Should you buy an iPhone 15? Here’s how my wife and I are deciding



Jason Hiner/ZDNET

It’s iPhone season again. Yesterday marked Apple’s annual iPhone event. And just as night follows day, current iPhone users the world over are deciding whether this is the year they upgrade to a new phone.

My wife and I are right there with you. As a favor to those of you who don’t want to read all the way to the end, here’s the TL;DR. My wife is getting a new phone. I am not.

Also: The case for keeping your old iPhone

I am carrying a now-three-generations-old iPhone 12 Pro Max with 256GB storage on it. My wife is running a 64GB iPhone 11 Pro.

Why we upgrade

I’ve been using and covering mobile devices since before Bill Clinton was president, and in all that time, I’ve seen three main reasons for users to upgrade:

  1. The current device had some failing that reached the annoyance level, triggering a replacement urge, or
  2. The newer device had one or more incredibly compelling “must buy” features, or
  3. You want to be seen carrying — or know you’re carrying —  the latest hotness in a sort of keeping-up-with-or-ahead-of-the-Joneses kind of way.

A variant of #3: the folks who upgrade each year simply because that’s what they do.

Personally, I’ve never cared about upgrading for appearance’s sake. By contrast, I prefer to upgrade when reaching a confluence of #1 and #2. Sometimes, it’s just necessary to upgrade because the old device is reaching that time. But it’s also nice to have new features or capabilities that excite you or promise some productivity improvement.

New features

It’s a hefty jump moving from the iPhone 12 generation to the new iPhone 15 generation. It’s an even bigger jump from the iPhone 11 generation. And while there have been nice little additions to the platform since we got our phones (I’m thinking specifically of the Dynamic Island), the real tangible differences for us involve processor capability, ruggedness, and camera.

Also: iPhone 15 Pro vs. iPhone 14 Pro: Which model is best to buy?

To be fair, some really big features have also been introduced since our generation of phones. iPhones now support 5G. Last year, Apple announced a satellite emergency service. This year, Apple introduced satellite roadside assistance, for when there’s no cellular coverage. And, of course, there’s this year’s move to a USB-C connector.

But a new iPhone is a very personal purchase. My wife and I aren’t likely to do much cross-country traveling anytime soon. We’re still recovering from our mad dash to the West Coast escaping a hurricane. 5G isn’t available locally. The move to USB-C won’t help reduce our clutter, because we still have other Lightning devices that need to be plugged in.

There are differences in the materials the phones are made of, too. The new Ceramic Shield on the front display of the iPhone 15 generation is valuable because it makes the display much more robust. The glass that makes up the back of an iPhone is still unshielded. Of course, if you use a protective case, that case will provide the protection Apple chose not to include.

Also: iPhone 15 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro: Should you upgrade and why?

Also, there’s the much-heralded titanium band around the iPhone 15 Pro models. Excuse me while I yawn. I haven’t seen the band around my iPhone in two years, since I put it into a case the day I got it. Yes, titanium is stronger than aluminum, but it’s not clear that the titanium will protect the iPhone 15 Pro from drops that hit the edge of the phone. Apple certainly didn’t demonstrate extra protection, which I’d think they would have done if they had something showy to show.


Jason Hiner/ZDNET

The camera is a big deal

To be fair, the 5X optical zoom on the iPhone 15 Pro Max is something special. It’s astonishing that they somehow embedded a 120mm lens inside a case 0.32 inches thick, especially at an ƒ/2.8 aperture.

Let’s do a reality check on this, for a minute. Because this is a huge feat of engineering. My most recent camera purchase was the mirrorless Sony ZV-E10. For most of my day-to-day work, I use it with a 30mm ƒ/3.5 lens. That lets me shoot very nice product close-ups.

Also: The iPhone 16 Ultra camera will integrate the biggest leap in photos since B&W-to-color: report

But if I wanted to buy a fairly entry-level telephoto lens for my mirrorless camera, I’d be looking at$1,198 for just the lens, plus it’s almost 5 inches long, weighs a pound and a half on its own, and only goes down to ƒ/4, not nearly as good as Apple’s ƒ/2.8 aperture.

