Sorry if you're still waiting for your iPhone 15 Pro Max, but I've been enjoying Apple's latest and greatest iPhone for two weeks already. But while you wait anxiously for yours — or you ponder if the $1,200 is worth it — let me give you a good idea of what you're in for.
A lot of the iPhone 15 Pro Max experience is similar to previous Pro iPhones, for better and for worse. But the good news is that the big areas that Apple focused on upgrading this year have all become noticeably better. Most users are going to see the benefit of the improvements to the iPhone 15 Pro Max's cameras, battery life and design, no matter your particular usage patterns. This device tops our best phones list for a reason.
There are seven key parts of my experience with the iPhone 15 Pro Max — five positive, two negative — that I've identified. This year's Pro Max iPhone is a wonderful device, but hopefully my experience will help you manage your expectations or figure out if this flagship is upgrade-worthy for you.
A lighter titanium body makes a big difference
Apple has made a big deal about its titanium frame upgrade for the iPhone 15 Pro, but I didn't appreciate how much of a difference it made until using the phone for an extended period of time.
The 19-gram/0.66-ounce difference has been very obvious when trying to use the phone in one hand. It takes considerably longer before I start to feel the weight of the phone as I type, scroll or shoot a photo compared to the solidly-built iPhone 14 Pro Max I used to use.
I really like the brushed finish of the side rails too. They're no less fingerprint-prone than the old stainless steel sides but they look and feel great.
5x telephoto camera zoom is a fantastic upgrade
I love the zoom lens on phones more than any other camera, so getting a 66% increase in zoom range on the iPhone 15 Pro Max — from 3x on previous Pro iPhones to 5x on this one — has proved very exciting.
Not only does the extra range improve taking shots of far-away objects or dramatic-looking portrait shots, it also pairs brilliantly with Action mode video, letting you take extra-steady clips of subjects you wouldn't otherwise be able to get close to. Even the digital zoom, which maxes out at 25x magnification, is capable of producing decent photos with some patience.
Higher-res HEIF/JPEGs bring out the best in main camera photos
Another photography-related improvement I like isn't specific to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, but applies to all iPhone 15s: increased default detail on main camera shots.
The new 24MP standard constantly surprises me with how much extra detail there is to find when you zoom in after taking the shot, and even more so when switching to 48MP mode.
You could take 48MP shots on the iPhone 14 Pro as well, but only as ProRAW images which take up a lot of room. 48MP HEIF and JPEG shots on the 15 Pro Max are more space efficient while providing the instant detail you need, while ProRAW remains available for when you're prepared to put in some proper editing effort
Battery life is noticeably improved
A larger battery plus a more efficient chip means a longer-lasting iPhone, and it's certainly been noticeable in my day-to-day usage. I can now make it from waking up to going to bed without getting a low battery warning on my phone, which is great for my peace of mind.
To be fair, this has a lot to do with the iPhone 14 Pro models' taking a dip in battery performance (likely due to their always-on displays) compared to previous generations, along with the natural degradation of a phone's battery capacity that happens over time. But even in our lab iPhone 15 battery testing, it's clear that the Pro Max is a big step up.
The Action button works brilliantly with a folder of Shortcuts
Swapping the iPhone's mute switch for an Action button has proven quite useful since I generally keep my phone in silent mode, meaning that the mute switch spent most of its time unused. While I think all of the currently available functions have a place on the iPhone's Action button, I've found my ideal setup in the form of the Shortcuts command.
It takes a bit of set-up, but once you have a folder of favorited functions in the Shortcuts app, you can turn the Action button into a quick select menu for up to eight different things, including opening apps, starting timers, changing focus modes or basically anything you can make a Shortcut for (or download one for). It's like making a homebrewed Android Quick Settings menu, and I can't wait to figure out how to refine it further.
Much of the experience feels familiar to previous Pro Maxes
You'll notice that my pros above basically coincide with all the major hardware changes to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, minus the A17 Pro chipset's improved processing power, which I've yet to fully test, and the USB-C port, which hasn't caused much change for me as someone who owns a lifetime's supply of USB-C cables.
It shows that Apple's headline upgrades are worthwhile ones, but also shows that several areas, like the display, large parts of the camera experience and software aren't that different from what I already had on an iPhone 14 Pro Max running the latest iOS 17 update.
I know as a person whose job is to be informed about the latest in the smartphone world, it makes sense to swap devices regularly. But I wouldn't recommend anyone else with an iPhone 14 upgrade to an equivalent iPhone 15. You could make a good case for upgrading from the iPhone 13 Pro Max, though, thanks to everything the iPhone 15 Pro Max offers plus the always-on display and Dynamic Island from the 14 series.
Slow charging can be frustrating
iPhone users have been crying out for faster charging for their phones for years, but Apple hasn't budged at all with the iPhone 15 series, which offers the same charging speeds that the three-year-old iPhone 12 series does.
I've done a couple of long-distance train journeys since getting to the phone, and needed to refuel my phone mid-trip. Even when I had access to a power outlet, only getting 41% of my battery back per half-hour of charging is slow going.
Android phones at worst offer 25W charging like the Samsung Galaxy S23, but in many cases are reaching and clearing 100W charging that can fill a phone in under half an hour. See the OnePlus 11. Charging speed alone isn't a big enough reason to ditch an iPhone for an Android phone, but Apple certinaly has the means to improve the iPhone's charging speed if it wanted to.