands to follow suit.

That said, when it comes to the display, the iPhone 15 series is the first to take advantage of the Dynamic Island, released with the Pro variants last year, allowing interaction with applications and alerts in a more user-friendly manner.

Apple iPhone 15 Dynamic Island highlighted
The Dynamic Island is beneficial for receiving alerts and provides quick access to applications running in the background. / © nextpit

Although the display quality is adequate, featuring Super Retina XDR Display technology, a Full-HD resolution, and an outdoor peak brightness of 2,000 nits, I'm reluctant about the choice of a 60 Hz refresh rate once again. For those familiar with 120 Hz displays, the difference in the iPhone 15 screen experience will be quite noticeable, from navigating through your favorite content in the browser of your choice to opening and closing apps.

Moreover, if you are accustomed to ‘at a glance’ information provided by AoD, the iPhone 15 options can be quite unsatisfactory. There seems to be no reason aside from market positioning not to incorporate these two basic options: 120 Hz and AoD, into the base lineup.

Apple iPhone 15 display in detail
While nice, the display of the iPhone 15 is still limited to a 60 Hz refresh rate. / © nextpit

Some might argue that higher-refresh-rate screens are more expensive to produce, potentially increasing the iPhone 15 lineup prices. However, this seems more like a sales strategy than a real concern, especially for a company like Apple that seldom considers high prices as a detriment, even when it should.

Apple iPhone 15 software

Software-wise, there’s essentially no difference between the iPhone 15 and the iPhone 15 Pro lineups, aside from hardware limitations. This means a plethora of options are available thanks to iOS 17 .

Every feature from the Apple ecosystem can be accessed through the iPhone operating system. This includes new features like NameDrop, Standby, and Live Voicemail with real-time transcription, as well as favorite apps like FaceTime and iMessage, and even more beneficial accessibility features.

For the full iPhone 15 review, I will likely focus on some key software features. But for now, I suggest you refer to our iOS 17 features guide to understand the new options integrated into the system and how to leverage them best.

Apple iPhone 15 playing a YouTube video
The 6.12-inch display of the iPhone 15 also provides an optimal size for streaming videos. / © nextpit

Apple iPhone 15 performance

The iPhone 15 is equipped with the SoC from last year's Pro model, making it a definitive upgrade compared to the previous generation. The A16 Bionic features a 6-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores .

In terms of graphics, the 5-core GPU offers 50% more memory bandwidth. Thus, you can expect a smooth experience while streaming videos and playing games.

As usual, I ran some benchmarks on the iPhone 15, having spent some extended time with it already, making this hands-on more of an extended test. While I can't provide a definitive opinion on device performance, I would like to share some of the benchmark results we obtained.

  Apple iPhone 15
(A16 Bionic)
Apple iPhone 14
(A15 Bionic)
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max
(A16 Bionic)
3D Mark Wild Life Extreme 3,024 2,431 3,362
3D Mark Wild Life Stress Test Best Loop: 9,909
Worst Loop: 7,481
Best Loop: 9,761
Worst Loop: 8,321
Best Loop: 9,599
Worst Loop: 8,121
Geekbench Single: 2,561
Multiple: 5,616
Single: 1699
Multiple: 4817
Single: 1,885
Multiple: 5,406

As illustrated in the above table, we observed a clear approximation between the performance of the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the 2023 iteration, as expected. On the other hand, based on our tests, the iPhone 14 variant, which was running the iOS 16 operating system at the time, displayed comparable results on the 3D Mark benchmark.

In other words, based on these so-called lab tests, the performance difference between generations shouldn't be substantial. For more insights on that, you will need to wait for our final review—stay tuned!

Apple iPhone 15 camera in detail
The iPhone 15 possesses a versatile dual-camera system, offering three levels of optical-quality zoom. / © nextpit

Finally, Apple has added a new 16-core Neural Engine to the iPhone 15 lineup, capable of performing up to 17 trillion operations per second. Think of 17 trillion operations per second as having 17 trillion diligent worker bees, each completing a task every single second. Imagine all the honey they could make in just one second! It’s a swarm of productivity and speed.

According to Apple, the new Neural Engine is responsible for faster machine learning computations, such as those needed for real-time Live Voicemail transcriptions. Users will also benefit from a more private and secure system overall.

Apple iPhone 15 camera

I believe the camera is one of the most significant advancements in the iPhone 15 lineup for 2023. The device boasts a 48 MP main camera featuring Super-High-Resolution and a 2x in-sensor optical zoom. Additionally, it is equipped with a second 12 MP sensor for the Ultra-Wide-Angle camera .

For this reason, Apple markets the iPhone 15 as having three optical-quality zoom levels, suggesting that "it's like having a third camera" in a dual-camera system.

Apple iPhone 15 camera highlighted
The iPhone 15's main camera now has a 48-megapixel sensor. / © nextpit

Main camera

The back camera uses something called a quad-pixel sensor, or "4-in-1 pixel binning." This means each tiny dot (pixel) on the camera sensor is split into four smaller dots. These four dots then work together to gather light and details, making pictures look better, especially in dim light.

So, for instance, an iPhone 15 with a 48 MP quad-pixel sensor usually takes 12 MP pictures that are clearer and brighter. But, Apple's advanced tech can also use special methods (algorithms) to create super-clear 24 MP pictures.

In short, using a quad-pixel sensor means you get better-quality photos. They’re clearer, brighter, show colors accurately, and reveal more details in both bright and dark areas.

