Friday, January 12, 2024

Upgrading From an iPhone 12 mini to an iPhone 15 Pro

I’ve been using an iPhone 15 Pro for a few months now and so thought it was time to write down some notes. The first impression is, of course, that it’s much larger than the iPhone 12 mini, but in particular it feels much heavier. I miss the easy one-handed use and compactness in my pocket, but in the end I’ve had larger phones before, and I’m OK with the size and weight.

I got the Natural Titanium color, because I thought it would wear better, and it’s fine; I don’t love any of the colors. Color aside, I like the way the phone looks, and I really like the way it feels in my hand. This is probably the most comfortable phone to hold that Apple has ever made. Something about the shape and the weight is just very satisfying. It’s definitely thicker, and that combined with the slight grippiness of the back makes it easy to hold onto. This is the first phone I’ve felt comfortable using caseless since the iPhone 5s. Not needing a case somewhat mitigates the phone itself being larger.

This is my first Pro phone, and one of the reasons I initially favored the 15 Pro over the 15 was that it’s slightly smaller. I ended up trying them both and did not find this difference to be noticeable. The 15 Pro does feel heavier than the 15, though. There were two surprises about the iPhone 15. First, the black color looks much better in person than in the photos. It’s darker and less chalky. Second, the iPhone 15 is really slippery. There’s no way I could use it without a case. It does not feel anywhere near as good in the hand as the 15 Pro. Rather, I think it’s a regression in the direction of the old iPhone 6 shape.

This is also my first phone with an eSIM. I don’t love this because there are more things that can go wrong, and it’s not as easy to switch between phones. I confirmed with Boom Mobile that it is possible to go back to my old physical SIM, but of course I would have to contact them to do this. The automatic process to switch to the eSIM failed a few times, and I had to chat with Boom to get it to finally work. I’ve had no trouble with it since.

The iOS data migration experience continues to have more friction than it should. For the first 62 minutes, it estimated “About 1 hour” remaining to copy my data, eventually finishing in 1:17. The apps don’t transfer directly, I guess because of FairPlay, so they had to be redownloaded. Cached data, such as Overcast podcast episodes, Rain sounds, and iCloud Drive files that I wanted to keep locally, did not transfer. Overcast downloaded tens of GB again, which took a long time. 30 of my uploaded files had to be manually downloaded again (individually) because at first it said they were “Not Authorized.”

My repos in Working Copy also didn’t transfer. It showed the config information but somehow remembered the repo path and refused to download anything (“No route to host”). I had to delete everything from the app, re-enter the details, and clone from the server. Even then it kept saying that one subfolder of the fresh clone was modified, even though it wasn’t, and it wouldn’t let me revert it. I’m not sure how I fixed this, but I eventually got it working.

Many apps required re-entering login credentials, even though I let iOS use the keychain wherever possible. This was not limited to financial apps but also included ones requiring less security such as Kindle and Spotify. Symantec VIP Access of course gave me a new Credential ID, and I had to update all the sites that use it.

CarPlay forgot my home screen layout. I also had to pair the new phone with my Apple Watch, which failed several times since it never showed the confirmation on the watch until I rebooted both devices. Weathergraph forgot my view preferences and required manually restoring my purchases.

The worst part of migration is Apple Pay. I had to enter security codes for each credit card, and there is no way to activate them in bulk/parallel. It’s a slow, individual process. One card was said to be invalid, even though it wasn’t. A few cards wouldn’t activate until I called my bank. One wouldn’t work even then, and I had to delete the card and re-add it. Some could be activated via codes sent via SMS, but I had to type them manually because they only arrived on my old phone. This sort of makes sense in that I think my eSIM wasn’t working at the time, but I would have expected iMessage to forward them to all devices. Eventually, iMessage did start working, but then a few hours later it spontaneously signed me out.

For a long time, the Wallet app showed a notification badge that was confusing because nothing in the app seemed to require my attention. I eventually figured out that this was because one of the cards was not activated, though it didn’t show this in the list. Overall, I consider my credit card info to be less sensitive than many of my passwords, so it’s frustrating that it can’t just be stored in the keychain and migrated automatically.

This is my first phone with ProMotion. The screen looks good, and animations are smooth, but I can’t say that I noticed an increase in smoothness. Coming from the 12 mini, everything on screen looks huge. The display is physically much larger but has only slightly more pixels. I wish there were a “More Space” option to use a higher logical resolution like on my Mac. Failing that, I wish there were a way to decrease the font size more so that I could fit more stuff on screen.

This is also my first phone with an Always-On Display. I don’t find it to be a big selling point, but overall I like it. It’s frustrating that, although the display is on, it is not necessarily showing current information. For example, the ATracker widget doesn’t always sync with the Apple Watch when the iPhone app isn’t running. Even controlling it using the phone, it doesn’t update when a timer is started or stopped via Siri. (The same is true of Live Activities.) The Fitness widget actually hides the information when the display turns “off,” defeating the purpose of putting it on the lock screen. All this said, I do still find the Always-On Display useful for letting me see information (OmniFocus, Fantastical, Weathergraph) and photos at a glance. Battery life is still fine with it enabled. The screen itself is too easily scratched and already has some permanent nicks, despite my never having dropped it or put it in a pocket with anything else. The Always-On Display does somewhat hide these marks, as it’s harder to see them against a photo than a solid black screen.

