As a world-renowned cheapskate, I will never pass up the opportunity to pay less for something. That's especially true of smartphones where my natural inclination to pay any more than I have to steers me toward discounted models. Why pay up for the latest hardware, my reasoning goes, when the marked-down model may be just as good.
You would think, then, that I'd leap on Apple's iPhone 14 with both feet. Apple's flagship device was one of the best phones available when it arrived a year ago, and now it's selling for $100 less than before. It runs the newly released iOS 17 without a hitch, and it should continue receiving software and security upgrades for another four years — long after many people would be ready to upgrade. Add all that together, and the iPhone 14 seems like the bargain hunter's dream.
I'm here to tell you that it is not. If you find yourself in an iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 14 purchasing dilemma, I urge you to choke back any instinct toward paying less and to pony up the extra $100 for Apple's newer phone.
That's not necessarily a reflection of the iPhone 14, an acceptable phone in its day. Rather, it's an acknowledgement that the iPhone 15 is a far better device — certainly enough to justify parting with that extra c-note.
Why the iPhone 15 beats the iPhone 14
Reading John Velasco's hands-on iPhone 15 review, I was struck by how significant the changes were that Apple made to its entry-level iPhone this year. The processor, the cameras, even the look of the phone — all of these things are different from the iPhone 14 in a very noticeable way.
Yes, a cynic might dismiss a lot of those iPhone 15 improvements as Apple playing catch-up with its own devices — much of what's new about the iPhone 15 actually appeared in the iPhone 14 Pro the previous year. But if you've got an iPhone 12 or older and you're contemplating a new handset, you really aren't going to care that the iPhone 15 is late to the party on some features. What you will notice is that the iPhone 15 has superior features not available in the cheaper iPhone 14.
Let's start with the look of the phone. The iPhone 15 adopts Apple's Dynamic Island feature where the front camera and Face ID sensors are housed in a cutout in the phone's display. In contrast, the iPhone 14 features the notch that's been around on Apple flagships since the iPhone X.
Maybe you don't see much of a difference between the notch and a cutout, but the Dynamic Island does free up more screen real estate and makes the iPhone display feel less truncated. There's a functionality component, too, as the Dynamic Island hosts alerts and Live Activities in a more compelling, easier-to-track way. Once you've seen it in action, you'll be glad the notch is gone.
The iPhone 15 gets the usual silicon bump for a new handset — in this case, it's the A16 Bionic that powered the iPhone 14 Pro lineup. While I'm not a fan of Apple's strategy of assigning different chipsets to phones released the same year, there's no arguing that the A16 is faster than the A15 Bionic inside the iPhone 14 — we've got the benchmarks to prove it. While a faster chip wouldn't be enough to sway me to one phone over the other, it's undeniably another mark in the iPhone 15's favor.
It's the cameras that take the biggest leap forward between generations. While the iPhone 14 has the 12MP main camera that Apple has been using since the invention of film — OK, OK, it was only since the iPhone 6s in 2015 — the iPhone 15 gets an upgrade to the 48MP main sensor introduced with the iPhone 14 Pro models.
The switch doesn't just mean that the iPhone 15 can capture photos at full resolution, though, yes, that is in its bag of tricks. By default, the iPhone 15 takes 24MP pictures. It also supports a 2x zoom, with the 48MP lens cropping in on the area you're zooming in on for a 12MP shot. That's a lot of flexibility for the camera hardware and we haven't even gotten to the improvements to features like Smart HDR and Portrait mode that the iPhone 15 benefits from.
To put it another way, the iPhone 14 was no slouch in the camera department. But the iPhone 15 is a big leap forward, so much so that it's hard to justify the iPhone 14's lower price by giving up those kind of improvements.
Cheaper model trade-offs
there are times when it makes sense to go with the cheaper iPhone model, even if it means given up some improvements. If we were having this conversation a year ago as the iPhone 14 came out, I would be steering you toward the discounted iPhone 13. Sure, the iPhone 14 delivered some performance gains and new software features such as Emergency SOS via satellite and Crash Detection. But those hardly seemed worth an extra $100.
The calculus is different this year with the iPhone 15/iPhone 14 comparisons. In addition to the usual performance improvements, you've got a much better main camera and a phone that's easier to hold thanks to the iPhone 15's contoured edges. Even the addition of a USB-C slot means more versatile charging options.
I'm as much for saving a buck or two when possible as the next person, and it's certainly possible by opting for the $699 iPhone 14 instead of the $799 iPhone 15. But it's not terrible practical, given all the changes Apple made to its latest phone.