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Apple just announced its iPhone 15 series that, whether we like it or not, is going to set the benchmark for all new smartphones for the next 12 months. Luckily, this year's update is a bit more exciting than some of the previous years. In particular, the iPhone 15 Pro Max model brings several upgrades that make the phone genuinely exciting, even for an Android user such as myself.

iPhone 15 Pro Max: What's new?

More comfortable in the hand

iPhone 15 Pro Max in titanium
iPhone 15 Pro Max in titanium

Off the bat, you'll notice the iPhone 15 Pro Max looks similar to the last three Pro Max iPhones. But for once, a photo is not worth a thousand words. Apple made several changes to the outer shell that give it a different, and ultimately better, in-hand feel.

This new model uses a titanium chassis instead of the stainless steel from previous years. Titanium is stronger yet lighter than stainless steel, so this iPhone 15 Pro Max is actually lighter than the iPhone 14 Pro Max. It still tips the scales at 221g, but this is an upgrade from the 240g weight of last year's model.

The edges of the phone where the chassis meets glass have also been rounded a bit compared to the hard corners that Apple has used since the iPhone 12 series. The combination of these softer corners and lighter weight makes for a superior in-hand feel. I have been very critical of how the Pro Max variants haven't been ergonomically friendly for years, and the 15 Pro Max seems to finally fix most of my gripes.

Noticeable camera upgrades: Better zoom, more focal length range, automatic portraits

While the iPhone 15 Pro Max camera module looks similar, the optics got quite an upgrade. The main 48MP main camera has a larger image sensor, and the pixel binning process has been changed to produce 24MP shots instead of 12MP. Apple is also allowing the user to use in-sensor crop to shoot at a tighter framing without resorting to digital zoom. By default, the main camera still shoots at 24mm, but with a tap of the "1X" button in the camera UI, you can now switch to a tighter 28mm or 35mm.

This change is to appeal to serious photographers, most of whom find 24mm as a focal length a bit too awkward to use. In photography with "real" cameras, it's not wide enough for landscape shots, and it's too wide for portraits.

There's also a new 5x camera using technology similar to periscope lenses that Apple calls "tetraprism." Basically, the camera sensor bounces light waves four times before it reaches the ISP, with each bounce likely passing through a magnifying glasses. This tech differs slightly from Periscope zoom lens in that the lens isn't placed sideways in the phone's body, but the overall philosophy is similar. This replaces the 3x telephoto lenses seen on the past couple of iPhones. Do note only the Pro Max model gets this new 5x lens; the smaller iPhone 15 Pro is sticking with the 3x telephoto lens.

This 5x lens shoots at a focal length equivalent to 120mm and can digitally zoom up to 25x, which is the longest zoom an iPhone has offered yet. Since I had very limited time with the phone and couldn't pull photo samples off the devices, I haven't done any pixel peeping, but the 5x lens does seem quite good, on par with other periscope zoom lenses in top Android phones.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max doing a credible 5X zoom
The iPhone 15 Pro Max doing a credible 5X zoom

All four iPhone 15 phones also gain a cool new feature that leverages Apple's computational photography. You can now just shoot photos normally, and if there's a human in view, the phone will automatically also capture portrait mode data as if you were shooting in portrait mode. Then, you can change the "normal" photo to portrait mode after the fact, with the ability to adjust the digital bokeh and change the focus point. From my brief testing, this feature worked very well, and I think it will come in very handy.

New customizable Action Button

The Action Button on top of the volume rocker
The Action Button on top of the volume rocker

The iPhone 15 Pro Max, along with its smaller Pro sibling, has replaced the alert slider button from past iPhones with a clickable button that Apple calls the Action Button. By default, this button will still switch the phone to vibrate or silent, but it's also now customizable. You can map it to launch apps or pull off specific actions, like beginning a voice recording. You can set Apple Shortcuts, too, so there are quite a lot of possibilities.

No more Lightning

The long-rumored switch to USB-C has finally happened. While all four iPhone 15s made the switch, only the Pro Max model gets USB-C 3.0, which has faster data transfer speeds up to 10Gbps. While the retirement of the Lightning cable is likely going to annoy casual users, this is great news for most serious users because the USB-C is just a superior port. After all, Apple's own laptops and iPads all use USB-C. Plus, if you use devices from other manufacturers, which often use USB-C, now you'll have a nearly universal charger.

New chip with curious branding

the iPhone 15 Pro Max

As expected, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max run on the newest Apple silicon, the A17 Pro chip. This is a 3nm chip that's actually a first in the industry, and it's obvious it's going to be extremely powerful, even more than the current reigning champ, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (and probably Snapdragon 8 Gen 3) in benchmarks.

But what's curious is that the company changed the naming scheme. The last few iPhone chips have had the "Bionic" branding (A15 Bionic, A16 Bionic, etc.). This Pro moniker suggests there could be variations with this new chip down the line, similar to Apple's M silicon. Could we be getting an A17 Max or A17 Ultra chip for a more powerful iPhone in the future?

Thinner bezels too

iPhone 14 Pro Max bezel (left) and iPhone 15 Pro Max bezel (right)
iPhone 14 Pro Max bezel (left) and iPhone 15 Pro Max bezel (right)

The iPhone 15 Pro phones also gain slimmer bezels, but it's only really noticeable if you place it side by side with an older iPhone. The slightly slimmer bezel means the 15 Pro Max also manages to shave the width of the Pro Max model slightly compared to last year's.

iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max: Price and availability

A price hike, but not really?

The iPhone 15 Pro Max starts at a pricier $1,199 compared to the $1,099 of the last two Pro Max models. However, the base 15 Pro Max model also comes with 256GB of storage instead of 128GB. Apple is keen to mention that last year's 14 Pro Max at 256GB is actually the same $1,199 price. This means Apple didn't really increase pricing; it just eliminated the 128GB base model.

The regular iPhone 15 Pro still costs the same $999 as its predecessor, but the base model comes with the same 128GB of storage. You'll be able to preorder the iPhone 15 series beginning on September 15, and they'll start shipping on September 22. The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max come in Natural Titanium, Blue Titanium, White Titanium, and Black Titanium.

An actually exciting iPhone release?

Overall, I think the iPhone 15 Pro Max brings enough new to be exciting. I am very interested in testing out the zoom lens and the new 35mm focal length, and I welcome the superior in-hand feel. However, I can't say the same for the other iPhone 15 models, which only feature minor updates by comparison. Still, they'll be among the best iPhones you can get this year, especially if you're upgrading from a much older model.