Review: iPhone 15 Pro's several small upgrades add up to major improvement

The iPhone 15 Pro with the blue titanium colour option.
The iPhone 15 Pro with the blue titanium colour option. Photo credit: Newshub.

The iPhone 15 range is released in New Zealand today which means the most advanced mobile product yet developed by the largest tech company on the planet is now upon us. 

As well as being the most hyped consumer tech release each year, the iPhones are also often one of the most criticised, with cynical commenters inevitably piping up all over the internet about how little has been upgraded since the previous year's model. 

Whether or not they're right, aside from some enthusiasts and early adopters, people aren't buying a new model every year.  

If you're upgrading from a smartphone that's three years old, or four, or five - how big a leap is the iPhone 15 Pro going to be? Is it the best option on the market for the price it's asking? 

I've been using the new models for some days now and can comfortably say the seemingly small improvements add up to a large leap. 

The iPhone 15 Pro running the new iOS 17 feels like the most refined mobile phone experience I've ever had. It's got way more power than most people will need, a wildly advanced camera system and loads of satisfyingly convenient features I'm just scratching the surface of so far. 

It's not perfect and there are immediately ways I can see it be improved further - as well as areas where Samsung and Oppo are still better - but overall, this is a remarkable device that is a pleasure to use. 


I first got my hands on the iPhone 15 when it was first unveiled in California on September 12 along with the new Apple Watch Series 9, Apple Watch Ultra 2 and latest Aroids Pro model. 

While the USB-C port got most of the mainstream news media's attention and the action button earned most of the hype, the biggest first impression on me was the improved physical feel of the Pro and Pro Max.

Since then, I've opted to use an iPhone 15 Pro as my main phone and its new titanium build remains awesome. On paper, it's only about 10 percent lighter than the 14 Pro (188g v 206g) but it feels much lighter, with a much nicer look and a more comfortable feel on your hand thanks also to the more curved edges.

The slightly smaller borders are also a nice improvement. They're not that noticeable to begin with but, when I go back to using an older model, I miss the slightly larger screen size. 

iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max action button.
The action button is located where the mute switch has been. Photo credit: Newshub.

New action button

The action button replacing the mute switch is a pretty major change, marking Apple getting rid of one of the only things every single iPhone since the very first has had.

Sure, some other phone models have had something similar and even older iPhones have allowed shortcut access by triple tapping the back of the device or the power button, but the action button is well done and the best version of this type of feature I've yet used.

It has a cool animated UI for its setup and some sensible default options - mute on/off, focus mode cycle, torch, camera, voice memos and magnifier - as well as a shortcut. That shortcut can be anything you like; you just need to set it up.

Is posting on Instagram the thing you do with your iPhone the most? Opening YouTube or TikTok? Listening to the latest podcast episode available from any of the channels you subscribe to? Whatever it is, you can map that to the action button so it's always one press away.

I would like multiple options with this and am confident they will be added in later updates. If I could have the action button do different things depending on what focus mode I'm in could be super handy - voice memos in 'work' mode, camera in 'personal' mode, get the Nespresso machine to brew me a coffee in 'morning' mode... yeah, I imagine I'll get intense with that customisation.

Contact posters are a new iOS 17 feature.
Contact posters are a new iOS 17 feature. Photo credit: Newshub.

There are cool little touches to how this is done like displaying a dynamic island animation to illustrate what the action button is doing and, if it's on the camera option, you can specifically tell it what type of photo or video to default to and then use the action button again to take photos. It's just really well done and very handy.


OK so we have USB-C charging on iPhones now.

Honestly, there's not much to say about this. It's disappointing it hasn't meant a big leap in fast-charging - if that's your top priority, Oppo is the king of fast-charging and they have some great smartphones on the market.

I like that Apple is providing a nice threaded cable in the box that should be more durable than the older cords. I like that from now on I'll need USB-C cables for pretty much every device I charge.

But it's just not that exciting to me.

If you're into reverse charging - ie, using the battery of your phone to charge other devices - then you can do that now. You can even charge your mate's Android phone if they're running low now.

Plenty of the other new features are far more interesting - like the much more precise locator capabilities. Finding a person with this is now as precise as an AirTag, so if you lose a mate at a concert or your child goes missing in a hectic Tokyo subway station, you'll be able to track them until you're right beside them, not just in the general vicinity.

