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The iPhone 15 has basic specs that Android phones wouldn't get away with
The iPhone doesn’t compete on a level playing field. As the only option for iOS users, it’s guaranteed a level of popularity for anyone worried about showing up as a blue bubble to their friends. Those features — ones like FaceTime and iMessage — are what keep an iPhone in people’s pockets because the spec sheet sure isn’t doing it. The iPhone 15, for instance, is loaded with outdated, underwhelming specs that no comparable Android phone could ever get away with.
For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to split the iPhone 15’s specs into two categories: ones that feel like the iPhone 14 Pro’s leftovers and ones that are just plain bad. Let’s look at what $799 (or more) gets you.
Would you buy the iPhone 15?
Up first, we have the haves and the have-nots. Apple’s Pro models are the haves, while the standard iPhones are the have-nots. They lag in display, chipset, and more — all of which we would (and do) complain about on comparable Android devices. Here’s why it feels like the iPhone 15 is really an iPhone 14 Pro Minus.
If you were expecting the iPhone 15 to fall in line and pick up the same display as 2022’s iPhone 14 Pro series, we have bad news for you. Yes, it gets the Dynamic Island for notifications, your current Spotify selection, and message previews, but that’s about it.
For starters, there’s still no always-on display. Getting Apple to adopt an AoD at all was like pulling teeth — it took 14 generations while Android OEMs were busy bringing the feature to mid-range devices — but it’s still limited to the Pro models. On top of that, Apple’s always-on implementation was about as always-on as can be, perhaps too much so. Either way, the feature is table stakes at this price point, especially when you peek outside Apple’s walled garden.
After all, Apple’s main selling point with many of its lock screen upgrades was that you could enjoy them on its always-on panel. The widgets, customizable clock, and optional layering are all tailor-made to be seen, yet there’s no way to see them on the iPhone 15 without fully waking your display. And at that point, you’re almost better off unlocking your phone to use the full-size widgets instead of the tiny lock screen icons.
Refresh rates and always-on displays are table stakes, but the iPhone 15 is stuck at the penny slots.
Sticking with the iPhone 15’s display shortcomings, a 60Hz refresh rate isn’t good enough — and it hasn’t been for a while. Google launched the Pixel 6a with a 60Hz panel back in 2021, and we complained about it then, yet Apple is sticking with a low refresh rate in 2023. The comparison to the Pixel 6a gets even worse when you consider that Google’s mid-ranger cost $449 at launch compared to the iPhone 15’s $799 tag. Since then, Google has learned a few lessons, bumping the Pixel 7a to a 90Hz panel, but the base iPhone seems content to stick its head in the sand.
Now, is anyone really choosing their iPhone based on its refresh rate? Probably not, but it’s one of those factors like the Dynamic Island and the USB-C port that, in theory, should be used to make life better.
Last year’s chipset
Sticking with a theme of too little, too late, Apple is setting a chipset double standard that we don’t see from any other major manufacturer. Sure, the A16 Bionic is a solid chipset — it powered the iPhone 14 Pro admirably and was an upgrade over the iPhone 13 — but therein lies the problem. Apple is using the last generation’s chipset in this generation’s $799 device. If Samsung shipped its Galaxy S23 and S23 Plus with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 while shipping the Galaxy S23 Ultra with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, we’d throw a fit, but Apple doesn’t seem to mind.
Other lineups, like Google’s annual Pixel series, use the same chipset across both flagships, the mid-range A-series, and even the ultra-premium Pixel Fold. Google finds other ways to differentiate its setups — display sizes, cameras, RAM, and storage spring to mind — but the chipset is as close to a great equalizer as it gets. Going further, Apple used to keep its chipset consistent across its lineup, starting when it introduced multiple sizes and continuing up to the iPhone 13 series, but those days are over.
The A16 Bionic isn't a bad chip, but the generational delay feels like a sly tactic to push you into the iPhone Pro lineup.
Of course, Apple’s control over its chipset design and the optimization of iOS 17 means it can squeeze every last bit of power out of the A16 Bionic, which is why the iPhone tends to come with less RAM than comparable Android devices. We’re not saying that the A16 Bionic is a bad chipset, either — it benchmarks with the best of them. However, the generational delay feels like one more tactic for Apple to push you into its Pro lineup.
Just not good enough
The other group of iPhone 15 specs we take issue with is the ones that simply aren’t good enough. We’ve touched on a few of them above, like the lowly 60Hz refresh rate, but others, like the entire USB-C setup, deserve their own talking point. Here’s where Apple’s charging port goes wrong.
Not this port in a storm
The Lightning port is dead, long live the Lighting port. After years of will they or won’t they, Apple was essentially forced to adopt USB-C on the iPhone, and it did so in the most classic Apple way possible. Like with the display, the chipset, and the Action Button (which we hadn’t mentioned until now), the iPhone 15 gets treated like a second-class device.
For starters, the iPhone 15’s USB-C port only supports the 2.0 protocol compared to the USB-C 3.2 port on its Pro-level siblings. That means it tops out at 480Mbps data transfer, while the premium models can push files far, far faster at 20Gbps. It may not matter to you if you’re only sending a few photos here and there, but the gap widens considerably as soon as you start trying to transfer larger files like videos.
USB 2.0? That's so last... decade.
Outside of transferring files, you might also run into some growing pains when it comes to charging your iPhone 15. Most notably, the $799 device only reaches 20W speeds when wired charging. It’s not that far behind Samsung’s 25W rate on the Galaxy S23, but it has plenty of ground to make up against Motorola with blistering 68W wired charging on its Edge Plus (2023) or OnePlus with 80W speeds on the OnePlus 11 — both of which come in at similar price points to Apple’s base flagship.
So, why buy an iPhone 14 Pro Minus?
Alright, there’s no getting around the fact that the iPhone 15 will be popular now that it’s available. You know it and I know it, because people really want their blue bubbles and FaceTime calls. Yet, outside of that, I find it increasingly difficult to throw much weight behind Apple’s base-level device. After all, it’s essentially a stripped-down version of the iPhone 14 Pro, which can now be found used at a discounted price.
Maybe you want the lighter-weight materials that come with the vanilla iPhone 15, or perhaps you don’t care about titanium, the action button, or the once again revamped camera system. But if that’s the case, I’d still steer you toward the iPhone 14 Pro, with its additional telephoto lens and smoother 120Hz refresh rate, or I’d push you toward a comparable Android flagship. After all, we’re in the busiest tech season of the year, so if you’re not sold right now, something new is probably right around the corner.
Those are just my two cents, but what do you think? Given its underwhelming spec sheet, is there any reason to buy the base iPhone 15?