The iPhone 15 Pro Max certainly earns its place at the pinnacle of Apple's smartphone lineup this year. Not content to simply be a larger version of the iPhone 15 Pro, the Max makes a significant camera change that figures to help it compete against some of the best camera phones around.
There's more to the iPhone 15 Pro Max than just a better telephoto lens, though. Using the insight we gleaned from our iPhone 15 Pro Max hands-on and from this week's Apple launch event, we've spotted plenty of reasons why the iPhone 15 Pro Max should be your next phone.
That said, there's plenty of reasons to skip the iPhone 15 Pro Max. We can think of 1,199 of them right off the bat, reflecting the price of Apple's most expensive iPhone model ever.
We'll have a complete verdict on the iPhone 15 Pro Max once we finish reviewing the device. For now though, we know enough about this premium handset to tell you why you should buy the iPhone 15 Pro Max and why you might want to skip it.
iPhone 15 Pro Max: Reasons to buy
Outstanding A17 Pro performance
We still need to run benchmark tests on the A17 Pro to find out just what it delivers to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. (Let's just say the leaked A17 Pro benchmarks are very promising.) But on paper, there should be some significant performance gains.
Let's start with the fact this chipset was built on a 3nm process, as opposed to 4nm for the A16 Bionic. That means a more densely packed chip which usually leads to gains in both performance and power management. To that end, Apple says the CPU on the A17 is 10% faster than the one on A16 while the GPU's speed has gone up 20%. The GPU also supports hardware-accelerated ray tracing which should making gaming graphics more realistic.
Our hands-on time with the iPhone 15 Pro Max has been limited, but a gaming session on Diablo Immortal provided dynamic graphics and smooth gameplay. We think people who use the A17 Pro-powered iPhone 15 Pro Max are going to like what they get from the phone.
In what's easily the most significant improvement for the iPhone 15 Pro Max, Apple upgraded the telephoto lens on this phone and this phone alone. The iPhone 15 Pro is still using the telephoto set from its predecessor.
In contrast, the iPhone 15 Pro Max now has a lens with a tetraprism design that replicates a 120mm focal length. The end result is a lens capable of capturing 5x zoom shots, compared to the 3x zoom of the iPhone 15 Pro.
Samsung may continue to dominate close-ups with its 10x optical zoom on the Galaxy S23 Ultra (not to mention the 50MP telephoto lens that's apparently in the works for next year's Galaxy S24 Ultra). But the changes to the iPhone 15 Pro Max's zooming capabilities should make this a much more even competition.
Great photo features all around
There are some other hardware changes to the iPhone 15 Pro Max's camera setup — like the iPhone 15 Pro, it gets a larger main sensor that can capture more light — but I think the computational photography improvements Apple is making with the entire iPhone 15 lineup is the true star of the show.
Portrait mode now kicks into gear automatically, recognizing when you've lined up a shot with a person, cat or dog in the frame. Those portraits should also be sharper and more colorful, even if you're shooting in low light. And while we're on the subject, Night mode sees improvements, too, tapping into Apple's Photonic Engine and the phone's LiDAR scanner to heighten details and colors. Smart HDR, Apple's technology for more detailed photos even in challenging lighting, sees an update, too.
The proof will be in the photos we take once we test the iPhone 15 Pro Max, but we can't help but get excited over the better shooting experience Apple is promising here.
More storage in the base model
Apple tends to be stingy with storage. After all, it was only with the iPhone 13 two years ago where Apple decided that base storage of 64GB was, perhaps, a little bit stinting. While all the rest of the phones in Apple's lineup now offer 128GB in their base configuration, the iPhone 15 Pro Max doubles things up with 256GB of storage.
You may recall that Samsung made an identical move earlier this year, boosting the base storage on the Galaxy S23 Plus and Galaxy S23 Ultra to 256GB. We don't care whether Apple came up with this idea on its own or if it's shamelessly copying Samsung — we just wish more iPhones would be like the 15 Pro Max and give us more storage out of the gate.
A new Action button
If you hate uni-taskers, you'll love the latest iPhone 15 Pro models. Previously, the mute switch on the side of your phone served but one function — ring until you answered the call. On the Pro, that switch makes way for a new Action button that brings more tricks to the mix.
Specifically, you can use the Action button to turn on the iPhone's flashlight, launch the camera app or record a voice memo. You can also use the Shortcuts app on your phone to program the Action button. It's the kind of customization that bolsters productivity, and Apple's to be applauded for trying something new.
Faster data transfer via USB-C
Apple's much heralded move to USB-C hasn't brought about all the improvements we were hoping to see – more on that in a bit. But one aspect where it would be hard to quibble with the move to USB-C involves data transfer.
The Pro models both support USB 3, which means 10 Gbps data transfer speeds. That's of particular interest if you use your iPhone as a content creation device, as it can transfer photos, videos and other high-volume files off your phone and onto a storage device lickety-split.
Big screen, less weight
Apple's switch from stainless steel to titanium is most keenly felt when you pick up the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Or should we say, it's felt even less than before. The iPhone 15 Pro Max weighs 7.8 ounces to the iPhone 14 Pro Max's 8.5-ounce weight. That 0.7-ounce may not seem like much, but try picking up the iPhone 15 Pro Max and arguing which is the easier phone to tote around all day.
Besides having a practical effect, there's also an aesthetic appeal to Apple's turn to titanium. In person, you can see the brushed metal look of the titanium sides, which certainly seem like they're going to smudge less than the stainless steel on iPhone Pro models used to.
iPhone 15 Pro Max: Reasons to skip
Action button is limited
As much as we like the Action button, we wish we could do more with it. Right now, you're limited to just one customizable shortcut — a move Apple probably made to keep things simple.
We imagine over time that the Action button's functionality might expand, but right now, we feel like only being to trigger one thing is less action than the name of the button might suggest.
Charging speed hasn't changed
While we're on the subject of criticizing things we praised just a few moments ago, how come our iPhone 15 Pro Max is still going to charge at 20W speeds? One of the many benefits to USB-C is faster charging — look at all those fast-charging Android phones that OnePlus makes — but Apple seems to have not taken advantage of that this time around.
That particularly stings when you're using a phone with the Pro Max name (and not to put too fine a point on it, but the Pro Max's price as well). Samsung equips its top-of-the-line Galaxy S23 Ultra with 45W charging speeds; the iPhone 15 Pro Max is still settling for something slower.
This phone costs how much?
At $1,199, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the most expensive phone Apple's ever sold. It costs $100 more than its predecessor and $200 more than the iPhone 15 Pro.
That last point is worth examining, because the differences between the Pro and Pro Max are, arguably, fairly minimal. The Pro Max has the better telephoto lens, of course, and twice the amount of storage in its base model; as in past years, you also get a bigger display and (presumably) a bigger battery that can last longer on a charge. Is that worth an extra $200? For a lot of iPhone shoppers, that answer's going to be no.
iPhone 15 Pro Max: Outlook
There's no denying that the iPhone 15 Pro Max sees the most substantial changes of all of Apple's new phones. And it's equally true that the $1,199 asking price is going to be a show-stopper for a lot of would-be shoppers.
Our final review will ultimately weigh whether those features can justify that price, but at this stage, it looks like the iPhone 15 Pro Max offers plenty — if you can swing the cost.