Our review of the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: A worthy upgrade — for … – CBS News

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By Jason R. Rich
/ Essentials
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Every year, the latest iPhone model is typically described by Apple executives as its most advanced smartphone, ever. That’s true for the new Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max, but each iPhone model always gets at least some upgrades over the previous generation. 
But here’s the key question: Are the hardware updates and redesign of the iPhone 15 Pro Max worthy of updating your phone now, even if you own an iPhone 14 Pro Max? Or are the hardware updates incremental — the kind that might make you want to wait until 2024 to get the Apple iPhone 16 Pro Max?
I got my hands on the new Apple iPhone Pro Max 15 to find out.
Apple’s top-of-the-line iPhone 15 Pro Max comes in four colors – natural titanium, blue titanium, white titanium and black titanium. Here are the three configurations currently available and their prices:
Display size: 6.7-inches | Display type: Super Retina XDR OLED | Display resolution: 2,796 x 1,290 pixels (460 ppi) | Display brightness: 2,000 nits | Processor: A17 Pro | Storage options: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Housing material: Titanium | Dimensions: 6.29 x 3.02 x 0.32 inches | Weight: 7.81 ounces | Front camera: 12MP (TrueDepth with Face ID) | Rear camera system: 48MP (main), 12MP (ultra-wide), 12MP (2x telephoto) | Operating system: iOS 17 (or later) | Safety features: Emergency SOS via satellite, Crash detection, Roadside Assistance via satellite | Port: 1x USB Type-C | Waterproof rating: IP68 | Physical buttons: Action button, volume up, volume down, Side button | Battery life: Up to 29 hours (with wireless fast charging support)
Just looking at the new iPhone 15 Pro Max from the outside, it appears very similar to the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Minor design changes include a USB Type-C port on the bottom of the phone (instead of a Lightning port) and a new Action Button that’s located on the left side of the handset. 
Many of the phone’s updates, like the upgraded A17 Pro processor, forged titanium housing, enhanced display, better battery life and improved camera system, are not obvious just by looking at the phone. For people who rely heavily on their smartphone and consider themselves avid smartphone photographers or videographers, these upgrades are significant. For just about everyone else, the upgrades are largely inconsequential.
As someone who has owned and used every iPhone model ever released, earlier this month I upgraded my iPhone 14 Pro Max (256GB) to the latest iOS 17.0.3 operating system. A few weeks later, I upgraded the phone itself to the iPhone 15 Pro Max (512GB) model, which also runs this latest version of iOS 17.
While I use my iPhone as an everyday communications and productivity tool (in conjunction with my Apple Watch Series 9, iPad Pro, iMac and MacBook), I am also an avid photographer who relies heavily on my iPhone’s camera setup and features, especially when I travel. Thus, I am always excited about the new photography and videography capabilities Apple integrates into its latest smartphones.
When the new iPhone 15 Pro Max arrived, I immediately went through the setup process and transferred my existing cellular phone number and the contents of the old phone to the new one. Right away I noticed that Apple has done an impressive job automating, speeding up and streamlining this process. By placing the two phones side-by-side and following the activation procedure, I was able to complete this process easily. Within less than an hour, the new phone was activated and upgraded with the latest version of iOS 17. And all of my apps, app data, photos and settings were also transferred from my old phone to the new one. 
However, this is where my excitement for the new phone began to wane. To upgrade to the iPhone 15 Pro Max through Apple’s financing option, my monthly payment for just the phone increased slightly and is now $61.16 (for 24 months), unless I choose to upgrade the phone again next year. In which case, the monthly payments will continue, but I wind up with no ownership of the phone.
My day-to-day interaction with the new phone has been almost identical to my experience using the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Yes, the new phone is a tad faster when it comes to launching and switching between apps, for example, but how I use the phone and the services and functions it offers are basically the same. 
As for the phone’s new Side Button, it can be programmed to serve as a shortcut for handling a common task. I personally chose to have it launch the Camera app. And speaking of photography, this is where I did notice some improvement and upgrades made to the new phone. I’ll delve deeper into those upgrades shortly. My first impression, however, is that the iPhone 15 Pro Max offers a disappointingly small overall performance upgrade compared to the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
That said, someone who is upgrading from an older iPhone, especially one that was not in the “Pro Max” category, will immediately notice a huge improvement in features, performance and the overall capabilities from the iPhone 15 Pro Max – especially since you’ll now have access to a larger display, a longer battery life, a faster processor and, if your previous iPhone was several years old, access to much faster 5G cellular data connectivity.
