Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: heavy on the features, light on the metal

With a new titanium casing, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is smaller and lighter than ever but still manages to extend its capabilities

T3 Platinum Award
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The iPhone 15 Pro Max is the new flagship model in Apple's range and continues to push the boundaries of what is possible from a smartphone. Thanks to a new titanium enclosure, it's lighter and stronger than ever, it boasts an even greater camera array and it brings in USB-C charging for the first time. If you want the very best, this is the phone to buy.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Titanium enclosure makes it lighter

  • +

    5x zoom

  • +

    USB-C charging

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    The action button is not essential

  • -

    No improvement in battery life

  • -

    I still want more from the camera

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The iPhone 15 Pro Max is the flagship Apple phone for 2023/24 and should therefore be the best iPhone you can buy. This year’s range includes four distinct models starting from the iPhone 15, to the larger iPhone 15 Plus, the iPhone 15 Pro and finally the Pro Max. 

Unlike in previous years, there is a distinct difference between the 15 Pro and Pro Max models that’s more than just the screen size and battery life. The Pro Max gains a longer zoom, thanks to the 5x telephoto camera, compared to the 3x telephoto on the 15 Pro. 

The last models to do this were the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, which saw the 12 Pro Max gain a 2.5x rather than 2x zoom and the addition of sensor-shift stabilisation for the first time. This made the 12 Pro Max the more appealing of the two Pro models for photographers, so will the 15 Pro Max get the same advantage?

Having reviewed just about every iPhone launched since the 3S, I’m impressed by how far the iPhone has come. Importantly though, for those looking to upgrade, the iPhone 15 Pro Max offers another step forward in both features and useability – even from the iPhone 14 Pro Max

I’ve been using the iPhone 15 Pro Max now for just over a week and I’m hugely impressed by the device. Let’s dive a little deeper into what the phone offers and how it performs. 

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

iPhone 15 Pro Max price and availability

The iPhone 15 Pro Max starts from £1199 / $1199 / AU$2199 for the 256GB model, as there’s no 128GB Pro Max this year. If you want the biggest capacity phone, the 1TB model tops out the list at £1599 / $1599 / AU$2899. 

Though there were rumours of a big price increase this year, that certainly hasn’t happened. In fact, some versions are actually cheaper than before. In the UK, the entry point is the same, but is £50 cheaper than the equivalent 256GB 14 Pro Max model, and the 1TB version is £200 less. In the US, prices are much the same as last year, by capacity, and Australia sees some small increases. 

With the spate of premium folding phones released this year, the Pro Max now feels pretty reasonable by comparison. Especially as you can get up to £715 / $650 trade-in on your old device from Apple, and similar deals from local networks. 

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

iPhone 15 Pro Max features and what’s new

Titanium is this year’s headline feature and featured heavily on the announcement. The enclosure of the Pro and Pro Max models is made from aerospace-grade titanium rather than stainless steel. It’s both incredibly strong and very lightweight, making it ideal for spacecraft (it was used on the Mars Rover) and makes the iPhone 15 Pro Max lighter than ever. 

The bigger news – or at least bigger in the frame – is the changes to the camera system. The telephoto camera in the rear array now has a 5x magnification thanks to a clever tetraprism design which gives it an equivalent focal length of 120mm (in old 35mm film money). 

One thing you’ll notice on the exterior of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is that the ringer mute switch has been replaced by an action button. This can be customised to activate a range of features like Focus modes, camera, voice memos or any shortcuts, with just a single press. Or you can still use it to mute and unmute the ringer with a long press rather than a switch. 

Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard, all the new iPhones, including the 15 Pro Max now feature a USB-C port for charging. This provides up to 20x faster transfer speeds on the Pro Max and can even be used to charge accessories like the Apple Watch and AirPods

There’s a new chip powering the Pro Max which is the A17 Pro. Previous chips have used the Bionic designation, which suggests that we may continue to see different chips used on the Pro and non-pro models (the iPhone 15 uses the A16 Bionic). This Pro chip is also Apple’s first 3-nanometer unit and promises to seriously boost the phone’s gaming abilities. 

