15 Sep 2023

Thoughts on the iPhone 15 Pro

I enjoyed watching Apple’s Wonderlust event and plan to upgrade from my current iPhone 14 Pro.

This is a bit unusual for me, since I don’t typically upgrade every year. And as far as one-year-old iPhone models go, the 14 Pro still feels pretty cutting-ege. It introduced three major new features – the 48 megapixel camera, the Dynamic Island, and the Always-On Display – that aren’t eclipsed by anything in Apple’s announcements of the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro. So while the 15 and 15 Pro do introduce some pretty cool new features – the Action button on the 15 Pro and improvements to Portrait mode on both models especially catch my eye – my 14 Pro doesn’t suddenly feel obsolete alongside them.

Except in one way: its weight.

The 14 Pro is heavy. This was especially noticeable to me when I got it, since I upgraded to it from the 11 Pro, which was 18 grams lighter. 18 grams doesn’t sound like a lot — a cup of coffee is made from about 25 grams of beans, for example — but in practice the extra weight makes a big difference, and over the course of this past year, I’ve found it to be uncomfortably heavy.

The 14 Pro is heavy enough that using it one-handed causes discomfort in my wrist and forearm. It’s gotten bad enough that I now force myself to hold my phone with two hands, or to at least alternate between my left and right, in order to reduce the strain. I also try to just use my phone less often, lest I further aggravate things. And while using our phones less is almost always a good idea, and Apple should continue to ship tools like Screen Time and Focus to help us do so, making them physically uncomfortable for extended use probably isn’t the right way to go about it.

So for me, the 15 Pro’s killer feature is its new lightweight titanium design. It brings the 15 Pro’s weight down to 187 grams, which is effectively the same as the 11 Pro and 12 Pro. That’s an improvement that anyone coming from the heavier design of the 13 Pro and 14 Pro will benefit from. When Greg Joswiak introduced the new titanium design in the keynote, he emphasized how “You’ll feel it as soon as you pick it up” and that it’s “a delight to hold in your hand”, which makes me think lots of other people found the 14 Pro to be too hefty as well.

As light as the 15 Pro is, though, the regular iPhone 15 is even lighter: it’s 171 grams, which is 16 grams lighter than the 15 Pro, and the same as last year’s iPhone 14. But whereas the gap in features between the 14 and 14 Pro was very large – large enough that I didn’t even consider giving up the 14 Pro’s better features for the regular 14’s lighter weight – the gap between the 15 and 15 Pro is small enough to be tempting.

The iPhone 15 gets the best features of the 14 Pro: the 48 megapixel camera and the Dynamic Island. It also gets 2x optical zoom, which was previously only available on the Pro models. Its display is almost as good as the 15 Pro: it has the same brightness and resolution; it just doesn’t get Always-On and ProMotion. But I personally haven’t found Always-On to be that compelling, and while I’d miss the smooth scrolling of ProMotion, I could get by without it. The iPhone 15 is also less expensive and comes in more colors.

It’s impressive that Apple has brought so much of the iPhone Pro’s functionality to the regular iPhone this year. The iPhone 15 looks to be a great phone. But I suspect that although the iPhone 15 is the lightest, the 15 Pro will be light enough. And it’s hard to pass up something it has that the regular iPhone 15 doesn’t: the Action button.

The Action button just looks downright fun. It’s a customizable new button that replaces the ringer switch on the top left of the phone. As somebody who is mortified by the mere idea of his phone ever ringing out loud, I never use the ringer switch to toggle between ring and silent. I’m always in silent. So it’s appealing that the new Action button can be assigned to other functions instead. I’m especially interested in using it to launch the Camera app: instead of fumbling to long-press the Camera icon on my lock screen before I miss whatever I’m trying to photograph, I’ll be able to just immediately press and hold the physical Action button. There’s something nice about having a dedicated hardware button for common, quick tasks. It will be fun to play around with using the Action button for other things too – like quickly launching Notes to jot down an idea while I’m out on a walk – and to change its assigned function based on what I’m up to. I could imagine assigning it differently when I’m traveling compared to when I’m at home, for example.

The 15 Pro comes with one more feature that seems worth the phone’s extra weight: the ability to shoot spatial videos for viewing on the upcoming Vision Pro. Even if I don’t get this first generation of the Vision Pro when it comes out next year, there’s a good chance I’ll get one someday. And I imagine that whenever I eventually do, watching 3D, life-like recordings of meaningful memories on it will be one of the reasons why. So the sooner I can start to occasionally capture some special moments in spatial video, the better.

Some day, that alone may prove to be the real reason to have gotten the 15 Pro this year.