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The iPhone 15 Pro isn’t the iPhone upgrade I hoped it would be

View of the iPhone 15 Pro's camera module.
Apple

When Apple introduced the first “Pro” iPhone in 2019, it stood with an additional telephoto camera at the back. To this day, the third lens serves as a proud marker of the Pro moniker. The camera chops are what predominantly separated these pricey trims from the non-Pro variants.

As Apple’s fall launch event unfolded last week, I was hoping to see some big camera upgrades fitting for the new Pro models. Yet, the only meaningful camera upgrade we got was kept exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Instead of the iPhone 14 Pro’s 3x zoom camera, the iPhone 15 Pro Max makes the jump to a 5x telephoto camera.

I appreciate the upgrade, but then, it also comes at a cost. The latest and greatest iPhone Pro Max now starts at $1,200 — a $100 mark-up compared to its predecessor, even though the default storage capacity is now 256GB. In hindsight, it’s almost as if Apple is saying that it kept the iPhone 15 Pro’s asking price locked at $999 at the cost of skipping the much-deserved zoom camera upgrade.

It’s not the zoom camera we deserved

Apple iPhone 15 Pro zoom camera.
Apple

Let’s talk about whatever telephoto camera upgrade we are getting here. It’s not the best out there — not even close. Rumors had hyped up a periscope-style telephoto camera that would offer a dramatic increase in the zoom range, similar to what you see on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. But that shift didn’t happen. Apple has also locked the “tetraprism design,” which combines the autofocus and stabilization modules, to the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

You still get the usual telephoto array where the lens elements are stacked atop the camera sensor; no fancy folded lens light tunnel system is to be seen here. Apple claims that the “iPhone 15 Pro Max provides the longest optical zoom ever on iPhone: 5x at 120 mm.” That may be true, but it’s far from the 10x optical zoom trick that its Samsung rival can pull off. That zoom range leg-up really makes a difference, and I have repeatedly reveled in the benefits of a powerful long-range telephoto camera on every single vacation.

iPhone 14 Pro Max and Galaxy S23 Ultra camera modules.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra rocks the zoom camera that the iPhones should offer in 2023. Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The situation with the other two camera sensors is also grim. Now, I won’t get into the megapixel war here, but there is some valid criticism to be made on both sides of the aisle. A regular 12-megapixel ultrawide or telephoto snapper can’t quite match the pictures you would get from the Oppo Find X6 Pro’s 50MP ultrawide camera or the Google Pixel 7 Pro’s 48-megapixel telephoto camera.

Yes, sensor size and aperture values matter, but so do the megapixel figures and the benefits of pixel binning that come with it, especially in low-light scenarios. Does that make the iPhone 15 Pro a bad camera deal? Far from it. But the gulf with rivals certainly narrows down, and so does the incentive of paying a high price for it.

A slim target for camera upgrades

Macro view of the iPhone 15 Pro's camera hump.
Apple

I have seen the Galaxy S23’s 50MP camera deliver livelier photos, even if one goes by the tech adage of iPhones producing natural colors. However, it appears that Apple is putting the focus more on software side optimizations. But then, most of those software-based camera enhancements are targeted at serious “mobi-graphers.” For example, the ability to instantly move 48MP ProRAW images to a Mac or record 4K 60fps video directly on an external storage device.

Apple says, “iPhone 15 Pro also introduces a new option for Log encoding and is the first smartphone in the world to support ACES, the Academy Color Encoding System, a global standard for color workflows.”  I am not sure how that perk is going to win over a regular smartphone shopper forking $1,000 (at the very least) on a “Pro” iPhone.

Later this year, the iPhone 15 Pro will start capturing “Spatial Videos” that can be enjoyed on the Apple Vision Pro headset, which itself costs a handsome $3,500 on its own. Yes, improvements to Night mode and portrait mode are welcome, but those are not the kind of standout features that set apart a “Pro” iPhone from its significantly cheaper non-Pro siblings.

The USB 3.0 port on the iPhone 15 Pro promises faster data transfer speeds (up to 10gbps), but I don’t see how that is going to add any dramatic value to my day-to-day smartphone usage pattern. I would happily take a practical upgrade, such as faster wired charging – which the iPhone 15 Pro once again shamelessly omits – instead of yearning for a fast data transfer port on my thousand-dollar iPhone.

Out of place and unworthy

Side rail of iPhone 15 Pro
Side profile of Apple iPhone 15 Pro Apple

The battery life figures are stagnant. Aside from a “faux” slim look for the screen bezels, you still get the same 120Hz OLED display with identical resolution figures and sapphire glass protection on the iPhone 15 Pro duo as last year’s Pro phones. Titanium makes the iPhone 15 Pro sturdier and reduces the bulk too, but once again, that’s not really a “Pro” benefit with the iPhone 15 Pro pair.

Apple already had a similar distinction in place last year — and the year before, when it served stainless steel frame on the Pro models and deployed aluminum for the rest. The only meaningful upgrade that I can see on the iPhone 15 Pro is the A17 Pro, a beastly 3nm silicon that is ahead of the curve in the smartphone industry.

Apple claims it can run console-grade games like Resident Evil: Village. Amazing is all I can say. The company also touts hardware-accelerated ray-tracing, which is a practical benefit, but there are only a handful of games that fully dive into the ray-tracing shenanigans on the mobile platform.

To a certain extent, I can swallow the hard pill that the iPhone 15 Pro Max at least makes one fitting camera upgrade. But the iPhone 15 Pro, well, it seems obnoxiously bland save for that vaunted USB-C switch. But let’s circle back to the price factor.

There is also a whole lot of chatter about the customizable side button on the iPhone 15 Pro. Well, here it is, on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The feature has been available for years, actually.

Side button customization on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
Side button customizability options on a Samsung phone. Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

The iPhone 15 Pro costs $999 in the U.S., but that’s not the same story for every market. In India, where the “Made in India” iPhone 15 Pro will be available on day one, the iPhone 15 Pro starts at a steep $1,640 equivalent. For the base iPhone 15 Pro Max, the official ask is close to $1,950, while the 1TB storage trim will soak your wallet dry by around $2,430.

I might sound biased owing to the price barrier, but even before Apple announced the price of the iPhone 15 Pro, I had started questioning the “Pro” credentials. If anything, it seems like the vanilla iPhone 15 is the best value in terms of iterative improvements this year, a far cry from the kind of splashy improvements one would expect from Pro iPhones.

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Nadeem Sarwar
Nadeem is a tech journalist who started reading about cool smartphone tech out of curiosity and soon started writing…
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