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Apple iPhone 15 Pro Review: Brilliant and Boring

Every September, like clockwork, Apple hosts an event to showcase its latest iPhone. In recent years, while highly anticipated, the reveals have proved a little lacklustre.

This may simply be the result of the iterative nature of smartphone cycles these days, but innovation between one new device to the next is often minimal. Add to this continually rising prices, and picking up a new iPhone becomes less and less desirable, especially if you’re not an Apple fan.

What then of the iPhone 15 series? The latest lineup has not been without issue, costing quite a bit more than its predecessor, as well as featuring some scrutiny when it comes to build quality and overheating.

This could be the result of it being “cool” to have a contrarian opinion of a newly released iPhone, but having recently picked up an Apple iPhone 15 Pro (128GB in Titanium Blue), we decided to formally review the device.

To be clear, this is not one that Hypertext has been seeded, but instead is a device purchased to upgrade from our daily driver, which was an iPhone 11 Pro.

With a little under a month of use under our belt, and a chunk of savings transferred out of our banking account (R27 699), here’s our unfiltered, unbiased, and unabashed option of the iPhone 15 Pro.

Titanium is clean

We start as always when it comes to smartphone reviews with the design. Aesthetically speaking, not a lot has changed between this iPhone and the previous generation. One of the key differences here is the new glass colouring method used for the rear camera array.

As for the use of titanium for the unibody, it still delivers the same matte finish as last year’s phone did, but there is something a little more premium to it. It may be the way that light sometimes hits the phone, or how it feels in-hand, but it’s the kind of thing you can only appreciate on close inspection or over time.

It may sound like we’re reaching a bit here, but in the Titanium Blue colourway, the Apple iPhone 15 Pro looks both elegant and refined.

There is, however, one large caveat – the rear camera array. It is quite simply huge, bulging out in a really unattractive way. In fact it juts out so much that even the official clear MagSafe cover for the phone is not enough to mask the protrusion.

To be fair though, Apple is not the only phone maker guilty of this design element. As such, the subtle camera bumps of a few years ago have swollen to ridiculous proportions.

Back to the titanium unibody, and while the material is billed as being harder wearing and better at heat distribution than its aluminium counterpart, given that this is a R27 699 (RRP) piece of hardware, we simply do not feel confident enough to walk around with the phone without a cover on.

As for the recent bendgate issues, to be perfectly honest, if you apply enough force to any phone regardless of brand, it will give out. Again, we’d put this more on people hating on iPhone than an actual manufacturing fault or defect.

On the aspect of heat, we did not experience some of the serious issues that a handful of consumers have complained about, but there were instances before the first update to iOS 17 rolled out, that the iPhone 15 Pro seemed to get a little hot under the collar. Not enough to cause concern about burns, but certainly enough to make you ponder how the internals are coping with things.

During recent use, however, the iPhone 15 Pro has been quite stable, and does not give any cause for concern.

Power where it matters

Now we switch to the internal elements and the performance thereof.

We often like to rib Apple as each year, the new iPhone is the “most advanced” or “most powerful” to date. In the case of the Pro models of the iPhone 15, that is kind of true.

Powering these models is Apple’s new A17 Pro chip, a 3nm silicon that outperformed everything we have had in for review to date. To that end, in our benchmarking, the iPhone 15 Pro mustered a single-core and multi-core score of 2 929 and 7 444 respectively. To put that into perspective, the Galaxy Z Fold5 is the only thing that comes close, registering 5 432 on multi-core.

Now we are comparing a foldable to a non-foldable, but given the Fold5 is running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, the numbers in testing are quite impressive.

That said, we often tell consumers not to put too much value in benchmarking, but given that this phone costs close to R30k, you want to know precisely what it is capable of.

To that end, as a device you want to keep a hold off for the entirety of a contract period (usually 36 months these days), the Apple iPhone 15 Pro does offer a bit of surety that it can perform to a high level for a number of years before an upgrade is needed.

