Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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iPhone 15 Pro Max Review: Action-Packed

Unlike its latest smartwatch, which looks and feels almost identical to the model it replaces, Apple seems to have done a fine job of retaining the good stuff and improving on the sore points of last year’s iPhone 14 Pro. There’s a refreshed design, a more powerful telephoto camera, a class-leading processor, a new gaming experience and last but not least, a USB-C port. The brand-new Action Button is added to the long list of improvements, which replaces the iconic ringer/silent switch. Dynamic Island is very much present but not exclusive, as the regular iPhone 15 models also have it this year.

And there are some more changes when it comes to size. Apple has also decided to differentiate the camera performance between its Pro and Pro Max models for the first time ever. The regular-sized iPhone 15 Pro, along with its smaller display and smaller battery, now also lacks the periscopic telephoto camera and 5x zoom capability of the Pro Max model. It still gets the usual 3X telephoto zoom.

And so, it becomes crystal clear that with this year’s iPhones, you can only get the best possible experience with the iPhone 15 Pro Max model. However, things aren’t exactly picture-perfect with this “action-packed” iPhone. Let me elaborate.

iPhone 15 Pro Max price in India

Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro Max, unlike last year’s model, is available in three storage variants. It’s good to see Apple get rid of the measly 128GB base storage variant, which seemed nonsensical last year. The base variant now has 256GB of storage, followed by a 512GB variant and a top-end 1TB variant, which is the one I received for review.

While the 256GB base storage variant sounds like good news, it still costs a hefty Rs. 1,59,900, which is Rs. 10,000 higher compared to last year’s model with the same 256GB of storage. The 512GB storage variant is priced at Rs. 1,79,900, while the 1TB option is priced at Rs. 1,99,900, which is Rs. 100 shy of Rs. 2,00,000. And like every passing year, buyers in India pay an unnecessary premium of around Rs. 60,000 compared to buyers in the USA. But that’s the way things are if you want to purchase an iPhone in India.

As for box contents, there’s still no charger in the box, but you do get a braided Type-C to Type-C USB cable and a SIM ejector tool.

iPhone 15 Pro Max design

The design of the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max will feel familiar compared to the iPhone 14 Pro. Apple did not go in for a complete redesign and has more or less used the same theme as the iPhone 14 Pro (2023) and the iPhone 13 Pro (2022), which came before it, which was also similar to the iPhone 12 Pro (2021). While there were subtle changes to the camera module between the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 14 Pro, the differences between the 14 Pro and the latest 15 Pro are little to none.

apple iphone 15 pro max design main ndtv AppleiPhone15ProMax  Apple

Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro Max looks very similar to the iPhone 14 Pro Max. It was replaced with minor cosmetic design refinements.

Most of the design changes have to do with the frame, which is still flat on the sides but now has curved edges where it meets the glass screens on both sides. While it does not sound like a big deal, it actually is because Apple has changed the material it uses for the external frame from stainless steel to titanium. The lighter material, along with the rounded edges of the frame, gives the phone a good hand feel, which is a drastic change from the sharp edges of the 14 Pro we reviewed last year.

While the titanium frame makes the phone lighter by about 19g, it also gathers plenty of stains and prints after a few minutes of use despite having a matte finish. This is more visible on the darker finishes than on the Natural Titanium one I had for review. I found the aluminium frame of the iPhone 15 to have better resistance to smudges.

apple iphone 15 pro max design sharp ndtv AppleiPhone15ProMax  Apple

The new Action Button feels quite sharp to the touch and could have been finished better, like the one next to it.

 

As flawless as it appears on Apple’s website, I noticed a fine panel gap where the rear glass screen meets the titanium frame. This minor gap let me feel the sharp edges of the titanium frame around the back when holding the phone every single time. Oddly, the alignment is perfect with the display’s glass screen, so I did not feel any sharp edges while swiping inwards or outwards when using the phone’s software interface. I’m not sure how this fine gap affects the IP68 rating of the phone long term, but for a device that costs nearly Rs. 2,00,000, it is a bit disappointing.

Even the all-new Action Button is very poorly finished, and it feels like I’m scraping my finger against it every time I reach out for it. In fact, I don’t remember when I last wrote about bad build quality in a phone costing upwards of Rs. 80,000.

Apple sent across its FineWoven Case and FinWoven Wallet, which are both MagSafe accessories. While FineWoven meets Apple’s goals when it comes to its environmental standards, it mostly won’t end up being the case of choice by many this year.

apple iphone 15 pro max side back design ndtv AppleiPhone15ProMax  Apple

The new titanium frame has some sharp edges around the rear glass panel.

