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Apple iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro review: New cameras, chips, and USB-C

Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro are here. The latest iterations of the tech giant’s all-important smartphones, the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro, sport a series of performance and camera improvements, not to mention USB-C ports.

After using both iPhones for the last few days, it’s easy to recommend them for consumers upgrading from an iPhone 12 or older. If you’ve got an iPhone 13 or iPhone 14, don’t pull out your credit card just yet.

Because while the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro are Apple’s best iPhones yet, the jump from the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 won’t be as impressive as the leap from the iPhone 12.

New body and brains

Apple has updated the casings for both the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro, rounding the edges around their back panels and making them less prone to fingerprint smudges. Will the casual smartphone user notice these differences? Probably not.

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Save for their new, slightly slimmer titanium casings, the $999 iPhone 15 Pro and $1,199 Pro Max look nearly identical to their predecessors. The $799 iPhone 15 and $899 iPhone 15 Plus also carry over the styling from the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, though there’s one major difference: They now pack the Dynamic Island previously only available on the iPhone 14 Pro line.

Apple's iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro offer solid upgrades for users holding onto an iPhone 12 or older, but you don't have to take the jump if you're carrying around an iPhone 13 or newer. (Image: Howley)
Apple's iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro offer solid upgrades for users holding on to an iPhone 12 or older, but you don't have to take the jump if you're carrying around an iPhone 13 or newer. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

I use the Dynamic Island on my iPhone 14 Pro all of the time, whether it’s to get updates on how far away my Uber is, information on my flight status, control Spotify, check alarms, you name it. It’s also handy when you’re playing fantasy football. I play Yahoo Fantasy — I promise this is not a shameless plug — and Dynamic Island continuously displays my score versus whomever I’m playing, and likely losing against, that week.

The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max get one extra feature that the non-Pro versions don’t: a new Action button. A replacement for the old silent button found on the left side of the phone, the Action button can be customized to turn on Focus mode, open the camera app, switch on the flashlight, start a voice memo, enable accessibility settings, and more.

It’s a nice addition to the Pro line, especially considering most people, at least those that I know, only ever have their phones in silent mode anyway.

The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro lines both get Apple's Dynamic Island. (Image: Howley)
The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro lines both get Apple's Dynamic Island. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

Running on Apple’s iOS 17, the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro lines both get the company’s new Standby mode. The feature pops up when you plug in your phone and place it on its side, displaying a clock, app widgets, or photos. It basically turns your iPhone into a smart display.

But because the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus lack the always-on displays found on the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, you’ll need to tap their screens to bring up Standby mode. The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max will continuously stay in Standby mode until you unplug them or lift them up.

Inside, both the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro lines get beefier processors. The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus get the A16 chip found in last year’s iPhone 14 Pro lineup, while the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max get the all-new A17 Pro chip.

If you’re the kind of person who needs the absolute top-of-the-line processor though, you’ll need to opt for the iPhone 15 Pro or Pro Max. Apple says the A17 Pro’s central processing unit is 10% faster than last year’s chip, while the graphics processing unit gets a 20% boost. The neural engine, which allows for onboard machine learning capabilities, is two times faster.

Apple says the chip is so powerful it can run full versions of modern console games including “Resident Evil Village” and the upcoming “Assassin’s Creed Mirage.”

Still, the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus’s A16 chip is a great workhorse easily capable of handling your everyday tasks.

New cameras all around, but the Pro Max gets the best

The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro lines both get slick new camera setups with improved zoom functionalities. The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus now come with 48-megapixel sensors that allow you to see more detail when you zoom in on an image. Last year’s models featured 12-megapixel sensors.

The standard iPhones still sport ultra-wide and wide-angle lenses, but Apple has added a 2x zoom option that mimics the kind of image quality you’d get out of a 2x telephoto lens. The company does this by cropping in on the middle of the main wide-angle camera’s image, giving you the appearance of a shot taken with a telephoto camera.

A photo of a boat using the iPhone 15 Pro Max's 1x zoom.
A photo of a boat using the iPhone 15 Pro Max's 1x zoom. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)
A photo of the same boat using the iPhone Pro 15 Max's 5x zoom. (Image: Howley)
A photo of the same boat using the iPhone Pro 15 Max's 5x zoom. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max also get new 48-megapixel sensors. And while the 15 Pro carries over the triple lens setup found on the 14 Pro, complete with a 3x telephoto lens, the iPhone 15 Pro Max gets a new 5x lens that allows you to zoom further in on your subjects.

I regularly use the iPhone 14 Pro’s telephoto lens to take pictures of friends and family, or even just to grab a shot of my cat without having to get too close for fear that he’ll run off. So adding that 5x zoom is a big upgrade, especially if you’re the type of person who is constantly taking pictures.

Thanks to their larger image sensors, the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro lines are also able to capture more light in each photo, improving color saturation and low-light performance. I took a picture of my classic game consoles in my nearly dark living room, and the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro easily outshined my iPhone 14 Pro.

I took this photo of my old game consoles with virtually no light around me. (Image: Howley)
I took this photo of my old game consoles with virtually no light around me. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

Better still, Apple has added a new automatic portrait mode that can detect when you’re taking photos of people, cats, or dogs, blurring the background and making your subject pop. Don’t want a portrait shot? You can turn the feature off from the camera screen, or change the photo’s depth of field afterwards in the photo editor. In a happy surprise, the feature worked so well, it automatically recognized a pigeon sitting on a railing and enabled portrait mode for a great shot along New York City’s East River.

Check out this stately pigeon. (Image: Howley)
Check out this stately pigeon. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

Changing to USB-C

The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro lines are the first iPhones to come with USB-C ports. A universal standard, Android smartphone and Windows PC makers have been using USB-C for years. Heck, Apple has been using it on its iPad Pros and Macs as well.

And with a new European Union mandate seeking to cut down on e-waste going into place next year, Apple is finally adding USB-C to its iPhones. Yes, it’s going to be a pain at first. You’ll need to purchase a USB-C charging brick if you don’t have one already, and you’ll need to get new charging cables for your car to use CarPlay. Apple doesn’t include bricks or adapters in the iPhones’ boxes, just a USB-C cable.

The iPhone now uses a USB-C connector. (Image: Apple)
The iPhone now uses a USB-C connector. (Image: Apple) (Howley)

Still, USB-C is far better than the old Lightning port. Because it’s a universal standard, you can take the USB-C cable from your laptop, e-reader, or even your Nintendo Switch Console and use it to charge your iPhone. If you buy the new version of Apple’s AirPods Pro with USB-C you can connect the charging case to your iPhone via USB-C to charge the case.

USB-C also means you can connect your iPhone to a USB-C to HDMI adapter and stream 4K video at 60 frames per second. That means now you can stream a movie or game from your iPhone to your big-screen TV. Thanks to the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max’s A17 Pro chip, you’ll also get faster data transfer rates over USB-C than those found on the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus.

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Sign up for the Yahoo Finance Tech newsletter. (Yahoo Finance)

Overall, the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro lines are solid updates to Apple’s most popular devices. If you’re strutting around with an iPhone 12 or older, now’s a good time to make the jump and upgrade. If you’ve got an iPhone 13 or newer, though, you can hold out for another year or so.

Daniel Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. He's been covering the tech industry since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielHowley.

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