Apple recently announced the iPhone 15, and maybe you’re looking to pick one up but not sure if you should get the base iPhone 15, the larger 15 Plus, or jump up to the 15 Pro or even 15 Pro Max.
I’ll go over all the differences between these models so you can make an informed decision on which one is the best for you.
Starting on the outside, all iPhone 15 models are more similar to each other from the front than the iPhone 14 series, and that’s because the notch was replaced by Dynamic Island, even on the non-Pro 15 and 15 Plus. However, ProMotion, and therefore 120Hz refresh rates, as well as Always-On display technology is only available on the Pro models. The lack of ProMotion, in my opinion, is a huge detriment to the non-Pro iPhones. My eyes can’t stand the laggy scrolling and animations on a 60 Hz display anymore, but your mileage may vary.
Colors & Materials
On the backside, the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus come in 5 colors: Black, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Pink, while the Pro iPhones feature just 4, more muted ones: Black Titanium, White Titanium, Blue Titanium, and Natural Titanium. In case you haven’t noticed, the Pro phones are made from Titanium, the kind used in the Mars rover, while the regular iPhone 15 is aluminum.
Size & Weight
There are 2 screen sizes to choose from; the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro have 6.1″ screens, while the 15 Plus and 15 Pro Max have 6.7″ screens. All screens of the same size have the same resolution and ppi, which might lead you to believe the physical size is also the same, but that’s not the case.
The Pro iPhones have a slightly thinner bezel, and therefore the height and width are also about 0.04 inches or 1mm less across the board. However, the thickness of the Pro iPhones is actually a hundredth of an inch or 0.45 mm thicker than the non-Pro phones. All told, these differences shouldn’t be too noticeable.
What you may notice more is the weight difference; the 15 Pro is 9% heavier than the 15, while the 15 Pro max is 10% heavier than the 15 Plus. The iPhone 15 and 15 Plus are only a gram or 2 lighter than their 14 counterparts, but due to the Titanium construction, the 15 Pro is actually only 91% of the weight of the 14 Pro, and the 15 Pro Max is 92% of the weight of the 14 Pro Max. Apple says these are the lightest Pro iPhones they’ve ever made.
Staying on the outside, all 15 series iPhones have USB-C to replace the Lightning port. However, the non-Pro models only have USB 2 transfer speeds, which means up to 480 Mbps, while the Pro phones support USB 3 transfer at up to 10 Gbps. Most people probably don’t transfer things with a wire these days, but if you have a workflow that relies on it, that can be a huge difference. It also enables a key new video feature that I’ll talk about later on.
The side of the phone features another difference: the Pro iPhones now have a customizable action button to replace the ring/silent switch, which the non-Pro iPhones still have. This action button can be configured to do things like bring up voice memos, launch the camera, or pretty much any shortcut, but some people say it will be harder to toggle without looking at the screen, if you’re used to muting or unmuting your phone in your pocket.
Moving to the inside, one advantage of a larger phone is more space for a larger battery, and if we look at the battery sizes, we can see exactly this. This year’s iPhones have only slightly larger batteries across the board compared with last years’, so we shouldn’t expect much difference. In general, the Pro models claim a few hours more operation time than the non-Pro models. Notably, the 6.1″ Pro iPhones have a slightly smaller battery compared to the base iPhones, yet the claimed battery life is 3 hours more video playback, which could be due to efficiency improvements in the chip.
Chip and Performance
Let’s talk about the chip. The iPhone 15 and 15 Plus are powered by the same chip found in the iPhone 14 Pro last year, the A16 Bionic with 6 CPU and 5 GPU cores. Same as last year, the Pro models get a new chip, the A17 Pro with 6 CPU cores and also 6 GPU cores, one more GPU core than the A16.
Apple claims 10% faster CPU performance of the A17 Pro over the A16 Bionic, but may have understated it as benchmarks show a 13-16% difference. Apple says it should offer 20% faster GPU performance as well. In addition, hardware ray-tracing support in the A17 brings 4 times faster ray-tracing compared to the A16.
Both the A16 and A17 feature 16 neural engine cores, but the new A17 Pro is twice as fast, offering up to 35 trillion operations per second compared to 17 trillion with the A16 Bionic.
And since the A17 is built on a 3nm process compared to the A16’s 4nm, Apple says it is most efficient mobile CPU.
The A17 Pro’s media engine also now includes an AV1 decoder, which can make it perform better and more efficiently when streaming video using this new codec that’s becoming more popular.
Finally, the A17 Pro, and therefore the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, also features 8GB of memory compared to the 6GB on the A16 Bionic on the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus, and which all iPhone 14 models had as well. That’s 33% more memory, which could have an impact depending on the apps and games you run and how you use the phone.
Because Apple put Pro in the name, it’s likely next year’s iPhone 16 won’t have this same chip, but perhaps a non-Pro A17 chip instead. Some believe it’s so Apple can continue to have USB 3 data transfer speeds restricted to the Pro models only, but perhaps they may also want to perpetuate the difference in memory.