I wouldn’t mind that on my phone, but I don’t do many telephoto pictures, so I don’t see the need to rush out and buy the iPhone 15 for that purpose, although I am a bit tempted.

What is my wife getting?

Denise is hanging in with 64GB on her iPhone 11 Pro, but it’s reaching the annoying phase. As such, she would upgrade for reason #1 above, the current device has some failing that reached the annoyance level.

Her 11 Pro is eligible for iOS 17, but with only 10GB space remaining (and that’s with all the optimizations turned on), it’s not clear whether there’s actually enough space for the update, when it arrives. Last time there was a major update, she had to take a whole bunch of stuff off her phone in order for the new iOS version to fit, and she’s still a bit cross about that.

Also: Here’s every iPhone model that will get Apple’s iOS 17

She probably won’t be in the first rush of iPhone 15 purchasers, but sometime in the next month or two, she’s likely to place an order. She likes to see how new releases shake out, read a bunch of reviews (ZDNET colleagues, I’m lookin’ at you!), and wait for all the new cases and accessories to hit the market. That way, she has a wider selection to choose from at more reasonable prices than those announced on Apple event day.

Which iPhone model will she buy? We know she’ll probably upgrade to the maximum storage possible. Over the past couple of years, she’s gotten stung a few times by having too little storage on her devices, so we’ve just decided that any device she gets will get a hefty amount of storage. With the iPhone 15, that would be a max of 512GB and with the iPhone Pro phones, that would be 1TB of storage.

Also: Every iPhone 15 model compared: iPhone 15 vs. Plus vs. Pro vs. Pro Max

In terms of price, that puts us at a base of $1,099 for an iPhone 15 (the 6.1-inch model) to a max of $1,599 for the maxed-out 6.7-inch iPhone Pro Max model — a $500 difference.

A hand holding the iPhone 15 Pro Max

 As much as I’d prefer to save money, I’d have to recommend the fully equipped iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Even though she has relatively small hands and doesn’t like the way the larger phones fit in her pockets, she’s been leaning towards getting a bigger phone because she finds the bigger display easier to see. This means she’s probably going to get either the 6.7-inch iPhone 15 Plus or the 6.7-inch iPhone 15 Pro Max. So the question is, does she spend the extra $500?

Let’s look at what that $500 buys:

  • Twice the storage, from 512GB to 1TB
  • That 5x zoom lens (vs. a 2x optical zoom)
  • A17 Pro processor vs. A16 (so, faster)

That’s actually a pretty big deal in terms of longevity and range of use.

Also: Buying an iPhone 15 but still want your Lightning port? Apple’s got a dongle for you

The other option is to go with the maximum savings possible while getting her a new phone with more storage. Right now, that means buying an iPhone 13 from Apple for $899. That’s a little more than half the price of the max-equipped iPhone 15 Pro Max, but it has two fewer years on it in terms of future iOS updates, a slower processor (yet faster than what she has now), and a smaller top-end for storage.

Unfortunately, if she really wants a larger display, Apple is no longer selling the bigger models of the iPhone 13, and refurbished units with 512GB of storage are hard to find.

The bottom line

We usually let decisions like this percolate for a while, unless they’re urgent. My wife’s iPhone upgrade need hasn’t reached urgent yet. So we’ll think on it, secure in the knowledge that when she wants something new, there are some nice options.

But as much as I’d prefer to save money, I’d have to recommend the fully equipped iPhone 15 Pro Max. It has longer staying time than an older model because it has double the maximum storage, and the camera is incredibly impressive, rivaling my standalone studio camera.

Also: Everything Apple just announced: iPhone 15, Apple Watch Ultra 2, AirPods

My wife tends to like to hold onto a phone for years, so getting one that has a lot of staying power is a smart decision. That extra $500 will pay for itself in not needing an upgrade for an extra year or so.

What about you? Are you going to upgrade to an iPhone 15 model? Let us know in the comments below.

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