 

Made from “durable micro-twill” material, Apple claims it has a “soft, suede-like feel”… but it does not. The case feels a bit rough to the touch and is by no means as luxurious or premium as many of the premium leather cases available online. Even the cutouts of the case don’t match some of Apple’s own accessories, and the cutouts themselves are very sharp, which makes the case more annoying to hold. The new MagSafe Wallet snaps on and, for once, maintains a good grip, unlike previous iterations. But I noticed that it has a tight grip only when mounted onto the FineWoven case and not so much when directly snapped onto the phone.

iPhone 15 Pro Max specifications and software

Things are special with this year’s iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max models. They get a new processor called the Apple A17 Pro, which is a proper upgrade over last year’s A16 Bionic and also loses its ‘Bionic’ tag. The new processor is manufactured using an industry-first 3nm fabrication process, which is a step up from the 4nm process used for the A16 Bionic and many premium Android-powered smartphones.

While the processor maintains its six-core architecture like last year, two high-performance cores are now clocked at 3.78 GHz, which Apple claims can deliver 10 percent faster raw performance than the previous processor as a whole. A new Apple-designed six-core GPU, as per Apple, sees a 20 percent bump in performance and now supports hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading, which comes of use when playing the new high-end AAA gaming titles which the company showed off at launch. More on this is in the performance section of this review. RAM has been increased to 8GB over last year’s 6GB.

apple iphone 15 pro max side usb c ndtv AppleiPhone15ProMax  Apple

The new USB-C port, apart from charging and data transfers, also offers DisplayPort support

 

The new processor also brings in support for USB 3.2 Gen 2, which allows for much higher transfer speeds (up to 10Gbps), which is not available on the iPhone 15 models released this year. Not everyone will find this useful, as it’s mainly targeted at content creators/videographers who shoot in ProRes, letting them save massive video files directly to an external SSD, not limiting them to the phone’s internal storage.

Why not get an iPhone with more storage? That’s because SSD’s are still cheaper than iPhone storage upgrades. As always, there’s a catch. The braided cable that comes in the box does not support USB 3.0 speeds (only USB 2.0), so you will need to purchase a separate cable if you intend to shoot large video files.

There’s also DisplayPort support, which means you can plug in a supported cable and mirror 4K HDR video to a supported monitor or TV.

apple iphone 15 pro max standby ndtv AppleiPhone15ProMax  Apple

StandBy mode works great on the iPhone 15 Pro Max

 

Thankfully, Apple did not reduce the Pro Max’s battery capacity, keeping its more power-efficient processor in mind. The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a 4,441mAh battery, which supports up to 20W wired charging using a compatible adapter, 15W using a MagSafe wireless charger and 7.5W wireless charging with a standard Qi-compatible charger.

iOS 17 works in a manner that will be very similar to an iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max. The now standard Dynamic Island feature has not found a solid footing yet, as not too many app developers (at least in India) seem to have integrated the feature into their apps. Regardless, it’s still as useful as it was when it debuted with the iPhone 14 Pro, which is mainly limited to native iOS 17 apps. StandBy looks great and is quite useful when the phone is mounted on a wireless charging stand. And remains exclusive to the recent Pro models as they are the only ones to have an Always-On display.

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iOS 17 brings some fancy new wallpapers and plenty more

 

iOS 17 thankfully brings in new wallpapers like the Weather and Astronomy ones (which oddly reminded me of Xiaomi’s Super Wallpapers and some cool Kaleidoscope wallpapers, which are also available on iPadOS.

The Action Button indeed seems like a nice upgrade to the iconic ringer/silent switch, which has been present on every iPhone to date. The button has a nice tactile feel when pressed down and uses a haptic motor to deliver vibrational feedback when using the same. This is useful when switching phone modes (between ringer and silent) as it lets one identify the state it is transitioning into.

However, the button only supports only one function at a time. While there are tons of guides online as to how one can go about making it immensely useful, I ended up using it mainly as a ringer/silent switch because that’s one I’m used to. I even tried out several shortcuts using the Shortcuts app, like creating a new note in Evernote by simply pressing down the Action Button and more. But the button with its single-stage mechanism can only be linked to one function at a time. So, I often reverted back to the default ringer/silent function, as that was something I really could not do without. I’m hopeful that Apple will add the ability to use at least two functions to this action button (short press and long press) which can let users retain the ringer/silent mode feature along with a second function like a shortcut.

iPhone 15 Pro Max performance

The iPhone 15 Pro Max scored as expected when it came to synthetic benchmarks. The phone managed a chart-topping score of 16,66,1205 in AnTuTu. This was followed by an equally impressive performance in Geekbench, managing scores of 2,938 and 7,116 in its single and multi-core tests, respectively. The iPhone 15 Pro Max managed GFXBench scores of 59fps, 60fps and 59fps in its T-Rex, Manhattan 3.1 and Car Chase test suites, respectively.