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

iPhone 15 Pro Max design

The bezels have been reduced around the screen of the iPhone 15 Pro Max and rather than make the display larger, the phone has been made smaller. The differences are small – 0.8mm in height and 0.9mm in width – but you can see it when placed next to the 14. It is slightly deeper though (by 0.4mm) due to the new camera array. 

The weight difference is more noticeable in the hand. A saving of 19 grams doesn’t sound like much but if you’re holding the phone up for long periods, you’ll appreciate it. The first time I held the device it felt very different – that combination of lighter weight and the feel of the titanium means you won’t mistake this for any other model. 

The action button on the side of the phone is a nice touch, however, I didn't find myself using it particularly. I have the action button on my Apple Watch Ultra set to start a workout, which is actually useful (and I still forget to use it). With the iPhone 15 Pro Max, I did set the action button to start the camera in selfie mode but often forgot to use it. Maybe in time, it will become more natural. 

One result of the new titanium enclosure is that there is a more distinct edge where it meets the back glass. While you could feel this edge between the back glass and the stainless steel on the 14 Pro models, it was smooth to the touch. On the 15 Pro Max, the edge of the titanium is more pronounced and you can feel it when you run your finger over it – not enough to be sharp but more noticeable. 

Visually, there is little noticeable difference between the 14 Pro Max and 15 Pro Max. Aside from the action button and the fractionally larger port for the USB-C charging. Even the rear camera array is difficult to see any differences in, despite the improved cameras. 

I’ve been using the blue titanium model and I feel the titanium band around the edge of the phone actually gets fewer fingermarks than the stainless steel 14 Pro Max did. 

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

iPhone 15 Pro Max display

There is no change in the display from the iPhone 14 Pro Max here, and that’s no bad thing. This is a 6.7-inch Super Retina OLED display with 2796x1290 pixels. It’s an always-on display, thanks to the ProMotion technology giving a variable frame frame of 120Hz down to just single digits to save battery while in standby mode. 

The screen has a 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio and a peak brightness of up to 2,000 nits for outdoor use. In real terms, this means that you can easily see the display in almost any lighting conditions. Watching movies on this screen often looks better than on most TVs, and certainly better than any seat back screen on a plane. The colour and detail in the images, especially 4K content, look incredible. 

All this also means that the Dynamic Island returns to the iPhone. It’s also on the iPhone 15 this year, which will mean even more uses for that space. Though the Dynamic Island has been created to solve a hardware problem – the camera and sensor holes in the screen – it has become one of the most inventive features on the iPhone. 

More applications are making use of the Dynamic Island space to deliver notifications and info. Apple’s own Music app uses it well, as does the alarm and even that new icon to show the torch is on. But it’s the third-party apps that have really delivered for Dynamic Island. 

Uber’s app perfectly adds information on upcoming rides that expand around the island, with a cute car icon that moves across the screen based on the location. My favourite recent example though is the United Airlines app. This puts your gate information in the Dynamic Island along with the time until boarding. Then once onboard, expands the Dynamic Island to give you the time remaining on flight, your arrival gate and a link to its entertainment. It’s by far the best airline app i’ve used and integrates the DI perfectly. 

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

iPhone 15 Pro Max camera

A better camera is often one of the biggest reasons to upgrade your iPhone, as every year sees significant improvements, and this year is no different. Let’s start with the rear camera array and the main camera. 

Once again the main camera is a 48 million-pixel device but with a new nano-coating on the lens for better performance. Images from the main camera now default to 24MP rather than 12MP and you can select from three variations of crop, giving you either a 24mm (1x), 28mm (1.2x) or 35mm (1.5x) equivalent. You can also select a 2x crop (48mm) which still uses that main 48MP camera. 

The ultra-wide 12MP is unchanged this year, aside from the nano-coating but it’s the telephoto lens that gets the biggest upgrade. On the 15 Pro, this is still a 3x zoom but on the 15 Pro Max, you now get a 5x zoom. This is equivalent to a 120mm lens and means you can get in much closer to the subject. It’s great for close-up portraits as well as gigs, sports and anything where you want to get closer than you can physically get. 