Based on my hands-on experience using the iPhone 15 Pro Max, if you’re considering upgrading from the iPhone 14 Pro Max to this new model, the improvement to performance and the phone’s new capabilities probably will not be worth it. Instead, I’d recommend making sure your iPhone 14 Pro Max stays up to date with the latest version of the  iOS 17 operating system and see what Apple releases next year before upgrading.
The smartphone users who should definitely consider upgrading to the iPhone 15 Pro Max include anyone using an older version of the iPhone, or someone using the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, or iPhone 14 Pro who wants to take advantage of the larger and more vibrant display of the Pro Max model, and who will benefit from the longer battery life and better camera setup.
I’d also highly recommend the iPhone 15 Pro Max to an Android smartphone user who wants to make the switch to an iPhone. This new iPhone provides the best overall introduction to what the iPhone running the iOS operating system is capable of. Apple has made making the transition from an Android phone to an iPhone easier than ever. All of your essential data gets transferred to the new iPhone almost automatically.
Here’s a summary of the key enhancements made to the iPhone 15 Pro Max and how each will likely impact the average user.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max now utilizes a lighter weight, forged titanium housing that’s more durable than the materials used previously. While it certainly looks nice, if you plan to use a case with the phone, the titanium housing is not something you’ll see or take advantage of on a daily basis, as the case will protect your phone and cover the exposed areas of its housing. 
The weight of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is 7.81 ounces, while the iPhone 14 Pro Max weighed in at 8.47 ounces. Yes, it’s lighter, but not significant enough to actually notice a difference.
The new Action button (that’s located on the left side of the phone, just above the volume buttons) can be programmed to do whatever you want it to. By default, it allows you to switch between Ring and Silent mode. However, you can set it up to launch a specific app or run a series of tasks when this button is pressed. I found this option somewhat useful, but gimmicky at the same time. Never did I think, “How did I ever live without the Action button?”
The new processor enhances the phone’s overall performance. You will notice the new iPhone operates slightly faster, especially when specific apps require a lot of computing power or utilize extremely detailed animated graphics. High-end games will run smoother and showcase more detail.
The new processor also contributes to a longer battery life and enhanced Siri functionality. If these features are not essential to your daily use of the iPhone, the more powerful processor and enhanced GPU will have little impact on your experience using the phone.
The camera setup of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is slightly more advanced, but much of the new functionality is software driven and provided by iOS 17. One feature I particularly like is that you now get more depth control when taking portraits. 
In addition, the new phone offers 5x optical zoom and up to 25x digital zoom. This is equivalent to a 200mm lens on a DSLR camera. For an avid photographer, the improved zoom is a powerful feature, but it works best when the phone is used with a tripod or stand. Whenever I set the camera to maximum zoom and tried holding the iPhone in my hands as I took a photo, I found more often than not, I would up with a blurry or pixelated image.
Apple has abandoned the Lighting port on the bottom of the iPhone and replaced it with a more standard USB 3.0 Type-C port. Not only does this allow the phone to charge faster (when using a wired charger), it also allows for wired data transfers to happen up to 20 times faster. 
If you already have a collection of Lightning cables for older iPhones and iPads, these are now obsolete. On the plus side, USB Type-C cables are more widely available and typically less expensive. The phone comes with one USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable, but no charging block. I would up having to buy a second USB-C cable for my car in order to continue taking advantage of CarPlay.
Based on how you use it, battery life of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is now up to 29 hours. The phone supports fast charging and MagSafe wireless charging. For many people, the enhanced battery life will be a welcome feature. 
If you’re out of cellular range and get stuck on some side street in the middle of nowhere, it’s now possible to use the iPhone’s emergency satellite communications capabilities to request roadside assistance. 
This service works in conjunction with AAA and is accessible even if you’re not a AAA member. It’s provided for free for two years. If you tend to drive in places where cellular service is not available and your vehicle is prone to breakdowns, this can be a useful feature. It’s also now available using the iPhone 14 Pro Max (and several other iPhone models) running the latest version of iOS 17.
The biggest enhancements an iPhone user will experience when using the iPhone 15 Pro Max comes from the iOS 17 operating system. But you should understand that these same improvements also work with the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Most are software-based, so they’re available to users of other iPhone models as well.
In terms of similarities between the iPhone 14 Pro Max and iPhone 15 Pro Max, the 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display is the same. Both also utilize Face ID to unlock the phone and approve online purchases. And both support 5G cellular connectivity and are compatible with MagSafe fast chargers and other wireless chargers.
There are now all sorts of ways to customize the iPhone with iOS 17. None of these are exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. In addition to a wider selection of Lock and Home screen wallpapers, it’s possible to create your own. You’re also able to incorporate widgets onto your home screen, fully customize the appearance and behavior of notifications, create and use the new Contact Poster feature within the Phone app, easily swap contact information with another iPhone user using the NameDrop feature and add Live Stickers to your instant messages. 
