I have tested it Apples two new Pro iPhones in the last few days. They hit shelves on Friday.
The two Pro iPhones represent significant year-over-year upgrades, with improvements to the camera, an improved body and a new button. Most importantly for me, the higher end models are much lighter and make a big difference in everyday use. I would recommend it to any iPhone user ready to upgrade or anyone who has complained about how big and heavy smartphones have become.
They're not cheap.
The 6.1-inch iPhone Pro model starts at $999 for 128GB of storage and goes up to $1,499 for 1TB. For most people, I would recommend the $1099 model with 256GB of storage. The larger phone, the 6.7-inch iPhone Pro Max, now costs $1,199, $100 more than last year, but the entry-level model has 256GB of storage and offers a maximum of 1TB for $1,599 .
In addition to the Pro models, Apple also offers two cheaper options, the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus, which cost $799 and $899 and up. They feature the chip from last year's iPhone 14 Pro, some camera improvements, and Apple's “dynamic island” that hides the front-facing cameras. Most people will be perfectly happy with the mainstream iPhone 15 models, which are almost state-of-the-art.
But Apple's Pro phones feature the latest chip, the A17 Pro, a zoom lens and a display with a faster refresh rate. For people who are picky about their personal technology, the Pro models are significantly more desirable than the mainstream models, and their improvements will often find their way into Apple's product lineup in the coming years.
Here's what's new and exciting about the iPhone 15 Pro phones:
The “natural titanium” finish is the most striking new iPhone color. This is also a close look at the new Action Button, which replaces the mute switch.
This year's Pro iPhones have a visible and welcome change: they use titanium for the outer frame instead of stainless steel.
One color, “natural titanium,” shows off the new metal, but with most other colors it's not as immediately noticeable. While the iPhone 15 Pro may look the same as last year's model from a distance, it's actually the biggest exterior change to the iPhone in years.
Titanium is a huge improvement for everyday use as it makes the phone lighter. It feels better in the hand. Apple's Pro phones have been getting heavier since 2019, but this phone reverses the trend.
Apple says the 6-inch iPhone 15 Pro is 187 grams, or 9%, lighter than last year's model. The iPhone 15 Pro Max weighs 8% less with a larger 6.7-inch screen. But in practice it feels like an even bigger reduction. When I go back to my old iPhone 14 Pro, it feels like a brick. The weight difference between this year's Pros and last year's is noticeable even with a case.
In addition to being lighter, this year's Pro phones are also slightly narrower and shorter, although they are slightly thicker than last year's devices. They have a smaller bezel (frame) around the same-sized screen, which is clearly visible when you hold the two devices next to each other. But that also means last year's cases won't work with this year's phones.
The iPhone 14 Pro is on the back and the iPhone 15 Pro is on the front. This year's model has slightly smaller bezels. It's subtle but noticeable.
The weight difference is subtle, but will be significant for many people as it makes everyday use more comfortable – and marathon TikTok and YouTube sessions less tiring.
I used the iPhone 15 Pro without a case and it didn't feel particularly fragile. But phones fall and break, and the new frame offers an additional benefit: significantly cheaper repairs. If the iPhone 15's back glass breaks, Apple will charge either $169 or $199 for the replacement, depending on the screen size. For the iPhone 14 Pros, that price was either $499 or $549. Apple says that's because this model is much easier to repair.
Apple has also improved the zoom camera on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
While the smaller phone still has a 3x zoom, the larger phone now comes with a 5x zoom lens, mimicking some of the better physical zoom lenses found on standalone cameras, which can be up to 10 inches long. Basically, the new iPhone allows you to get closer to your subject without physically getting closer.
On the left is an iPhone 15 Pro Max photo taken at 5x zoom. On the right is an iPhone 15 Pro photo taken with 3x zoom.
It also features a clever new type of three-dimensional image stabilization that prevents zoom shots from becoming blurry, which is a problem with real large zoom lenses. The handheld zoom shots on the iPhone 15 Pro Max were pretty sharp and clear.
The new lens will be very useful for everyday use, making it easier to photograph more of the world around you. Parents will use it for children's sports, outdoor enthusiasts will use it to photograph birds and wildlife, and tourists will use it to take better vacation photos.
Left: 2x zoom photo taken with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Right: 5x zoom photo taken with the iPhone 15 Pro Max
It's also a reason to go for the larger iPhone 15 Pro Max instead of the cheaper but lighter and smaller iPhone 15 Pro.
Left: 2x zoom taken with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Right: 5x zoom taken with the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
The same photo of the ferry building in San Francisco, without zoom, taken by the main camera of the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Apple's iPhones have a new charger for the first time in a decade. Get to know the USB-C port.
Behold: The USB-C port that will be available on all iPhones in the future.
Apple's change was prompted by European regulations and will make things a little more convenient for iPhone owners, allowing you to share your iPhone cable with laptops, headphones, iPads and other newer devices. You can use a laptop charger to charge the iPhone or your iPhone's charger to charge your headphones.
The port change on the iPhone Pros also opens up some cool new capabilities. For example, if you have a USB-C monitor docking station, as many corporate employees do, you can now probably connect your phone to a monitor that mirrors what's on your phone's screen, for presentations or perhaps for watching a movie or playing a game. This used to be possible with a dongle, but now anyone with a new iPhone and a current monitor dock can do it.
