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Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: Vanity popsicle, velvet revolvers

There comes a point in innovation when you wonder what next. Apple’s most expensive phone to date, the iPhone 15 Pro Max, steers this wonderment up a different alley

The Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max during an event at Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, US, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023.(Bloomberg)

By Shouvik Das

LAST PUBLISHED 29.09.2023  |  12:00 PM IST

How far is too far in the exuberance of wealth? If films through the decades have taught us anything, it is that there are a million and one ludicrous ways to spend—if that’s what you have in your mind. The Apple iPhone—synonymous with gadgets that one must purchase at the very onset of fluent affluence—is at the very base of the pyramid of incredulity when it comes to the lifestyles of the world’s wealthiest.

Yet, a part of Apple’s famed halo is centred around the essence of this seemingly simple and ubiquitous gadget—the iPhone. This phone, through the years, has seen people queue up to become one of the first to get their hands on it. Heck, it is this little phone that catapulted Apple to become the world’s largest company by market cap. Sure, four out of the five most valuable companies in the world today (Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and Amazon), barring Saudi Aramco, are tech firms—but Apple became the most valuable not by powering the entire world’s PCs or phones, running most of the world’s information search, or creating marketplaces for trade online. They did it, majorly, by selling this phone.


Also read: Apple iPhone 14 series: Your biggest questions answered

Frankly, if you think about it, the sheer idea of it does sound quite ridiculous. But the cycle continues every year—Apple keeps making ‘em, people keep buying ‘em. There was a point of time when India had a very limited number of customers for it—today, that too is steadily and quickly changing. Under such circumstances comes the iPhone 15 Pro Max—Apple’s latest smartphone, and also, one that officially touches a price tag of 2 lakh.

Given that no singular consumer gadget (the Sony PlayStation perhaps comes a distant second) has captured such fancy and catapulted a company quite to this scale, is it still fair to ‘review’ Apple’s latest, biggest, most expensive smartphone just as a gadget?

Who is the iPhone 15 Pro Max really for?

Before speaking about its gadget credentials, here’s why I feel that the iPhone 15 Pro Max needs more nuance than just tech.

You see, nobody really needs a ‘Pro’ iPhone. If you are invested in Apple’s ecosystem, you’d do well to buy the base version of Apple’s iPhones available—and if you maintain the battery charging cycles well enough, these phones are good enough to last at least five years.

But what the Pro models get you is added social credentials—and for many, a certain feel-good factor. Apple’s addition of an intangible halo and social aspiration factors combine to make the Pro iPhone-holders feel like the upper echelon of consumer tech supremacy. To this extent, if you are in line with this philosophy, you’ll buy one of the Pro versions—depending on your preference of screen size and pricing. If you aren’t, you’ll find it preposterous—and end up in varying degrees of philosophical and socio-economic debates across Instagram and Reddit.


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If you do buy an iPhone 15 Pro Max, the titanium on its rear is likely a major contributing factor. However, truth be told, there is no noticeable social cred on Apple’s latest—most, in fact, may mistake it to be among any of the three older generation models, especially with a cover.

Amusingly enough, though, it is this fine print that fits into the narrative of wealth and success. Imagine Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck, Mark Zuckerberg’s grey tee, or Louis Vuitton luggage catalogues—much like the finest, glamour-stricken vanity popsicles of social validation, the iPhone 15 Pro Max does what it should, for those who’d buy this. It remains constant.

The Apple iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max feature a strong and lightweight titanium design, a new Action button, powerful camera upgrades, and A17 Pro. (Apple)

Beyond society, still a phone

You see, even with all the epiphany, the iPhone is, after all, a phone. As a gadget, it is one of the most expensive mainstream consumer smartphones to date, so naturally, it is also expected to be one of the best ever—if not, the best.

So, here’s what it is—Apple has stacked it with the world’s first commonly available 3 nanometre (nm) system-on-a-chip (SoC), called A17 Pro. This, at least on paper, makes the iPhone 15 Pro Max (and also the Pro) two of the world’s best-performing smartphones. But Apple’s paid more attention this year to a practical use case for what any consumer might want to do with all that performance—gaming.

To do this, they’ve finally added a graphics processing chip (GPU) that’s designed in-house, and is capable of hardware-level ray tracing. In commonspeak, this means that Apple’s GPU has caught up with what Samsung (with AMD) did in January last year, and Qualcomm in November last year, to offer a specialized graphics performance that emulates ultra-realistic light reflections.

Does it matter? Well, it eventually most likely will. You see, game developers also need to make the most of ray tracing GPUs in order for games to look even better. On the iPhone 15 Pro Max, graphics-intensive titles do look as good as they can on any smartphone, but they don’t look like something that you haven’t seen before. So far, Qualcomm’s first-generation ray tracing GPU with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 also failed to make smartphone game graphics look how ray tracing potentially can—leaving this point unclear on whether we’re awaiting developers to adapt better, or better GPUs to come along, for ray tracing to turn phones into actual handheld gaming consoles.

