Mon. Dec 11th, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • The iPhone 15 offers significant upgrades like a Dynamic Island, USB-C charging port, and a 48MP primary camera, making it a compelling choice for those with older models.
  • Compared to the iPhone 14 and the iPhone 13, the iPhone 15 has a brighter display, a faster A16 Bionic chip, better camera capabilities, and a longer-lasting battery.
  • If you currently have the iPhone 12 or older, upgrading to the iPhone 15 should be worth your money.

Every September, Apple releases a new iPhone lineup that kicks off the annual contemplation among those with an older model, “Should I upgrade my iPhone?” With upgrades like the Dynamic Island, USB-C charging port, and a 48MP primary camera, Apple has delivered a compelling phone with the vanilla iPhone 15. But is it worth replacing the phone you have? Let’s compare, model by model.

To give you a clear idea of the differences and cost of the upgrade, we’ll focus on the regular $799 iPhone 15 and how it compares to its predecessors. If you’re wowed by the new features and the phone is in your budget, then it certainly makes sense to splash on the new iPhone. So before we dig into the older models, let’s discuss some of the great updated and new features on the base-level iPhone 15.

Here’s What You Get With the iPhone 15

Two iPhone 15 models against a grey background

First things first, the iPhone 15 features a 6.1-inch OLED Super Retina XDR display with 460 pixels per inch resolution and a peak brightness of 2,000 nits. This year, the vanilla iPhone 15 features the Dynamic Island, a pill-shaped interactive cutout on the front panel. Since the phone has a contoured glass back and rounded edges on the front, it should feel more comfortable to hold than its predecessors with flat edges.

Under the hood, the smartphone runs on the six-core A16 Bionic chip, with 6GB of RAM and multiple storage variants starting from 128GB, going all the way up to 512GB. There’s a new 48MP (f/1.6, 26mm) primary camera with 2x lossless zoom, a 12MP (f/2.4, 13mm) ultra-wide sensor, and a 12MP (f/1.9) TrueDepth camera. You also get features like Smart HDR 5 and improved portraits with Focus and Depth control to improve your pictures. If you ever wished you could make a portrait photo a normal photo or vice versa after the fact, that’s certainly a compelling feature.


Apple iPhone 15

Release in September of 2023, the iPhone 15 offers a multitude of features not found on older iPhones. The older your iPhone, the more compelling of an upgrade it is.

Apple promises up to 20 hours of offline video playback and 16 hours of streaming. The battery still supports “fast” charging that refuels the iPhone up to 50% in 30 minutes with a 20W power adapter, although this year, you finally get a USB-C port instead of the Lightning Port. The iPhone 15 carries a regular USB-C port, albeit limited to USB 2.0 standard.

While those are the key highlights, it’s worth mentioning that the new iPhone is also available in five rather minimal finishes with color-infused back glass, including Black, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Pink. Other features include MagSafe and Qi2 wireless charging, a second-generation Ultra Wideband chip for extended Find My range, and IP68 water and dust resistance. The iPhone 15 starts at $799 for the 128GB variant in the United States.

With all those features and upgrades in mind, let’s stack the iPhone 15 against it’s predecessors going back a few generations to help you decide if it’s worth upgrading.

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 14: Worth It If You Want New Features Right Now

iPhone 15 in blue color alongside the iPhone 14 in blue color
Shikhar Mehrotra / How-To Geek / Apple

It’s perfectly OK not to upgrade your phone every year. Even around the office, most of us upgrade every other year just to go easy on the pocketbook and wait for more substantial upgrades. So if you’re on the fence about upgrading and want to sit this round out, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But if you want to dig into the differences for a little nudge to splurge, we can certainly help with that. The iPhone 14’s screen, with its 1,200 nits peak brightness, looks dull compared to the iPhone 15, especially while watching HDR content or using the phone outdoors. Even indoors, the iPhone 15 is 200 nits brighter. Further, the iPhone 14 has a notch instead of the Dynamic Island. If you’re ready to be rid of the notch, this is your chance.

