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Is the $800 iPhone 15 Too Good to be True? Apple’s Surprising Generosity Shines with Low Expectations

iPhone 15: The Biggest Year-Over-Year Upgrade in Apple’s Smartphone History

Here’s something I didn’t think I was going to say… iPhone 15 might be one of the biggest year-over-year upgrades in Apple’s entire smartphone history.

Not too long ago I explained why last year’s vanilla iPhone 14 model was the smallest upgrade Apple’s ever come up with. That’s because the iPhone 14 was essentially an iPhone 13 with a bit more RAM and satellite connectivity.

Without a doubt, iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus were one of the least glamorous moments in Cupertino’s long history of phone-making but there’s a positive twist here (well, certainly not for iPhone 14 users).

When the bar is set so low, jumping over it becomes a matter of time, and the time has come. iPhone 15 is here to help Apple fans forget about the lacklustre iPhone 14.

Despite the lack of some premium features that some smartphone nerds would consider “fundamental” (like a 120Hz display, or a dedicated zoom camera), the new entry-level iPhone 15 model turns out to be such a huge upgrade compared to last year’s iPhone 14 that it almost seems too good to be true.

In fact, I see the iPhone 15 as the second biggest upgrade in Apple’s recent history, second only to the iPhone 7 – iPhone X leap from 2017. Even better, the iPhone 15 is such a good package that it also seems to make last year’s premium iPhone 14 Pro model look bad, which has never been the case until now.

Unbelievable List of iPhone 15 Upgrades

The $800 iPhone 15 is this year’s surprise Semi-Pro iPhone we didn’t even know we needed. There are a few different ways to talk about the list of upgrades on iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus this year but I think the most appropriate one would be to put the upgrades into two categories – subjective and objective.

Spoiler alert: the only “subjective” category here is the new camera.

Crucial Design, Display, and Charging Port Upgrades

Apart from the lack of the 120Hz ProMotion tech and Always-on display function, iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus now share the same displays with the more expensive iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max – they get just as bright, and you get the Dynamic Island cutout instead of the notch, as well as slimmer borders; this is a notable moment in Apple’s history – so far, Pro iPhone models have always had noticeably better displays than their vanilla counterparts.

The design of Apple’s vanilla flagship finally looks somewhat new; the Dynamic Island, contoured edges, matte finish, and slimmer display borders now make iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus feel different than before, as well as a bit more compact and easier to hold; that’s another upgrade we don’t often see from Apple – both a visual and practical design change, in one generation.

Of course, the USB-C upgrade with reverse charging (allowing you to use your iPhone to charge your AirPods, Apple Watch, etc.) is the cherry on top this year, letting you charge your iPhone, MacBook, iPad, and AirPods with the same cable for the first time ever; sure, the USB-C port in iPhone 15 isn’t exactly fast at transferring data but that’s totally fine, since most people who buy the vanilla iPhone don’t use is for transferring large files/work.

The brand new UWB 2 chip in iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus now lets you locate your lost/misplaced iPhone faster; that’s because Precision finding now works from a longer distance; take it for what it’s worth but that makes iPhone 15 the most “findable” smartphone in the world.

While the A16 Bionic chip in iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus is the same one used in last year’s iPhone 14 Pro, this SoC is still more powerful than anything else available on the market right now (at least according to benchmarks); this guarantees iPhone 15 should work reliably for years to come.

Upgraded Camera in iPhone 15

I must preface this section by reminding everyone that I’ve criticized the iPhone’s camera for years now, and that’s because Apple deserved it. But I must give credit where credit is due.

After going through a bunch of camera samples from various sources, it’s safe to say that the camera in the most affordable iPhone 15 is vastly improved compared to last year’s vanilla model and even better than the one in the iPhone 14 Pro.

The New 24MP Camera Mode in iPhone 15

The new, larger 48MP primary sensor in iPhone 15 puts out 24MP photos by default, which turns out to be a game-changing camera feature, since it finally makes iPhone photos look like they have natural detail without the oversharpening we’ve been seeing from iPhone cameras for ages now.

The equally impressive part is that the 24MP photos coming out of the iPhone 15’s camera use less storage than competing 12MP photos (from Samsung, Google), making Apple’s achievement particularly admirable.

And Apple wasn’t kidding during the iPhone 15 launch keynote. Human skin tones do indeed look more accurate in photos taken with the iPhone 15. The updated image processing also seems to be doing better with white balance. iPhone 15’s camera doesn’t turn photos taken in indoor lighting yellow/orange like the iPhone 14 would.

2x Optical-Quality Zoom

Another perk of having a 48MP camera is that iPhone 15 now essentially has three camera lenses to work with, since you gain a 2x optical-quality zoom in photos and videos. This makes upgrading to a Pro iPhone for the sake of better zoom less relevant than ever now.

Moreover, with iPhone 15, you can take 2x Portrait mode photos, which look more professional than the 1x portraits that you can still take.

Revamped Portrait Mode

The iPhone 15’s revamped Portrait mode lets you take a regular photo and add the portrait effect later and change the focus point. You can also take 2x zoom portraits thanks to the 2x virtual lens.

Speaking of Portrait mode, the brand new Portrait mode experience in iPhone 15 looks spectacular, and I really can’t wait to use it. In fact, the best thing about Apple’s revamped Portrait mode is that you don’t really need to use it to… use it.

That’s because iPhone 15 automatically detects people, pets, and objects (if you tap on the object) and takes a Portrait mode photo for you. You can also take a normal photo and decide to turn it into a portrait after the fact (if the object was recognized). Apple also lets you change the focus point.

In a nutshell, the upgraded Portrait mode makes iPhone 15 the easiest smartphone camera to use if you want professional-looking photos without having to do any extra work. It also looks like Apple’s new portrait algorithm is more accurate and intelligent.

Speaking of portraits, the big upgrades to Portrait mode spill over to selfies too. Moreover, iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus now feature auto-focus on the selfie camera, which will make sure your selfie photos and videos are absolutely always in focus. iPhone 14 didn’t enjoy a 100% success rate in this area, so this is a notable upgrade.

Improved HDR 5 Algorithm

After years of subpar HDR performance in photos, iPhone 15 brings massive improvements in this crucial area of smartphone photography. In another long-anticipated upgrade, iPhone 15’s dynamic range has finally improved, and can now be considered good rather than very poor, which was the case with iPhone 14, iPhone 13, iPhone 12, etc.

I doubt Apple’s improved HDR will compete with the likes of Vivo and Oppo but it finally looks reliable enough for taking photos of high-contrast scenes where you need to capture details in both bright and dark areas.

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