Where the A17 Pro feels great is in its general ability to take on multiple tasks at the same time—the iPhone 15 Pro Max can edit a 3-minute 4K video timeline on InShot Pro, with a video streaming app, a navigation app and a heavy racing game—set to the highest graphics settings—all open and actively switching in the background. This level of performance prowess does seem to suggest that Apple’s performance claims are on point.

But, two things—one, the titanium body means that you do tend to feel the phone heat up quite a bit when actively carrying out the above multitasking load for more than three minutes. More important, though, is our second point—almost nobody will be actually editing a video, watching another, navigating and playing a game on a phone at the same time. Such simulated workloads are exactly what they sound like—simulations. For pretty much every real-world use case, there’s no qualm to the performance of the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Apple, though, likes to focus on creative professionals with its ‘Pro’ series. For them, while the iPhone 15 Pro Max clearly has everything that they’d need, the few instances of heating may raise a few concerns in terms of how the smartphone would work in the long run.

For pros, though, what would matter more is the camera system. This year, the iPhone 15 Pro Max gets a new 48MP sensor for the main camera, which uses algorithms a little differently than its predecessor to make photos better. To do this, Apple uses its ‘neural engine’, and a custom form of combining multiple individual pixels on the sensor, to create 24MP photos by default. This makes its photos significantly more detailed than the iPhone 14 generation.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max takes better low-light photos thanks to superior light-adjusting algorithms. (Photo by Shouvik Das)

There are other improvements here, too—the iPhone 15 Pro Max takes better low-light photos thanks to superior light-adjusting algorithms, an even more accurate colour balance, better background blurs and more authentic bokehs in portrait mode, a 2x telephoto mode enabled by pixel binning on the main sensor, and finally, a default portrait mode that actually makes more difference than what it seems like on paper.

Macro focusing through the main camera seems to have improved, and Apple claims that its 2x telephoto mode is superior to a digital zoom. It does definitely seem to be more high-resolution, but Apple, creatively, has used pixel binning to great effect—simulating a 28mm and 35mm lens focal length by using its default 24mm lens on the main camera. Each of these focal lengths take clearly better photos than you’d have done via digital zoom on the predecessor, which, in the real world, gives you a surprisingly pleasant amount of flexibility in the way you take a photograph.

What’s good to note is that each of these lens focal lengths mostly retain decent details in well-lit conditions, and while they seem to render considerable noise in low light, the overall details and sharpness are quite good. This makes it one of the best low-light cameras to use for general-purpose photography—something that you’ll do often in the long run.

Finally, Apple has also used a folding lens now to offer 5x telephoto zoom, which also thankfully comes with optical stabilization. Having additional focal length is a nifty little ability for when you need it—for instance, to capture your pup’s sudden run in a dog park. However, you’ll realize over time that the telephoto zoom isn’t something that you’d use too often. Personally, I’d found the 3x optical zoom to be optimal—others, of course, may have differing opinions on it.

What is absolutely stellar about the iPhone 15 Pro Max, though, is its sheer battery life. While it has admittedly been only a couple of weeks in using this phone, the battery life on Apple’s latest phone is absolutely stupendous—lasting well over 30 hours in a strenuous usage cycle that includes at least three hours of navigating around town, three hours of streaming podcasts, more-than-average calling, WhatsApp and email usage, and plenty of Instagram and LinkedIn usage as well.

The iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max line-up. (Apple)

And, this year’s titanium build shows how premium a phone can really feel. Despite the hefty 221-gram weight, and that the iPhone 15 Pro Max is a massive smartphone—at least by my account—this smartphone does not feel ungainly once you get used to holding it regularly. This is purely thanks to Apple’s typically top-notch build quality, which gives the smartphone great body weight distribution. Add the smoothed edges into account, and the iPhone 15 Pro/Max’s design hits all the right notes when it comes to the premium feel of the build.

The OLED XDR display, too, leaves nothing amiss—adding the performance chops to its 120Hz variable refresh rate (called ‘ProMotion’ in Applespeak) makes this pretty much one of the most well-balanced, responsive and fun smartphone displays around.

The right product for Apple

After using Apple’s products for over a decade, I’m convinced that what the iPhone 15 Pro Max gets totally right isn’t just as a gadget. As a smartphone, it’s essentially the best that your money can buy. Personally, I’d buy the iPhone 15 Pro—just for its screen size, and that I don’t think I’d be a frequent user of 5x telephoto. I’d also be unlikely to buy it if I were already using the iPhone 14 Pro series.

What it does get right is in personifying the perception of Apple among consumers. Given that most consumers view Apple as one of the most premium brands in consumer goods worldwide, the iPhone 15 Pro Max invariably becomes a velvet revolver for the brand, its retailers worldwide, its customers, and aspirants looking in through the sapphire crystal glass for a whiff of what’s inside.

It is, undoubtedly, an indulgence. Whether it suits your palate or not depends on myriad personal factors that only you’d be the judge of.

Also read: Apple rolls out iPhone 15, Watch Series 9 at flagship event