It wasn't until last year and the iPhone 14 Pro Max and iPhone 14 Plus, that I became a fan of the bigger iPhone. I used to think it was far too heavy and far too big, but I surprised even myself when the iPhone 14 Pro Max became my iPhone of choice for the year and I adored it.
With that in mind, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has had less work to do this year in terms of winning me over. I already like the larger display and better battery life too much to give it up, but even if I hadn't been an iPhone 14 Pro Max girl, the improvements the iPhone 15 Pro Max brings would have made me switch. Here's why the iPhone 15 Pro Max is this year's iPhone to beat.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
While the camera might be a little confusing for those of us who aren't pro photographers, and it's by no means cheap, the iPhone 15 Pro Max looks great and is effortless in its performance. It's a fantastic all-round smartphone that's hard to criticise.
- Lovely premium build quality
- Excellent and smooth performance
- Great camera results, including 5x optical shots
- Superb display
- Action Button is useful
- Camera a little overcomplicated
Let's first talk about the design. Now don't get me wrong, I know when you first look at the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max, the majority will say it looks almost identical to its predecessors. There's no complete design overhaul here like we saw when the iPhone 12 models were introduced with their flatter edges. That's not to say there aren't changes however - and some of them are notable too - you just have to look a little harder and a little closer.
If you've been a Pro Max user in the past, pick up the iPhone 15 Pro Max, and you'll instantly appreciate the difference in weight. The switch from stainless steel to titanium has knocked 19g off the scales, and it's noticeable. I'm not saying this is the lightest 6.7-inch device you'll find, because it most definitely isn't, but it's lighter than its predecessor and that is something I've very much enjoyed while reviewing it.
The natural matte finish you get from titanium compared to the polished stainless steel is also lovely. It's arguably more boring than the iPhone 14 Pro's glossy finish, but in my opinion, matte looks more premium, and it's less of a fingerprint magnet, certainly in the Natural Titanium finish anyway. The darker options - Blue Titanium and Black Titanium - might show up your mucky prints more, but the Natural Titanium option certainly shows less than the Deep Purple of the iPhone 14 Pro Max, both in terms of the rear and frame.
The frame hasn't just changed in terms of finish either. In place of the silent-ringer toggle that has been a signature feature of iPhone since it launched in 2007, there is a new customisable Action Button - I'll talk more about this a little further on - while the Lightning port at the bottom has been switched out 12 years after its introduction, to USB-C. I'll talk about that a little later too. Elsewhere, the buttons all remain the same, with the power button on the right and a SIM tray on the left, unless you are in the US, in which case it's eSIM only again, like the iPhone 14 models.
Spin the iPhone 15 Pro Max onto its display and the matte finish of the frame transcends into the glass back. The camera housing remains prominent in the top left corner, with a glossy finish surrounding the lenses, but the rest of the rear has a lovely soft textured finish. It's smooth to touch too, and the colour within the glass is subtle, especially in the case of my review colour. That's not the best thing about the rear though. The best thing is the new slightly contoured edges, which makes this device much nicer to hold. And I mean much nicer. The edges are nowhere near as sharp as they have been over the last couple of years since the move to flatter edges, and the result is delightful.
On the front, there's a key change here too - the bezels. It's only a slight reduction, but it is a noticeable one - not in terms of the display itself, but the size of the device. The reduction in bezels surrounding the screen allows for a smaller footprint. Sure, it's only 1mm, but when you're talking about a device this big and wide, 1mm is enough to make it feel smaller in the hand overall.
Apart from the slimmer bezels, the iPhone 15 Pro Max's display is identical to the iPhone 14 Pro Max, but that's by no means a criticism. The iPhone 14 Pro Max had a glorious display and the same applies here. The 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display benefits from an OLED panel, delivering superb vibrancy, rich and punchy colours with plenty of pop, deep blacks and bright whites. Everything looks lush, from photos you've taken to movies you stream.
