At some point in the last few years, Apple (and its rivals, it must be said) clearly decided that processors and cameras are sexy but picture and sound quality are not. Why else would iPhone after iPhone be launched with nary a mention of movie or music performance?
It’s a state of affairs made more sad by the fact that each new iPhone generally does include undocumented audio-visual improvements and has clearly been tuned to deliver the best picture and sound possible. Presumably, it comes down to processor and camera upgrades being quantifiable in GHz and megapixels, whereas display and DAC improvements are less about numbers and more about tuning and calibration.
All of which brings us to the iPhone 15 Pro Max which, true to form, features a faster processor and fancier camera but, according to the spec sheet, no changes to movie and music output. Once again, though, that turns out to not be the whole story.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max starts at £1199 / $1199 / AU$2199 which is, in an unusual turn of events by recent historical standards, a price increase over the 14 Pro Max for the US and Australia but no change for the UK.
That starting price now gets you a 256GB model (the entry-level iPhone 14 Pro Max came with 128GB), but you can upgrade to 512GB or 1TB – though each step up in terms of storage will cost you an extra £200 / $200 / AU$350.
If it’s simply a large phone with a big screen that you’re after, Apple does offer a ‘Plus’ version of the standard iPhone 15 that starts at £899 / $899 / AU$1649.
Clearly, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is a very expensive phone, but it’s worth pointing out that it has rivals that cost more. Sony’s Xperia 1 V is nominally priced at £1299 / $1399 and has a very AV-focused skill set.
One of the headline upgrades for the iPhone 15 Pro Max, at least as far as Apple is concerned, is the move from ‘surgical-grade’ stainless steel to ‘aerospace-grade’ titanium. This is said to improve durability while also reducing weight. The new model is 19g lighter than the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which sounds like very little but does make a noticeable difference.
The new Pro Max still feels incredibly solid and premium, mind you, and the new contoured edges make it a little more comfortable in the hand. Ergonomics are also helped by a slight slimming down of the border around the screen (though it still isn’t edge-to-edge, unfortunately), which reduces the overall width of the device by just under a millimetre. It is, however, also a smidgeon thicker.
The biggest design change in terms of impact on the user has to be the move from Lightning to USB-C, though. Broadly speaking, this is a good thing: it means you can use one cable and charger for your MacBook, iPad and iPhone, and support for the USB 3 standard means the iPhone 15 Pro Max has 20 times faster transfer speed than the iPhone 15 and last year’s iPhones. It does, though, make all of the Lightning cables you’ve amassed over the years redundant and potentially cause some mild issues for those with family members who still have a Lightning iPhone – particularly if they share a car. Those niggles will clearly pass over time, though, as Lightning iPhones become rarer.
The rear of the iPhone 15 Pro Max sports three huge camera lenses that look identical to those of the 14 Pro Max. Two of those are in fact the same as before – the 48MP main camera and 12MP ultrawide – but the telephoto lens now boasts 5x optical zoom, up from the 3x optical zoom of the previous model. Combined with new image stabilisation technology, this allows for much better zoom photography.
There have been changes on the software side of the camera system, too, with the iPhone 15 Pro Max now capturing 24MP images by default. And there are new features for serious snappers, such as the ability to switch between 24mm, 28mm and 35mm lenses, and options to shoot full 48MP HEIF and even 48MP ProRAW images.
Screen size 6.7 inches
Resolution 2796 x 1290 (460 ppi)
Operating system iOS 17
Finishes x 4
Battery life 29hrs video, 95hrs audio
Dimensions (hwd) 160 x 77 x 8.3mm
Capacity 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
In truth, capabilities such as those are beyond our photographic needs and expertise, but even those of us of a more point-and-shoot photographic persuasion can appreciate the extra detail and resolution offered by the new set-up, particularly when we blow some photos up for printing.
We’re fans of Apple’s ‘Portrait’ mode, too, and this has been improved further this year through the use of the ‘Photonic Engine’, which Apple has designed to boost detail, colour and dynamic range. Sure enough, the portraits we take during testing are noticeably punchier and more detailed than those from the old model, particularly in low-light conditions. Perhaps best of all, though, is the fact that you can now apply the portrait effect after the fact – there’s no need to specifically select it before you take your photo.
Powering these new camera features, as well as everything else the iPhone 15 Pro Max does, is the new A17 Pro processor. This is quite the change, according to Apple, most notably on account of the move to 3-nanometer transistor technology. The company claims that the CPU is 10 per cent faster than that of the previous model and that the GPU is 20 per cent faster.
What’s most interesting about this GPU is that it apparently allows for complex graphical features such as hardware-accelerated ray tracing. This is the sort of thing usually associated with next-gen gaming consoles such as the PS5 and Xbox Series X and, in fact, Apple has announced that proper console games including Resident Evil Village and Assassin’s Creed Mirage are coming to the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. It will be fascinating to see how these run on a smartphone. In the meantime, the 15 Pro Max offers the same super-snappy user experience as its predecessor.
On the subject of speed, the iPhone 15 Pro Max also supports Wi-Fi 6E for two times faster wireless transfer. You’ll need a Wi-Fi 6E router to take true advantage of that, but it does also speed up transfers between Wi-Fi 6E-enabled Apple devices via AirDrop.