The telephoto camera uses a new tetraprism lens arrangement, reflecting the light four times to bring that level of magnification without having to have a huge lens barrel on the back of the phone. There’s a 25% bigger sensor underneath and it combines both a 3D sensor shift and an optical stabilisation to make sure you get a shake-free image. Using digital zoom, you can actually now zoom in up to 25x, and the iPhone provides a new frame to show you the section of the image you’ve zoomed in to.

The quality of the images from the iPhone 15 Pro Max is extremely impressive. The level of detail in the 24MP images from the main camera is superb, as are those from the 12MP ultra-wide and telephoto cameras. Viewed even at 200% there’s no notable difference in detail between shots from the iPhone 14 Pro Max and 15 Pro Max main cameras in either RAW or HEIC/JPEG formats. You do get extra pixels from the 24MP save compared to the 12MP save, which makes the images smoother though.

The nice thing about the images from the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the colours remain very natural. In fact, they seemed to have been dialled back slightly even from the 14 Pro Max. Starting with a natural colour allows you to better adjust your images, and if you want a certain look straight from the camera, you can use one of the preset photographic styles and even fine-tune the tone and warmth.

With the longer telephoto camera, you can really zoom into details without having to switch to a digital zoom, therefore getting a much clearer picture. I also love how the zoom control lets you switch between the lens to create a completely smooth zoom from 0.5x all the way to 5x. Though I prefer landscapes and portraits, there are times when this extra length could come in useful – particularly for gigs or wildlife shots. What would be amazing is if the telephoto camera could also have a 48MP sensor, so you could double the zoom on this, creating a 240mm equivalent. I suspect that’s a few generations away though.

One new feature in the camera is that the portrait mode will automatically activate in regular photo mode, allowing you to add the blurred background and other portrait lighting features after the shot. What’s happening here is that the phone is storing a depth map alongside the image, which can then be used to adjust the photo later. Not only can you blur the background on these images but you can change the focus point – as you can in video using the Cinematic Mode.

In many ways, this should work much like the Live Photos function and be something you can leave on for all pictures. After all, adding a depth map doesn’t add that much to the file size and having the ability to alter the focus point is something that isn’t just useful for portraits.

There are new features for pro photo and video shooters on the iPhone 15 Pro Max too. You can use the phone tethered with Capture One software, which allows the images to transfer straight to a computer – connected via a USB-C cable – after every shot. This lets the iPhone work much like a studio camera.

Video shooters can make use of the USB 3 transfer speeds and record ProRes video (up to 4k 60p) straight to an external SSD drive. This is something that many videographers do with video from DSLR and pro cameras, so having the ability to do it from the iPhone 15 Pro Max makes it easier to integrate the phone into a pro setup. It's a shame there's still no 8K shooting here though. 

iPhone 15 Pro Max performance and battery

The new A19 Pro chip in the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the first 3-nanometer chip that Apple has produced and is the most advanced too. Six times faster than the A16 Bionic this 6-core chip also doubles the speed of the Neural Engine on board, allowing for increased abilities in photos and voice recognition. 

The new chip also allows for MetalFX upscaling and ray tracing, which means that gaming graphics look even more real on the iPhone. These days it’s very difficult to guage the speed of processors and graphics without a formal benchmark metric, as things like app opening and image adjustments are almost instantaneous. 

Using Geekbench 6’s benchmarks, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a multi-core CPU benchmark of 7137 (mine actually hit 7226). To give some comparison, the iPhone 14 Pro Max scored 6412 and the Samsung S23 Ultra scored 4980 – though Android vs iOS comparisons are a little unfair. The really interesting thing is that the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s score is only slightly behind some of the M1 devices, like the iPad Air M1 (7999) and the MacBook Pro 13 M1 (8256). This shows the sheer potential of the new 3-nanometer chips and does make me wonder if we’ll start seeing them in the iPads or even cheaper Macs instead of the M silicone chips. 

