The iPhone 15 Pro Max is the best smartphone Apple makes and it comes with some significant improvements
- Battery life is still great
- Lightweight and good looking
- USB-C (at last)
- Softer night shots
- Same main camera as last year
I’m going to start this review with an uncontroversial statement: the iPhone 15 Pro Max is Apple’s best smartphone. It’s the tech giant’s most advanced phone yet and also the most powerful.
At long last, it comes with USB-C, which brings with it much more than just easier cable management. It also benefits from improvements in the camera department, and it’s lighter and smaller than its predecessor as well.
With the same starting price as last year’s Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max but with double the storage, it’s a much easier phone to recommend, too. If you want the best iPhone, this is currently it. And yet this is a handset that’s hard to get too excited by – it’s a great phone, but it could have been even greater.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: What do you need to know
There’s plenty of new stuff to get stuck into, and it all starts with that titanium frame and lustrous titanium-infused glass rear. This new material not only lends good looks to the new phone and feels lovely to the touch, but it also contributes to a significantly lighter weight.
The new Pro Max also has slimmer screen bezels and is noticeably more compact in the hand. It has a longer telephoto lens at 5x, up from 3x, adding to its main and ultrawide cameras. And, of course, it comes with the latest Apple Silicon inside: the 3nm A17 Pro.
There’s a new, customisable Action button that replaces the old mute switch and, at long last, we have an iPhone with USB-C. This is perhaps the most significant update to the iPhone in 2023 and it finally means you can charge all your devices with just one cable and an adapter (although not all at once).
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: Price and competition
As I’ve already mentioned previously, prices for the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max have also, somewhat unusually, remained static this year, starting at £1,199. Even better, Apple has doubled the storage capacity on the base model from 128GB to 256GB, effectively cutting the price of the 256GB phone by £110. Models further up the range are also now cheaper, with the 512GB model costing £130 less and the 1TB version representing a £150 saving.
The obvious competitor to the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the smaller iPhone 15 Pro. This can’t compete on battery life, has a smaller display and lacks the 5x telephoto camera of its bigger brother but it is £200 cheaper.
If you have less money to spend and don’t care too much about telephoto zoom, then the regular iPhone 15 is well worth a look. It gets the Dynamic Island this year and also a 48MP main camera, although it isn’t exactly the same, but costs a lot less at £799. It doesn’t have the new Apple A17 Pro chipset but does get an upgrade over the iPhone 14, with the addition of the A16 Bionic.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is currently the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s key Android rival and is available for £1,249 for the 256GB model. It’s a fantastic phone with a class-leading collection of cameras, including double the optical zoom capability at 10x, a 200MP main camera, another 3x optical zoom and a 120-degree ultrawide.
If your main interest is mobile photography, the Google Pixel 7 Pro is also a good shout at £679 for the 128GB model. Like the iPhone 15 Pro Max, it comes with ultrawide, main and 5x telephoto cameras and image quality is excellent, although it can’t compete with the Apple phone’s performance or battery life.
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Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: Design and key new features
Let’s get one thing out of the way from the get-go: the iPhone 15 Pro Max is not a radical departure from what went before. However, it is a small, important evolution.
Where the 14 Pro Max (and previous Pro iPhones before it) used stainless steel, this phone introduces titanium alloy, which makes up the frame of the phone and is also infused in the back glass. This leads to a lighter phone, by a whole 19g. Apple has also shaved off a millimetre or so all around the screen bezels.
You might not think that these subtle changes would make a difference but they are, surprisingly, quite noticeable if you compare the phones side by side. Meanwhile, softer “contoured” edging makes the phone a tiny bit more comfortable to hold, as does a slightly silkier finish to the glass, not that you’ll notice once you’ve popped it in a protective case.
The other “big” upgrade on the design front is the new Action button. This replaces the long-standing mute switch on the left edge, just above the volume buttons, and you activate it with a long press. The button can be customised with the ability to launch voice memos, the camera, magnifier tool, torch or do not disturb, giving it much more flexibility than before.
And then there’s that USB-C port on the bottom edge which, at long last, brings the iPhone into line with not only the rest of the smartphone industry but also the rest of the Apple hardware ecosystem. If you own an iPad, an iPhone and a MacBook, you can now use one charger and one cable to charge them all.
