The iPhone 15 Pro Max is the quintessential Apple product, one in which the sum of several small improvements adds up to a terrific upgrade. And that’s especially true for those who waited three or four years—or more—to do so: Between its lighter body, smaller bezels, impressive Apple Silicon innards, full-featured camera system, configurable Action button, improved Dynamic Island, faster communications, and USB-C port, the new Pros are a big step forward for this mature smartphone family. And the iPhone 15 Pro Max is an even bigger step forward, thanks to an all-new telephoto lens with 5x optical zoom.
As a reviewer, I don’t usually get to wait long enough to appreciate these things. But I inexplicably opted to not review any new iPhones last year, which is unusual. And I had switched from the iPhone 13 Pro I had been using to the Pixel 7 Pro back in April, so my time apart from the iPhone was perhaps useful: While nothing is ever perfect, the iPhone 15 Pro Max comes tantalizingly close. It addresses some of my previous key concerns, which is obviously welcome. But it has also provided some unexpected and delightful moments that speak to Apple’s relentless push for quality.
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And, sure, there are some misfires too, and some features—like that 5x optical zoom—don’t quite meet my Pixel-biased expectations. But this is a smartphone I’d be happy to use for a long time to come. And I may do just that depending on the outcome of my coming Pixel 8 Pro evaluation.
From a distance, the iPhone 15 Pro Max doesn’t look all that different from the iPhone X that debuted in 2017, and the bug-eyed three-lens camera system design on its rear looks much like that on the iPhone 11 Pro Max from 2019. But get a bit closer, put your hands on the iPhone 15 Pro Max, and you will immediately see and feel the difference.
First and most obviously, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is noticeably lighter than its curiously dense predecessors. That’s thanks to the move to titanium instead of the heavier stainless steel used by the previous two generations of Pros, and it’s a significant and quite welcome improvement. That said, while the band that runs along the sides is subtly brushed for a bit of differentiation, the finish of the back of my “Natural Titanium” iPhone 15 Pro Max is a dull matte gray color. It is nothing like the sandstone beige shown in Apple’s product shots, which was a bit disappointing, though I will never see it anyway, as I always protect this expensive device in a protective case.
But before doing that, I noticed the next major difference between the iPhone 15 Pro Max and its two immediate predecessors. Those iPhone Pros used the same iconic design as the iPhone 4, with sharp edges all around that made the devices painful to hold in the hand. Well, consider that complaint addressed too: The iPhone 15 Pro Max features subtle but smooth and contoured edges that eliminate the pain while retaining the iconic look. I’m not sure what took so long, but it’s a great solution.
There’s more. While Apple has been touting the “all-screen design” of its flagship iPhones since 2017, that marketing fell apart in use, as each of these phones, in turn, sported very noticeable and large screen bezels. Here, too, the iPhone 15 Pro Max addresses the complaint. It still has bezels, of course, but they are quite small and are finally competitive with the screen bezels found on Pixel and Samsung Galaxy flagships. Apple has finally achieved what its marketing has been promising for years.
Beyond these points, the rest of the iPhone 15 Pro Max design aligns closely with previous iPhone Pros, for better or worse. The Lightning port has been replaced with a USB-C port, and the number of side buttons has expanded to include a small new Action button. The antenna gaps around the edges still seem like design accents and not the functional necessity they are. And the gigantic three-lens camera system on the top rear is still gigantic and still causes the iPhone to wobble when it’s put on a table or other flat surface.
It’s an iPhone, in other words. And if you loved the design before, as I mostly did, this new version is even better.
Apple loves its fancy brand names, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max, with its Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion, nails it in the display category. But cut through the marketing, and you’ll find a stunning and wonderfully flat 6.7-inch OLED panel with a resolution of 1290 x 2796 (460 PPI), rounded corners, a non-skinny 19.5:9 aspect ratio, and HDR10 and Dolby Vision capabilities.
The ProMotion in that name is Apple’s way of saying that it supports not just high refresh rates (up to 120 Hz), but also variable refresh rates that adapt on the fly as needed, which helps spare battery life. The display gets incredibly bright—1000 nits or, with HDR content, 1600 nits indoors and 2000 nits outdoors—and if anything, it can almost be too bright, especially in low light.
