There’s nothing innately special about the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Sure, it’s the latest and greatest smartphone from Apple, and it finally brings USB-C to the iPhone—yet aside from a few small additions, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is unequivocally boring. But that’s not a bad thing.
I’ve spent the last several days using the iPhone 15 Pro Max as my daily driver. It’s turned out to be a solid phone, though there isn’t anything about it that really stands out. If you noticed my 15 Pro Max and asked me if you should buy one, there isn’t any one thing I could point out that makes it worth upgrading to, especially if you just upgraded last year.
So, does that make the iPhone 15 Pro Max a bad phone? I don’t think so. Although only slightly improved from the 14 Pro Max, it’s still a good phone on its own merits, and offers some remarkable performance with the A17 chip— despite the concerns about overheating. But it feels exactly like everything else Apple has done this year: It’s safe. It’s reliable. Nothing truly innovative is happening here, and ultimately, that’s perfectly OK, as long as you don’t go into it expecting things to feel brand new.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the iPhone 15 Pro Max is its materials: Apple has ditched stainless steel in favor of titanium for the design and frame. This means a device that’s 10% lighter, and because most of that weight is in the frame along the outer edge, it feels a lot lighter, especially compared to, say, the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Of course, this isn’t anything new. Other premium devices from Google and Samsung have offered lighter designs than the Pro iPhones for years. But it’s good to see Apple aligning with the current market standard. (Who really wants their phones getting heavier every year?) As far as durability goes, it feels about as sturdy as any other iPhone has in the past with stainless steel framing. However, the titanium does seem to hide scratches and dings a little bit better, which is helpful if you’re prone to knocking your phone into things.
The other big design change is the removal of the Ring/Silent switch, an iPhone staple dating back to the original Apple phone. On the new Pro models, Apple replaced it with an Action Button, similar to the Action Button the company introduced on the Apple Watch Ultra last year. It’s really the best of both worlds now: While you can still use it to silence your iPhone, you can also set it up to do things like turn on the flashlight, trigger a Focus, or launch shortcuts you’ve set up on your device. It’s a great addition, but, again, doesn’t feel like a selling feature for the $1,199 phone.
The last big design change comes at the bottom of the device, as Apple has replaced the previous Lightning port with USB-C. This wasn’t something Apple did because they felt it was time: The EU forced them to, and its one of the best changes I’ve seen in recent iPhone releases. But, it isn’t anything new. USB-C is years old at this point, and it’s yet another situation where Apple is finally coming in line with other major phone manufacturers. Sure, it’s a win, but it’s a win that should have happened a long time ago.
One of the most compelling reasons to go with an iPhone Pro over a regular iPhone is the improved cameras and optics. On the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the main cameras are pretty much the same as they were on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. That means you can expect a main 48MP wide camera, an ultra-wide camera, and a front camera that offer much of what they did last year. However, the 15 Pro Max also brings a new telephoto camera sensor and periscope lens array, which gives you 5x optical zoom, equivalent to a 120mm focal length.
It’s a solid zoom level that produces decent images, though it isn’t a strong enough zoom that you’re going to be taking photos of far-off objects in great and immense detail. This is another place that it feels like Apple is playing catch up, as other premium Android devices have offered similar camera features for several years now.
But the software is where the real changes are for taking photos. On the new iPhone 15 Pro models, Apple has enabled a default 24MP image size with new image processing capabilities, double the resolution of previous phone’s 12MP default. You can take images in both HEIF and JPEG modes, allowing for 48MP “Pro” shots that use HEIF Max instead of the ProRaw format previously required. Ultimately, that means less freedom when editing the images through post-processing, but it does lead to a huge reduction in file size, with images potentially taking up to 15 times less storage space on your device.
You also get three different options for the standard wide shot, including a 1x equal to 24mm, as well as options to swap between 28mm and 35mm crops directly in the camera app. The new settings still produce those same 24MP images, but they utilize a different set of pixels from the image sensor to help streamline the processing pipeline on the device. It’s kind of like digital zoom but with cleaner and sharper images.
Overall, most people probably aren’t going to notice a huge difference between how the iPhone 15 Pro Max and previous Pro models handle photos. Still, the small upgrades here are nice, and something that professionals and techies will find useful and advantageous.
Ultimately, what Apple has delivered with the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the “definitive” iPhone experience, even if it does feel a bit too “safe” compared to previous models. But even as the definition of what an iPhone can and should be, should you upgrade?
If, like me, you’re coming from the iPhone 13 Pro Max or older, then the upgrade to the iPhone 15 Pro Max is going to be a bit more noticeable. The changes to the bezels around the screen—which help give it a more rounded feel and look—are a plus, and makes the phone feel a bit newer. The performance upgrades are slightly better than the previous iPhone 14 Pro Max, thanks to the A17 chip. The downside there, though, is that the performance isn’t going to be anything mind-blowing, as these phones are pushing the limits of what can be done with iOS. Plus, overheating is still a concern.
Sure, the A17 can support some AAA games, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to play full-blown games on your iPhone. The screen just isn’t big enough, and in most cases, the iPhone 15 Pro Max isn’t designed to dissipate heat as well as other gaming-centric smartphones on the market. But if you want to experience Resident Evil on your smartphone’s tiny screen, you can—just make sure to time your gaming sessions, so you don’t burn up your phone with all that extra heat.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is a solid iPhone, though it doesn’t do anything innovative to change the scope of what an iPhone is or can be. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Apple is putting more of its time and effort into the upcoming Vision Pro, which will certainly turn heads once it comes out. The result? The iPhone 15 Pro Max makes upgrading feel less exciting than it used to, especially if you like to buy a new phone every year.