The iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max Are the Most 'Pro' Phones Apple Has Ever Made
Finally, real “pro” features worth paying for.
I am not exaggerating when I say that Apple pulled out all of the stops for the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max. Top to bottom, inside and out, Apple's premium iPhones are the best smartphones — again.
These are the best iPhones that Apple has ever made. They further widen the gap between the pro and non-pro iPhones with even more "pro" features like a camera system that goes far beyond its physical lenses, an A17 Pro chip with performance that's in a class of its own, an Action button that pushes customization to a new level, and a USB-C port that finally makes transferring high-res photos and videos speedy.
All of these features and more are wrapped in new titanium frames that are lighter than any "pro" iPhone that Apple has ever shipped. Apple also slimmed down the bezels surrounding the displays and contoured the edges for one of the nicest in-hand designs of any iPhone in years.
If all of this sounds safe or boring, that's because it is. Apple is once again choosing not to reinvent the wheel with the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max. There's no foldable display or new gimmick, the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max are just really solid tried and true phones. They are probably overkill for most people, but I’m confident they’re built to last for years to come, which is something that can't be said for many Android phones.
Starting at $999 for the iPhone 15 Pro (with 128GB of storage) and $1,199 for the 15 Pro Max (with 256GB of storage), Apple's new iPhones continue to push the limits of bar-style phones. Better to play it safe and knock every feature out of the park than to try something novel that ends up being a fad.
Lightest Pro iPhones Ever
It's no secret that I have been frustrated with the increasing weight of the iPhone Pros over the years. With bigger camera sensors and lenses, and larger batteries, iPhone Pros kept getting heavier and thicker. It was the opposite of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which despite being big phones, didn't feel unwieldy because they were so thin and light.
So I'm really happy to see that switching from the "surgical-grade" stainless steel to "Grade 5" titanium has resulted in the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max being the lightest iPhone Pros that Apple has ever made. The lightness is something I immediately noticed when I held the iPhone 15 Pros in my hands. The iPhone 15 Pro Max, in particular, feels so much better in hand than previous iPhone Pros.
- iPhone 11 Pro: 8.1mm / 188 grams
- iPhone 12 Pro: 7.4mm / 189 grams
- iPhone 13 Pro: 7.65mm / 204 grams
- iPhone 14 Pro: 7.85mm / 206 grams
- iPhone 15 Pro: 8.25mm / 187 grams
iPhone Pro Max:
- iPhone 11 Pro Max: 8.1mm / 226 grams
- iPhone 12 Pro Max: 7.4mm / 228 grams
- iPhone 13 Pro Max: 7.65mm / 240 grams
- iPhone 14 Pro Max: 7.85mm / 240 grams
- iPhone 15 Pro Max: 8.25mm / 221 grams
In addition to being lighter than stainless steel, titanium resists fingerprints better — the silver and "natural" gray colors do, at least. The black and blue models still show fingerprints quite prominently, but to my eyes, it's nowhere near as smudgy as stainless steel models. As a case-free guy who couldn't stand the smudges on my Space Black iPhone 14 Pro, I'm drawn to the natural titanium colorway.
One thing you may have noticed in the above breakdown is that despite being lighter than any iPhone Pros, the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max are actually the thickest iPhone Pros ever released. The numbers don't lie… on paper. But weirdly enough, the iPhone 15 Pros don't feel like they're thicker than the iPhone 14 Pros because of the contoured edges on both the front and back. The contoured edges are really subtle, but it makes the phones feel thinner than they actually are. You won't notice this hand-feel illusion if you use a case — in fact, you'll definitely feel the increased thickness with a case. Apple sent me a FineWoven case for both iPhone 15 Pros and when they’re on, it's back to feeling like bricks.
The iPhone 15 and 15 Pro Max have the same displays as the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max, which already are some of the best phone screens. Nothing to complain about here: they're big, bright, and sharp.
They're Super Retina XDR OLED displays with Ceramic Shield and ProMotion (120Hz refresh rate) in 6.1 and 6.7 inches, respectively. The screens also support the always-on display mode introduced on the iPhone 14 Pros. The resolution on the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max displays are the same as before as well: 2,556 x 1,176 (460 ppi) on the iPhone 15 Pro and 2,796 x 1,290 (460 ppi) on the 15 Pro Max. The same goes for brightness: 1,000 nits max / 1,600 nits peak HDR / 2,000 nits peak (outdoor).