The display also provides Apple’s vaunted True Tone functionality, which I love, and has 100 percent P3 color gamut support, with a 2 million-to-1 contrast ratio. Many HDR10/Dolby Vision displays are overly glossy with exaggerated color pop, even when not playing compatible content, but Apple has long shipped what I think to be correctly balanced panels that play down the unnatural effects. And other than the brightness in low light, there’s not much to criticize here. It’s nearly perfect.
The display is protected by what Apple calls a Ceramic Shield front, and it’s allegedly tougher than any other smartphone glass. There’s also a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating, which I suppose works: All smartphone displays need to be cleaned from time to time, and the edges can be tough depending on your case, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max has been low maintenance. And I’ve dropped it a few times already, though I am using a silicon case, with no issues.
Tied to the display, of course, is the Dynamic Island which debuted the previous year but was new to me. I fell in love with this feature and wish to see it on other devices, but from the perspective of the display, it’s just a large, wide, and pill-shaped cutout that is noticeably less obtrusive than the notch it replaces and notably more obtrusive than the paper hole punch front cameras on most Android flagships. It stands out when playing video content that’s stretched to the full size of the display, of course, but I don’t do that all that often, and the HDR/Dolby Vision capabilities overpower any issues I have with the cutout. (More on Dynamic Island later.)
Apple has long enjoyed performance and efficiency advantages over its Android-based rivals, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max extends this lead with the A17 Pro, which Apple describes as its first true Pro-class chipset. It’s a 3-nm design, a 64-bit CPU with two high-performance cores and four efficiency cores that offers a minor performance advantage over its predecessor, the A16 Bionic. But it’s the GPU that puts the word “Pro” in its name: This is a “brand new” (according to Apple) six-core design, with support for hardware accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading, and it provides a 20 percent performance boost over its 5-core predecessor. More on that in a moment.
The A17 Pro in the iPhone 15 Pro Max also provides a 16-core Neural Engine (NPU) for accelerated AI and machine learning (ML) activities, though Apple is mostly silent on the best examples of that usage. It supports hardware AV1 decoding (in addition to the HEVC, H.264, and ProRes decoding/encoding support that was added last year). And because of its integrated nature, the A17 Pro is how and why the iPhone 15 Pro Max supports USB 3.2 Gen 2, with its 10 Gbps data transfer speeds, a big improvement over the 480 Mbps offered by Lightning.
Apple doesn’t disclose the RAM it uses in the iPhone, it’s part of the mystery, I guess, but third-party sources tell us that the A17 Pro in iPhone 15 Pro Max delivers 8 GB of RAM, a big increase over the 6 GB of RAM in its predecessor. And it’s public knowledge that the base iPhone 15 Pro Max, which I purchased, comes with 256 GB of integrated storage, double the minimum last year. There are also purchase-time upgrades to 512 GB and 1 TB of storage for those who need it (like pro photographers or videographers).
Most of this is … whatever. In my experience, iPhones have always offered terrific out-of-the-box performance and at least all-day battery life, far exceeding anything found on the comparable Google Pixel Pro in both cases. And the iPhone 15 Pro Max has never paused, hiccupped, or hung in any way in normal usage, which is just what I expected. In this way, it’s the anti-Pixel.
But I was particularly interested to see how strongly Apple pushed the iPhone 15 Pros’ video gaming capabilities at its launch event in September. Key to this is its new “pro-class” GPU with its hardware accelerated ray tracing, a holy grail of sorts in the video game world, and the type of thing that typically requires high-end PC hardware or a console like the Xbox Series X. It provides a superior look, of course, but also faster frame rates and smoother gameplay, and Apple claims up to a 4X performance improvement over the software-based ray tracing in its A16 Bionic-based predecessor.
Well, I can’t test any of that per se. But I can—and did—test Resident Evil: Village, a game I had previously played but not finished on the Xbox. (I finished its predecessor, Biohazard.) This survival horror game is now about two years old, but it’s a modern 3D title that has no business running—let alone running well—on a phone. But it does.
