In terms of the absolute creme of Cupertino engineer’s attention, it sure does. The iPhone 15 Pro Max is a series of incremental improvements that add up much more than the last few years of Pro models. Since I’ve only had the phone for a couple of days now, this is by no means a full review, but more of a first feel of the product.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review
Does the best get better?
That “feel” is thanks to the all-new Titanium side bands with curved edges. Weight reduction and a phone that doesn’t leave a literal mark on you are always welcome and in the case of the 15 Pro models, it’s highlighted by even thinner bezels, marginally shrinking overall dimensions without sacrificing screen size. Apple could’ve taken more risk with the colours, which seem to have been inspired by the colour palette of HSBC corporate HQ. Shades of grey and the same blue as last year’s iPhone 14 Pro doesn’t leave you with bragging ammo to distinguish it from any of the previous four generations, especially if you have a case on.
Speaking of the case, ditching leather in favour of a newly-developed material dubbed Fine Woven has paid dividends. The case is now dual-textured, so the back in the new material feels luxurious and almost suede-like. However, the sides still feel like a leatherette for better grip and make the ghastly task of hiding your shiny new titanium gadget in a cover worthwhile.
Another new exterior feature is the replacement of the long-living mute switch with an Action button and I think it’s for the better. For the sceptics, it still retains haptic feedback when you long press it. So you can still toggle between ringer or mute with the phone being in your pocket, but additionally, you can assign other functions to it like focus, voice memo, torch, magnifier or camera. If you choose camera, you can also choose whether you want the action button to activate the selfie, portrait or video modes and subsequently be used as a shutter button too. This comes in handy when taking one-handed selfies quickly. Just stating for a friend.
Lo and behold, we also finally get the global standard for connectivity, on an iPhone! USB-C meets USB-3 speeds on the Pro models and this means that with a compatible cable (that Apple refuses to bundle in the box), you could get up to 10Gbps of data transfer speeds. If you want to record in the new professional-grade ProRAW Log mode, you’ll anyway need to attach an external SSD for 4K/60 footage. For the true mavericks, this itself is a game changer - being able to attach an OTG USB drive for saving directly to external storage.
Fire it up and like all iPhones that came before it, the gorgeous display instantly draws you in with a hardware-synced wallpaper. The Super Retina XDR resolution remains identical to last year, but the slimmer bezels do have a more immersive effect, especially while watching video content or gaming. The Dynamic Island which now also makes an appearance on the non-Pro iPhone 15 models continues to be a third-party API favourite and the newest one is Instagram, which shows you the upload progress of a story or Reel even when you switch apps or revert to the home screen.
All eyes are on the camera upgrades though and the Pro Max has historically been the one that offers the most amount of newsworthy upgrades. Although that is true for the iPhone 15 Pro Max, it’s the overall image signal processing pipeline overhaul that brings a lot of the smaller improvements to low-light skin tone balance, offering different focal lengths within the primary lens (24, 28, 35mm) and adding portrait effect to even regular photos, as long as they are pets or humans. It works even on the front TrueDepth selfie cam. Tap to focus allows you to adjust the depth and choose the subject in focus, even after you’ve taken the shot.
Colours are a bit saturated but the overall detail, preservation of highlights and AF speed are definitely a step in the right direction and the 5x telephoto can be a boon in all but the supermoon sort of situations. A big change has also come in the form of the default resolution, which starts at 24MP but can be dialled back if you want. Even in ProRAW mode, you can choose between JPEG Max, ProRAW 12MP or the full-fat ProRAW Max 48MP.
Samsung will still beat it with the S23 Ultra when it comes to long-range shots, but for macro accuracy, options for different focal lengths and creative compositions, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the new king of versatility.
Portrait mode 5x focuses on moving objects like an SLR and Apple’s tight integration of the ISP in its own silicon flexes every chance it gets, exacerbating Samsung’s slow and tedious processing/focus speeds. In low light, the noise is markedly lower than the 14 Pro Max and even the colour fidelity is better retained. What is perhaps most impressive is how the iPhone 15 Pro Max maintains the same tonality, temperature and exposure as you move from 13mm all the way to 120mm and beyond to digital zoom. The continuous zoom dial has also been reworked for a seamless shift from lens to lens. It also still remains unchallenged when it comes to video recording and now with Log support, takes it another step closer to being an actual camera in an actual film workflow.