Viewing angles are great too, HDR offers good contrast and overall, it's a great experience despite not offering the highest resolution out there. The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a 2796 x 1290 pixel resolution that delivers a 460ppi, which is slightly lower than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (501ppi) and a number of other flagship smartphones, but it doesn't affect the experience because it's very unlikely the human eye could see the extra 40 pixels per inch. Everything remains lovely and crisp with plenty of detail, so there's really very little - if anything - to complain about in terms of display and that's been the case for a number of years now.
Apple's ProMotion technology is on board too, with adaptive refresh rates between 1Hz and 120Hz. I'd argue that few would be able to tell the difference between a 60Hz, 90Hz and 120Hz display, unless they were side-by-side, or you were gaming. Still, the technology is there, and it is designed to allow for a smoother experience. It's this technology that also allows for the Always-On Display technology that was introduced on iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max.
The regular iPhone 15 models adopted the Dynamic Island feature that launched on the iPhone 14 Pro models last year, but the Always-On Display remains exclusive to the Pro models in the iPhone 15 range this year.
Now, Always-On Displays are not new. They have been on Android phones for a very long time, but they are still a novelty for iPhone users. It's a feature that is executed well, and I enjoy using as it removes the need to tap on the display to see the time, the date, or what notifications you have waiting for you. You can choose whether you have it on or off, whereas Dynamic Island is there whether you like it or not.
There's a good chance you will like Dynamic Island though. This is the interactive element that lives in the pill-shaped section at the top of the display with the front camera and the Face ID sensors. It has become much more sophisticated than when it first launched in 2022, with features like Live Activities using it now, so it's a genuinely useful feature. You do get some fingerprints across the front camera because of it, but it changes the way you interact with your iPhone - for the better - and it makes performing various tasks easier, whether that's skipping a track while sending an email, pausing a timer while sending a text, or following your favourite team while still being able to do other tasks on your iPhone.
Elsewhere, there's a 2000nits peak brightness on the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which matches that of the iPhone 14 Pro. In reality, this is a very bright display - one of the brightest around - so you should have no problem seeing your screen when you're outdoors in bright sunlight - I haven't yet anyway.
Performance and battery
Take a peek under the hood of the iPhone 15 Pro Max and you'll find a new chip called the A17 Pro - a name change from what was expected to be the A17 Bionic. I'm going to get geeky just for a second, but worry not - I'm going to explain what all this actually translates to in use.
So, the new chip is built on 3-nanometre transistor technology and it has a 6-core CPU and a six-core GPU. It's claimed to be 10 per cent faster compared to the A16 Bionic chip in the iPhone 14 Pro, and 20 per cent faster graphically with hardware-accelerated ray tracing.
That means that the iPhone 15 Pro Max doesn't hang about. Day-to-day performance is excellent. It breezes through tasks without any lag whatsoever, with plenty of fluidity moving between tasks and apps too. Load times are lightning fast and general things like the camera shutter are all super speedy.
When it comes to gaming, you may have noticed I mentioned ray tracing. This is really only apparent in certain games, like Resident Evil Village. Ray tracing enables better reflections, enhancing the overall graphics and making virtual games appear more realistic. You won't benefit as much on a small display like this one, as you would on a gaming monitor, but game performance overall is good. I played Mario Kart Tour and I dabbled with Genshin Impact too. Mario is more my forte than Genshin, though neither heated the iPhone 15 Pro Max up more than I would have expected. Holding the iPhone 15 Pro Max in landscape didn't ruin the sound experience too much either, with plenty still pumping out from both sides of the phone.
In terms of battery life, the iPhone 15 Pro Max performs brilliantly in my experience so far. Up until I moved into the iPhone 15 Pro Max, I would get through a day and evening no problem with the iPhone 14 Pro Max and I expect the same from the iPhone 15 Pro Max, considering my experience during my review period. After taking the iPhone 15 Pro Max off its charging stand at 7AM, I was usually at around 30 per cent when I went to bed at midnight, and that's with serious camera testing.