It is also worth mentioning that our in-hand experience of the phone was similarly impressive from a performance perspective, with absolutely no signs of sluggishness being experienced to date. With 8GB of RAM on offer too, it is interesting to see how Apple is able to squeeze out more performance when other manufacturers are venturing North of 10GB.

Next we should talk about battery, and here the Apple iPhone 15 Pro performs as expected. For some reason, Apple still keeps below the industry flagship standard in terms of the size of the battery, with a 3 274mAh offering. This modest unit served up at least 1.5 days of use before a recharge was needed. This figure is fine, but we can see that dipping to one full day in a couple of years, as was the case with our aforementioned daily driver.

Now for the camera experience, and here things are solid too. In terms of pictures, the pair of 12MP telephoto/ultra wide-angle and 48MP wide-angle lenses deliver good all-around photography. Images look crisp, clean, and detailed, with colour reproduction fairly spot on.

We found the video performance solid too, although must admit that recording at 4K (up to 60fps) can yield slightly overexposed footage, not to mention chowing up serious storage.

With the Huawei P60 Pro still delivering the best all-around photography experience we’ve encountered this year, the Apple competitor is good, if not great.

Middling software

It is now time to shift to the software onboard the iPhone 15 Pro. This device is running iOS 17, and here we’ll be touching on two elements specifically – the new Action Button and the Dynamic Island.

Now we won’t be faulting the OS ecosystem that Apple delivers, as devices simply communicate expertly with one another. iOS 17 also feels intuitive, and far cleaner than some of the UIs than we’ve encountered on flagship Android-powered offerings.

iOS is not without its issues, but it just works.

As for what frustrates, the Dynamic Island is just not dynamic enough, despite the moniker stating otherwise. This is mainly because it feels a little underutilised, as in our experience, it crops up with face ID, Spotify, Voice Memos, and Uber Eats. It normally provides a view of what’s going on in the app without having to enter it, and while that is useful, more controls would be appreciated too.

The only app that takes advantage of the Dynamic Island is Spotify, allowing you to control music in a mini player that expands when you press and hold. Other than that, the capabilities of the feature are not present enough for the actual day-to-day use of the phone.

Looking at the Action Button, which now replaces the Silent Mode switch of previous generations, and again, it feels a little underutilised. You can set it up to perform different actions with a long press, such as enabling Silent Mode, the Torch, Focus, Voice Memos, and a handful more. While it is a handy feature, it is not really programmable, say like the Accessibility Shortcuts of the iPhone are, and really limits you to one sole function at a time, which feels like a missed opportunity.

This could be addressed in a software update, but feels like Apple only half-baked this new addition.

Speaking of which, it makes no sense as to why the Action Button does not feature on the regular iPhone 15 and 15 Plus. It smacks of Apple getting a little greedy, and looking for ways to differentiate the two lineups, instead of doing the right thing and adding the Action Button across all models.

Final verdict

The Apple iPhone 15 Pro is a great all-around device. It really has to be given the recommended retail price and the fact that the Cupertino-based company has christened it as its most advanced to date, before next year’s iteration of course.

Slight jibe aside, every element of the iPhone 15 Pro works as expected and needed.

The thing for us though, is that such performance should be the baseline for iPhone, and the one thing that this device is missing is a little bit of charm or that something special. Sure, a titanium unibody adds a premium feel, and the processor is well ahead of the competition, but the innovation from a features or experience perspective is still missing.

Having first created this category and pioneered many of the aspects we take for granted now, the “one last thing” that Apple has always been known for, is just not present here.

That’s not to say that this is not a great phone, because it is, it just does not stand out in the same way iPhone use to.

FINAL SCORE: 8.5 OUT OF 10.

FULL DISCLOSURE: THE IPHONE 15 PRO FEATURED IN THIS REVIEW WAS PURCHASED BY HYPERTEXT AND WAS IN NO WAY SEEDED TO THE PUBLICATION.

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