Also, the ability of modern iPhones to contact satellites when there is no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage is getting even better. So far it has only been to contact emergency services - and has been used to save lives around the world - but now it can be used to contact the AA for roadside assistance.

That's only in the US now but it'll likely come to Aotearoa within a year or so and is just another handy feature.

The upgraded portrait mode of the camera app on the iPhone 15 Pro models is a key feature.
The upgraded portrait mode of the camera app on the iPhone 15 Pro models is a key feature. Photo credit: Newshub.

Better photos

As for the inevitable camera upgrades, these get complicated in a way that's mostly too difficult to explain here, but they definitely make a difference.

The main cameras shoot 24MP by default rather than the 12MP most smartphones do, the Photonic engine is applied to more modes than before - but the coolest, most easily understandable new feature is how you can change the depth of field on photos after you've taken them.

This improved portrait mode is actually pretty amazing. It really speaks to Apple's approach of just letting you quickly snap photos in the moment and then perfect them later, right in the Photos app, using the information in the image itself rather than applying anything artificial.

Even if you take a standard photo, if a person or pet is detected in it it'll give you the option of turning that into a portrait image later. If you do, you can then slide the bokeh effect up or down as much as you like, as well as change what in the image is focussed on with just by tapping it. 

The Pro Max does have a markedly better camera than the Pro this year with its 5x telephoto camera at 120mm. It has a larger sensor and better stabilisation, and something about taking portrait mode photos from a few feet back with that 5x zoom makes for some really nice pics. 

There will be more of these soon, but here is the first solid, independent side-by-side test of the iPhone 15 Pro Max versus a Galaxy S23 Ultra I've seen:

It demonstrates that each phone has amazing cameras and while the Samsung is better at some zoom lengths and a few other photo modes, the Apple is the better camera system in many ways, especially when it comes to video. 

Super powered

Smartphones have had more power than most people need in them for years now, but the iPhone 15 Pro is pushing things to a pretty crazy degree with the A17 Pro chip, which is built on hyper advanced 3-nanometer transistor technology. 

But if our smartphones are running all of the latest apps smoothly and jumping between them quickly, why would we even want yet more power? 

Gaming. We now have an actual use for this much computing power in our phones and it's to operate practically current-gen console quality gaming, with raytracing and HDR graphical capabilities that were mind-blowing on a desktop gaming PC only a few years ago. 

Games like Death Stranding and Assassin's Creed: Mirage are coming to the iPhone 15 Pro. I have played Resident Evil: Village on the iPhone 15 Pro and it's amazing how well it runs.  

It's rough playing it with the onscreen controls but connect an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 controller via Bluetooth, pop on some decent headphones and this is a surprisingly impressive gaming experience. 

It won't replace sitting in front of a 65-inch TV - but what about when you're on a bus or plane? And this is just one of the functions of your phone. Or your camera that makes calls, depending on how you look at it. 

The verdict

Apple is the most popular smartphone brand in New Zealand for a reason - they make great smartphones that work brilliantly with other Apple products. 

The iPhone 15 Pro has several minor improvements that add up to a big upgrade on previous models, with fun and convenient new features that are a delight to use. 

There are certain aspects that are done better in Samsung and Oppo alternatives but, if you're an iPhone user in general, there is very little if anything to be disappointed about in the latest. 

Cost-wise, there has been a bump in the launch price this year - the iPhone 15 Pro starts at $2099 in New Zealand, versus the 14 Pro starting at $1999. That's smaller than Samsung's jump from the S22 Ultra starting at $1999 to the S23 Ultra starting at $2299. 

If those prices seem just too steep, the 2022 or 2021 models are available for cheaper now and they are still good phones. They're just not as good as these latest ones. 

The standard iPhone 15 features most of the good stuff that came only in the Pro models of the 14 range and for many people it will be absolutely fine. If you're upgrading from an iPhone 11 or older, the leap in quality across all of its features will probably blow you away. 

And if you want the very best Apple mobile product yet released and are comfortable investing what it's asking for, I'm confident the iPhone 15 Pro or Pro Max will live up to your expectations.

Newshub was supplied an iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max for this review.