Testing this required three things: The game itself, which is available for free (with in-game purchases to get the full game), an Xbox Wireless Controller connected via Bluetooth, and an external display of some kind. Seeing the Xbox controller pair with the iPhone was a curious moment of truth. For the display, I turned to my wife’s 15-inch Full HD USB-C display, and I was both surprised and impressed to see it power on immediately when I connected it to my iPhone 15 Pro Max. I had expected it to require a separate power connection.
Resident Evil: Village isn’t a fast-action shooter-type game, and the beginning of it where you just walk around a house and put a baby to bed is disarmingly calm. But it was a good way to examine the device’s graphical capabilities—the game was mirrored on the internal and external displays—and get some basic performance impressions.
The phone gets pretty warm but never molten hot, and there are some stutters and pauses here and there, especially at first. But it works, and better so if you focus only on the game and do nothing else. And it does look and even play great, for the most part.
It also eats the battery at an alarming rate—I went from 74 percent to 60 percent in maybe 10 minutes while taking screenshots for this review—so some form of power is advisable. The display I used doesn’t have speakers, so the audio came out of the iPhone and was both amazing and immersive. Obviously, you could also play directly on the iPhone, using on-screen touch controls, but I’m too old for that.
(This is sort of beside the point for this review, but the horror elements of Resident Evil: Village—the heavy breathing, the scene in which you head out into the snowy dark to find your wife, the jump scares, and so on—really hold up and translate nicely to mobile. If you’re into this kind of game, Resident Evil: Village is impressive on its own as well.)
Watching the Apple event, I wondered if the iPhone 15 Pro Max could in some way be the beginning of a new era in gaming, as the company claimed, a device with a unique combination of performance, efficiency, graphical acumen, and games. And while it’s early days, and this shift probably won’t be fully realized until we’re a generation or two of iPhones down the road, it does seem that Apple’s on the right path. I have completed several mobile games over the years, but with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, it’s possible I will soon use a mobile device to complete a game that was created exclusively for the PC and high-end consoles too.
Not surprisingly, Apple’s flagship among flagships offers modern and capable communications capabilities, with 5G cellular (sub-6 GHz and mmWave) with 4×4 MIMO and gigabit LTE with 4×4 MIMO, Wi-Fi 6E with 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.3, second-generation Ultra-wideband (UWB), and NFC. I’ve never had any connectivity issues with this device, and it typically delivers fast Wi-Fi speeds—often much faster—than any PCs I use.
More controversially, the handset only supports eSIMs—you can have two eSIM profiles enabled at the same time—and doesn’t feature a traditional nanoSIM card despite the fact that there’s room for it (and Apple does offer this feature in other countries). This is a problem for me because my carrier here in Mexico doesn’t yet support eSIMs, and I use that carrier’s data connectivity when I hit my monthly limit on T-Mobile. (I ended up putting the nanoSIM card in my older Pixel 7a for backup purposes.) There is no logical reason for Apple to push eSIM this aggressively now, but this is also one of those problems that will disappear in time.
I am using the iPhone with two eSIMs, however. Right before the trip, I discovered a service called Nomad that offers pay-as-you-go eSIMs at affordable prices. So I purchased an eSIM with 10 GB of 4G connectivity over 30 days for $32 ($29 on sale) and enabled it when my T-Mobile international data ran out. It’s worked flawlessly, and with dual-SIM support, I kept my phone and text on my normal number and just used the Nomad eSIM for data with no issues at all. (If you use my PAUL65GE referral code, I will get a $3 credit, which would be nice.)
The iPhone 15 Pro Max sports stereo speakers— one in the earpiece above the Dynamic Island and one on the bottom next to the USB-C port—and three microphones, one on the top and two on the bottom. Phone calls were always clear using the iPhone normally, but after getting two complaints about audio quality while on speakerphone—something that was never an issue on the Pixel 7 Pro—I stopped even trying to use it that way.