You can now also use a powered-on iPhone to charge other devices like AirPods or Apple Watch, or even another iPhone by using a cable through the USB-C port. They don't load quickly, but it works.
iPhones, AirPods or other devices can now even charge each other using the new USB-C port. When two USB-C iPhones are plugged together, the one with the smaller charge will automatically charge. Also works with last year's Lightning port, but always and never charges other devices.
USB-C is a big improvement, although it won't work smoothly out of the box for many people. For example, the cable in my car for Apple CarPlay currently uses Lightning, the old connector, and not everyone in my family is upgrading to the new phones. I'm going to have to use a dongle for a while.
The other big physical change to iPhones this year is the action button, which replaces the mute switch.
The button is surprisingly beautiful and I see many people using it every day. Most people keep their phones on silent all the time, and there are several ways to mute or unmute your phone through the software settings.
Apple's Action button can be set to different use cases in the Settings app and has a surprisingly sophisticated 3D interface.
The new button provides haptic feedback when pressed, and Apple offers several convenient ways to use it.
My personal favorite is the camera button. Quickly press it to bring up the camera. Press it again and a photo will be taken. If you hold down the button, a video will be recorded.
Another interesting use is to quickly access a translation app that can convert your spoken words into one of several foreign languages and also translate answers.
The button can also be customized via Apple's iPhone macro program, Shortcuts, meaning people will come up with a number of creative ways to use it once it's released.
New portrait features
Other camera improvements include the ability to change the focus of many photos after they are taken. This is part of the ability to use “Portrait Mode” without specifically taking a photo in Portrait Mode. Any photo taken with the iPhone 15 Pro camera that either has manual focus (tap on the screen) or has a human or pet in the frame automatically captures the depth information needed to enhance the photo afterward.
Photos with Apple's depth data can do many things, such as: Such as changing the focus in the image or portrait mode, which can vignette the background or give the subject a softer focus. Photos with Apple's depth data will be marked with a stylized “f” symbol in the camera roll.
These screenshots show a photo taken outside of portrait mode. In the left two panels you can see how you can move the focus in the photo after it has been taken. The photo on the right shows what it looked like immediately after it was taken.
Apple's main camera on the Pro also takes 24-megapixel photos, combining a larger 48-megapixel image with a smaller 12-megapixel image to create a new photo with better light range and additional detail. It's a subtle improvement, but reassuring when you take a lot of photos and just want them all to be good.
The iPhone Pros get the A17 Pro chip, the latest and greatest Apple silicon, compared to the mainstream iPhone 15s, which feature last year's Pro model A16 Bionic chip.
In everyday life you won't notice the difference because the iPhone is generally snappy. But Apple says the chip features a new 6-core GPU design that handles “ray tracing,” an advanced form of graphics computation previously limited to high-end gaming cards that essentially simulates light. It also has a better “neural engine” for running artificial intelligence.
There are no ray tracing-enabled games available in Apple's App Store yet, but there are console-level titles like the upcoming Resident Evil Village that will use the new chip.
For most people, having the latest chip means that at the end of the phone's lifespan it will likely receive another year of updates.
Apple's Standby Mode turns your iPhone into an updates dashboard that users can customize.
One of the phone's nifty new features allows it to be turned into a dashboard that shows real-time information like calendar appointments, photos, and even things like the time until your pizza is delivered. This feature also works with older phones updated to the latest iOS version and requires a MagSafe charging dock. It will be great for office workers.
The only time I encountered a hot iPhone 15 Pro Max was when I was playing the Apple Arcade title Zookeeper World. However, the phone was too hot to hold for about five minutes, especially on the titanium frame, and I had to put it down. Since then, there have been no heat issues in my testing.
Apple's iPhone automatic transfer system has come a long way. When I received my review unit, all I had to do was sign in with my Apple ID and hold my old phone next to the new one and my texts, apps, photos and files would be transferred. I'm an iCloud subscriber, but it still went pretty smoothly.
But the process is still not perfect and users should be aware that it may take a day for everything to transfer. My Apple Watch, for example, didn't pair with the new phone right away – and I had to be careful because I had a ticket with a significant amount of money on my Watch, and if I wasn't careful how I transferred it, I would have it may be lost. Some health settings also didn't sync immediately and required my attention to fix.
On the left is the iPhone 15 Pro, on the right is the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
The iPhone 15 Pros are one of the best upgrades to Apple's high-end phones in many years, even though the core features of an iPhone haven't changed at all. With any of the Apple phones currently on sale—including the discounted 2022 and 2021 models—you can make calls, send text messages, download apps, and take great photos. If you upgrade after a few years, all Apple phones are big improvements and all will do the job.
But there are also people who know that they use their phone for hours a day. In fact, Apple's Screen Time feature often reminds them how much time they spend on their iPhone each week.
For these people, even if they have last year's phone, it's worth going to an Apple Store or Best Buy, buying the new Pro devices and seeing if they like the lighter weight and new balance. I think the lighter, handier phone is a major improvement in the phone's physical form, even if it looks largely the same as last year's models.
The other question is whether to pay the extra $200 for the Pro Max when it has the same chip and key features as the $999 iPhone 15 Pro. The Pro Max is still a big phone with a 6.7-inch screen, but this year it's a lot lighter, and the 5x zoom is an important feature and something worth having for people who take a lot of photos do, like parents or photographers.