Some great enhancements to the camera system have been made.
Same battery life
Higher starting price
The latest version of the iPhone, the 15 Pro Max, offers some expected and reliable upgrades compared to its predecessor. While it is the top-performing iPhone available, the enhancements may not be groundbreaking enough to generate significant excitement. This would be a beneficial upgrade for those using a phone that is 3 or more years old, but for those with newer models, it may be worth waiting for next year’s release.
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The newest and priciest iPhone from Apple surpasses the previous year’s model. It boasts a slightly lighter weight, increased speed, improved camera, and added convenience.
However, it is difficult not to be disappointed. Despite using it for several days and conducting numerous tests, I cannot seem to shake off my feeling of boredom. While the enhancements are appreciated, they lack creativity. It appears that either Apple is lacking new ideas, or the iPhone is too valuable to take any chances with, or all of the company’s resources have been dedicated to the development of Apple Vision Pro.
The most convincing argument for the newest iPhone is that it’s essentially an iPhone – it operates on iOS, supports iPhone applications, prioritizes privacy, and seamlessly integrates with other Apple devices and services. However, this can be said for any recent iPhone model, so what sets this one apart?
Although it may not be the most innovative, it is still the top-performing iPhone. If you desire the ultimate iPhone, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the one to choose.
Design and build
Lighter titanium frame
Upon handling an iPhone 15 Pro Max (or the standard Pro version), the initial observation will likely be its significantly lighter weight compared to previous Pro models. This is due to Apple’s decision to use titanium instead of stainless steel for the outer frame, resulting in a weight reduction of approximately 10%. However, the majority of this reduction is concentrated on the edges, making it feel even more significant.
This does not necessarily classify it as a lightweight phone. In fact, other high-end smartphones of similar dimensions, such as the Pixel 7 Pro and Galaxy S23+, have been lighter than the iPhone Pro Max models for some time now. This update simply brings Apple in line with them. While it is a welcomed change, it is not groundbreaking or a significant competitive advantage.
You also won’t find that the titanium (bonded to aluminum) frame offers better durability. It’s not more scratch-resistant, harder to dent or ding, or really less prone to showing fingerprints–though the natural titanium color seems to hide them well. Otherwise, the brushed and matte finish of the titanium sides feels a little nicer than the glossy stainless steel, and the corners are smoothed out a little, making the phone a little nicer to hold without a case on it.
When it comes to hues, they all seem a bit dull, which is typical for the Pro models. The Gold option is no longer available and has been replaced by a Natural Titanium color, which can best be described as… grey… but still manages to look attractive and refined. White and black are still offered, but the white is not as vibrant and the black is not as deep as in previous versions. Therefore, three out of the four colors are various shades of grey. The new standout color this year is Blue Titanium, a deep blue shade that exudes elegance yet remains conservative.
Apple’s decision to replace the Lightning port with USB-C has caused quite a stir. While the iPhone 14 Pro Max does not offer faster charging, the USB-C port allows for more convenient use of a single cable to charge multiple devices such as the iPhone, MacBook, and other digital gadgets. The Pro models also support USB3 transfer speeds, making it easier to transfer large amounts of video data. With an external drive connected, videos can be shot directly onto it – a requirement for shooting in 4K/60 ProRaw format (as internal storage is limited to 30fps). Additionally, an external display can be connected to the iPhone for a low-latency mirrored display, perfect for playing high-quality games with a paired Bluetooth controller. Photos can also be read directly from a USB-C card reader. The USB-C to Ethernet adapter allows for internet access without WiFi, and USB audio interfaces can be used as long as they receive enough power.
Jason Cross / Foundry
Unfortunately, it is both convenient and frustrating that Apple has only made the switch to USB-C due to EU regulations, which they initially opposed. While the transition is undoubtedly an improvement, it is a change that Apple could have implemented much earlier. This technology is not cutting-edge and has been a standard feature in Android phones for a significant amount of time. It is difficult to give credit to Apple for making this change for their customers under pressure.