Battery life is unchanged and exemplary. Apple quotes 25 hours of constant streamed video and 95 hours of audio playback. In real life, two days of pretty heavy use is more than possible. A 20W charger (which depressingly but predictably isn’t included in the box) will charge a dead iPhone 15 Pro Max to 50 per cent in just 35 minutes, and the phone is of course compatible with MagSafe accessories and wireless chargers.
Naturally, the screen is of utmost importance to us, and in this regard the new iPhone 15 Pro Max appears to be identical to its predecessor. That means it has a 6.7-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2796 x 1290, which equates to a monstrous pixel density of 460ppi. For reference, a 55-inch 4K TV has a pixel density of just 80ppi.
Apple claims a 1600-nit peak brightness for HDR content and 2000-nit peak for outdoor use (when the screen has to combat bright sunlight), and the HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision flavours of HDR are all supported. It’s also a ‘ProMotion’ display, which means the refresh rate is adaptive all the way up to 120Hz, resulting in super-smooth action.
The Dynamic Island, which was introduced with last year’s iPhone 14 Pro Max returns. Some find it useful while others can’t stand it. As far as its impact on movie viewing goes, it’s invisible when watching in the default letterbox mode but very visible if you zoom to fill the iPhone’s screen. Clearly, no island at all would be preferable for us, as would an Xperia 1 V-style 21:9 aspect ratio, though we’re not holding our breath for that.
Once again, Apple has left us thinking that nothing has changed on the AV front but in fact snuck in upgrades. Within seconds of firing up Fast X in Dolby Vision from the Apple TV app, we can see a noticeable increase in brightness, not only in peaks such as the sun over Rio De Janeiro and Jason Momoa’s crisp white shirt but across the whole image, which simply pops that little bit more. In fact, in some scenes the iPhone 15 Pro Max actually makes the 14 Pro Max look a little dull.
Blacks are just as inkily deep as before so that extra brightness means there’s extra contrast – perfect for a movie with a bold and dynamic presentation such as Fast X. It also helps to reinforce the already super-sharp edges of the previous model, making the image exceptionally solid and three-dimensional.
Crucially, though, while the iPhone’s picture sizzles with excitement, it’s still supremely subtle, too. Those super-sharp edges are solid but unforced, and while the colours pop when they should, there’s also delicate shading and overall naturalism to the delivery, particularly skin tones.
On top of all of that, detail levels are extraordinarily high – it really is astonishing how much detail can be squeezed into a display this size – and the iPhone 15 Pro Max digs up more from the shadows than its already very insightful predecessor.
Motion handling hasn’t improved but it didn’t need to. There’s no motion processing of the sort you’d find on the best TVs, and yet the Pro Max is never anything but in complete control of the action, keeping things as blur- and judder-free as possible without adding jarring enhancement.
As we move from movie to movie, through Dolby Vision, standard HDR and then SDR, the new flagship iPhone is always brilliantly well-judged. If Apple could produce an iPhone in proper 21:9 and without a cutout / Dynamic Island of any kind, we’d be even happier.
Should you need to rely on the integrated speakers for some movie sound at an point, you’ll find the iPhone 15 Pro Max sounds cleaner and smoother than its predecessor, with a slightly rounded-off top-end that ensures there’s no treble harshness and a slightly weightier, more full-bodied overall delivery. The speakers go loud, too, and there’s very impressive dynamic range for a phone.
Of course, we strongly recommend connecting a pair of headphones whenever possible. A pair of AirPods makes sense when you consider the seamlessness of the way they integrate with an iPhone and the Spatial Audio functionality offered by most models, which results in a really cinematic portable movie experience, particularly if you’re lucky enough to be able to go for the AirPods Max.
For music, though, you still can’t really beat plugging in a pair of ‘proper’ wired headphones. You will of course need to buy a USB-C headphones adapter, but your effort and small outlay will be rewarded with a delivery that’s packed with detail and subtle dynamics. Taylor Swift’s breathy vocal in The 1 is mesmeric thanks to the 15 Pro Max’s focus, resolution and fluidity. The balance of crisp clap and smooth piano is effortlessly maintained throughout, and the phone has no trouble spatially or rhythmically organising the various strands as the track builds and instruments are added.
Of course, the iPhone 14 Pro Max was already an exemplary-sounding phone, and it remains so today, but as with the speaker delivery, when listening via headphones the treble of the new model is a little smoother and cleaner, helping to keep a lid on the little bit of sibilance in Swift’s voice. It’s once again a little weightier and more full-bodied, too, improving the naturalism of the vocal but without sacrificing any of the energy or impetus of the previous model.
Apple has done it again: subtle tweaks to picture and sound quality have added dynamism and refinement to a delivery that was already superb. If you care about portable movie and music quality, there’s simply no better phone out there. For us, the fact that it’s gorgeous, supremely powerful and has an incredibly good camera is just icing on a tasty AV cake.
- Picture 5
- Sound 5
- Features 5
Read our review of the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max
Also consider the Sony Xperia 1 V