But all of this is possible due to the A17 SoC which is genuinely…mindblowing. Reel edits that were already blazing fast on my 14 Pro Max see a tangible jump and batch edits of photos and videos leave the Snapdragon-based competition in the dust. There are significant percentage shifts in GPU and CPU performance but the Neural engine is now twice as fast, enabling ray tracing and desktop-class gaming on a handheld device now. This performance leap comes just in time with the USB-C port which lets you stream to a 4K TV or projector for a proper gaming experience on the big screen.
After a month and three updates later, the iPhone 15 Pro Max still does run warm if you push it towards its limits, but nothing that would make you drop it like a hot potato. Running Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop Express and Instagram in unison to create a post-worthy pic did up its back glass’ temperature but not to worrisome levels. Playing Resident Evil or shooting 4K/60fps will yield similar levels of local warming but Apple isn’t throttling performance down at any point. You’ll be able to game at 120fps on compatible games without any drops and continue shooting at 4K/60 until you fill every atom on the 256GB variant and come out on the other side either victorious, or in need of external storage. But the experience won’t take a hit.
Apple has refined the continuous zoom dial for video even further and there is hardly any jump in subject positioning and almost no change in white balance or colour accuracy, which can’t be said for any other smartphone camera system with multiple lenses. The zoom range differs a lot though, depending on which lens you start shooting with and at what resolution. But regardless of zoom range, beyond 5x (120mm), noise creeps in rapidly, unless you’re outdoors in daylight.
The selfie cam has largely remained unchanged in hardware too. It suffers from low-light allergies, making you look like a mishmash of a sticker and an overexposed ghost if you’re tempted to take a selfie with a light source at the other end of the room and even with the latest generation of smart HDR, the iPhone treats faces differently compared to the rest of the objects and not in a good way.
The rear cameras are a different story altogether, with improvements across the board. 5x telephoto especially is an amazing tool to use for portraits without relying on computational power alone. If you have enough distance between you and the subject, the 120mm lens offers the perfect natural bokeh and an immediacy to the subject that isn’t otherwise possible. Makes it infinitely more interesting and arty. Even low-light portraits are massaged by HDR and preserve so much more colour fidelity and detail over the 14 Pro Max. Colours do look a bit bumped up compared to previous generations, but Apple has done well to keep sharpness in check and has even managed to increase the level of detail in each shot, thanks to a default 24MP file now.
Battery life, again a sore point since the release of iOS17 is better managed with the updates, but I would still advise users to keep the Always-on display off if you have a busy day out. It takes an impressive turn though, with AoD off, squeezing out more than a full day of normal use with a mix of social media scrolling, photo editing, video recording and emailing.
As with all iPhones before it, if you have an Apple ecosystem built around your home, car and office, it becomes second nature to accept some of the quirks. The Action button for example, is a great concept, but the button itself is so out of reach when you’re holding the phone normally, that it rarely is a faster way to get to your desired action compared to opening the control centre. The fine woven cases and the structural integrity of the titanium body, well, I can report with visuals that both have been a non-concern for me, proving that if people WANT to damage something for the sake of views, you really can! That said, the fine woven case definitely won’t age as well as the silicon case as it has started showing wear on the edge which makes contact with my bedside table when I use it on Standby mode at night. Then again, the Standby mode itself is so well executed, with just the right shade and intensity of red that it doesn’t make me want to pick up the phone at all if I just wake up in the middle of the night. We all know how badly that ends, once you pick up the phone at 4am to check the time. And some notifications. And a quick scroll on Insta….and oops, it’s 6am.
You may not want to camp outside an Apple store for this one if you already have the 14 Pro series, but if you must, you won’t regret this upgrade. It’s a real shift in usability and functionality given how deeply Apple has tweaked the camera UI/UX and the overall construction of the iPhone. It may not look all that different in pictures, but like all things in life, you need to get your hands on it to appreciate it truly. Titanium or not, the curved edges, the USB-C, WiFi 6E, FaceTime voice isolation, smoother integration with all things Apple around the house and the brilliant camera system make this a compelling alternative to that vacation you’ve been planning and take brilliant pictures of your cat instead.
|6.7in OLED with ProMotion
|A17 Bionic Apple silicon
|48+12+12MP (rear) 12MP (front)