The iPhone 15 this year received what I’d consider the biggest upgrade it’s had in a few years. The iPhone 15 Pro and Max, however, don’t really seem to have a lot ‘new’, save for the USB-C and Action Button. But when you think about it a little more – the addition of USB-C makes the iPhone 15 Pro Max a video-maker’s new main camera and the Action Button is the start of something bigger. That’s before we even start to look at the 15 Pro Max as a gaming console. The more I consider these ‘small’ changes as I review the phone, the more I realise the iPhone 15 Pro Max is more than just a year-on-year upgrade over the 14.
It’s now been 24 hours since I first opened the iPhone 15 Pro Max box – and I feel like I’ve got a decent grasp on what this thing offers. So, here are my thoughts, as an iPhone user since 2009, a phone-obsessed tech journalist, and someone who really wanted to pass off the iPhone 15 as the product of the Apple hype train.
iPhone 15 Pro Max review
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is the larger of the two Pro phones. It measures 159.9 mm x 76.7 mm x 8.25 mm and weighs 221 grams. The cheapest option is 256GB for $2,199 and the 1TB will set you back $2,899. Last year, the 1TB cost $2,769. Less inflation than a bag of shredded cheese, but still expensive. It’s still not Australia’s most expensive phone, however, that’s the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, setting you back $3,149 for 1TB.
The Pro Max has historically been just the larger of the two Pro models – offering a bigger battery and bigger screen and that’s it. But this year, the Pro Max offers a few extra features than its Pro brother, we’ll get into them in a second. It still offers a bigger battery and a bigger screen, of course.
New this year, when comparing the 15 Pro Max to the 14 Pro Max is the Action Button, USB-C, better camera, brighter screen, louder, more crisp sound, an the ability to record 4K video at 60 fps in Pro Res.
One cable to rule them all (but there’s a little more to it)
USB-C was expected to appear on the iPhone 14 range, and when it didn’t, there was almost certainty that it would appear in the 15. But in true Apple form, it wasn’t good enough to just have their handsets charge via the same cable as their competitors, they had to go one step further. The change comes largely because of mounting standardisation efforts around the world, yes, but it also allows Apple to make a whole ass ‘feature’ out of it. As touched on in the previous paragraph, using the USB-C connector on iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max supports USB 3 for data transfer when used with a USB-C cable that supports USB 3. iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max also support recording ProRes video directly to an external storage device, up to 4K at 60 frames per second. I’ll never, ever use this, but it is bananas.
Also, it cannot be understated just how good it feels to have the one cable to charge everything – prepping the phone for the battery test part of this review, I just whacked in the cable I use to charge my Google Pixel 7 Pro and MacBook Pro. Any Samsung users reading this would be yelling at their screen – and I get it, I’ve always got it, I just didn’t have a choice as an iPhone user.
Light, camera, Action Button
That’s a little deceptive, actually, the Action Button can’t do too much. Currently, the Action Button will allow you to use the feature to pop the phone on silent, use it as a torch activator, camera launcher (specific mode, such as portrait or video), or switch on Do Not Disturb, but you can also point it towards a specific shortcut. While shortcuts can be the likes of small, app-activating images, they can also be set up for lighting or other smart home activations. You could, for example, program the Action Button to switch your kitchen light on, turn on the heater in your loungeroom, and have your HomePod play some tunes all in one press.
A speedrun review of the iPhone 15 Pro Max camera
Apple is marketing the camera system this year as essentially seven cameras, even though it’s just three physical cameras. 0.5x ultrawide (Macro), 0.5x ultrawide (13mm), 1x main (24mm), 1x main (28mm), 1x main (35mm), 2x telephoto (48mm), and 5x telephoto (120mm).
Starting with testing the zoom.
I did not move position once.
I didn’t even push the zoom to optical. Nor did I here:
That metal sculpture, if you squint, is in the alley between the two buildings. I didn’t move to get a closer shot, I simply zoomed.
Portrait this year also got a lot better. On the left is the iPhone 15 Pro Max and although upon review it seems the colour is better in the shot from the 14 Pro Max, it’s very much affected by the studio lighting, taking on a tone that doesn’t actually exist in real life.
Interestingly, while I was taking this portrait of Lachy, he looked more washed out until the pic fully rendered on-device.
Trying this outside, the 14 makes Lachy seems like he’s been cut and pasted on top of the image (right) versus the 15 that still shows he’s in the space. Not sure why we’re defaulting to a zoomed shot in the iPhone 15 Pro Max, I might need a little longer to review the camera settings, so please keep that in mind.
A really cool feature with the 15 is the ability to convert a photo into a portrait and a portrait into a standard shot post-snap.
I asked Lachy to also test the selfi cam. I actually prefer the iPhone 14 Pro Max over the 15, and in our review of that handset, we didn’t compare year-on-year, but I think the colours are muted to the right level whereas the 15 selfie shows just how sunny it is out there.
Macro. Stunning, gorgeous. Definitely a lot closer with the 15 (left) and the colour is less obstructed.
The leaf was dusty, and this water was flicked on by my fingers, but the raindrops are larger than life.
All-day battery life
I went to bed at 12:30 am last night, the battery was at 80 per cent. When I woke, it was at 76 and by 12:00 pm, when I popped it on charge to conduct the battery test, it had 72 per cent, and I had used it to play Spotify and get Google Maps directions to an appointment this morning. At 100 per cent, the battery test then began. What that is, is simply streaming all three hours of Avengers: Endgame from Disney+ over Wi-Fi at full volume, full brightness, top quality stream. After the first hour, the 15 Pro Max had 92 per cent, 79 per cent at hour two, and as the credits were winding up, the phone had 67 per cent. For comparison, after three hours, starting from 100 per cent, too, the iPhone 14 Pro Max was down to 63 per cent.
I can’t say how long I could use the phone under ‘normal’ everyday use, but for the first six months of using the 14, I had to charge the phone just shy of every 48 hours, so I reckon the 15 Pro Max will be much the same. Apple reckons you’ll get up to 23 hours of video playback (up to 20 hours streamed), and I have been thus far given no reason to not believe them.
Looking (and feeling) good
It looks and feels like an iPhone, but we’ve definitely come a long way in how that ‘looks’ since this whole thing started (proof below).
But the 15 Pro Max, when holding it in one hand and the 14 Pro Max in the other, has lost its sharp edges; something that made that device feel premium has this year been dropped and instead it’s a more smooth-feeling handset.
Should you buy the iPhone 15 Pro Max?
If your current phone is a 14 (standard or Pro model), no. If it’s a 13, maybe. If it’s a 12, you’d definitely be able to make a case to upgrade. The capabilities of the 15 Pro Max will make you very happy, the price, however, won’t. Yes, you still get most of what iOS 17 has to offer with your older handset, but the camera improvements will make you go “wow”. There will be another one next year, and it, somehow, will be better than this year’s. If I was stretching for a complaint, aside from the price, I’d ask for a few more new things, but innovation for innovation sake doesn’t a good phone make.
Where to buy the iPhone 15 Pro Max?
Outright, via the Apple website:
- The 256GB iPhone 15 Pro Max will cost RRP $2,199
- The 512GB iPhone 15 Pro Max will cost RRP $2,549
- The 1TB iPhone 15 Pro Max will cost RRP $2,899.
Head over here for our guide to the cheapest 5G SIM-only mobile plans to pair with your new iPhone, but if you’d rather opt for a plan, we’ve got a list of all the iPhone 15 Pro Max plans you can get on the Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone networks and the cheapest deals on the entire iPhone 15 range.
Stay tuned for our review of the iPhone 15.
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia
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