Having the Always-On Display does reduce the battery slightly. It's not a huge impact, but it's worth turning it off if you're planning on pulling an all-nighter. Under normal circumstances, "all day battery life" is pretty much a given with the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
I can't talk about battery without mentioning USB-C too. Apple introduced the Lightning port in 2012 and for 2023, this has been replaced with USB-C. You can read Pocket-lint's separate feature on UBS-C for iPhone and everything you need to understand about it, but essentially, the 15 Pro Max and 15 Pro support USB 3 speeds up to 10GB/s and the connector also means you can charge another device from your iPhone's port. For example, you could plug in the Apple Watch cable to charge your watch from your phone, or your AirPods. It also means you can charge your Mac, iPad, iPhone and AirPods (if you have the new model) from the cable that comes in the iPhone box, so I can finally ditch the cable bag I pretty much brought everywhere.
Charging speeds haven't increased though, which is a shame. A little quicker would have been nice, Apple. I'm not looking for 120W necessarily, but is 30W really that much to ask? You also can't wirelessly reverse charge so despite the AirPods Pro 2nd Generation offering MagSafe, it's not possible to attach them to the back of the iPhone 15 Pro Max and share power. The iPhone 15 Pro Max is compatible with Qi wireless chargers though, but again, there's no super fast charging speeds here.
It's time for some camera chat. I'm going to start by saying I think Apple has complicated things on the Pro models this year compared to previous years. That said, the performance is still there, so once you decode the marketing talk and get used to the slightly new interface, you can still get solid results from all the lenses - no matter your camera skills.
The beauty of an iPhone compared to some other flagship smartphone cameras is the point-and-shoot approach. I want to be able to grab my phone, open the camera, hit the shutter button and get the shot I want without having to think about it too much. Of course, there are times when you will line up a shot properly and you'll likely find that you'll end up with some glorious shots when you do, but many of us want to get a decent shot without having to fiddle with settings for 20 minutes first. Let's face it, if you take more than a few seconds, the moment you were trying to capture is usually long gone.
For the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the same 48-megapixel main sensor that was introduced on the iPhone 14 Pro models remains, along with a 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensor and a 12-megapixel telephoto sensor. There are some changes though. You still get Macro from the ultra-wide lens, and 0.5x - which is effectively 13mm focal length. From the main sensor, you get 1x, 1.2x and 1.5x, which translates to what Apple is now highlighting in the camera interface - 24mm, 28mm and 35mm, all of which you can jump to by tapping on the 1x button. Pinch and zoom is still available, which I suspect many will continue to use given it's been the go-to gesture for years. There's also a separate 2x button as there was before, which is 48mm focal length and this also uses the main sensor, like the regular iPhone 15 does too now.
For the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the images being produced are now 24-megapixels compared to 12-megapixels, which the iPhone 14 Pro models delivered. Apple uses the extra data in the image - in the same way Sony does on its most recent Xperia 5 - to reframe the shot and deliver the 1.2x, 1.5x and 2x increments with the same detail.
The results are excellent, especially from the 2x, with better detail than the Google Pixel 7 Pro based on initial comparative testing. The 24-megapixel image is only supposed to use 50 per cent more storage rather than double, though it is the default, so keep that in mind in case you want to drop it down to save storage.
The telephoto lens on the iPhone 15 Pro Max meanwhile, now delivers 5x optical with a 120mm focal length, which is an improvement on the 3x optical zoom offered by the Pro models until now. In terms of results, the iPhone 15 Pro Max offered some really excellent shots at 5x, with great colour representation and some really beautiful detail.
You can digitally zoom up to 25x on the iPhone 15 Pro Max (though I wouldn't recommend), and a clever viewfinder appears in the top corner to help guide you once you go over 8x - similar to what the Samsung Galaxy S23 devices offer. Samsung allows you to steady the frame into place though, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max doesn't.
