Our review of the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: A worthy upgrade -- for some

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Jason R. Rich


Every year, Apple executives tout their latest iPhone as its most advanced smartphone, ever. 

But here’s the key question: Are the hardware updates and redesign of the iPhone 15 Pro Max worthy of updating your phone now, even if you own an iPhone 14 Pro Max? Or are the hardware updates incremental — the kind that might make you want to wait until later in 2024 to get the Apple iPhone 16 Pro Max?

I got my hands on the new Apple iPhone Pro Max 15 when it was first released to find out and have since using it as my primary phone. Read on to get the full scoop of my extended hands-on experience with Apple’s flagship smartphone.

Apple’s top-of-the-line iPhone 15 Pro Max comes in four colors – natural titanium, blue titanium, white titanium and black titanium. Here are the three configurations currently available and their prices:

  • iPhone 15 Pro Max (256GB) – $1,199
  • iPhone 15 Pro Max (512GB) – $1,399
  • iPhone 15 Pro Max (1TB) – $1,599

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: At a glance

Display size: 6.7-inches | Display type: Super Retina XDR OLED | Display resolution: 2,796 x 1,290 pixels (460 ppi) | Display brightness: 2,000 nits | Processor: A17 Pro | Storage options: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Housing material: Titanium | Dimensions: 6.29 x 3.02 x 0.32 inches | Weight: 7.81 ounces | Front camera: 12MP (TrueDepth with Face ID) | Rear camera system: 48MP (main), 12MP (ultra-wide), 12MP (2x telephoto) | Operating system: iOS 17 (or later) | Safety features: Emergency SOS via satellite, Crash detection, Roadside Assistance via satellite | Port: 1x USB Type-C | Waterproof rating: IP68 | Physical buttons: Action button, volume up, volume down, Side button | Battery life: Up to 29 hours (with wireless fast charging support)

Just looking at the new iPhone 15 Pro Max from the outside, it appears similar to the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Minor design changes include a USB Type-C port on the bottom of the phone (instead of a Lightning port) and a new action button on the left side of the handset. This latest iPhone also now has a forged titanium housing, which looks elegant.

Many of the phone’s updates, like the upgraded A17 Pro processor, enhanced display, better battery life and improved camera system, are not obvious just by looking at the phone. For people who rely heavily on their smartphone and consider themselves avid smartphone photographers or videographers, these upgrades are significant. For just about everyone else, the upgrades are largely inconsequential.


Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: First impressions

I’ve owned and used every iPhone model ever released, so, of course, I upgraded to the iPhone 15 Pro Max (512GB) model, which runs this latest version of iOS 17. I’ve also kept up on iOS updates; each has introduced at least a few handy features and functions.

I use my iPhone as an everyday communications and productivity tool (in conjunction with my Apple Watch Series 9, iPad Pro, iMac and MacBook), but I’m also an avid photographer who relies heavily on my iPhone’s camera setup and features, especially when I travel. 

I immediately went through the setup process and transferred my phone number and the contents of the old phone to the new one. Right away I noticed that Apple has done an impressive job streamlining this process. In less than an hour, the new phone was activated and upgraded with the latest version of iOS 17. And all of my apps, app data, photos and settings were also transferred from my old phone to the new one. 

But then my excitement for the new phone began to wane. To upgrade to the iPhone 15 Pro Max through Apple’s financing option, my monthly payment for just the phone increased slightly, and is now $61.16 (for 24 months), unless I upgrade the phone again next year. In that case, the monthly payments will continue, but I wind up with no ownership of the phone.

My day-to-day interaction with the new phone has been almost identical to my experience using the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Yes, the new phone is a tad faster when it comes to launching and switching between apps, for example, but how I use the phone and the services and functions it offers are basically the same. 

As for the phone’s new side button, it can serve as a shortcut for handling a common task. I have it as a launcher for the Camera app. And speaking of photography, this is where I did notice some improvement over the new phone. (More on that later.) My first impression, however, is that the iPhone 15 Pro Max offers a disappointingly small overall performance upgrade compared to the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

That said, someone who is upgrading from an older iPhone, especially one that was not in the “Pro Max” category, will notice a huge improvement in features and performance – especially since you’ll now have access to a larger display, a longer battery life, a faster processor and, if your previous iPhone was several years old, access to much faster 5G cellular data connectivity.


Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: Who should upgrade to the iPhone 15 Pro Max?

Based on my hands-on experience using the iPhone 15 Pro Max, if you’re considering upgrading from the iPhone 14 Pro Max to this new model, the improvements probably won’t be worth it. Instead, I’d recommend making sure your iPhone 14 Pro Max stays up to date with the latest version of the operating system and see what Apple releases next year.

But you should definitely consider upgrading to the iPhone 15 Pro Max if you’ve been hanging on to an older edition of the iPhone, or if you’re using the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, or iPhone 14 Pro and want to take advantage of the larger and more vibrant display of the Pro Max model, or its camera features.

I’d also recommend the iPhone 15 Pro Max to any Android smartphone user who wants to make the switch to an iPhone. This new iPhone provides the best overall introduction to what the iPhone running the iOS operating system can do. Apple has made switching from Android to iPhone easier than ever. All of your essential data gets transferred to the new iPhone almost automatically.


Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: New features

Here’s a summary of the key enhancements made to the iPhone 15 Pro Max and who might see the biggest benefit.

Titanium housing

The iPhone 15 Pro Max now has a lighter-weight, forged titanium housing that’s more durable than previous models. That said, while it certainly looks nice, if you plan to use a case with the phone, the titanium housing is not something you’ll see or take advantage of much.

The weight of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is 7.81 ounces, while the iPhone 14 Pro Max weighed in at 8.47 ounces. Yes, it’s lighter, but not significant enough to actually notice a difference.

Action button

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Jason R. Rich


The new action button (on the left side of the phone, just above the volume buttons) can be programmed to do whatever you want it to. By default, it allows you to switch between ring and silent mode. But you can set it up to launch a specific app or run tasks. 

I found this option somewhat useful, but gimmicky too. Never did I think, “How did I ever live without the action button?” After four months using the new iPhone, I have yet to find a way to use the button to save time or use the phone in a more efficient way. In fact, when I have gone to turn the volume up on the phone, I’ve sometimes pressed the action button by mistake. 

Apple A17 Pro processor with a 6-core GPU 

The new processor enhances the phone’s performance. You will notice the new iPhone operates slightly faster, especially when specific apps require a lot of computing power or use detailed animated graphics. High-end games will run smoother and showcase more detail.

The new processor also contributes to a longer battery life and enhanced Siri functionality. If these features are not essential for you, the more powerful processor and enhanced GPU will have little impact.

Enhanced cameras 

The camera setup of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is slightly more advanced, but much of the new functionality is software-driven and provided by iOS 17. One feature I particularly like is that you now get more depth control when taking portraits. 

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Jason R. Rich


In addition, the new phone offers 5x optical zoom and up to 25x digital zoom. This is equivalent to a 200mm lens on a DSLR camera. For an avid photographer, the improved zoom is a powerful feature, but it works best when the phone is used with a tripod or stand. Whenever I set the camera to maximum zoom and tried holding the iPhone in my hands as I took a photo, I found more often than not, I would up with a blurry or pixelated image.

USB Type-C port

Apple has abandoned the Lighting port on the bottom of the iPhone and replaced it with a more standard USB 3.0 Type-C port. This lets the phone charge faster (when using a wired charger), and also allows for wired data transfers to happen up to 20 times faster. 

If you already have Lightning cables for older iPhones and iPads, these are now obsolete. On the plus side, USB Type-C cables are more widely available and typically less expensive. The phone comes with one USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable, but no charging block. I had to buy a second USB-C cable for my car to continue taking advantage of CarPlay.

Enhanced battery life 

Battery life of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is now up to 29 hours. The phone supports fast charging and MagSafe wireless charging. For many people, the enhanced battery life will be a welcome feature. 

Even on the days of heavy use — surfing the web using cellular data, using the Maps app for navigation, talking on the phone and taking hundreds of photos — I have yet to experience the iPhone’s battery draining before the day’s end.