This implementation of USB-C isn’t particularly high-spec, however. Charging isn’t all that quick – up to 27W – while data transfers are capped at 10Gbits/sec. But it is much more convenient, and there are some nice touches here, too. Not only can you use the cable from your Mac to top up your iPhone but you can also use USB-C on your iPhone 15 Pro Max to provide a charge for another phone or your AirPods Pro.
That’s it for visible updates, but there is one more major change and it’s to be found inside. The iPhone 15 Pro Max now has a similar internal construction to the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus from last year. This means certain repairs – the rear glass in particular – will be much cheaper to carry out now (£199 vs £559) because engineers can remove the rear panel without having to extract every other component as well.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: Display
Where the chassis is very different, the display is anything but. In fact, it’s identical to last year: it’s still a 120Hz AMOLED panel with a resolution of 2,760 x 1,290; it’s still rated at 2,000cd/m2 peak brightness (outdoors with auto-brightness enabled) or 1,600cd/m2 for HDR playback; and it still has the Dynamic Island at the top, which makes a virtue out of the Face ID and selfie camera cutouts by bringing them to life with interactive notifications.
In testing, I found the display produced as impressive a set of results as iPhones normally do. I tested for peak HDR brightness and found it reached as high as 1,680cd/m2, which is a touch higher than the quoted 1,600cd/m2 but not so big a difference that you’d notice.
It reproduced 91% of the P3 colour gamut (CIE-1976) and colour accuracy was excellent as well. Within the sRGB colour space, I measured an average Delta E colour difference of 0.43, which is superb.
Combined with Apple’s True Tone tech, which monitors the external colour temperature of the area you’re using the phone in and attempts to match its white point, the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s display is glorious. It’s great for watching TV shows and movies and even better for flicking through the HDR videos and photos captured on the iPhone’s cameras.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: Performance and battery life
Inside, there’s the new Apple A17 Pro chipset, built on the unfeasibly tiny manufacturing process of 3nm. This is the first time we’ve seen a chip use this tech and you might expect it to blast the competition off the face of the earth, if not in terms of raw performance then certainly when it comes to efficiency. Surprisingly, though, it provided a somewhat mixed set of results.
In short-blast, CPU-bound benchmarks, the A17 Pro delivers exactly what you’d expect. Apple says it’s 10% faster and that’s roughly what I saw, in both the Geekbench 5 and Geekbench 6 tests.
It’s also faster in the graphics-intensive benchmarks, working out, again, at around 10% more in the GFXBench Car Chase test. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Running the same test multiple times in succession saw the results fall from around 146fps to as low as 96fps, indicating that a certain degree of thermal throttling is at play.
To be clear, the iPhone 14 Pro Max also exhibits this behaviour, with frame rates falling as the phone heats up, but the drop I saw wasn’t quite as dramatic as on the iPhone 15 Pro.
That’s concerning, not just because performance isn’t quite as good as it could be, but also because of Apple’s increasing emphasis on “console quality” gaming. To be clear, though, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is still a very fast phone.
Fortunately, these issues don’t seem to have negatively impacted battery life. Indeed, during the relatively light-use scenario of our rundown test – a video playing with the screen set to a brightness level of 170cd/m2 and all wireless connectivity disabled – the iPhone 15 Pro Max lasted an impressive 23hrs 42mins.
Coincidentally, that’s exactly the same result as the 14 Pro Max achieved last year – this is a phone that can comfortably deliver all-day battery life and, on occasion, can get you through a day and a half or even more on a single charge.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: Cameras
And so, at last, we get to the cameras, which are at the same time both radically different and underwhelming.
On the one hand, it’s good to finally see Apple introduce a longer optical telephoto camera on its flagship, since 3x is just so old school. The 5x (f/2.8) 120mm periscope still lags behind the competition but it does come with an upgraded “3D” OIS this year, enabling sharp shots and a little extra reach.
On the other hand, that’s the only camera Apple has upgraded from a hardware perspective. The rest stay the same – a 48MP (f/1.8) 24mm main, a 12MP (f/2.2) 13mm ultrawide and a 12mm (f/1.9) selfie camera – and besides, the benefit of that 5x lens is debatable, as I’ll discuss below.
There are also quite a few changes on the software and processing side of things to talk through. The first of these is that Apple is giving users the option to save images from the main camera as 24MP images rather than 12MP. This only works for daylight shots, though. In night mode, the resolution reverts to 12MP, and the same applies to photographs captured with flash.
