So you held off, waited patiently for the hype to die down, and you’re still thinking of picking up either the iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro? Fair enough—we’re here to help you make the right choice. The good news is that both the usual backlash and the publicity push are much quieter now.

Do these phones overheat? Not anymore (and our test models never did). Do they reinvent mobile photography? Not quite, but they come close. Do they bendThey really don’t. Are they a huge leap forward over last year’s models? Probably not. Is the addition of USB-C actually a big deal? Well, yes, we think so.

We’ve been testing all the latest iPhones for the last couple of months and we know that the question you’re asking is just how much better the aerospace-grade titanium 15 Pro models are over the pastel-coloured iPhone 15s. In 2022, we called the iPhone 14 a mere 13S, but that’s not the story anymore.

While the iPhone 15 Pro Max has ended up being the phone we’ve stuck with for everyday use, we love the new features and specs that made their way to the standard iPhone 15 lineup. The truth is that the base model has never been this Pro. It makes for a major upgrade if you’re coming from an iPhone 11, 12 or even a 13.

Simon Cocks

So, What Are The Differences Between the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro?

With the 14 series, the gap between the entry-level iPhone and the Pro was more of a vast chasm. This year, all the best features from the iPhone 14 Pro have found their way into the regular 15, making it a great buy if the basic iPhone is not only all you need but all you’d rather pay for. The energy bills look pretty daunting again this year, after all.

First up, what’s the same between these models? Well, a fair bit. The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro share the innovative "Dynamic Island" display feature, both models maintain a 6.1-inch screen size for the standard variants and 6.7-inch displays for the Plus and Pro Max (although the Pros have slimmer bezels around the display), they also both introduce USB-C, have around the same battery life, and reach identical maximum display brightness. On cameras, they both have 48-megapixel primary sensors for serious detail, as well as a handy 2x zoom, and both have 12-megapixel front-facing cameras.

Where things get different is that the Pro models add a third rear camera—a 77mm (3x) telephoto lens on the Pro and a longer 120mm (5x) zoom on the Pro Max. With its computational wizardry, the iPhone 15 Pro also leverages its 48-megapixel main camera for 24-megapixel results at 1.2x and 1.5x zoom (28mm and 35mm equivalents).

The Pro variant boasts a swifter A17 Pro chip compared to the iPhone 15's A16, as well as a higher refresh rate and an always-on display that’s missing on the 15. The 15 Pro comes in a new titanium material, adds the new customisable action button that you won’t get on the 15, and has a 1TB storage option if you need to store more files than fit on your laptop for some reason.

iPhone 15 vs iPhone 15 Pro: Design and Display

The designs of both phones are similar, and Apple hasn’t gone back to the drawing board when it comes to the basics of how an iPhone looks. They both have the “Dynamic Island” at the top of the display which, while it has a laughable name, is a genuinely useful feature to show off your current timer, the song you’re playing, directions, how long your Uber Eats order will take or exactly what gate you need to go to at the airport.

We’re fans of features like this and widgets that mean we don’t need to constantly open apps, so it’s ideal if you prefer to see more information at a glance. It’s no longer a point of difference, though, and there’s more of that elsewhere with the screen—you’re getting the same size options, the same brightness performance, the same resolutions. The big difference is that the 15 is stuck on a fixed 60Hz refresh rate while the 15 Pro has a variable 120Hz plus an always-on display. It’s not the end of the world and you may turn off these battery-hungry features, but it does mean scrolling is a lot smoother on the Pro.

Simon Cocks

Design-wise, the 15 Pro is also now housed in a sleek titanium body, dropping the weight considerably compared to previous Pro models. This is something you’ll care about if you’ve had enough of a 13 Pro weighing you down, but won’t matter if you’re considering the difference between the phones. Colour is one area of difference though: the 15 comes in a range of pastel colours (Pink, Yellow, Green, Blue… and Black) while the Pro comes in minimalist Black Titanium, White Titanium, Blue Titanium and Natural Titanium.

Oh, and before we forget, they both have USB-C rather than Lightning for charging and connecting accessories. It's a good change which, yes, was sort of forced on Apple by the EU. Anyway, we love connecting our external DAC for our wired headphones, offloading photos from our main camera via a USB-C-to-SD card reader, charging other accessories like earbuds via our phone’s battery and just using the same cable we use for our laptop to juice up the phone. It’s a small but noticeable change in everyday use.

Simon Cocks

iPhone 15 vs iPhone 15 Pro: Camera and Photography

Now, we get that this is where most people assume there’s a huge amount of difference between the “basic” iPhones and the “Pro” ones, but we’re here to say it’s just not as much of a big difference this time around. In the majority of situations and especially if you mostly take photos to share with friends or post on Instagram, you won’t see a difference. We’re not just saying it, we’ve brought images to prove it.

However, that’s not to say the camera systems are identical. Essentially, the Pros just offer that bit more when it comes to versatility—that includes a longer third zoom (3x on the Pro, 5x on the Pro Max), clever extra focal lengths through computational photography and macro close-up modes that aren’t on the 15. The 15 Pro also has an exclusive ProRAW shooting capability (so you can take better shots for editing) and the ability to shoot ProRes video that’ll mean nothing to many, but be a major selling point for advanced videographers.