The dynamic island, in contrast, is a clear win, probably the best new iOS interface element in a long time. Live Activities work better with it, and in general it makes multitasking feel more real and convenient.

Face ID feels faster on the iPhone 15 Pro, though not as fast as Touch ID was, and it still fails regularly. The most frustrating part is when I just want to quickly take a photo. Here, the new Action button helps because it can be programmed to directly open the camera. I find this to be a big improvement, but it still feels slower than with Touch ID. The reason is that the iPhone seems to ignore the Action button when the proximity sensor is triggered. If the phone is in my pocket, I can’t press the Action button and pull it out in a single motion. I have to press the button after it’s out, which feels a bit awkward. I also have to hold it down for a while. It’s just not as convenient as I expected, though still an improvement over side-swiping or pressing the on-screen button to access the camera. My other complaint about the Action button is that it feels like it’s in the wrong place. It’s awkward to reach given where my hand is when I’m trying to press it.

This brings us to the cameras. Physically, they are also awkward, with the bumps far larger than on my previous iPhones. The bumps are off-center, so the phone won’t lay flat on a table, and it wobbles when sitting in a charging dock and can be hard to line up on a flat charging pad. I’ve switched to a MagSafe stand, although that has the disadvantage of requiring two hands to remove the phone.

The camera image quality is, surprisingly, a mixed bag. Overall, it’s an improvement, with sharper images and better color and low-light performance. However, I dislike the shallower depth of field. In addition to having a larger sensor, the iPhone 15 Pro’s main lens is ƒ/1.78 vs. ƒ/1.6 for the iPhone 12 mini. Photos have built-in bokeh, even with Portrait Mode off, to the point where I initially thought the Portrait Mode switch was broken and stuck on. This can look nice for portraits, but I often take photos where I want to capture a lot of the background details, and that seems to be impossible. I spend more time manually focusing, and even then parts of the photo that I’d like to be sharp end up blurry. I also take close-up photos of objects and documents, and these generally look worse with the 15 Pro. There’s a new feature to quickly change focal lengths, but that doesn’t help with these problems, and I have not found it to be useful. I have not found myself using the 3x lens much, so I almost wish I could have an iPhone 12–style lens/sensor in its place.

Emergency SOS via Satellite sounds great, though thankfully I have not had occasion to test it.

I haven’t mentioned the processor yet. The phone mostly feels fast, but then so did the iPhone 12 mini. The A17 Pro seems over-provisioned for what I do and doesn’t really help Siri and cellular stuff not feel slow.

Lastly, power. The battery life is phenomenal compared with my iPhone 12 mini. I haven’t yet had to worry about it, even when recording GPS tracks and taking lots of photos. After a recent hike, it was still at 74%, whereas the 12 mini would likely have been in the 30s with its old battery and probably below 50% even when new. I still carry an external battery pack on long days, but before I would expect to have to recharge and plan when to do that, whereas now it’s more of a backup in the case of an unexpected battery drain. Of course, I can now charge the phone and connect it to my Mac using USB-C rather than Lightning. I think Apple waited way too long to make this transition, but I’m glad they finally did it.

Overall, I think this is one of the best iPhones Apple has made. I wouldn’t say that there’s any one thing that’s a must-have, but the smaller improvements add up, and I see it remaining good for years. My main disappointment is that in some cases the camera has regressed. I expect that other iPhone 15s and even iPhone 14s have the same issues, so an iOS user doesn’t have much choice. The older iPhones are worse overall, and it’s not clear that switching to an Android phone would help in this regard.


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There is also the option of a truly standalone smartwatch as small as the Apple Watch Ultra 2 but which is truly standalone (no need of other device for anything, including setup), with camera and USB connection.

Amazingly, it is more a miniaturized smartphone than a smartwatch. It does all that can be done with a standard smartphone, albeit, or course with a smaller display. But you forget that you carry it and weights just 54 g. Your hands (and mind) become suddenly free! No more hand-phone dependency!

It is really amazing but unfortunately Apple does not make it. It is Android. BTW, it costs 100 USD instead of 900 USD of the Apple Watch Ultra 2. Still, I would buy from Apple if it had such features (truly standalone and camera).

Kevin Schumacher

I am always curious what people are doing with their phones when they make remarks like "The screen itself is too easily scratched and already has some permanent nicks, despite my never having dropped it or put it in a pocket with anything else."

I am not saying I don't believe that this happened to you. That said, after 13 (?) or so years of having iPhones, the only one where I ever had any physical damage to the screen was when I accidentally dropped one several years back and it kind of flew at the closed dishwasher and bounced off. Even then it was a pretty small line about an inch long that could catch my fingernail but usually wasn't really visible. I haven't used a case since 2015 or so.

My husband actually asked me about that the other day and how I've never destroyed or even really damaged a phone given that I don't use cases, or even dropped one. I don't have a good answer for that.

