Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max Review: Storming Past The Competition

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max Review: Storming Past The Competition

The annual release of Apple’s iPhone always marks new innovations, from improved cameras to new physical features to make its phones not only more advanced but easier to use. This year, we’re up to the iPhone 15 series: two phones that differ in terms of screen size (iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus) and two that come with the Pro tag, iPhone 15 Pro and the phone I’m concerned with here; the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

The all-new Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max delivers one of the strongest cameras systems on the market.

Illustration: Forbes / Photo: Retailers

As you’ll guess from the name, it’s the bigger Pro. And it comes with a lot of new features, including a massive array of lenses that Apple claims equates to carrying seven cameras in its device. So, is it really worth the money—it’s the top of the price range, after all—or should you look elsewhere? Read on for my take on the latest, and most feature-packed, iPhone available for pre-order beginning September 22.

Apple

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

Price $1,199 and up | Cameras: 12MP ultra wide, 48MP wide, 12MP telephoto, 12MP Face ID camera | Processor: Apple A 17 Pro | Display: 6.7-inch OLED 120Hz display 2,796 x 1,290 pixels, 460 pixels per inch| Storage: 256GB (up to 1TB) | Battery: Up to 29 hours video playback | Dimensions: 6.29 x 3.02 x 0.32 inches | Weight 7.81 ounces

Best for

  • Stunning, lightweight design
  • Outstanding, versatile cameras
  • Improved graphics
  • USB-C connectivity

Skip because

  • Expensive
  • Too big for some hands
  • Colors may be divisive

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: Design

Subtle And More Ergonomic

There’s a change to the look of the latest iPhones, especially the Pro models. All new iPhones now have subtly curved edges between screen and antenna band, making for a much more appealing fit in the hand than with last year’s phones. This may be a small change but it could have a big and lasting effect. Every time you pick up the iPhone it feels that much comfier to hold.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max in Natural Titanium finish.

David Phelan for Forbes

Additionally, the edge is now made of titanium. It looks gorgeous, and it’s lighter than the stainless steel found on all previous Pro handsets, at 0.69 ounces (19g) lighter than the 14 Pro Max. It’s definitely enough to make a difference you can notice, and instead of a shiny finish, it’s a subtle matte. Titanium carries connotations of luxury, and this iPhone certainly feels like the most premium handset Apple has made based on this design choice alone.

The colors of the new iPhone 15 Pro Max are all based around the metal edge, even though Apple kept the glass casing on the rear. But edge and glass are color-matched effectively, to create subtle, quiet effects. So, there are two dark colors: Black Titanium and Blue Titanium, which is a dark navy shade; and two light ones, White Titanium and Natural Titanium. By a long way, Natural Titanium is the most eye-catching, though I know that’s pretty subjective. To be honest, all four look sensational, and are the best-looking iPhones Apple has made, I believe.

The edge around the display of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is now thinner than before—which is a pretty remarkable thing to achieve given how narrow they were before. It’s a gentle change, but looks good.

The edge of the iPhone 15 Pro Max has two volume buttons and a new Action Button.

David Phelan for Forbes

The other big change is what’s happened to the Ring/Silent switch. You know the one—it’s been on every iPhone since the first one, near the top of the left edge. Slide it one way to mute the ringtone, the other to turn the ringer back on. Apple has replaced it with a button. Unlike other buttons on the iPhone Pros, this one has haptic feedback. Tap it briefly and there’s no feedback, but onscreen you see a confirmation of which state your phone is in. Press and hold and the button gives a quick vibration, like a click, to turn the ringer on, or a long, noticeable vibration to turn it to silent.

But the clever thing is it doesn’t just have to be a Ring/Silent button. You can configure it to start and stop a Voice Memo, or activate a Focus mode. You can turn the torch on or off, launch Magnifier or Camera (and when launched, it works as a shutter button). In fact, you can do almost anything with it because you can add your own function by using the Shortcuts app. As a result, this becomes a highly versatile addition to the iPhone.


Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max Performance

An All-New, Trailblazing Processor

Apple has settled into a routine where it saves its most powerful chip for the Pro iPhones, and the new regular phones inherit last year’s Pro chip. So, while the iPhone 15 has the A16 Bionic from the iPhone 14 Pro, new iPhone 15 Pro Max uses Apple’s fastest phone processor yet, called the iPhone 17 Pro.

Who really cares about a new processor? Well, all of us, because they make possible the advanced features the iPhone is outstanding at and, just as importantly, make sure everything happens smoothly and quickly.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

David Phelan

The A17 Pro uses a processor that’s industry-first because it uses a 3-nanometer process, meaning there are an awful lot of transistors on board. Apple says it’s the fastest on any smartphone, and is up to 10% faster than the already-blazing-fast A16 Bionic it supersedes.

