This is an interesting year for the iPhone. Upon first glance, it might not look like a whole lot has changed, but there’s loads of little improvements across the board that come together to make this feel like the most complete iPhone launch in some years.
Pulling the phone out of the box, the new titanium finish caught my eye, with Apple doing away with the shiny stainless steel body, opting for the titanium finish that gives off a premium, matte look.
Really though, the big deal about this shift is the massive difference in weight. The iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max are between 8-10% lighter than their predecessors, which doesn’t sound like a lot on paper, but in the hands is instantly noticeable. Whilst the pro iPhones had gradually added a few grams over time, this is a big improvement and I found myself absolutely shocked every time I picked up the phone in the first few days with just how light it is.
Both the 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max also feature contoured edges which aren’t super noticeable to the eye, but in the hands, give the phone more of a roundness that feels a lot nicer to hold, without the sharpness of the square edge of former iPhones. The actual iPhones are both smaller as well. This has been done by making the bezels of the 15 Pro and Pro Max even smaller, which obviously makes the screen stand out even more, but means there’s less of a physical footprint in your hands.
The smaller iPhone dimensions, lighter weight and contoured edges combine to make the 15 Pro the nicest iPhone that I can remember holding, and if there was ever a time to use an iPhone without a case, it’s with the 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max.
There’s a few more physical changes though. The first being the action button. Gone is the mute switch which now acts as a button that you can long press to perform functions such as going straight to the camera, changing to a focus mode, turning on your flashlight or almost any other action through the use of shortcuts. It’s super easy to set the button through settings as well, which is great for Pro users that maybe aren’t big on customisation.
This is a much welcomed change for a few reason. Firstly, I don’t know anybody that ever has their phone on loud, especially with the high adoption rate of the Apple Watch that can alert you to notifications, and even if you are someone that switches, you can do so quite easily through control centre.
For the most part, I had my action button set to camera and also tried a few shortcuts such as opening and closing my curtains (through HomeKit). It always worked exactly as expected, but I do find the position of it a little bit out of the way especially on the 15 Pro Max. It was almost always easier to open my camera from the button on my lock screen in the bottom left than move my hand to the top left of the display.
Regardless though, even if it’s not something you’re using every minute of the day, it’s a much better inclusion than the mute switch, and I do think that this is just the beginning if its functionality. I’ll be very shocked if we don’t see multiple uses for the button in future, whether it be double and triple pressing or short and long presses, and I’ve already seen some incredibly clever uses of it to date through shortcuts.
The other major physical change is the move from lightning to USB-C and for me, this is such a welcome change. I loved the move from the old connector to lightning at the time, but almost all of my tech products including my MacBook and iPad all use USB-C, so to be able to charge my phone through that same cable, whether it be through a power brick or power bank, is so welcome. Given this is a USB-C 3 port, you can also connect an SSD to shoot video directly to or use it to charge other iPhones as well, although it’s still restricted to the same 20w fast-charging.
The other big change comes in the way of camera improvements both through hardware and software improvements powered by the new A17 Pro chip.
On both cameras, there’s now a number of new shooting options. Whilst last year’s iPhone 14 Pro introduced a 48MP sensor, I don’t think it was being used to its full potential from a software point of view unless you were shooting in RAW, but that has come to fruition now.
By default, using the main camera, the iPhone will now shoot at 24MP, which is already a huge improvement if you’re somebody that wants to crop or zoom in on photos, but you can now also shoot in the full 48MP using HEIF which is a much, much smaller file format and also utilises the iPhone’s software for colour and brightness correction to maximise full potential of the lens.
Apple didn’t stop there though, there’s now new 28mm and 35mm focal lengths using the main camera which is great for prosumers that are used to shooting at those lengths, or want a little bit more of a zoomed image without losing too much quality.
The 15 Pro Max takes things even further, with a brand new 5x optical lens that has a 120mm focal length using a new Tetaprism lens design. I think a lot of people were hoping for 8-10x zoom, but I do think that 5x zoom is still a big jump from 3x once you try it. The quality is impressive, and even going beyond 5x with the digital zoom it’s still a lot better quality when comparing to 10 or 15x on the 15 Pro. Obviously, you do give up your 3x optical zoom, but still have the 2x there for you to use.
Another big change from a software point of view is portraits using the new Photonic Engine. You can take portrait right in your regular camera mode with an F indicator in the bottom left that will show up when it noticed a person, dog or cat, but the best part of this is, you can actually chance the focal point after taking the photo, so for instance you might have a range of pets in the foreground and background, and want to change the focus to your pet in the background. This can now be done after taking the photo and takes the pressure off.
The iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max also introduces the A17 Pro chip which has a new 6-core CPU that Apple says is 10x faster. I’ve not noticed a huge difference with day-to-day use although the iPhone has been extremely zippy and reliable for a few years now. It can utilise MetalFX upscaling and ray-tracing for console like performance. Whilst I haven’t had a chance to play these games yet, it will be able to run Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil Village, Death Stranding and Assassin’s Creed Mirage, which is extremely impressive for a smart phone.
Battery life is always hard to test with Apple sticking to their all-day battery life claim. I definitely felt like battery was slightly improved, but that may just be a battery capacity change coming from an iPhone 14 Pro that has had a year of use. Regardless, even with the always-on (ha) display, it’s still seems great, particularly on the 15 Pro Max.
When it comes to accessories, I thought it was worth mentioning the new FineWoven cases which replace leather. I’ve been using the cases and MagSafe wallet for almost two weeks now, and there’s really no sign of major wear outside of everyday use, so I feel like other things that I’ve seen online have been majorly blown out of proportion. Is it worth $99 or as premium looking as leather? Probably not, but it still looks nice on the phone and compliments the design well.
Whilst not exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro, iOS 17 really enhances the whole experience. The new StandBy mode that essentially turns your phone into a smart display when being charged in landscape mode is super useful and great at keeping you on-top of your next meeting, becoming a smart home hub or just being a great photo display and improvements to contact photos and messages with features such as stickers are hugely great as well.
All-in-all, the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max doesn’t hugely reinvent the wheel, but it does make a number of small changes both on the outside and inside to make it feel like one of the most complete and well-rounded iPhones to date.
The iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max bring together many internal and external improvements to create an iPhone that feels extremely well-rounded and feature complete. It's lighter, feels better in the hands, has even more camera improvements and pro performance beyond what we could have hoped for even a few years ago.