I will say, my Apple Watch Series 7 bounced off a metal doorframe when I didn't move my arm enough to clear it and got a gouge line (similar to the old iPhone) in it, not very long after I got it.

@Kevin I don’t know where these scratches came from; one day they were just there. Maybe from the plastic zipper on my snow pants? I’ve been carrying (left front pants pocket) and using phones the same way since the original iPhone and am very careful with things. The first several models seemingly never got scratched, but for the last several it happened within the first few months. I think Apple changed the screens to be less likely to shatter but more likely to scratch, and for me that was not a good tradeoff. My Apple Watch SE has seen a lot more bumps and scrapes but looks pristine.

This happens to be the ideal iPhone comparison for me, but regardless of that I must say that all of your reviews are my favorites. There's none of the marketing-style highlights of new software and hardware features, and instead we get straightforward descriptions of what it's like to live with and utilize these capabilities on a daily basis. Thank you.

I switched the same 2 phones, and while I wish I had a smaller phone, I’m pretty happy with the 15 pro. I have your same experience with scratching, I never scratched a phone until recent models. Another issue with the migration process is if you have apps that have been removed from the App Store , for whatever reason, you will only find out when you try to launch them in the new phone. The migration process should definitely warn you about losing access to apps you use and potentially losing data.

I too took the leap to the 15 Pro. And for me as well, my first "Pro" phone.

In my case I was coming from the Xs, so the improvements were huge and all positive. I chose the blue, which worried me a bit because I heard some reviews saying it scratched easily. So far it has stayed 100% mint condition. Not a single scratch. (I do not use a case and I'm not particularly careful with my devices.) No problems with upgrading service nor data (two cell numbers).

Regarding the 15 Pro-specific features:

The always-on display is great, but even after two months I am still not used to it. I still sometimes think the phone is unlocked when it isn't. Being able to see the Home Screen info while it's sitting on a table is great.

"Standby" is fun and I enjoy it, but the usefulness is limited since it won't show you details because technically the phone is locked. It's basically a cool clock. I wish I could customize it more.

I love ProMotion. I am particularly sensitive to jitter and flickering, so that was one of the major reasons I chose the Pro model.

Agree on the Dynamic Island—it surprised me as to how useful and well designed it was. One of the most polished features from  in quite some time.

I have no complaints about the cameras, I think they are wonderful. (However I'm coming from an Xs not a 12 Mini.) Seriously, though, all the cameras on all these phones are preposterously good. And the screen brightness and color...just spectacular.


Is text size using accessibility an option to fit more on screen?

@matt Yes, but the minimum size is too large, in my opinion.

It's funny how different the perception is about scratching. The Xs was my first large iPhone, and after a few weeks, I had multiple larger scratches and countless microscratches. Two of them were even noticeable with the screen turned on. Since then, I always put screen protectors on my phones and even on iPads.

I agree that the data migration story is not good at the moment, and much worse than on macOS. eSIMs, ApplePay and Banking Apps are particularly cumbersome.

@Michael The reason apps don't transfer directly is app thinning. The migrator is just not smart enough to compare all the metrics used for thinning, see that the devices have the same architecture and same pixel density, and just transfer the app package.

Ambitious photographers appreciate the shallow depth of field (art!) and Apple wants the system camera look for its photos. I don't like excessive shallow depth of field either.

It may help to take photos with the Halide app in RAW or ProRAW mode. Whereas ProRAW is actually a RAW image that has already been pre-processed into DNG. The blurring doesn't seem only to be due to the image sensor alone, but also to the image processing of Apple.

Really interesting to read about the regression of the camera in some cases. I have an iPhone 15 non-pro and have had some surprises with the processing as well. I suspect that most people really don't look at the photos on a big monitor, because if you do, smartphone photo processing generally looks heavy-handed.

@Levin To be clear, I think the regression I’m seeing is due to the lens/sensor, not the processing. However, I do agree that the processing with the iPhone 12 (maybe even the 11) and later can be too heavy-handed.

I probably would have made this same 12 mini to 15 Pro move later this year but today I got lucky. After months of daily checks, the low-capacity (128 GB) 13 mini showed up on the iPhone refurbished page (US $470 after tax). Like everyone, I use a phone throughout my days. But I’m not doing anything noteworthy in terms of utilizing device capabilities, so I’m content to get a few more years of the small form factor. The big loss for me with an older model is probably Dynamic Island, just because I often use timers.

I recently set up Apple Pay on my new iPhone 15 Pro, and the process was incredibly smooth and intuitive. I didn't encounter any issues at all. Transferring my data from my previous Android device to the iPhone 15 Pro was also flawless. I could migrate all my data seamlessly, and the transition was hassle-free.

The Always-On Display is one feature that has significantly improved the effectiveness and reliability of my apps and notifications. Having critical information readily available at a glance is incredibly convenient without unlocking the phone.

Another standout feature of the iPhone 15 Pro is the Face ID. It has been a significant upgrade in terms of both security and convenience. I have yet to encounter any issues, and it has seamlessly integrated into my usage. Overall, my experience with the iPhone 15 Pro has been overwhelmingly positive, and I haven't encountered any major usability concerns.

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