The audio-video experience is much more impressive with music and video because the iPhone supports Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos spatial audio capabilities. And while I don’t spend a lot of time watching videos on it, let alone without earbuds, it’s fair to say I was blown away. I always watch a few key sequences in Atomic Blond and a few other movies when testing this functionality, and the combination of the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s display and audio systems is one of the best around.
And while I don’t usually do this kind of testing, I signed up for a 30-day Apple Music trial so I could experience some spatial audio music again. Here, too, the results were impressive, with crisp and clear output and terrific stereo and spatial separation. With older songs in particular, it was like I was hearing familiar music for the first time. (Quality varies by track, of course, but I never ran into any stinkers.)
Apple’s three-lens pro camera system is the number one reason that customers choose an iPhone Pro over a standard-issue, non-Pro iPhone. And with the iPhone 15 series, the firm used that knowledge to its advantage by making a key new camera feature, a telephoto lens with 5X optical zoom, exclusive to the more expensive Pro Max. This upgrade certainly sucked me in: I have always gone for the phone (iPhone or Android) with the best camera system, and when I saw what Apple was doing with the iPhone 15 Pro Max camera system, I knew I had to give it a shot. Pardon the pun.
The camera system is impressive enough on paper, but it’s actually not much of a leap forward compared to previous generations, and I’m still a bit unhappy with Apple’s claims about it offering “the equivalent of seven camera lens.” I will also point out that the Pixel 8 Pro’s camera system seems even more impressive on paper, with its three high-resolution lenses, but we’ll see what that looks like in the real world when I come home from Mexico next week and can finally put that phone through its paces.
The main lens on the iPhone 15 Pro Max is basically identical to that on its predecessor, despite Apple’s claims to the contrary. It’s a 48 MP wide-angle lens, a 24 mm equivalent with an ƒ/1.78 aperture and dual-pixel Omni-Directional Phase Detection (PDAF, or what Apple calls “100 percent Focus Pixels”) optical image stabilization (OIS). The only difference this year is that Apple’s Camera app saves images taken with this lens in 24 MP by default, but you can switch back to the old 12 MP format to save storage space or enable one of three HEIF Max/ProRAW modes if you’re a pro yourself and upgraded to more storage. More on that in a moment.
The 12 MP ultra-wide lens is literally identical to its predecessor, it’s a 13 mm equivalent with an ƒ/2.2 aperture, a reasonably wide 120-degree field of view, and “100 percent Focus Pixels,” which is Apple marketing-speak for dual-pixel PDAF OIS. (No complaints here: That’s a much better name.)
And then there’s the telephoto lens. On the non-Max 15 Pro, Apple mails it in with the same 12 MP lens as last year, a 48 mm equivalent with 2X optical zoom, an ƒ/1.78 aperture, and dual-pixel PDAF OIS/100 percent Focus Pixels. But the iPhone 15 Pro Max gets a new 12 MP telephoto lens that is a 120 mm equivalent with a new tetraprism design (similar to a periscope camera but using up less space internally) that provides 5X optical zoom, an ƒ/2.8 aperture, and “3D sensor‑shift optical image stabilization and autofocus.” (Whatever that means. Slightly more advanced OIS and auto-focus, I guess, but not “100 percent Focus Pixels”?)
So let’s start with the main lens, as this is the one customers will use the most often. It debuted in last year’s iPhone 14 Pros, which I did not test, but this year, there are two changes in software that impact how you use the lens dramatically. First, Apple changed the “1x” button in the Camera app into a toggle that you use to switch between three focal lengths (“1x/24 mm,” “1.2x/28 mm,” and “1.5x/35 mm”). And second, the Camera now defaults to a new 24 MP photo capture format, compared to 12 MP in previous iPhone Pros.
The focal length toggle helps explain Apple’s claim that the iPhone 15 Pro/Max offers “the equivalent of seven camera lenses,” but the bigger issue, to me, is the complexity of this system and that most users—who are not pros, despite the product’s name—will find this confusing. In the past, you would open the Camera app and find three clear buttons, each representing a different focal length: .5x, 1x, and 2x. Granted, most people probably thought of them as “zoom” choices, or even “lens choices” because each of those buttons mapped to a specific lens (ultra-wide, wide/main, and telephoto, respectively).