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The new Action Button replaces the iconic ringer/silent mode switch

 

I also tried Capcom’s Resident Evil Village. The game is best played with a controller and not with the onscreen controls. The primary reason for this is the limited screen space available on an iPhone 15 Pro’s display. Then, there are the numerous controls that one needs to remember and keep in mind while playing such titles. Indeed, these are a lot easier to master when paired with a Bluetooth controller (and good old muscle memory).

While it’s unbelievable to see a game like this work so well on a smartphone (it’s not perfect), a lot of the atmospheric effects are lost solely because of the iPhone’s screen size. However, the availability of a DisplayPort means that with the right equipment, one can easily use the iPhone as a very capable mini console (provided you can find a way to keep the phone running cool). With more titles coming soon, all I can say is that we will have to wait and watch to see if AAA gaming on iPhone is a success, but the phone surely has the capability to pull off what Apple claims it can.

Trying out regular gaming titles, all of them worked flawlessly, with little to no heating issues. Call of Duty: Mobile worked smoothly both at the Max graphics and frame rate settings and even Medium and Ultra settings, respectively. The same can be said about Asphalt 9: Legends, which runs buttery smooth at 60fps with almost console-quality graphics.

Regular software usage was smooth overall, but I did notice some random instances of heating even when using the phone indoors. The phone quickly warms up when used outdoors and can get toasty when operating the camera, depending on how long you keep shooting. In my experience, even snapping about 10-15 photos and three 4K videos in a span of 15 minutes in sunlight is enough to get the phone worryingly hot. While the heat got me worried, there were no slowdowns or any app crashes when operating the camera app. While iOS 17.0.3 solved most of the previously reported heating issues, the phone still runs hot when browsing through Instagram or using the Uber app when connected to data.

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The iPhone 15 Pro Max gets quite hot when used outdoors

 

Apple’s 6.7-inch LPTO XDR OLED display remains similar to the previous model. It shows accurate, natural-looking colours, which is useful when shooting serious professional videos. The 120Hz refresh rate works like a charm when it comes to software but works flawlessly when playing games that support such high refresh rates. Touch sampling rate work also showcases no visible lag when playing FPS titles like Call of Duty: Mobile.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max easily lasted me a day and a half with casual usage, which also included an hour of gaming. Playing a AAA gaming title depletes the battery a lot faster, so it’s wise to be plugged in when doing the same. On most days, I ended a work day with about 40-45 percent left, but on chaotic work days with lots of calls and constant usage, it is possible to deplete the battery to 20 percent. Of course, all this is with the display’s Always-on mode switched on, so keeping it turned off will get you an additional hour or two.

The wired charging experience remains the same as last year. Despite not packing its charger in the box, the iPhone 15 Pro Max managed a 53 percent charge in 30 minutes, reaching 83 percent in an hour when connected to a 65W GaN charger. It completed the charge in two hours, which is still quite slow compared to what most Android flagships offer these days.

iPhone 15 Pro Max cameras

Unlike Google’s Pixel 8 Pro, which offers a majorly overhauled rear camera this year, Apple has only replaced its 12-megapixel telephoto camera, which has 3X optical zoom with a new 12-megapixel telephoto periscopic zoom camera system with 5X optical zoom. Unlike the previous model’s telephoto camera, this one also comes with the primary camera’s 3D sensor-shift OIS.

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Most of the cameras on the iPhone 15 Pro are identical to the ones on the iPhone 14 Pro

 

The primary camera, by default, now shoots at 24 megapixels, but you can choose to shoot 12-megapixel photos if you prefer. The difference in file sizes is not much, so for this review, I captured all samples at 24 megapixels when using the primary camera. It’s also possible to shoot at 48 megapixels, but this is mainly for ProRAW or ProRAW Max, which results in much bigger files that will require additional tweaking later. However, a point to note here is that the iPhone 15 Pro Max is more than capable (or has the imaging bandwidth) of pulling it off, unlike the Pixel 8 Pro, which struggles to process the images after capture.

Since the other cameras have remained the same as before, the changes in image quality are mainly down to the new processor and newer algorithms. Thankfully, these do have a sufficient impact on image quality this year.

Apple still does not want to offer Pro camera controls on its Pro iPhone models. You either have to use its auto mode (designed for the average Joe) or shoot in ProRAW or ProRes (best reserved for professionals) for manual tweaking on a computer to tweak the image to its fullest potential. Even Google’s Pixel 8 Pro this year offers a very well-designed Pro mode, with very well-laid out and simplified Pro menus for enthusiasts, I do find it hard to understand why Apple does not want to do this.