Apple has enhanced the convenience of the iPhone 15 Pro not just with the switch to USB-C. The on/off mute switch has been substituted with the Action Button, as named by Apple. By pressing and holding it for one second, you can easily switch between mute and unmute modes, with a noticeable vibration pattern. This allows for seamless switching without having to look at the phone. Additionally, the button can be customized to perform various tasks in the Settings menu. These options include setting a Focus mode, launching the Camera app (and acting as a shutter), activating the flashlight, recording a voice memo, opening the magnifier, enabling an Accessibility feature, or launching a Shortcut.
Jason Cross / Foundry
The final choice is potentially the most influential, especially if you are familiar with creating shortcuts (if not, you can use one from the internet). It offers nearly limitless adaptability to customize the Action Button to your liking. This allows for immediate access to any application and the ability to execute certain tasks. You can also set conditions for the button to perform different actions based on your current location.
Transforming a switch into a button may not be considered a highly innovative idea, as both OnePlus and Samsung have experimented with it in the past. However, the execution is well-done. One peculiar aspect is that the settings menu for adjusting the Action Button appears visually different from other Settings menus, but it is easy to comprehend. A significant advantage is that the button’s functions are determined by software, allowing for potential enhancements in future iOS updates. Nonetheless, it is perplexing why the Action Button is exclusively a “Pro” feature and not included in the standard iPhone 15 models. It seems arbitrary and inconsistent.
Upon first look, this can easily be identified as an iPhone Pro version. However, those who are not familiar with color choices may not immediately recognize it as the iPhone 15 Pro.
Screen and speakers
2000 nits peak brightness
No changes have occurred since the previous year.
The exterior of the iPhone 15 Pro models appears similar to the previous year’s models. The display size and capabilities remain unchanged, although the bezels have slightly decreased, resulting in a slightly smaller phone body. The color accuracy is impressive and has great HDR quality, with a peak of 1,000 nits for standard dynamic range, 1,600 nits for bright areas on HDR content, and a maximum of 2,000 nits in bright outdoor sunlight, making it easily visible on a sunny day.
The speakers and microphone have a similar sound quality. Apple has made internal design changes to make repairs more affordable and easier, which we hope you will never have to experience.
5x, 120mm zoom is fun
The default setting for the camera has been upgraded to 24MP, resulting in improved detail.
Still sort of over-processed
The new choices for videos are pleasant, yet limiting.
To start off, it should be noted that the majority of cameras on the iPhone 15 Pro Max are the same as those found on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. The primary 48MP wide camera, as well as the ultra-wide and front cameras, have not been altered. However, the telephoto camera has been upgraded with a new sensor and periscope lens arrangement that allows for 5x optical zoom, which is equivalent to a focal length of 120mm. This feature is exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, while the iPhone 15 Pro retains the same 12MP camera with 3x optical zoom as last year.
The zoom level is impressive and brings the iPhone closer to premium Android phones that have already implemented this feature. It results in significantly improved zoom shots, and even when using digital zoom up to 10x, the images are cleaner compared to the standard iPhone 15 Pro or previous iPhone Pro models.
This particular zoom lens may not have the capability to capture amazing shots of faraway or small subjects. So, it may not greatly enhance your hummingbird photography skills. However, it can still bring you closer to the action when capturing sports or candid shots in a natural setting like a park or cookout.
The software aspect is what makes photography on the latest iPhone 15 Pro models exciting. Apple has implemented a new default image size of 2MP with updated image processing, available in both HEIF and JPEG modes. The 48MP “Pro” images can now be stored in the “HEIF Max” format instead of needing ProRaw, resulting in slightly less editing options but significantly less storage space.
Additionally, there are now three options available for the standard wide shot. The initial 1x setting is equivalent to 22mm, but by tapping the “1x” button in the camera app, you can switch between 28mm and 35mm crops. While these new options still capture 2MP images, they utilize different groups of pixels from the image sensor throughout the image processing process. This is a type of digital zoom, but it produces clearer and sharper outcomes compared to traditional digital zoom methods.