Although both phones have 6GB of RAM and provide the same storage options, the iPhone 14 ships with the A15 Bionic (5nm) chipset, which is a tad slower than the A16 Bionic (4nm) chipset on the iPhone 15. However, you might not notice a difference unless you use the phone for heavy tasks such as playing games or editing videos.

Your iPhone 14 has a capable 12MP (f/1.5, 26mm) primary sensor. However, it can’t snap the 48MP high-resolution images nor provide the two-times lossless zoom like the iPhone 15. Nonetheless, both phones use the same 12MP (f/2.4, 13mm) ultra-wide and 12MP (f/1.9, auto-focus) sensors. Features like Photographic Styles, Action Mode, and Cinematic videos are standard across both phones.

Unlike the iPhone 15, the iPhone 14 comes with a Lightning Port. Even so, both phones provide the same battery life and charging speeds (up to 50% in 30 minutes with the 20W power adapter sold separately). Other common features of the smartphones include Roadside Assistance via Satellite, Face ID, 5G connectivity, Spatial Audio Playback, a Ceramic Shield front, and up to 480 Mbps wired data transfer speeds.

That said, it’s not like you’ll miss on something if you stick with your glossy-backed iPhone 14 for another year or two, as it will receive software updates for years to come. If you still want to stay on top of the game, though, consider trading in your iPhone 14 for $430 to Apple. You can also check out various exchange deals on AT&T and Verizon (though be forewarned that their trade-in values hinge on you using their service for 24-36 months to lock you in).

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 13: It’s a Solid Upgrade

iPhone 15 in pink color beside the iPhone 13 in pink color
Shikhar Mehrotra / How-To Geek / Apple

The iPhone 13 is Apple’s most affordable 6.1-inch phone, at $599. It has a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR screen like the iPhone 15, although it isn’t as bright and has a notch at the top. Under the aluminum frames and glass back, the iPhone 13 features 4GB of RAM. Further, the A15 Bionic chipset has a six-core CPU and a four-core GPU, resulting in a noticeable difference while doing graphics-intensive tasks.

Regarding cameras, the iPhone 13 features a 12MP (f/1.6) primary shooter, which isn’t as good as the iPhone 15, and the 12MP (f/2.2) TrueDepth camera on the former lacks auto-focus. However, both phones’ 12MP (f/2.4) ultra-wide sensor remains the same. On the flip side, the iPhone 13 lacks a 4K Cinematic Mode, Action Mode, and the up to 6x digital zoom. As far as battery life is concerned, the iPhone 13 is rated to provide up to 19 hours of video playback. The iPhone 13 carries a Lightning port, but the maximum charging speed and MagSafe compatibility remain the same. You also don’t get Emergency SOS via Satellite on the older model.

Moreover, we start to see quite a few reasons to upgrade to the iPhone 15 from the iPhone 13, but it’s important to mention that your iPhone will keep getting new software upgrades for another couple of years. So, if you’re fine with how your iPhone 13 handles, you can hold off and save some money instead of upgrading to the latest model. For reference, Apple is offering just $370 if you trade in your iPhone 13.

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 12: Three Years Is a Good Upgrade Cycle

iPhone 15 in green color with iPhone 12 in green color
Shikhar Mehrotra / How-To Geek / Apple

Apple’s iPhone 12 came out in 2020, so if you bought it on release, it’s already served you a good couple of years. As far as screen specs go, its max brightness peaks at 625 nits. Further, the iPhone 12 has an even larger notch than the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14, let alone the lack of found Dynamic Island on the iPhone 15. The iPhone 12 runs on Apple’s A14 Bionic chipset, which certainly can’t compete with the latest iPhone’s performance, nor is it as efficient. If you purchased the iPhone 12 with 64GB of storage and are tired of fussing with storage to free up space when you download too many apps or fill up your camera roll, the iPhone 15 could be your chance to upgrade to a 128GB or bigger phone and avoid that hassle.

