The iPhone 15 has one major letdown that’s not okay for a 2023 flagship

Apple iPhone 15 review.
(Image credit: Future)

Now that I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Apple's new phones for my iPhone 15 review as well as my iPhone 15 Plus review, I’m learning more about some of the minor details I love about these handsets — along with what I don’t. On the top of both lists are the Super Retina XDR displays Apple uses on the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus. Stunning, sharp, and detailed all describe the OLED-based panel used by either device, but I’m most annoyed by the fact that the non-Pro iPhones are still stuck with a 60Hz display refresh rate.

Quite frankly, a 60Hz refresh rate on a device like the iPhone 15 is unacceptable for a number of reasons that I’ll explain below and something I hope Apple addresses with next year’s iPhone 16 launch. Both the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus got a tremendous boost through new  chipsets, which made put more in line to last year’s iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max. Some of the other features they inherited include the Dynamic Island, A16 Bionic chipset, and a 48MP main camera.

Looking at the two Super Retina XDR displays, there’s no denying that they’re brighter than last year’s iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, which is exactly the kind of improvements I’d expect to find. Yet, I can’t stop noticing how animations lack the extra smoothness I’ve come to expect in other phones with higher refresh rates. In order for the iPhone 16 to exist, Apple desperately needs to fix this.

Gaming on the iPhone 15 needs a boost

Apple iPhone 15 review.

(Image credit: Future)

If you’re like me and religiously play games on your smartphone, you understand the reason why higher display refresh rates matter. Since I’ve been spoiled by the 120Hz refresh rates of past phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, iPhone 14 Pro Max, and Google Pixel 7 Pro, it’s hard to get past the iPhone 15’s 60Hz rate.

Animations in games aren’t as smooth on a 60Hz screen, which could be a potential risk in certain gaming genres. Take for instance first person shooters that require my quick fingers to get the crosshair pointed straight at my enemies. Fast display refresh rates mean the screen is better able to keep up with all of the information it’s receiving. With a lower refresh rate, it results in frames skipping — or worse yet, being incomplete entirely.

I appreciate the graphics processing power of the A16 Bionic chip that’s powering the iPhone 15, but the last thing I need to happen is for a delay between my action and what I see on the iPhone 15’s screen to botch my kill streak.

Rival phones at $799 have higher refresh rates

oneplus 11 and pixel 7 pro with screens on

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One way to gauge if my claim is valid is to simply just look at the iPhone 15's main rivals — you know — other phones priced at $799. There are quite a few in our best phones list that are similarly priced to the iPhone 15, like the OnePlus 11 and Samsung Galaxy A54, that have 90Hz display refresh rates.

The difference is instantly noticeable in my opinion, as a quick scroll through their respective interfaces have a more fluid look and feel. Swiping back and forth between the iPhone 15’s home screen appears smooth and responsive, but believe me when I say there's a more fluid look with 90Hz screens. Even Google’s Pixel 7 offers a higher 90Hz refresh rate, while also priced at a good $100 less than the iPhone 15.

I’m not saying that Apple should bring the same 120Hz refresh rate that’s been reserved for its “Pro” series iPhones. Instead, what I’m trying to infer here is that we should have a higher standard for phones in this $800-ish price range. Anything less than 90Hz is just asking for trouble nowadays.

Elevated video watching experience

Apple iPhone 15 Plus review.

(Image credit: Future)

Alright, I know that not everyone has a guilty pleasure of binge watching their favorite series and shows on their phone, but a higher display refresh rate certainly helps to draw my attention more. It’s actually most effective when there are intense action sequences happening, seeing the higher refresh rates just make the action look even more epic.

Remember what I mentioned earlier about the potential for skipped or incomplete frames with 60Hz refresh rates? Well, that’s also true here when watching videos on the iPhone 15 — so those action scenes with intense movement can sometimes look choppy. I’m not saying that consecutive frames are skipped all the time, but it’s a small detail that I’ve come back to notice whenever I watch videos on a display with a 60Hz refresh rate.

I know it might sound like I’m nitpicking the iPhone 15, but the standard iPhone series deserves better at this point. Even after the design language shift starting with the iPhone 11, Apple has continuously left the standard iPhone series stranded with 60Hz display refresh rates. The iPhone 16 needs to end this streak.

More from Tom's Guide

John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.