A useful new feature: when you capture a photo of a person, dog, or cat with the iPhone 15, the device will recognize the subject and automatically store the depth map data along with the image. This allows you to go back to the photo in the Photos app and enable Portrait mode, even if you didn’t originally take the photo in that mode. You can then adjust the depth-of-field and choose the focal point. This eliminates the need to regret not taking a portrait mode shot or wishing you hadn’t taken one. Simply take the photo and make adjustments later. Convenient!
Jason Cross / Foundry
There are two additional useful features for video shooting. You have the ability to record ProRaw footage at 4K and 60fps by connecting an external drive and directly recording onto it. Since these files are quite large, it is recommended to use this method. However, make sure to use a USB-3 compatible cable, as the one that comes with the phone is only rated for USB2 speeds, which is common for most smartphone cables.
The most intriguing aspect is the option to capture footage in a Log color format. This is a professional level feature that utilizes a compressed color range and necessitates editing after shooting. Apple offers LUTs (look-up-tables) to transform ProRaw videos captured in Log format to HDR, with the intention of providing a greater range of data for improved color grading during post-production.
For those who use Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro, this feature is extremely beneficial. However, there are two main limitations. Firstly, when playing back on an iPhone, there is no LUT applied, meaning only the flattened color space is visible. It would be helpful to have the ability to view the restored HDR with a default LUT (and potentially switch between them). Secondly, the option for Log color space is only accessible when shooting in ProRaw, which can take up a lot of storage. It would be highly appreciated if Apple could include the option to shoot more compact HEVC files with Log color space through a software update.
The camera on the iPhone 15 Pro Max may not impress you. Apple’s image processing may still be overly aggressive, resulting in images that appear overly smoothed and saturated. However, the increase to 24 megapixels helps to capture sharp details without as many sharpening imperfections. Overall, there are no significant advancements or unique features that make this camera a necessary purchase.
Battery life and charging
The battery life of the iPhone 14 Pro Max is equally impressive.
, but it can also drain the battery quickly
Using USB-C for reverse charging can be handy, but it may also deplete the battery at a faster rate.
It is uncertain whether the A17 Pro chip in the iPhone 15 Pro Max consumes less energy than the A16 Bionic, but the overall phone system has a similar battery life as the iPhone 14 Pro Max from last year. In our battery endurance trials, where we continuously run Geekbench 4 with a constant screen brightness of 200 nits, it lasted 13 hours and 2 minutes, slightly longer than the previous year’s Pro Max model.
While it may not be considered an upgrade, the battery life is still impressive, especially for a device with a 120Hz screen. The official specifications from Apple show that it has the same battery life as the iPhone 14 Pro Max, and in typical daily usage, you’re unlikely to notice a difference of just a few percentage points.
Even with the switch to USB-C, the speed of charging remains the same. Apple claims that you can still get around 50% battery life in just 35 minutes, and this has been found to be fairly accurate.
The change to USB-C does have a positive impact on the ability to charge other devices that use USB power delivery, although at a slower rate of 4.5 watts. This includes devices like AirPods, Apple Watch, and even other phones such as Android phones (if they also use USB power delivery). While it may not be used frequently, it is possible to charge another phone with your iPhone, but it is more likely to be used to recharge nearly-dead AirPods or Apple Watch.
The CPU performance has improved by approximately 10%.
The GPU performance has improved by approximately 20%.
The processor may overheat and decrease in speed, but this is a common occurrence.
The A17 Pro serves as the central processing unit for the iPhone 15 Pro series, while the regular iPhone 15 utilizes the A16 Bionic chip that was featured in last year’s Pro models. The decision to change the name is noteworthy and likely intentional, leading us to suspect that upcoming products may feature a non-Pro A17 chip.
The chip is larger and more intricate, but still includes six CPU cores: two for performance and four for efficiency. The system-on-a-chip is paired with 8GB of RAM, an increase from the 6GB in previous Pro iPhones. Our testing showed a 10-12 percent boost in CPU performance, as seen in benchmark tests, although it may not be noticeable in day-to-day use. iPhones have long been speedy enough, consistently outperforming top Android phones. This remains unchanged.