One of the major features that makes a Pro iPhone is the Pro camera system. Even though the base iPhone 15 and 15 Plus this year got a 48MP main camera as well, it isn’t quite the same as the 48 MP camera in the 15 Pro and Pro Max. The pixel and sensor size is a bit larger on the Pro models, though the aperture is a bit higher too, but one important thing to keep in mind is that the 15 Pro does NOT have a larger sensor than the 14 Pro; in fact, the 15 Pro’s main camera has the exact same specs as last year’s 14 Pro. You’ll have to look at some photo comparisons to see if Apple did some tweaks to make it perform better, other than increasing the file size to 24 MP this year across all iPhone 15 models.
The Pro iPhones have a 3rd Telephoto lens, just like years past, as a major differentiator versus the non-Pro models. However, this is where the 15 Pro and Pro Max finally have a big difference. The 15 Pro comes with the same 3x optical zoom telephoto camera that the 14 Pro had, but the 15 Pro Max now has a 5x zoom lens instead (not in addition), with a 25% larger sensor. This is both a blessing and a curse, as pictures in the zoom range between 3-5x could actually be worse in quality as you would be cropping from the main camera for those. So besides the screen size and battery, the choice between Pro or Pro Max could depend on whether 3x or 5x zoom is more useful to you.
Speaking of zoom, the non-Pro iPhone 15 supports 3 zoom settings, 0.5x enabled by the ultrawide camera, 1x (or 26mm) from the 48MP main camera, and 2x (at 52mm) achieved with a crop of the main camera to 12MP, since the phone doesn’t have a telephoto lens, but Apple calls it “optical quality”. On the Pro models, Apple compares it to having 7 lenses. You still get the 0.5x, 1x (at 24mm this time), and 2x (at 48mm) settings, but you also get 1.2x and 1.5x crops to mimic 28 and 35mm focal lengths, and the addition of macro photography and, of course, the telephoto camera at 3x or 5x zoom.
Finally, the cameras on the Pro models do feature second-gen optical image stabilization versus first-gen, and Adaptive versus non-Adaptive true tone flash on the non-Pro models, so those may work a bit better on the Pro phones.
Photo & Video Features
In terms of photo features, the main differences are that the Pro models support Night mode portraits, macro photography, and Apple ProRAW.
On the video side, there’s a few more significant differences, the largest of which is the ability to record ProRes video up to 4K at 60 fps directly to an external device, on either the front or rear cameras. This is a big deal, as it means even small storage capacity iPhones can now deal with the large file sizes of ProRes easily, and the limit of 4K ProRes only being supported by 256GB or higher models should no longer be there. Also, not having to transfer footage off the phone before you can use it could save a lot of time.
Color enthusiasts will appreciate log video recording and perhaps the introduction of the Academy Color Encoding System. Finally, macro video recording is also supported on the Pro models.
When it comes to networking, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max support Wi-Fi 6E, while the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus only have Wi-Fi 6. The Pro models also support Thread networking technology, which is used for smart home device communication. The exact benefits of this may need more time to be seen.
Finally, the Pro models also have the LiDAR scanner, which was introduced in the iPhone 12 Pro many years ago. It improves certain Augmented Reality apps by providing more useful and accurate information about your surroundings, and can help with low-light photos.
Which model should you buy?
So now that we’ve looked at all the feature differences between the 4 iPhone 15 models, the question is: which model should you get?
First, the easy choice. If you’re deciding between the iPhone 15 or 15 Plus, the main differences are the screen size, physical dimensions and weight, and battery life. This is a personal choice, so choose the screen size that works best for you, as long as you’re happy with the size and weight.
Second, if you’re deciding between the 15 Pro and Pro Max, keep in mind that besides the 3 criteria just mentioned, the Pro Max also has a new 5x telephoto lens instead of the 3x. In addition, the Pro Max starting price and storage capacity is $1200 for the 256GB configuration, since it doesn’t offer a 128GB capacity option like the other models do. That means if you don’t need a lot of storage, you’ll be forced to pay more for the storage upgrade anyway.
Finally, let’s summarize all the differences between the Pro and non-Pro iPhone 15. Paying $200 extra for Pro gets you:
- Titanium build with more “Pro” design and color choices
- ProMotion 120 Hz refresh rates and Always-on display
- Customizable action button instead of the ring/silent switch
- A17 Pro chip that is 10-16% faster in CPU, 20% faster in GPU, 100% faster at machine learning, and has an AV1 decoder
- 8GB instead of 6GB of memory
- 3 hours additional video playback battery life
- A larger sensor, though higher aperture 48MP main camera, plus either a 3x or 5x Telephoto lens, resulting in different focal length options
- Added photo and video features, including macro, ProRAW, log video, and ProRes video recording to external devices
- Faster Wi-Fi 6E (versus Wi-Fi 6) and thread networking
- LiDAR Scanner
Now, whether all of this is worth an extra $200 depends on whether you value any of these features highly. For me, I can’t go back to using a 60Hz display on a phone, and I’m intrigued with the camera features, so I would choose the iPhone 15 Pro, if I decide to purchase an iPhone 15 at all, that is.