However, I did find one new setting deep inside the Camera section of the Settings app. Available with iOS 17 (and later), it lets one lock white balance while recording video. Once switched on, it will set the white balance depending on the scene that’s visible in the first frame. I found this very useful because Apple’s metering and white balance often have a mind of their own, which is why enthusiasts or those serious about video often end up using a third-party app, which lets one manually set the white balance and other controls.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro Max primary camera samples (tap to see full size)

 

Since I had the iPhone 14 Pro with me, it made sense to check out the difference in quality between the new and old models. With the primary camera, the iPhone 15 Pro is clearly ahead when it comes to resolved detail since it can capture images at a higher resolution. However, I also noticed improvements when it came to white balance, which was my biggest complaint with the iPhone 14 Pro when I compared it with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra earlier this year. Colours are far more accurate compared to the iPhone 14 Pro. The iPhone 15 Pro comes out on top once again in low light, showcasing much better detail and colours. However, Apple’s more contrast-heavy approach to dynamic range still sees a lot of details lost in the shadows.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro ultra-wide camera samples (tap to see full size)

 

Moving on to the ultra-wide camera, things have improved mainly in terms of detail. The images have less noise in daylight and so don’t appear over-processed as they did on the iPhone 14 Pro. There’s still noticeable purple fringing in the brighter areas of an image. In low light, the results, just like the iPhone 14 Pro, aren’t great, with limited detail and soft images. Macro photos haven’t improved compared to the previous model (which is fine because they were great), but they definitely have better colours.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro daylight zoom camera samples (tap to see full size)

 

Coming to the new stuff, Apple’s new tetraprism or folded optical design, along with the stability of its 3D sensor shift OIS, makes it a lot more stable when shooting at the far end of the zoom range when compared to the iPhone 14 Pro. As for the images, the 5X optical zoom photos pack in a lot of detail despite using a sensor with the same 12-megapixel resolution as last year’s model. The 5X optical zoom level easily produces sharper and more detailed images in daylight compared to the 14 Pro’s 3X optical zoom images. However, the 15 Pro Max seemed to have some issues with 3X zoom, which is a crop of the primary sensor with slightly blurry or soft images. Moving beyond 5X at 10X, images still appear quite sharp and usable. At 25X, the results are decent with smudged details, but clearly not the best I have seen on a smartphone. In short, the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s zoom capability maxes out at 10X.

Top: Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max (5X optical zoom) bottom: iPhone 14 Pro (3X optical zoom) (tap to see full size)

 

In low light, when using Night mode, the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s primary sensor manages good image quality at 1X, but there’s a noticeable drop in quality with softer and less detailed images when shooting at 3X. Thankfully, image quality improves drastically at 5X optical zoom, but there’s a bit of noise and slightly less resolved detail in these images. This is still a solid improvement over the iPhone 14 Pro we reviewed last year.

Selfies haven’t really improved over the previous model in terms of detail, but there are noticeable improvements in dynamic range, which means less blown-out and more detailed backgrounds when clicking against the brighter scenes. You can also, for the first time, skip the cropped view when shooting portraits as the new iPhone gathers depth data from regular selfies or photos (which can be shot using the full frame), letting one apply a bokeh in the post via editing.

Selfies captured in low light show less noise compared to the iPhone 14 Pro’s selfies but have the same quality and come out quite soft overall. Portrait photos captured in daylight showed accurate skin tones, plenty of detail, and accurate edge detection. Apple’s done a fantastic job with its rather unique telephoto camera this year.

While we were pretty satisfied with the iPhone 14 Pro’s video quality, the iPhone 15 Pro seems to do a similar job, but I somehow preferred the 14 Pro stabilisation, as the 15 Pro seemed not to be as composed when panning or moving around. Low-light video is also quite good, with captures with low noise and good exposure.

iPhone 15 Pro Max Review: Verdict

With iPhone prices going higher with every passing year and Apple introducing a new tier in its ‘Pro’ segment this year, the iPhone sure seems to be losing points when it comes to overall value. This also means that the best possible iPhone experience gets pushed further out of reach for many this year.

However, keeping in mind all the meaningful upgrades we have seen with its lighter design, improved primary camera, impressive telephoto camera and sheer raw performance with its brand-new processor, it’s hard to argue that the new iPhone 15 Pro Max isn’t worth upgrading to despite its higher sticker price, even if you own last year’s iPhone 14 Pro.

Unlike previous models, Apple’s pitch for the iPhone Pro has also changed this year. It is no longer meant for the “Pros” or for videographers who simply prefer the best possible imaging quality from mobile phones. There’s AAA gaming, a lighter design, better battery life, better zoom and a customisable Action Button, which makes it really attractive or enticing even for the average consumer who would otherwise pick up a regular iPhone 15 Plus.


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