There’s also a new graphics processing unit, 20% faster than what came before, to ensure that everything onscreen looks fantastic. One of the ways that is most evident is in gaming. One big game that’s coming soon is Resident Evil Village and in a preview version I saw, the graphics looked sensational. Features like ray tracing, which have more faithful lighting effects, and improved HDR effects all help to turn an already good gaming experience into something outstanding. More console games are promised to be available in the next months.


Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max Camera

Carry Seven Cameras In One

Last year’s Pro models switched from a 12-megapixel main camera to a 48-megapixel one, with dramatic effects. Under the titanium and glass hood, there’s a new 48-megapixel sensor this time, and it has plenty of new tricks up its sleeve.

When you take a photo on the main sensor, it combines four adjacent pixels into one to draw in more light more quickly, which is great for lower-light situations. But there’s more. When it takes that shot, it also takes another image in 48-megapixel resolution and then combines the two to create a 24-megapixel image that has greater detail and looks much better. It’s especially good at skin tones and detail of hair, for instance, that you might miss with a regular 12-megapixel image.

iPhone 15 Pro Max cameras

David Phelan for Forbes

There’s also a new way to shoot portrait images. As you’ll know, Portrait Mode features those images where your subject is in pin-sharp focus while the background is carefully blurred. Until now, you have had to deliberately choose Portrait Mode while you were shooting.

With the iPhone, 15 Pro Max, and others in the iPhone 15 series, the smarts in the phone are capable of recognizing whether there is a suitable subject for portrait, specifically, a person, a cat or a dog. If it sees one of them, it will automatically record the depth information required for portraiture without you having to do anything. It means you can just shoot in regular photo mode and afterwards can change the point of focus to turn it into a portrait shot. In my testing, I felt it was easy and convenient to go in and make these changes at a later time.

As well as the main sensor, there are two more cameras on the iPhone 15 pro and iPhone 15 pro max. There is the ultrawide which is a 12-megapixel camera and the telephoto, also 12 megapixels. On the iPhone 15 Pro, this has a focal length equivalent to 3x that of the main camera on the iPhone 15 Pro Max, however, this rises to 5x the zoom of the main lens. Apple achieves this in a unique way. It uses something called a tetraprism which reflects the light four times in order to get the focal length needed for this kind of telephoto. It works sublimely well and is my favorite feature in this device.

It’s important to note that all these lenses are optical quality, that is there is no digital zoom involved. First is the 2x lens, which uses the 48-megapixel sensor. Instead of using the whole sensor, it shoots the central 12 megapixels, giving you the zoom effect. It’s in all a clever way to implement top zoom camera sensors into the device.

Then there are three different ways you can shoot using the 1x button on the screen tap, the 1x button and it will flip you to a very slightly different magnification (1.2x to be exact). Tap again and you’ll go to 1.5x. Tap again and you’re back to 1x. And all create the 24-megapixel images that look so good.


Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: Should I Upgrade?

Last year’s iPhone 14 Pro Max was tremendous, but even so, there are so many additions here, especially if you like photography, that it’s easy to recommend a move to the 15 Pro Max.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

David Phelan

If you have any other iPhone, it’s a no-brainer. The iPhone 15 Pro Max is worth the upgrade. The only caveat is that if you don’t have a Max-sized phone already, you should feel it in your hand first because it’s big. Even if the contoured edges make it a much easier phone to hold than last year’s model.


Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: Verdict

For sure, this is the best iPhone Apple has ever made. Well, you might expect that. And by deleting the 128GB storage level—the iPhone 15 Pro Max comes in 256GB, 512GB and 1TB storage capacities—Apple has managed to peg the price to keep it the same as the 256GB model from last year.

But there’s much more to enjoy, from the truly outstanding cameras that take smartphone photography to a new level, to the gorgeous design, from the neat, new Action button to the screaming-fast performance speeds and improved graphical capabilities. Overall, this is a real winner.


My Expertise

I’ve been writing about tech longer than I care to remember. Most of the words I’ve written have been about phones, many of them before the word smartphone existed, back when Nokia owned most of the market and batteries lasted for days. I’ve tested every shape of phone, from soap bar to flip to slide to (I kid you not) lipstick. My first camera phone was a Nokia 7650 with a 0.3-megapixel sensor. Things have come a long way since then, but the importance of central elements has remained: Ease of use, versatility, efficiency and battery life.


How I Tested The iPhone 15 Pro Max

I’ve tested these phones extensively, from taking pictures in as many situations as possible to pushing the battery life to its limits with video playback, video streaming, using mapping apps to push the GPS connection and so on. I’ve carried it around as my main device.

Of course, I’ve checked that video looks smooth on the screen and that the phones can, you know, make and receive calls. I used common, familiar apps to vet they work faster than ever. And I’ve made sure the phones fit the hand, offer good value and are a pleasure to pull out of your pocket and use.


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