What’s the same? Well, both camera systems perform about the same in most light conditions, both have a 48-megapixel main sensor to churn out fantastic 24-megapixel shots (with a mode to use the whole of that sensor for massive high-res pictures), and both have a 2x zoom that uses the centre of the big sensor, both have about the same 12-megapixel front-facing camera and comparable 12-megapixel ultra-wide cameras. They both also have the same software improvements like automatic portrait mode on photos with people and where you tap to focus.

To be absolutely clear, in the majority of scenarios, you won’t be able to tell the difference between these camera setups unless you know what you’re looking for.

To illustrate this, we shot all the product photos in this review with the iPhone 15 camera system (using the Pro Max) and have included unedited side-by-side comparisons between the 15 and the 15 Pro below. You're unlikely to be able to tell them apart, especially with these compressed images, but the 15 is on the left with the 15 Pro shot on the right (if you're viewing from a phone that means the shot from the 15 is the first one in each comparison).

Here’s a low-light shot with the rear camera...

Simon Cocks
Simon Cocks

In bright daylight conditions, we also struggle to tell the difference…

Simon Cocks
Simon Cocks

How about the ultra-wide lenses?

Simon Cocks
Simon Cocks

And the 2x zoom performs the same as well…

Simon Cocks
Simon Cocks

Where they differ is that you can zoom further on the Pro, allowing us to get that bit closer to subjects—both shots below are from the 3x zoom on the iPhone 15 Pro, and you can get much closer with the 5x on the Pro Max:

Simon Cocks
Simon Cocks

iPhone 15 vs iPhone 15 Pro: Speed and Performance

The iPhone 15 Pro is the first iPhone to get Apple’s new A17 Pro chipset, unlocking faster performance and a far better gaming experience with “hardware-accelerated ray tracing” and much smoother graphics. This is a massive deal for mobile gamers and with both the addition of the USB-C port (hello, Backbone One USB-C gaming controller) and the arrival of console games like Resident Evil 4, Assassin's Creed Mirage, Death Stranding and Resident Evil Village, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max get an instant recommendation for gamers seeking the best on-the-go experience. Of course, this will depend on whether there are enough titles to play.

This isn’t available on the regular, but if you don’t care about gaming it’s not going to matter. In reality, the A17 Pro is a further optimisation of Apple’s already fantastic iPhone processors. It’s great, but they’re already great. So if you opt for the iPhone 15 you’re getting the Pro-level brains from last year’s 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max which are fast enough and smart enough for anything you can throw at them. Unless you’re a gamer or are aware of a specific limitation of the A16 Bionic, you’ll be fine with the iPhone 15. The one extra thing we would add, though, is that the USB-C port on the 15 Pro is a faster version, with the A17 Pro unlocking USB 3.0 speeds for much quicker data transfers. This makes it a better pick for serious photographers and mobile filmmakers too.

iPhone 15 vs iPhone 15 Pro: Battery Life

You’re not going to see a big difference when it comes to battery life. The iPhone 15 delivers up to 20 hours of video playback and the iPhone 15 Plus offers up to 26 hours of video playback, according to Apple. Meanwhile the iPhone 15 Pro delivers up to 23 hours of video playback and the big 15 Pro Max will get you up to 29 hours of video playback.

In real-life use, we’ve found that every single one of these phones has more than enough juice to get you through the day and that if battery life is a big deal, either the Plus or Pro Max models should get you well into a second day of use. In our hands-on tests, we’re yet to notice any major difference between the 15 and the 15 Pro in normal use, so we wouldn’t make that a major factor in your decision, and you can always keep a power bank on you if you’re that worried.

Is The iPhone 15 Worth It?

Yes, the iPhone 15 is worth it, although we reckon it depends on what phone you’re upgrading from. Still rocking an iPhone XR or an 11 with a cracked screen and a blurry camera? You’re going to find levelling up to the iPhone 15 a revelation. It has a terrific pro-level camera system, a great USB-C port, the addition of the clever “Dynamic Island” and a bright high-res screen.

We don’t think the majority of photographers will miss the 3x zoom because the 2x is more than versatile enough, but if you do need a long zoom you’ll want to look hard at the 15 Pro Max. It’s also worth noting that if you’ve had enough of boring phone colours, the iPhone 15 is the better pick for its delightful range of pastel shades. Both the 15 and the 15 Plus are excellent handsets that we find easy to recommend.

Is It Worth Upgrading to The iPhone 15 Pro?

Comparing the options and coming to the realisation that you can’t do without the longer zoom lens, raw photography abilities, gaming upgrades, high refresh rate screen, always-on display, or versatile action button? Or are you just in love with the natural titanium colour? We get it, trust us. If the extra features make a noticeable difference to you as they do for us (we can’t quit ProRAW photography and the fantastic 5x zoom on the Pro Max), then it will be worth the extra cash you’ll have to spend on the Pro iPhone models.

Originally published on Esquire UK