With the iPhone 15 Pros, and the Max in particular, there are many more focal length choices, and while each of them does engage a specific lens, there are still only three lenses, not seven. A .5x focal length still uses the ultra-wide lens. The 1x, 1.2x, and 1.5x choices use the main lens. And the 2x and (on Max only) 5x choices use the telephoto lens. That’s only six focal lengths, but the seventh is engaged when you trigger the Camera app’s Macro mode, which kicks in automatically when you get really close to a subject; this uses the ultra-wide lens. So there’s your seven.
There is good and bad here. On the one hand, I expect most mainstream users to inadvertently tap the “1.x” button here and there, engaging a different focal length without realizing it. On the other, the choice is nice, and you can also configure how this button works in Settings: You can configure a different default focal length (which Apple irritatingly and inaccurately calls a “lens” in Settings) and you can simply toggle off the two additional focal lengths (“lenses”) if you don’t like this feature.
If you leave it as-is, you’ll want to be mindful of this change, I guess. I like it overall, as the 1.2x and 1.5x focal lengths provide nice middle-ground steps between the traditional 1x and 2x modes without the need to manually zoom using touch. I thought about switching to 1.2x as the default, in fact, but after a lot of experimentation, I decided to leave it alone. In the end, I like to take shots quickly and move on. I’m not a professional photographer, I mostly just take snapshots. You know, like most people.
The other change is even more technical: Apple is letting iPhone 15 Pro users take full advantage of the high-resolution sensor in the main lens for the first time and the Camera lens no longer pixel-bins shots down to 12 MP, roughly matching the resolution of the other two lenses. But you can, of course, change how this works in Settings.
I could waste a lot of time on this, but I’ll try to be brief. 24 MP photos will obviously take up more storage than 12 MP photos, and that’s as true in your cloud storage as it is on the device. But the storage requirements are not linear: As Apple explains in the Camera app’s settings interface, where a typical 12 MP photo will take up 2 MB of space, a typical 24 MP photo will take up 3 MB. And that makes the decision a little more complex, as it’s a subtler compromise between quality and storage. Assuming, of course, that the 24 MP photos deliver more quality and not just more resolution.
Adding to the confusion, the main camera doesn’t always provide 24 MP photos, even if that’s how it’s configured: Night mode, macro, flash, and Portrait Lighting shots all save at 12 MP, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Between that and the 12 MP ultra-wide and telephoto shots, you’re going to have a mix of photo sizes and resolutions, unless you go back to the pre-2023 defaults. (I could also expand on the weirdness of the iPhone 15 Pro Max having only one high-resolution main lens while the other two remain other low-resolution lenses, but this is how Apple does things: You know they’ll catch up to Google over the next two years by adding one more high-resolution lens each year.)
Apple switched the default here—and raised the base storage on the iPhone 15 Pros to 256 GB—because the 24 MP default delivers superior quality photos when compared to the old 12 MP default. It explains that this is due to the iPhone’s intelligent bracketing, by which the raw data from the 48 MP lens is combined with multiple 24 MP shots to create a final image. It’s a computational photography happy middle ground that takes into account the native resolution of the sensor, shutter performance, and photo quality, basically. Because of the way the iPhone does things, 24 MP shots will be “better” than pixel-binned 12 MP shots, and they won’t suffer from the shutter lag that accompanies full-resolution 48 MP shots. It’s the right setting for most people. The Goldilocks setting.
That’s the theory, anyway. And I’m running with it: I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I did little in the way of side-by-side 24 MP v. 12 MP comparisons, choosing instead to simply use the camera system as-is after examining all the settings. My experience, such as it is, is that not much has changed. For the most part, the iPhone 15 Pro Max camera system delivered the familiar, mostly high-quality shots I expect from the iPhone, shots that are realistic and not at all artificially boosted with HDR. And many shots are terrific. Portrait mode has gotten so much better that I found myself using it a lot.