The second is that Apple is now using its photonic image processing for night mode. And it now allows you to capture portraits without having to select Portrait mode first. The camera automatically detects when there are faces in the frame, stores all the information it needs to do the processing and allows you to apply a fake bokeh blur later, in the Photos app. This even works when there are people in the foreground or background of an image. Simply tap the face you want it to focus on and the rest of the scene will blur.
With video, there are also some new features, although these are somewhat niche. It’s possible now to shoot in a flat Log colour profile – a feature intended for videographers who might want to use an iPhone as a backup camera on set. It makes footage easier to colour grade and match with a professional setup when editing.
And those same professionals can now record 60fps ProRes footage directly to external storage, thanks to that USB-C port on the bottom edge (it was limited to 30fps before). There’s still no 8K capability, though.
The final change is to the UI of the camera app, which now allows you to quickly cycle through the common “traditional” camera focal lengths of 24mm, 28mm and 35mm by tapping the 1x lens icon on the screen.
Image quality is the most important thing, though, and here there are some good things and some bad. I tested the iPhone 15 Pro Max next to an iPhone 14 Pro Max and saw very little difference in most circumstances. That’s a good thing because the main camera, particularly if you use it in 48MP RAW mode, is excellent. Images are bursting with detail, colours are balanced and exposures are well judged, by and large.
The new telephoto camera does bring far-off subjects a little closer and, if you compare shots taken on the iPhone 14 Pro Max shot at a digital zoom of 5x with those captured on the 15 Pro Max shot at an optical zoom of 5x, there’s a clear difference. If you take a lot of images from a long distance then this is a clear upgrade. The flip side to this is that at 3x, image quality on the 15 Pro Max is actually worse than it is on the 14 Pro Max because that’s not an optically “true” focal length on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Samsung gets around this problem by simply adding to the number of cameras it offers, and I think this is a superior approach. Its flagship Galaxy S23 Ultra has four rear cameras, retaining the 3x camera, and adding to it with a more powerful 10x telephoto.
As for the rest of the cameras, there are some subtle differences to image quality on the iPhone 15 Pro Max. The colours look a little warmer on 15 Pro Max to my eye with a hint more contrast. Night mode photos are more striking, too, again with richer colouring and less visual noise. I noticed a particular improvement around bright light sources, with less speckly patterning around street lights. Overall, there’s a more realistic balance of dark and light yet conversely, night mode images are softer on the 15 Pro Max, so it isn’t all good news.
As for video quality, that’s just as good as ever: you can record in 4K at 60fps fully stabilised in Dolby Vision HDR or in Apple ProRes format in either SDR, HDR or Log colour. Stabilisation is excellent, either in standard mode or Action mode, which provides smoother action camera-style stabilisation at resolutions up to 2.8K and 60fps.
In all, then, it’s a mixed picture for the iPhone 15 Pro. Some things are good, others not so much. One thing is clear, though: Apple is being slowly left behind in the smartphone photography race and it needs to catch up.
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Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: Verdict
It’s hard to be too critical of the iPhone 15 Pro Max because it’s such a good overall package. It’s lighter and sleeker than its predecessor, it has the same long battery life and it’s faster, too, albeit with some caveats. The camera is also better– if you can see yourself using the extra reach of that telephoto lens often enough.
It may not be a big enough upgrade to warrant an update from a 14 Pro Max or even an iPhone 13 Pro Max but, combined with a price freeze and a doubling of storage on the base model this year, the iPhone 15 Pro Max feels like a solid improvement. It remains the best smartphone Apple makes for another year running.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max specifications
|Processor||Apple A17 Pro|
|Screen resolution||1,290 x 2,796|
|Screen refresh rate||120Hz|
|Front camera||12MP f/1.9|
|Rear camera||48MP f/1.78 (main); 12MP f/2.8 (5x telephoto); 12MP f/2.2 (13mm ultrawide)|
|Flash||Yes, True Tone|
|Dust and water resistance||IP68|
|3.5mm headphone jack||No|
|Wireless charging||Yes (15W)|
|USB connection type||USB-C|
|Storage options||256GB; 512GB; 1TB|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||No|
|Dual SIM||Yes, via eSIM|
|Dimensions (WDH)||77 x 8.3 x 160mm (WDH)|
|Operating system||iOS 17|