Emergency roadside assistance via satellite

If you’re out of cellular range and get stuck on some side street in the middle of nowhere, you can now use the iPhone’s emergency satellite communications capabilities to request roadside assistance. 

This service works in conjunction with AAA and is accessible even if you’re not a AAA member. It’s provided for free for two years. If you tend to drive in places where cellular service is not available and your vehicle is prone to breakdowns, this can be a useful feature. It’s also now available using the iPhone 14 Pro Max (and several other iPhone models) running the latest version of iOS 17.

iOS 17

The biggest enhancements an iPhone user will notice in the iPhone 15 Pro Max come from the iOS 17. But you should understand that these same improvements also work with the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Most are software-based, so they’re available to users of other iPhone models as well.

In terms of similarities between the iPhone 14 Pro Max and iPhone 15 Pro Max, the 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display is the same. Both also use face ID to unlock the phone and approve online purchases. And both support 5G cellular connectivity and are compatible with MagSafe fast chargers and other wireless chargers.

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Jason R. Rich


In the months since the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s initial release, the upgrades made to iOS 17 have been subtle, but they’ve added some handy new features, whether it’s the interactive widgets, the use of contact posters within the Phone app, or the ability to extract a subject from a photo and instantly transform it into a sticker than can be used in Messenger. The ability to use the Maps app when offline has also proven handy. 

Another new feature that iPhone users (including myself) seem to have overlooked is a visual lookup function. As with Google Lens, when the iPhone is connected to the internet, and you’re viewing photos you’ve taken within the Photos app, simply tap on the new Look Up (Info) icon to identify whatever is in that picture, whether it’s an object, landmark, animal, food or plant. And if the photo includes text in another language (such as from a sign or restaurant menu), that text can instantly be translated. 

On the left is a picture of a green turtle in Hawaii that I took using the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Below it is the information that the Look Up feature almost instantly displayed about green turtles. This is just one handy use of this new feature. I could have just as easily obtain information about Poipu Beach, where I took this photo.

What to expect from iOS 17.2 (a free upgrade)

In early December, Apple released a public beta of iOS 17.2, which likely means it’s a matter of days (maybe a week or two) before it’s released to the general public. 

This updated version of the iOS will introduce the new Journal app to the iPhone, which seems like it’ll provide an easy way for people to chronicle their lives, organize their memories, track their activities and record their thoughts using text, photos, audio recordings and music.

Between offering prompts about what to include in an journal entry, the easy-of-use interface and the privacy tools incorporated into the Journal app, I see this as an app people will want to start using in their everyday lives — whether it’s for tracking workouts or diet progress, chronicling their travel adventures, or simply recording day-to-day memories, thoughts and feelings.


Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max customization options

There are now all sorts of ways to customize the iPhone with iOS 17. None of these are exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. In addition to a wider selection of Lock and Home screen wallpapers, it’s possible to create your own. You’re also able to incorporate widgets onto your home screen, fully customize the appearance and behavior of notifications, create and use the new Contact Poster feature within the Phone app, easily swap contact information with another iPhone user using the NameDrop feature and add Live Stickers to your instant messages. 

Almost all of the apps that come preinstalled with iOS 17 have undergone some redesign, but most are subtle. While convenient, many of the new app features will not dramatically impact how you utilize your phone as a communications, productivity, health/fitness or entertainment tool.

Some of the more obvious changes and improvements are in the Maps app, when using AirPlay or CarPlay, as well as features related to privacy and security while using the Internet and various apps. Of course, as with all iPhones, you’re able to customize your smartphone with any of the millions of optional apps available from the App Store. Apple’s older ad slogan, “There’s an app for that” definitely still applies –- more so now than ever before.


Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max camera setup

The most significant improvements of this new model relate to the phone’s photo and video capabilities. Some of these improvements are a result of iOS 17, but some rely on the phone’s faster processor.

The A17 Pro processor, in conjunction with the phone’s image sensor, allows the Camera app to capture more detail and color, while also performing better in low light situations. Photographers also now have greater control over the background blur effect when using portrait mode. 