Almost all of the apps that come preinstalled with iOS 17 have undergone some redesign, but most are subtle. While convenient, many of the new app features will not dramatically impact how you utilize your phone as a communications, productivity, health/fitness or entertainment tool.
Some of the more obvious changes and improvements are in the Maps app, when using AirPlay or CarPlay, as well as features related to privacy and security while using the Internet and various apps. Of course, as with all iPhones, you’re able to customize your smartphone with any of the millions of optional apps available from the App Store. Apple’s older ad slogan, “There’s an app for that” definitely still applies –- more so now than ever before.
Based on my experience using the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the most significant improvements relate to the phone’s photo and video capabilities. Some of these improvements are a direct result of iOS 17-related software enhancements, but some rely on the phone’s faster processor.
The A17 Pro processor, in conjunction with the phone’s image sensor, allows the Camera app to capture more detail and color, while also performing better in low light situations. Photographers also now have greater control over the background blur effect when using Portrait mode. 
And speaking of Portrait mode, these can now be captured as Live images and you have access to up to 5x zoom capabilities. I also noticed improvements on how the cameras utilize light to capture more accurate skin tones and colors. This is, in part, because the cameras now support Apple’s Smart HDR 5 (as opposed to Smart HDR 4, which was offered by the iPhone 14 Pro Max).
The iPhone 15 Pro Max now offers 5x optical zoom and up to 25x digital zoom. This is a noticeable improvement over the iPhone 14 Pro Max. The macro photography capability functions faster and more smoothly when it comes to focusing on a close-up or small object.
The following are a selection of photos taken with various levels of zoom and an assortment of features offered by the Camera app. No alternations have been done to them. This first image was taken using the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s ultra wide camera with an aspect ratio of 16:9. 
The next four images showcase the same location. As the photographer, I did not physically move. However, I started with zero zoom and then adjusted the Camera app’s zoom feature multiple times and switched between the phone’s various rear-facing cameras. For these shots, the aspect ratio was set at 4:3.
The following image of a flower demonstrates the capabilities of the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s macro photography capabilities. With the rear-facing camera positioned within two inches of the flower, you can see plenty of detail in the flower’s petals.
It’s now possible to adjust the level of background blur using a slider found within the Photos app. The first shot below was taken without using Portrait mode, but the one following it was taken with Portrait mode activated and focus placed on the red flower as the intended subject.
The following shot was taken with the Camera app’s Photo mode, with the Live feature turned off. For the subsequent photo, the Live feature was turned on and then within the Photos app, the Long Exposure tool was activated. As you can see, this created an artistic blur from the water flowing in the stream.
This final shot is another example of the Portrait mode being used. My dog Lexi appears in focus in the forefront of the shot, but the Camera app automatically burred the background. Once again, the aspect ratio was set to 16:9 and the main rear-facing camera was used.
Having now worked with all of the key features and functions offered by the iPhone 15 Pro Max, I would definitely classify the new phone as being just an incremental upgrade to the previous model. The most impressive new features relate to the phone’s photography and videography capabilities. If you plan to shoot and store a lot of video content with the new phone, I’d highly recommend investing in either the 512GB or 1TB phone configuration and boosting your iCloud storage capacity, since 4K video files are large.  
Because the iPhone 15 Pro Max represents a rather significant financial investment, consider adding AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss coverage to protect the phone against damage. This costs an additional $13.49 per month.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is a powerful and feature packed smartphone with enhanced overall performance. But, it’s an expensive phone to own and operate when you consider the cost of the phone itself, AppleCare+, cellular phone service and any accessories (such as a case, wireless charging pad and extra USB Type-C cables). The above photo features the iPhone 15 Pro Max housed in a Mujjo Full Leather Case ($59) with a pair of 2nd generation Apple AirPods Pro ($200).
For hands-free calling or streaming music, for example, I highly recommend using the new iPhone with a pair of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) wireless earbuds, as they offer functionality that only Apple devices can fully utilize.
Ultimately, the iPhone 15 Pro Max as a worthwhile upgrade for a heavy iPhone user or an avid smartphone photographer and videographer. But for almost anyone else, unless you need the larger 6.7-inch display, justifying the cost of this phone (when there are less expensive iPhone 15 configuration options available) is rather difficult (at least in my opinion).
Jason R. Rich (www.JasonRich.com) is an internationally recognized consumer technology expert with more than 30 years’ writing experience. He’s also an accomplished author and photographer. One of his most recently published books, The Remote Worker’s Handbook: How to Effectively Work From Anywhere ($24.99, Entrepreneur Books) is now available from Amazon and wherever books are sold.
First published on October 23, 2023 / 10:20 AM
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