The new iPhone 15 Pro Max at first glance, and from afar, looks very similar to the iPhone 14 Pro Max. The overall design aesthetic of the phone remains unchanged—for the third year running—and my “Black Titanium” color even looks very similar to the “Space Grey” iPhone 14 Pro Max.
But actually hold the iPhone 15 Pro Max and it’s immediately noticeable that there have been changes. Excellent ones.
Lighter, sleeker, less jabby
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is much more comfortable to hold in the hand than the iPhone 14 Pro Max. The new phone is 19g lighter (almost 10%) and the previously sharp edges which dug into my palm have been softened with a subtle chamfer. The weight loss is due to the change in frame materials from stainless steel to titanium. Apple says titanium is stronger and lighter (a very rare combination in metal), and I can definitely vouch for the latter.
The titanium frame is also less thick, giving the iPhone 15 Pro Max a slightly thinner horizontal dimension. Combine all three things: lighter weight, duller corners, and thinner width, and we have a much better in-hand feel.
Longer, better zoom camera
The iPhone 15 Pro Max also gains a new zoom lens, a “tetra-prism” lens that sees light path bounce in a zigzag pattern five times before reaching the image sensor. The bouncing allows the light path, containing image information, to pass through prisms to help enlarge the information. This allows the lens to produce a credible, near lossless 5X optical zoom.
These two improvements fix two of my biggest complaints with the last few years’ iPhones. I thought they were uncomfortable to hold, with a weak zoom camera compared to Android rivals.
Now, is the iPhone’s new zoom lens better than the Periscope zoom lenses found in the best phones from Samsung, Google, Xiaomi and Oppo? If we’re talking about still photos, that would be a no. The Periscope zoom lens technology is still more complex (giving even more room for light path to travel) and the Chinese phones tend to have larger image sensors. If you’re purely pixel peeping for details, a 5X shot captured by the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is going to be better than the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 5X shot. But Apple has closed the gap enough this year that the difference could be considered negligible for the average consumer. And for video recording, the iPhone’s superior stabilization, audio quality, and dynamic range tips the scale in favor of the iPhone.
The other two forward-facing cameras bring back the same camera hardware as the 14 Pro Max, but photos from those lenses have improved, too, thanks to the phone’s new ISP (image signal processor) in the new iPhone silicon, and a new software image algorithm. The main camera, in particular, has improved HDR (high dynamic range) over the past couple of iPhones, producing night photos that look very pleasing to my eyes, with all the lights perfectly balanced.
3nm silicon matters
This new Apple silicon is the A17 Pro, and it’s built on 3nm processing, the first mobile chip to have reached this new milestone. As such, the A17 Pro once again runs laps against the competition, scoring much higher in benchmarks, and performing intensive tasks like rendering graphics or editing videos much faster than the best Android phones. Now, will this extra chip superiority matter to most people? Not really. It’s not like the average joe using a new Samsung or Xiaomi phone is going to find performance slow. If you’re just using your phone to send emails or scroll through Instagram, then most recent silicon will meet your needs. But if you are a heavy gamer, or if you edit videos on the phone (an increasingly common task, with the rise of Instagram Reels and TikTok as a real means of marketing), then the A17 Pro chip reigns supreme and will save you time.
The best ecosystem
Elsewhere, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has the best ecosystem around, whether it’s software like apps, or hardware like accessories. The iPhone’s new software, for example, gives the second-generation AirPods a new “adaptive” mode that intelligently filters our unwanted noise like car engines and air conditioning fans, but let human voices and music pass through. It works very, very well.
The Apple Watch is also a very useful companion that has one of the best health tracking systems around, and it’s only available with iPhones. Then there’s the MacBook Pro, which is a beast of a machine and my video editing machine of choice.
New charging port
Speaking of ecosystem, the iPhone 15 series also made headlines by ditching Apple’s proprietary Lightning charging port for a universal open USB-C port. The latter port is just superior, able to move data at higher speeds, and is an open standard so any other gadget can use. The switch to the USB-C port opens up the iPhone to a host of accessories, like SD card readers, external hard drives, and microphones. And for frequent travelers, you can now bring just one cable for all your gadgets, since the iPhone was just about the only modern gadget to not use USB-C until these new iPhones.
I’m an Android guy, but this iPhone is tempting
I don’t think people who read my work would be surprised to hear that I generally prefer using Android phones. I like the customization, the free homescreen, the diverse form factors, and Chinese brands are pushing hardware limits more than any brand. However, I’ve always respected the iPhone for being a cohesive of Apple’s vision, and I’ve always thought the iPhone software and ecosystem was superior. Now that the iPhone cameras have improved significantly, including the all-important zoom lens? I am very tempted to switch over. Due to the nature of my work, I can never use a single phone longer than a month at a time, but I usually have a “default” phone when I’m not reviewing anything. In the past few years, that default device has been Android. I think this time, it may be the iPhone 15 Pro Max. This is the best iPhone in a long time, and I’m not saying this in that lazy Apple marketing way, this is a genuine upgrade in ways the iPhone 13 and 12 as XS were not.
If you’re already a loyal iPhone user looking to upgrade, I have no doubt you won’t regret the upgrade.