Yesterday’s diminished Apple special event was a whole ‘lot of nothin’ in many ways. But one device stood out. And I will be upgrading.
I am referring, of course, to the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
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My current iPhone is a (non-Max) iPhone 13 Pro, which I purchased in December 2021 after being unhappy with the Pixel 6 Pro I expected to use. Since then, of course, the much improved Pixel 7 Pro arrived, and I’ve gone back and forth between that and the iPhone, in part because I got an Apple Watch Series in September 2022. But aside from a Pixel Fold drive-by in July—a near miss—I’ve been using the Pixel 7 Pro full-time since April, and I swapped out the Apple Watch for a Pixel Watch and then my Fitbit Charge 5, which does what I need and gets several days of battery life, not 18 hours.
And yeah. That’s what things are like here, I guess: I move back and forth between devices and ecosystems. And I do so on two levels. Personally, I prefer the more open Android platform and the choices it provides, though I remain open to the iPhone and some Apple services, with a big emphasis on the photography capabilities. But professionally, I also need to keep up with the platform makers. And I skipped out on the iPhone 14s and iPhone 14 Pros last year entirely. Which is very unusual for me.
Most iPhone 13 Pro owners would never consider upgrading this year and for good reason: most of the improvements to the iPhone 14 line are modest, year-over-year, and as is so often the case these days, holding onto an iPhone, or any flagship smartphone for at least three years is probably the sweet spot. By that point, the upgrade will be meaningful, as the new phone will have 3 or more years of improvements.
But I’m not just any iPhone owner, and while I resisted upgrading last year, this year presents a less avoidable challenge. And so I am going to upgrade.
Regardless of the timing, that upgrade was always going to be one of the bigger iPhones, as one of my big regrets with the iPhone 13 Pro is its small size. This phone is, in fact, the first and only time I purchased the smaller iPhone Pro when a larger model was available: I previously used, in turn, the iPhone 6 Plus (with its bendy issues), iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7 Plus, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, for example (and tested the iPhone X and iPhone XR in there as well).
The issues with a bigger phone are obvious: with its 6.7-inch display (iPhone Pro Max or Pixel Pro), it’s heavier/denser and more unwieldy, and it can sometimes be hard to carry around in a pants pocket, even for a big guy like me. But I found the iPhone 13’s 6.1-inch display too small for my middle-aged eyes. Pixel or iPhone, I’d prefer something between the smallest and biggest displays, something like the 6.3-inch Pixel 7/8, all other things being equal. But I also want the best camera, and that means going big.
And on that, I seriously considered moving to an iPhone 14 Plus over the past year, multiple times, in fact. The issues there, however, are obvious. In addition to not having the Pro camera set, the 14 Plus was also running a previous-generation Apple Silicon chipset, the same one in my iPhone 13 Pro, and it didn’t have some of the then-latest Pro features, like the Dynamic Island. (I think it’s silly, yes, but it’s worth testing and reviewing.) And so I did nothing.
But now I have a new generation of iPhones to consider.
Once again, I considered the Plus. But while the iPhone 15 Plus has the bigger screen and the Dynamic Island, it also lacks the Pro—and now, Pro Max—camera set and some other new features (like Action button), and it is again using a previous-generation chipset, making it a non-starter. That said, I could save a lot of money going this route: the base model iPhone 15 Plus I’d buy, with 128 GB of storage, costs $899, about $300 less than the base iPhone 15 Pro Max. And with my iPhone 13 Pro’s $480 trade-in value, I’d only pay $419. Not bad.
But, no. It has to be the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Like the iPhone 15 Pro, it comes with various advantages over the iPhone 14 Plus, and some notable differences. The new Action button, for example. The more powerful A17 Pro chipset. 8 GB of RAM (vs. 6 GB). A superior camera system with optical zoom, macro, and LiDAR capabilities. And a USB-C port that supports USB 3.0 speeds (10 Gbps) and not just USB 2.0 speeds (480 Mbps). That last one, in particular, is a big deal to me, though just having the right connector makes a difference too.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s titanium exterior construction (also present on the non-Max Pro) enables a lighter weight, which could help with the heaviness issue, though it’s worth pointing out that, at 7.81 ounces, it’s still heavier than the iPhone 15 Plus (7.09 ounces). But the iPhone 14 Pro Max weighed much more, at 8.47 ounces. And my previous big iPhone, the iPhone 11 Pro Max, weighed 7.97 ounces.
And the iPhone 15 Pro Max starts at 256 GB, not 128. That’s not a huge deal to me, but it is an advantage, as the iPhone 15 Plus starts at 128 GB.
And there is one truly unique advantage, one that really matters to me. Key among them is the 5x optical zoom via its periscope camera, vs. 3x for the iPhone 15 Pro and 2x for the iPhone 15 Plus. (My current iPhone 13 Pro has 3x optical zoom.) I first experienced a periscope camera, with 5x optical zoom, no less, with the Huawei P30 Pro four years ago, and its quality still impresses. (The Pixel 6 Pro had 4x optical zoom, and the Pixel 7 Pro has 5x optical zoom, both with periscope cameras. And according to rumors, the Pixel 8 Pro will continue forward with the same optical zoom capabilities, giving Apple this chance to catch up.)
And there are also some detriments, none of which are specific to the Pro Max. As with last year’s iPhones, all iPhone 15s in the U.S. come only with eSIM capabilities, so there’s no physical SIM slot. This is an issue for me in Mexico, as I have yet to find wireless access there that doesn’t require a SIM card, and the carrier I do use is SIM card-only.
It’s OK. I will always have multiple phones. And that’s sort of the point: over the next two months, I will upgrade to the latest flagship iPhone and Pixel. We’ll see which I prefer using.
Paul Thurrott is an award-winning technology journalist and blogger with over 20 years of industry experience and the author of over 25 books. He is the News Director for the Petri IT Knowledgebase, the major domo at Thurrott.com, and the co-host of three tech podcasts: Windows Weekly with Leo Laporte and Mary Jo Foley, What the Tech with Andrew Zarian, and First Ring Daily with Brad Sams. He was formerly the senior technology analyst at Windows IT Pro and the creator of the SuperSite for Windows.
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