On the flip side, I noticed no improvements in quality either: There is nothing about this configuration that resulted in any meaningful change in the quality of my photos.
Indeed, there are some long-time camera problems that still persist. For example, shutter lag can be a problem, especially in sort-of low-light conditions like restaurants, where you know I take a lot of photos. If nothing is moving, the shots are often exemplary. But consider this shot of a sushi master’s hands, blurry despite the fact that he wasn’t exactly moving all that fast. This is the kind of shot where the iPhone often comes up short.
One kind. It’s time to discuss the new telephoto lens in the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
As background, I’ve owned a few smartphones with 5X optical zoom in the past, the first being the Huawei P30 Pro 30 from 2019 and the most recent being last year’s Pixel 7 Pro. (The Pixel 8 Pro I’ll be looking at as soon as next week carries forward with the same telephoto hardware.) This capability is a significant improvement over a standard 2x (or whatever) optical zoom. (It also leaves you wanting even more, though we run into some serious physics issues trying to make these tiny lens elements push past 5x optical zoom.)
I was excited to get this capability in an iPhone. But it’s only OK, with colors that are usually washed out and little in the way of detail on far-away subjects.
You can also zoom in further, of course, and let the iPhone’s hybrid zoom kick in. And this is even worse: I typically stick to 10x or lower for quality reasons, but even then, you’re looking at washed-out mud for the most part. My Pixel 7 Pro has superior optical and hybrid zoom—I suspect Google is just further along in its computational photography work—and of course, my wife’s Samsung Galaxy S22 is even better, with crisper, cleaner optical and hybrid zoom. You can complain all you want about Samsung’s fudging of moon shots, but my wife’s pictures look like they came out of a telescope; all my iPhone can do is capture a blurry white circle in a noisy, pixelated sky.
It’s not all bad: 5x is still better than 2x, and you won’t need this level of zoom most of the time. But I take an inordinate number of Mexico City skyline shots from our balcony, and I never stopped wishing I had my Pixel with me on this trip. That camera system is far better at zoom shots.
The iPhone is well known for its video prowess. But here, too, I must apologize. I rarely if ever record video, and I spent most of this month enjoying Mexico City and taking only still shots.
Apple bills iOS as the world’s most secure mobile operating system, and I guess I have no quibbles there. Recent iOS versions have ramped up its privacy and security features, most notably with per-app anti-tracking prompts, and iOS 17 adds a few minor enhancements to what was already a fairly complete system with enhancements to lockdown mode (for protecting against cyberattacks) and improved permissions controls. But the basics remain the same: In addition to the incredible suite of security and privacy protections in its OS, the iPhone provides hardware security features like a secure enclave, the T2 security chip, encrypted storage, and best-in-class facial recognition via Face ID. It’s all there.
When I switched from the Pixel 7 Pro to the iPhone 15 Pro Max last month, I immediately noticed how much better the battery was in Apple’s device. Twice as much battery is perhaps a stretch, but it feels like it: Where my Pixel needed to be recharged in the late afternoon on most days, the iPhone routinely makes it until bedtime without me worrying about charging it. And I’ve only considered charging mid-day on busy travel days when we’re out and about in the city taking lots of photos far from the apartment. And in the subjective theme here, I’ll also note that I never once took my portable charger with me this month. It was a regular companion when I was using the Pixel in Mexico City.
(As I write this, it’s 12:42 pm and I took the iPhone off the charger at 6:30 am. The battery is at 92 percent after 3 hours of active screen time and about 3 hours of idle time.)
From a configuration perspective, the iPhone has all the expected charging optimization features to help preserve its health, and it supports a low-power mode if you’re running low. The only change I made was to display the battery life percentage inside of the battery meter in the status bar.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max arrived with iOS 17, the latest version of Apple’s mobile OS. There’s not much to say here: For the most part, iOS is as elegant and mature as ever, and I find switching between it and Android mostly seamless, with each having a handful of advantages over the other in basic usage. Is it dumb that you still can’t put icons anywhere you want on the iPhone’s home screen? Yep. This discussion has also been beaten to death.