Battery life on the iPhone 15 Pro Max was described merely as an all-day battery at the launch event. In fact, the phone officially gives up to 29 hours of video playback, 25 hours of streaming video and up to 95 hours of audio. These are identical figures to the iPhone 14 Pro Max, a phone that was always impressive on the battery life front. So while there’s no improvement here, considering the more powerful processor, it must be running more efficiently. 

If you’ve read any news about the iPhone 15 Pro Max recently, you’ve probably seen reports of the phone overheating, or at least getting pretty hot. While I didn’t experience this myself during the data transfer (nearly 70GB of it) or with normal operation, I was able to replicate it  during gaming. After some serious hot laps on the new Asphalt 8+ and then about an hour playing Cityscapes (I can highly recommend both), the phone did get pretty hot. 

Without any fans in place, this kind of heat dissipation is fairly normal for any computing or gaming device. The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a more powerful processor and GPU, so is more likely to kick out more heat when put under strain. At the time of writing, Apple has already suggested a fix could be coming to stop it getting quite so hot, but for me, it’s been no real issue. 

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

Apple iOS 17

The iPhone 15 Pro Max runs the latest version of iOS, which is now iOS 17. While this new version of the OS is available for all iPhones, it’s worth noting some of the more recent features that make the iPhone 15 Pro Max fun to use. 

One of my favourite additions is the new contact poster. This lets you create a full-screen profile pic of you – or anyone in your contacts – with a choice of fonts for your name and effects, much like the lock screen. You can then share this contact poster with your contacts, so that it appears on their phones when you call, or message. 

Another great feature is the new ability to tap two iPhones together to share contact details. When you do this, you get a virtual shockwave appearing over the two screens and then the ability to swap details. It really is the reason you may never need to carry a business card again. 

One final addition I love is in the messages. Apple has expanded what you can do in its Messages app over the years but the new Check In feature has to be one of the most useful. With this, you can let a friend or colleague know when you arrive at a location, and even share your route. This could be useful when letting colleagues know you’re on your way to a meeting, or letting your partner know when you will get home. I find it handy to let my partner know when I’ve arrived safely on business trips too. 

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

Should I buy the iPhone 15 Pro Max?

While there will be little surprise that the iPhone 15 Pro Max improves on its previous version, I believe this model offers a significant step forward for most users. The lighter titanium build is a big step for the iPhone and makes this model feel different in the hand. 

The camera system hits new heights with the rear three-camera array, offering exceptional quality at a wide range of focal lengths. For anyone looking for a longer zoom, the benefits the 15 Pro Max offers even over the 15 Pro are clear. 

Arguably the biggest step forward here is the A17 Pro 3nm chip, which delivers performance beyond that of a phone. The capabilities of this phone thanks to that chip extend into professional video, photography and gaming, with the potential to excel wherever it turns its gaze. 

Of course, the new USB-C charging port also gives a good reason to upgrade to this model – finally unifying all of your device charging with a single lead. The fact that this is not the biggest reason to upgrade just shows how far the phone has come. 

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

Also consider...

As much as I love the flagship Apple phone, the rest of the current iPhone range is worth considering depending on your needs and budget. This year I feel it is still a tough call between the 15 Pro and the 15 Pro Max. While you do get that lovely extra reach in the 5x zoom, the 15 Pro is otherwise a very similar phone with the benefit of being slightly smaller. 

I also feel that this year’s iPhone 15 will once again be the best choice for most users. Now the phone has got the Dynamic Island, an upgraded camera system and USB-C charging, it does more than most people need, and it feels really nice in the hand. Personally, I’m a big fan of the new pink model, if you’re looking for something colourful but the light blue is also nice. 

Mat Gallagher

As T3's Editor-in-Chief, Mat Gallagher has his finger on the pulse for the latest advances in technology. He has written about technology since 2003 and after stints in Beijing, Hong Kong and Chicago is now based in the UK. He’s a true lover of gadgets, but especially anything that involves cameras, Apple, electric cars, musical instruments or travel.