Stabilisation isn't amazing at this end of zoom either, making everything a bit shaky. In addition, results were more mottled than the Pixel 7 Pro too as Apple doesn't do as much processing to cancel out the noise so if you want big zoom, the iPhone 15 Pro Max probably isn't the device you should be choosing. If you want great shots at 1x to 5x zoom though, there is excellent performance from this device.
In terms of low light shots, Night mode is now powered by Apple's Photonic Engine in the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which translates to quicker shots and better ones too. It's still not quite as rapid as the Huawei P60 Pro (which is exceptionally fast at capturing night shots) but it's speedier than the iPhone 14 Pro Max, so you don't need to hold still for quite as many seconds.
There are a few extra software features on the iPhone 15 Pro Max too, including the ability to change a standard photo of a person, cat or dog to a portrait shot. You can adjust the background blur, as well as change the focus. I found this great when I had taken a photo of my dog or children, but I took them quickly so I didn't have time to switch to Portrait mode. It was nice that I could still get that bokeh effect without having to think about it before I took the shot initially. This feature is backwards compatible (with some caveats) though, so you don't have to have an iPhone 15 Pro Max or 15 model to get it.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max runs on iOS 17, which brings with it a host of new features. Keep in mind that many of these features aren't exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, or even the iPhone 15 models, however. The software build is compatible with older iPhones too, so features like Check In, the changes to Messages and Contact Posters are compatible with a number of iPhone models, including the likes of the iPhone XR for example.
There's a separate feature to view all the features that come with iOS 17, and there's another on the hidden features of iOS 17 too. There are some hardware exclusive features that come to just the iPhone 15 Pro models though, one of which is that Action Button. I know, you thought I'd ever get to it right? The Action Button has plenty of functions right off the bat. You can choose Silent Mode, Focus, Camera, Torch, Voice Memo, Magnifier, Shortcut, Accessibility or No Action and once selected, when you press and hold it, the action will kick in.
I've personally got the Action Button on my iPhone 15 Pro Max set to Shortcut and I've chosen it to open WhatsApp as that's an app I use most commonly. With Shortcuts, you can pretty much set the Action Button to do what you like, from a new Note, setting a timer, open your Recently Played on Apple Music to more complex requests. For more complicated tasks, you'll need to be able to understand Shortcuts - it's not the simplest app - but the options are endless if you can get to grips with it. The Action Button overall is simple though, and it's great - probably one of my favourite features of the iPhone 15 Pro Max and one that I'm not entirely sure how I did without it for so long. And if you think you'll miss being able to see when your phone is on silent, then don't worry, there's a bell that appears at the of your screen with a line through it when silent mode is on and you can swipe down from the Control Centre and turn silent mode on and off quickly still, freeing up the Action Button for other tasks.
Elsewhere on the software front - and it's the last one I'll mention separately - there's Voice Isolation on the iPhone 15 Pro Max and this is excellent in use. It makes your voice much richer when on calls, blocking out the background noise and isolating (hence the name) your voice. You'll also find this on the other iPhone 15 models, so you don't need the iPhone 15 Pro Max, like many of the features of iOS 17 but it's still a particularly handy one, especially when you're in a noisy area.
The Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max is a really, really lovely device. The titanium build oozes quality, while the lighter weight and contoured edges make for a very different feel for this device overall compared to its predecessor.
The Action Button is super convenient and once again changes how you interact with your iPhone - like Dynamic Island did last year - while the improvements to the camera, including 5x optical zoom give this top dog some new tricks. There's a stunning display, great camera performance and a brilliant battery performance too, and it all runs with fluidity and smoothness.
The camera might be a little confusing for those of us who aren't pro photographers, and this device is by no means cheap, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max does so many things exceptionally well, that it is in fact very difficult to criticise. The iPhone 15 Pro Max is effortless in its performance and a fantastic smartphone that's easy to recommend.