That said, I will call out two areas in iOS that I think explain the highs and lows of this system nicely. Fortunately, I’ve written about both already, so I can keep this short.
In the pro column, we have the iPhone gesture navigation system that I wrote about recently: The consistency and logic of this system are almost breathtaking and are something that Google should adopt outright.
On the flipside, Apple’s handling of notifications remains a sad joke, with the odd exception of the Dynamic Island that debuted a year ago but is new to me: This incredible software feature isn’t just a way to hide the former notch, it’s an innovative and new approach to handling multitasking and alerts on a mobile device with a relatively small display and is so good I expect Apple to implement it on Mac and iPad in the future too.
The iPhone has included a weird Ring/Silent switch since the first version in 2007 that was probably activated by users by mistake more than it was on purpose. Well, that era is ending: The iPhone 15 Pro Max replaces that oddity with a new Action button that can perform the old Ring/Silent duties or be configured to perform one of several other tasks.
It’s not a horrible idea, but this initial implementation is lackluster.
For starters, the button is too small, and it’s in the wrong place above the two volume buttons on the left side where I often hit it by mistake when trying to raise the volume or take a screenshot. Apple should move it to the right side of the device and place it above the Side button (which most people think of as the power button). And not just for aesthetics: Its placement on the left makes it harder to activate for right-handers like me.
Secondly, the Action button is too limited. The range of choices is nice—I configured mine to open the Camera app and then, if the Camera app is open, to snap a photo. But you have to long-press it to activate it, which I’m sure is about trying to prevent mis-clicks. And there’s no reason why this button can’t perform multiple actions. Surely, double-clicking it could do something too?
And while this isn’t a big deal, the UI for configuring what the button does—choices include Silent Mode, Focus, Camera, Flashlight, Voice Memo, Magnifier, Shortcut, and Accessibility, each with sub-options—is gratuitous and completely unlike any other interface in the Settings app. That’s silly.
The iPhone 15 lineup is the first to finally move past the dated and proprietary Lightning connector and offer industry-standard USB-C connectivity. And with the iPhone 15 Pros specifically, that means USB 3.2 Gen 2 capabilities, with 10 Gbps data transfer speeds—a huge improvement over the 480 Mbps found in previous iPhones and on the non-Pro iPhone 15s—a host of other cool capabilities, most notably the external display support I noted earlier. I didn’t test this—the SSD I brought here is formatted incorrectly for this use; it requires the APFS or exFAT format—but you can also connect the iPhone 15 Pros to a USB-C SSD storage device, and it will record ProRes video directly to it, bypassing your internal storage. This is a new era for the iPhone. One only wonders what took so long.
One also wonders why Apple bundles a slow USB-C 2 cable in the box: That’s inexcusable for a Pro device that supports much better technology.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max starts at $1199, a $100 increase over the base price of its predecessor. But in the good news department, that includes more storage, 256 GB, too. You can upgrade to a 512 GB model for $1399, or to 1 TB for $1599. Available colors this year include Natural Titanium, Blue Titanium, White Titanium, and Black Titanium. The handsets are broadly available at Apple, virtually every mobile carrier, and at electronics stores worldwide.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is stuffed with dozens of small but important upgrades that make it a no-brainer for anyone looking for the best possible flagship smartphone experience. Those coming from previous iPhones will appreciate the physical improvements, Dynamic Island, Action button, and USB-C, while Android lurkers are running out of excuses as Apple continues to address lingering concerns. My iPhone 13 Pro was only two years old, but this was a terrific upgrade and not at all a minor advance. And most people are likely using even older phones, making the iPhone 15 Pro Max all the more appealing.
That said, Apple hasn’t moved the needle too much on photography: It’s still a strong point, but I’d like to see higher-resolution ultra-wide and telephoto lenses, and better optical and hybrid zoom capabilities. And while the move to USB-C was years overdue, the inclusion of a Lightning-slow USB 2 cable in the box is an insult.
No matter. Apple still delivers the best overall smartphone experience available today, as always. Whether you’re a convert or not, you will not be disappointed.
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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