The graphics processing unit (GPU) has been upgraded to a six-core design, an improvement from the A16’s five cores. According to Apple, it boasts a 20% increase in speed, which is not surprising considering the additional core. However, what sets it apart is the new design and its ability to support ray tracing hardware acceleration and mesh shaders. These are features commonly found in PC graphics chips for several years and are now present in the latest Android smartphone chips as well.
During the GeekBench 6 GPU compute test, which evaluates the use of the GPU for general computing tasks rather than just graphics rendering, we observed a significant increase in performance, close to the advertised 20 percent. Similarly, in the 3DMark Wild Life Extreme high-end graphics test, there was a noticeable 20 percent improvement.
The 3DMark Solar Bay test, introduced this year, utilizes ray tracing at three varying quality levels to conduct a high-performance assessment. In this test, the phone performs 50-60% better than the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Apple is promoting the iPhone 15 Pro as capable of playing high-quality games, such as the Resident Evil: Village port, which they claim is on par with Xbox and PlayStation versions. However, this is not entirely accurate. While it is the full game, there is a noticeable decrease in resolution and overall graphics quality. Nonetheless, it is still an impressive accomplishment. It is important to not get carried away with the idea that the A17 Pro can fully replace a gaming console. This statement may only hold true for previous generations of consoles, and we have heard similar claims about iPhones in the past, such as with the iPhone 5. However, it is clear that these devices cannot truly replace PlayStation or Xbox consoles.
The new graphics processing unit (GPU) is very intriguing as it has great potential for Macs. Once this advanced architecture is implemented in M-series processors, it can greatly aid Macs in matching the feature options that Windows gamers are used to, and potentially improve performance as well.
Regarding thermals, it has been observed that the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max tend to heat up when playing high-end premium games. This was also the case with the iPhone 14 Pro, with the difference being only a few degrees hotter at most. However, I personally noticed a significant increase in heat while using the phone while it was charging, to the point of being uncomfortable to hold.
Can the A17 Pro’s performance decrease due to thermal throttling when handling heavy workloads for an extended period of time? This has been seen in previous chip models as well. For example, in a 3DMark Wild Life Extreme stress test where the benchmark is looped for 20 minutes, both the iPhone 14 Pro (on the left) and the iPhone 15 Pro (on the right) experience a rapid decrease of about one third of their performance after the first run. However, the iPhone 15 Pro consistently runs about 20 percent faster than last year’s top model. This is not a surprising outcome, as most high-end smartphones have a “Stability” score of less than 70 percent in this test, with some even scoring below 60 percent.
Is it worth purchasing the iPhone 15 Pro Max?
The iPhone 15 Pro Max surpasses its predecessor in almost every aspect. It is slightly lighter, faster, and more convenient, with a slightly better camera and the same battery life. However, the improvements are not particularly noteworthy. The long-awaited inclusion of USB-C may have been more exciting if it had not been years overdue. The lighter titanium frame brings Apple closer to its competitors in terms of weight. The 5x optical zoom is a fun and potentially useful addition, but it does not revolutionize the device. The ability to shoot in Log color space is a fantastic professional feature, but its usefulness is limited by the requirement to use ProRes and the absence of any LUT applications during playback.
The Action Button is the most noteworthy addition, and it should be available on all iPhone models instead of just the more expensive ones. However, it only minimizes a couple of taps.
Currently, smartphones have reached a point where small improvements are welcomed, but not enough to justify upgrading. Similar to computers, the technology has reached a plateau. Manufacturers can either introduce short-lived gimmicks or continue making gradual improvements each year, assuming users will hold onto their current device for several years before getting a new one. It’s possible that a major breakthrough is on the horizon, but it may take some time to materialize.
Is the iPhone 15 Pro Max worth purchasing? If you’re looking for the top large iPhone, then this is the one to get. However, once the excitement of having a new phone fades, you may not notice much of a change in your everyday experience if you’re upgrading from an iPhone 14 Pro Max or 13 Pro Max.
If your previous iPhone is three years or older, upgrading to this model would be beneficial. However, if it is newer, it may be worth waiting another year. The starting price for this new model is now $1,199/£1,199, which is not necessarily an increase from the previous 128GB model. While it is a great phone, it may not be worth experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) over.