In a smartphone landscape where iterative improvements are the best you can really hope for, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is one hell of an iterative improvement.
It takes the powerhouse of the iPhone range and supercharges it through innovative use of new materials, substantial hardware upgrades and those little quality of life tweaks that has always set Apple above its rivals. If you were to just look at the picture accompanying this article you could be forgiven for thinking little had changed since the iPhone 14 Pro Max, but in the hand it feels noticeably different.
The metal case is now carved from titanium, which is both lighter and more durable than aluminium, and (slightly weirdly) isn’t as cold to the touch. There’s also a rounded edge in place of the slight chamfer on the previous models – another small but meaningful difference in the hand.
The black bevel around the screen is marginally slimmer, allowing Apple to make the 15 Pro ever-so-slightly smaller. All of these things combine to make a phone that’s around eight per cent lighter than its predecessor, and that’s something you’re definitely going to notice.
Sure, these changes are hardly night and day, but it’s important to remember that this is a device you will hold in your hand for literally hours at a time (sometimes for eight hours or more a day, according to my depressing screentime notifications). Like the totems in Christopher Nolan’s Inception – Leonardo DiCaprio’s little spinning top, for instance – your phone is something you know instinctively: it’s heft and balance, the subtleties of its texture. The new iPhone feels better.
That’s all well and good – but what does it actually do? The biggest selling point is the camera, with Apple making significant changes to the way photos are taken and stored. The headline is the new 5x optical zoom, which allows you to capture an astonishing amount of detail. It’s even impressive when shooting “from the hip” thanks to improved 3D image stabilisation.
More generally, the pictures you take just look better. How? Well, it’s complicated but the 15 Pro essentially takes pictures at 48MP, scales them down to 12MP and then merges that with data from the 48MP sensor, resulting in a 24MP photograph. Coupled with smart HDR, you get super-vibrant colours without sacrificing realism, with great low-light and back-lit photographs.
There are also heaps of tools available for more avid camera buffs, including “digital lenses” that replicate the feel of shooting with a physical lens, including options for 24mm, 28mm, 35mm and 48mm.
Every new iPhone needs a little je ne sais quoi, of course, and this one certainly has it. You know the “silent mode” switch on the side of your iPhone? It’s been there for years – I can’t remember how many but a lot – and in my case it’s been on “silent” for virtually every minute of every one of those years.
Well, now that switch has been replaced by a new “action” button that allows you to customise your pressing experience. You can use it to immediately open your selfie camera, or turn on your torch, or open the voice memos app (great news for journalists). Or you can program it to do almost anything else you can think of, whether that’s opening the app for your favourite business news brand or playing music.
It’s a small change and not exactly cutting edge technology, but it makes 25 per cent of the buttons on my phone instantly more useful. Incremental gains.
A bigger change – and an extremely welcome one – is the switch, finally, from a Lightning charger to USB-C (there’s a woven cable in the box but not a plug). That means I can now charge my iPhone, Sennheiser headphones, Asus ChromeBook and Xbox controller from the same cable. A big quality of life improvement.
While the iPhone 15, at £799, saw a £50 price drop and the iPhone 15 Pro dropped £100 to £999, you’ll still pay £1,199 for the 256GB Pro Max (now the minimum storage, rising to 1TB if you’re willing to fork out £1,599).
These are all big numbers but if you’re shopping at the top end of the phone market they are unlikely to prove a stumbling block. It goes without saying that this is the “best iPhone ever” but there are more than enough improvements here to justify an upgrade from even a generation or two ago. Apple has done it again.