Is Apple’s flagship iPhone worth the outlay? We put it through a month-long test to find out
Apple’s new flagship smartphone, the iPhone 15 Pro Max, was announced on September 12 and released on September 22. Initial reviews were positive, but they tend to involve testing the device over a period of mere days.
We’ve now had the new iPhone for a whole month. So how does it hold up? You’ll already know the standard stuff: this iPhone is blazingly fast; the screen and speakers are great; the app and game ecosystem far outpaces Android’s. And you might have heard that an early wobble regarding this iPhone overheating was quickly dealt with by way of a software update.
So I’ll instead dig into features and experiences that weren’t ‘more of the same’ or temporary glitches – those that really stood out during 30 solid days of use with the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
iPhone 15 Pro Max: the (really) good bits
The 5x zoom is a revelation: Some Android phones have long had a more powerful optical zoom than Apple’s flagship iPhone. And once you get something better – a 5x zoom in this case – you see why people bang on about it. During testing, I used it frequently, capturing shots that would otherwise have been impossible. Wildlife images in particular benefitted, with me being able to get closer without scaring the subject. Other aspects of the camera system are improved, but this is the one that mattered most to me.
The phone is nicer to hold: It might seem superficial to talk about the feel of a device – and it’s something Apple is sometimes derided for. But the iPhone is a handheld gadget. It’s mostly used while in your hands. So it being more pleasant to hold meaningfully improves the user experience. The chamfered edges are a subtle change, but make a difference. The entire device feels more balanced than its predecessor. So although it’s only fractionally lighter, the change is more apparent than weight comparisons alone might suggest.
USB-C is overdue but welcome: When Lightning arrived in 2012, its reversible nature alone propelled it beyond the competition. Since then, USB-C grabbed the lead. Apple’s reluctance to shift iPhones over was in part warranted (there are lots of Lightning accessories out there), but I’m glad the entire iPhone 15 line-up has USB-C. It makes charging simpler. It means I can use the same Backbone game controller with my iPhone and an Android device. And the implementation on the Pro units hugely speeds up wired transfer of large files. That’s not something I need regularly, but it’s handy to have that extra speed when I do.
iPhone 15 Pro Max: the bad bits
This is an expensive phone: Despite Apple’s claims, it’s even more expensive than the iPhone 14 Pro Max was in the USA, given that the start price is up $100 at $1,199. (Apple argues this isn’t really a price rise, because it matched the price of last year’s equivalent 256GB unit. But the cheaper 128GB model went away.) In the UK, the price remains from £1199. Either way, that’s a lot. However, it’s in a similar ballpark to Android flagships, such as the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and Google Pixel 8 Pro.
New dimensions = new cases: Apple made the bezels around the screen smaller for the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which reduced the size of the phone’s enclosure. This might have aided the improved feel. But it also means form-hugging accessories no longer fit. In short, you’ll need a new case rather than being able to continue using what you already own. That doesn’t align well with Apple’s environmental stance.
The lack of a desktop mode irks: Benchmark numbers for the A17 Pro chip show it’s powerful. And beyond those numbers, tasks that require raw power – video editing; music creation with multiple virtual instrument tracks; high-end gaming – show this phone has the clout of a laptop. So it’s frustrating Apple won’t let it be your sole device. You can with a USB-C hub plug the iPhone 15 Pro Max into an external display and then connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. But the experience is sub-optimal, requiring AssistiveTouch for the mouse, and resembling the iPad’s prior to the refinement of its cursor system and Stage Manager.
Verdict: the best iPhone ever – at a price
It’s notable that the main negatives with this new device are – with the exception of some Apple stubbornness – purely financial. The positives are a mix of practical and delight.
The positives win out. In particular, I’d now hate to revert to an iPhone without a 5x zoom, and I hope that feature makes its way to the iPhone 16 Pro next year. But even how the device feels in your hand is important. The iPhone 15 Pro Max greatly improves on that.
None of these things are enough for people to upgrade from an iPhone 14 Pro Max, unless they’re on the iPhone Upgrade Program. And even iPhone 13 Pro Max users might want to hang on for another year, unless they’re desperate for a 48MP main camera, Dynamic Island or USB-C. But for anyone with an older Apple flagship, from the iPhone 12 Pro Max back to the iPhone XS Max, there’s an awful lot to like here.