And speaking of portrait mode, these can now be captured as Live images and you have access to up to 5x zoom capabilities. I also noticed improvements on how the cameras utilize light to capture more accurate skin tones and colors. This is, in part, because the cameras now support Apple’s Smart HDR 5 (as opposed to Smart HDR 4, which was offered by the iPhone 14 Pro Max).

The iPhone 15 Pro Max now offers 5x optical zoom and up to 25x digital zoom. This is a noticeable improvement over the iPhone 14 Pro Max. The macro photography capability functions faster and more smoothly when it comes to focusing on a close-up or small object.

Sample photos taken with the iPhone 15 Pro Max

Here are some photos taken with various levels of zoom and an assortment of features offered by the Camera app. No alternations have been done to them. This first image was taken using the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s ultra wide camera with an aspect ratio of 16:9. 

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Jason R. Rich


The next four images showcase the same location. As the photographer, I did not physically move. However, I started with zero zoom and then adjusted the Camera app’s zoom feature multiple times and switched between the phone’s various rear-facing cameras. For these shots, the aspect ratio was set at 4:3.

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Jason R. Rich


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Jason R. Rich


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Jason R. Rich


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Jason R. Rich


The following image of a flower demonstrates the capabilities of the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s macro photography capabilities. With the rear-facing camera positioned within two inches of the flower, you can see plenty of detail in the flower’s petals.

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Jason R. Rich


You can now adjust the level of background blur using a slider found within the Photos app. The first shot below was taken without using Portrait mode, but the one following it was taken with Portrait mode activated and focus placed on the red flower as the intended subject.

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Jason R. Rich


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Jason R. Rich


The following shot was taken with the Camera app’s photo mode, with the live feature turned off. For the subsequent photo, the live feature was turned on and then within the Photos app, the long exposure tool was activated. As you can see, this created an artistic blur from the water flowing in the stream.

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Jason R. Rich


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Jason R. Rich


Especially in well lit areas — like outside on a sunny (or even mildly cloudy day), I have found the cameras built into the iPhone 15 Pro Max do an excellent job capturing color, depth and detail, which can easily be enhanced using the improved photo editing and improvement tools built into the Photos app. The results are particularly impressive when taking landscape shots, if you use the ultra-wide camera and set the camera to 16:9 aspect ratio.

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Jason R. Rich


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Jason R. Rich


This final shot is another example of the Portrait mode being used. My dog Lexi appears in focus in the forefront of the shot, but the Camera app automatically burred the background. Once again, the aspect ratio was set to 16:9 and the main rear-facing camera was used.

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Jason R. Rich



Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: Final thoughts…

I would definitely classify the new phone as being just an incremental upgrade. The most impressive new features relate to the phone’s photography and videography capabilities. If you plan to shoot and store a lot of video content with the new phone, I’d highly recommend investing in either the 512GB or 1TB phone configuration and boosting your iCloud storage capacity, since 4K video files are large.  

Because the iPhone 15 Pro Max represents a rather significant financial investment, consider adding AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss coverage to protect the phone against damage. This costs an additional $13.49 per month.

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Jason R. Rich


The iPhone 15 Pro Max is a powerful and feature packed smartphone with enhanced overall performance. But, it’s an expensive phone to own and operate when you consider the cost of the phone itself, AppleCare+, cellular phone service and any accessories (such as a case, wireless charging pad and extra USB Type-C cables). The above photo features the iPhone 15 Pro Max housed in a Mujjo Full Leather Case ($59) with a pair of 2nd generation Apple AirPods Pro ($239).

For hands-free calling or streaming music, for example, I highly recommend using the new iPhone with a pair of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) wireless earbuds, as they offer functionality that only Apple devices can fully utilize.

Ultimately, the iPhone 15 Pro Max as a worthwhile upgrade for a heavy iPhone user or an avid smartphone photographer and videographer. But for almost anyone else, unless you need the larger 6.7-inch display, justifying the cost of this phone (when there are less expensive iPhone 15 configuration options available) is rather difficult (at least in my opinion).


For even more tech-related reviews, buyer’s guides, deals and information, be sure to check out our ongoing tech coverage.

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