iPhone 15 Pro Max review: A stronger and lighter titanium design, more powerful zoom, blazing A17 Pro chip, and smart Action button add up to a stellar phone.
Well, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is exactly that and a testament to how user workflows have changed over the years because of the power a smartphone can now pack inside its small chassis.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max takes its Pro tag seriously and steps up on the processing to enable these workflows which a lot of power users will not need for. This also means that across the world professionals are now opening up the possibility of using a smartphone as the primary driver for their work, incorporating all aspects of their creative process in the same device. This does not mean you can’t buy this flagship if you are not a professional, that is an intended side effect of the way this product is designed.
I have used the iPhone 15 Pro Max for a week now and here is what I thought of the Apple flagship by answering the top questions I encountered about the phone.
Table of Contents
What is new in the iPhone 15 Pro Max?
Simply put, the new iPhone 15 Pro Max has some design changes, a new processor, and an updated camera setup.
The design changes start with the Titanium body which Apple has been touting so much. While it is classy and looks like it will be stronger in comparison to the earlier versions, I love it because it makes the iPhone 15 Pro Max at least 20 grams lighter than its predecessor. Then there is the new Action button, which replaces the earlier toggle that could silence the phone. The Action button can now be customized to trigger multiple things with one click. I used it as a shutter button for the camera — one press to switch it on and another to click. Then there is the new USB-C port at the bottom which replaces the Lightning port.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is powered by the new A17 Pro processor which is available only in the Pro series and not the other iPhone 15s. Apple claims the A17 Pro offers desktop-level performance.
While the camera block at the back looks the same as before, it now has 12MP 5X optical zoom which is equivalent to a 120mm lens. Along with this hardware change, the camera software now literally offers seven different modes to shoot in as the 48MP sensor is used to give 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm perspectives on the 1X mode.
How good is the Titanium body?
To me, the titanium body looks pretty solid. But the fact is there is still some glass at the back. Apple could have looked at a full metal body too, though I know that could come in the way of heat dissipation or even wireless charging. But compared to the iPhone 14 Pro Max, this one does feel much lighter.
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How functional is the action button?
The action button is a good addition as it makes this slot much more functional than before. Earlier you could just about silence the ringer, now you can do at least nine functions from this button. I have customized this to open the camera with a single click. It is also good that even in the camera, the settings let you select exactly what you would like to open. Once the app is open, the button works like a clicker and reminds me of some Sony camera phones of the past.
How powerful is the A17 Pro processor?
Well, the A series processors from Apple have been very powerful for at least 2-3 years now. So much so that they have moved ahead of the rest of the market. So it becomes even more difficult for a company like Apple to tell users how a processor has become even better, especially since a lot of the use cases where this extra power can be showcased will not be something regular users will ever encounter.
In simple terms, Apple is looking at one clear Pro user flow and that revolves around those who want to use this camera professionally. One test I did was to edit one of the clips I had recorded after the Apple keynote, then copy the edits and paste this on a dozen other 4K clips from the same event. The entire process happened in a few seconds. This is a workflow most laptops will struggle with and show you long wait times.
However, with the A17 Pro Apple is pushing the Pro series as a phone for gamers, a messaging it has not explicitly engaged in so far. Apple is clearly saying now that this is a phone that can take you to console-level gaming. And all the games I tried — let me clarify that I can’t be termed as a gamer in any sense of the term — like Snowbreak and Raid played without a hint of a lag. And the graphics are rendered with the kind of natural flow I have not seen in smartphones before. But the verdict of whether this phone offers console-level gaming has to be left to the gamers.
Does the USB-C make any difference?
Well, trust Apple to turn an adversity into an opportunity. With the Pro series, Apple is suggesting that the faster transfer speeds of the USB-C can be used to shoot from the smartphone and record to an external drive or just check the footage on a monitoring screen as one would do in a studio workflow. On the charging side, I have been using my MacBook charger at the office to juice up the phone towards the end of the day. This is definitely convenient. I just need to figure out what to do with the years of lighting cables I we all move fully to the new iPhones.
How is the camera different on the iPhone 15 Pro Max?
One reason why a lot of people will opt for the 15 Pro Max over the other iPhone 15 phones this year will be the camera. This one offers a 5x optical zoom which is not there on other iPhones. This also means that now there are seven camera modes on the phone.
I have always considered the iPhone the best phone camera because of how natural its results are. And with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, this just gets better and you have a 35mm frame that makes your creative juices flow, especially when you decide to go black and white for instance.
One new aspect of the camera that is loved is how the 1X mode, which someone like me uses the most now offers 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm, the latter two also presets for 1.2x and 1.5x. I used the 35mm almost like a block lens where I know I will be closer to the subject when I am clicking at the portrait for instance.
The portrait mode has improved and the edges of the subject are now much more natural than before. Also, you can now convert any photo shot with a bit of depth into a portrait mode photo as the camera is capturing the details needed.
The 5x mode is good primarily when you are shooting outdoors and trying to get closer to a subject that is clearly defined. I got the sense this is not all optics at play and there is a software bump-up that happens within seconds of a photo being captured. But clearly, a new feature for iPhone photographers to use. The 5x mode seems to work better in the video where the image stabilization comes into play more and you can zoom in on a subject even if you are not stable.
But for the moment, I don’t think this is the best zoom-in camera. That tag will continue to be with the Samsung S23 Ultra, which anyway offers 10X optical zoom. However, the camera app is the best in the business and now offers top-of-the-line editing features that have kept me away from Snapseed which I have been using to edit photos over the past many years. Also, the ability to change the depth and focus of photos in the edit is a great feature to have for most photographers.
Does the battery last longer?
This is actually a good improvement compared to last year’s iPhone 14 Pro Max. Now there is at least 20% more juice and I feel this every day as I don’t have to look for the charger around 5 pm as has been my ritual. Now the phone goes into the red only around 7 pm, which is over 12 hours after the phone was taken off the charger.
What are the issues?
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is a flagship in every sense. So the issues that we have noticed are in that context.
To start with, the phone does warm up a little bit on the sides when you browsing the net or just playing around with the camera. I have not felt this with the iPhone 14 Pro Max. This could be because the titanium frame transfers more heat outside.
Another issue I felt is that at times when you are looking at the gallery, the photos appear blurred initially and then load fully. It is a small irritant at best and something a software update can fix.
I felt there was a bit too much noise in the 5x optical zoom photos initially and this cleans up in a second or two. If you hit share before, the photo will go with the noise. For an optical camera, this is a bit odd.
Who should buy the iPhone 15 Pro Max?
Well, let me start by saying who should not buy. If you are on an older iPhone Pro device then you can wait another year before you update. Also, if you don’t have any Pro use cases like serious photography, video shooting, and editing of top-of-the-line gaming, then there is really no need for you to move here, and the iPhone 15 will be sufficient.