For this hands-on session, I had the opportunity to capture some pictures with the iPhone 15 under various scenarios, as you can see in the following gallery:

I personally love having a more efficient 2x telephoto option; it's one of my favorite levels of optical-quality zoom, even surpassing the ultrawide angle camera. After an initial test, I must say that the 0.5x, 1x, and 2x zoom levels on the iPhone 15 are quite logical, delivering a truly versatile camera experience.

TrueDepth front camera

The selfie camera performs impressively across various lighting conditions. I’m accustomed to Apple's post-processing, and with the iPhone 15, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the refined quality of images delivered in Portrait Mode. Apple has elevated the quality of this mode, producing images that are sharper and more vibrant, earning special kudos for its low-light performance.

I’ve also observed that third-party apps like WhatsApp are reaping the benefits of enhanced light capture, applicable to videos as well. During a recent video call using the iPhone 15, the front camera excelled in managing light and delivering true-to-life skin tones.

Apple iPhone 15 battery

As for a hands-on, I haven't had enough time to assess the battery life yet. Meanwhile, I’d like to highlight that the new series now features a built-in USB-C port .

This would indeed be exciting news if not for the fact that the port only supports USB 2.0 speeds, capping the transfer rate at 480 megabits per second (Mbps). So, what is the transfer speed of the Apple Lightning port? It too has a theoretical maximum speed of around 480 Mbps, given that it is based on the somewhat older USB 2.0 technology.

It's worth noting that USB 3.0 speeds are exclusive to the 2023 Pro variants and require special accessories.

Apple says that with a special adapter called a USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, iPhone 15 users can show 4K videos, with HDR, at 60 frames per second on a TV or display using an HDMI cable. Plus, at the same time, you can also connect a regular USB device and a charging cable to the adapter.

Apple iPhone 15 USB-C port in detail
The iPhone 15 now supports a USB-C port. / © nextpit

The battery life of the iPhone 15 generation doesn't show much improvement compared to last year's models, offering essentially the same usage time. This translates to 20 hours of video playback, 16 hours of streamed video, and 80 hours of audio playback.

To recall, we rated the battery life of the iPhone 14 as 'excellent' in our review. The primary criticism still is the charging speeds, which top out at 20 W.

Additionally, the iPhone 15 features wireless charging—also known as MagSafe—with a capacity of up to 15 W and Qi up to 7.5 W. Reverse wireless charging is also included.

Apple iPhone 15 technical specifications

  Base model 2023 Plus model 2023
Product Apple iPhone 15 Plus
MSRP from $799 from $899
Image Apple iPhone 15 product image Apple iPhone 15 Plus product image
Colors Pink, Yellow, Green, Blue, Black
Display Super Retina XDR Display
6.1" All-Screen OLED
2556 x 1179 pixels at 460 PPI
60 Hz refresh rate
Dynamic Island
Super Retina XDR Display
6.7" All-Screen OLED
2796 x 1290 pixels at 460 PPI
60 Hz refresh rate
Dynamic Island
SoC Apple A16 Bionic (4 nm)
Memory 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB
Main camera 48 MP | F1.6 aperture | 2.0 µm pixels | sensor-shift OIS
Ultra-wide angle 12 MP | F2.4 aperture | 13 mm focal length
Telephoto lens
Selfie 12 MP | F1.9 aperture | autofocus
Battery life Video playback: 20 hours Video
(streaming): 16 hours
Audio playback: 80 hours
Video playback: 26 hours Video
(streaming): 20 hours
Audio playback: 100 hours
Fast charging 20 W (cable)
15 W (MagSafe)
7.5 W (Qi)
Robustness IP68, Ceramic Shield, aluminum frame
Connectivity eSIM, 5G, Wi-Fi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.3, UWB, Satellite
Dimensions and weight 147.6 x 71.6 x 7.80 mm | 171 g 160.9 x 77.8 x 7.80 mm | 201 g

Early Verdict

At first glance, the iPhone 15 lineup appears to be a step forward in many areas. The A16 Bionic remains one of the top-tier processors available in flagship smartphones. The 48-megapixel camera is a notable upgrade from the previous models. Most commendably, Apple is leading the industry in incorporating more recycled materials into new products—kudos to them!

However, the device seems to have some drawbacks. While it was designed to comply with the European Union’s demands for a standard USB-C port for data transfer and charging, the iPhone 15 still operates at USB 2.0 speeds. This doesn’t represent a functional improvement for the user, except that now an extra Lightning cable is not needed to charge the device.

Additionally, while the Dynamic Island feature—consequent of the new housing for the camera and Face ID sensors—does bring notable improvements together with the higher brightness under direct sunlight, there are no advancements in display resolution or refresh rate, which remains at 60 Hz.

Based on my first impressions, it seems that while Apple has made some advancements, they have also taken a step back in certain areas, potentially diminishing some of their notable efforts. This places Apple on par with a wide range of tech companies, limiting the user experience with their iconic phones.

In conclusion, it seems the company's message is clear: if you want a better display and faster USB-C speeds, you’ll need to shell out an additional $200 for the Pro variant, which also comes with an enhanced camera module. The issue is, not every consumer is willing to pay more to receive what they feel they deserve from an already pricily positioned iPhone 15.

Apple iPhone 15 - where to buy?

The new generation maintains the pricing of last year but features significant improvements in performance and photo quality. You can find the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus for $799 and $899, respectively. The devices are available for purchase from today onward through the Apple Store and e-commerce partners.

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Camila Rinaldi

Camila Rinaldi
Head of Editorial

With over 10 years of reviewing smartphones and wearables, I recently became addicted to smart home gadgets. Even though I dove into the Apple ecosystem two years back, Android remains as one of my passions. Previously editor-in-chief of AndroidPIT and Canaltech in Brazil, I now write for the US market. I love my records and I believe that the best way to get to know a place is through its food.

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