The cameras on the iPhone 12 are also a bit too outdated. Sure, the 12MP (f/1.6, 26mm) primary and the 12MP (f/2.4, 13mm) ultra-wide sensors can snap great images in bright environments, especially when shooting still subjects, but they struggle in poor lighting conditions. Your iPhone lacks the sensor-shift stabilization on the newer models and features like Photographic Styles and Cinematic Mode. If you like snapping selfies, the iPhone 15 will also get you a better front camera.

Even if you have been lucky not to need a battery replacement, your iPhone 12’s battery health is probably lackluster at this point, providing much less than the rated battery life of 17 hours. However, even with the new USB-C port on the iPhone 15, the maximum wired charging and MagSafe charging speeds remain the same. Other connectivity and security features remain the same on both phones, like 5G and Wi-Fi 6, although the latest iPhone supports Bluetooth v5.3.

So, should you upgrade? We’re starting to get into the territory where the upgrades are more substantial. The iPhone 15 provides many quality-of-life improvements like better battery life, a more responsive UI, and a more capable system. Further, exchanging the phone in Apple’s trade-in program gets you $250, which is not a bad discount on a new phone (and a value that will only go down with time as the iPhone 12 becomes even longer in the tooth). Hence, if you’re fed up with cramped storage and slower response time on your iPhone 12 (and you’ve been waiting for a worthy upgrade) spending money on the iPhone 15 makes sense.

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 11 or Older: The New Features Are More Than Worth It

iPhone 15 in black along with iPhone 11 in black
Shikhar Mehrotra / How-To Geek / Apple

If you have anything older than the iPhone 12, you should definitely consider getting the new iPhone 15, and here are the more than compelling reasons why.

Apple’s iPhone 11, iPhone Xs, and iPhone XR are the oldest models to support iOS 17, and there’s a good chance that they won’t make the cut with iOS 18. Hence, if you’re using one of these iPhones, soon, you’ll only get security updates and miss out on all the new features like the StandBy Mode, Contact Posters, etc. Older phones, like the iPhone X and the iPhone 8, won’t get the new iOS 17 upgrade. While Apple is good about releasing security updates for older phones, it’s no fun to miss out on the new iOS features.

In terms of security and quality of life upgrades, upgrading from the six-year-old iPhone 8 would get you Face ID, a face recognition system that is 20 times more secure than the good old Touch ID. Face ID is also a lot faster and more convenient to use than Touch ID. Further, if you haven’t replaced the battery in your older phone, there is a very high chance your battery life is awful, and you find yourself forced to recharge at some point during the day. All-day battery life is certainly a quality-of-life boost worth investing in. No more wondering if you’ll make it to the end of the day without topping up or stuffing a battery pack in your bag.

Further, once you get into the iPhone 11 and older territory, you get into the pre-5G iPhones as the first 5G capable iPhone was the iPhone 12. While there are still areas without 5G coverage for those of you in areas with 5G coverage you’re leaving a huge amount of cellular performance on the table. If you’re one of those people who practically lives off their smartphone, we can’t stress the importance of having a 5G smartphone, as it provides more bandwidth for various tasks, including attending online meetings, making video calls, streaming content, downloading apps, etc. If you have 5G coverage where you live but no 5G phone, it’s about time you upgrade to an iPhone with 5G connectivity. Consider getting the iPhone 13 if that fits your budget, but if you could spend more, the iPhone 15 is a better option any day. Other features you’re missing include MagSafe for wireless charging, Precision Finding (on iPhone Xs and older), Crash Detection, etc.

In general, upgrading from an iPhone 11 or older will get you a phone with modern esthetics, a larger screen, better speakers, improved connectivity, staggering performance improvements, and the best cameras on an iPhone. The iPhone 15 will upgrade every aspect of your current phone, providing you with the best user experience Apple offers. You might not get the best trade-in value from the company, but you can always consider going through the deals telecom companies offer. And hey, if you’re the kind of person who likes to buy a new iPhone and coast on it for as long as possible, you’ll certainly get some mileage out of the iPhone 15.

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By John P.

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