I'm somewhat disappointed that there aren't any new features for the Dynamic Island, but the inclusion of the feature on the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus should push developers to update their apps to support it.
While nothing about the displays has changed, Apple has slimmed down the bezels around them, which as a result also reduced the height and width of the iPhone 15 Pros by just the smallest amount. It's not a huge reduction and I don't know of any iPhone user who thinks thicker borders are a dealbreaker, but I'll take it. Maybe someday the display will be pushed to the very edge like on the long-forgotten Sharp Aquos Crystal released in 2014, but until then, this will do.
Action Button and USB-C Convenience
Exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max is the new Action button above the volume buttons. It replaces the ringer/silent switch that has been on every iPhone since the original. The Action button can be customized to do virtually anything you want. Out of the box, pressing and holding the Action button sets the iPhone 15 Pro to silent; a jiggle in the Dynamic Island and vibration confirm switching between silent and ring modes.
Customizing the Action button takes a visit to the Settings app. There, you can swipe through options to map the button to turn on a Focus mode, open the camera, turn on the flashlight, record a voice memo, turn on the magnifying glass, activate an accessibility feature, or trigger a shortcut. The UI for customizing the Action button is unlike any other setting in the Settings app — it's 3D and visual, and intuitive enough to understand the changes you're making. Apple, if you're reading this, I'd love to see the entire Settings app redesigned like this because it is not easy to understand what some of the hidden settings even mean or do.
Naturally, as a huge camera nerd and photographer, I customized the Action button on my review units to open directly into the camera app. Android phones have had a similar camera shortcut feature (double-tapping the power button) for years so it's good to see the option on iPhone. You can even get more granular and have the camera app open to taking a selfie, a video, a portrait, or a portrait selfie. After launching the camera app, the Action button turns into a shutter button. It's kind of redundant to using the volume buttons for the shutter, but okay. I think a good change would have been to turn the volume buttons into ones for controlling the zoom instead of having three buttons that work as shutter buttons.
If you're always tweeting (sorry, posting) on Twitter (sorry, X), you could have the Action button launch the app via a shortcut. Or maybe you want to have the button open a new note, or set a timer, or call a favorite person. You can do any of those things and more by mapping the Action button to Shortcuts. Launching a third-party app via a shortcut doesn't offer any granular options. But I'm told that developers will be able to add them via the existing App Intents framework, so you could launch directly into a new post on X view as opposed to opening to the timeline.
Also replacing something on previous iPhones: the USB-C port. The Lightning port is gone and in its place is a USB-C port with USB 3.2 speed capable of 10Gbps data transfers. In comparison, the Lightning port was only capable of 480Mbps. This faster port is great if you plan to shoot high-resolution ProRes video or ProRAW photos and transfer them over to a computer.
I recorded a 2.5-minute ProRes video that totaled 12.76GB and moved it from the iPhone 15 Pro Max to a 16-inch MacBook Pro with M2 Pro chip via USB-C 3.2 cable and macOS's Image Capture app — it took about 29 seconds. The same ProRes file transfer from an iPhone 14 Pro to the MacBook using an official Apple Lightning cable took six minutes and 21 seconds; additional tries took over three minutes to start or caused Image Capture to crash.
The catch, however, is that you have to use a USB-C 3.2 cable to get the 10Gbps speed, and that's sold separately. The braided USB-C-to-USB-C cable that comes in the box is limited to USB 2.0 speeds.
The USB 3.2 speeds also come in handy for enthusiasts. I didn't try these, but Apple said in its keynote that iPhone 15 Pros can shoot photos directly to Capture One on a Mac using a USB-C cable. Additionally, iPhone 15 Pros can record video to external storage connected over USB-C. These are enthusiast use cases made for specific workflows, but thanks to USB-C they're now possible because of the increased bandwidth.
Even better is the ability to use the iPhone 15 Pro’s USB-C port for charging AirPods, an Apple Watch, or another iPhone.
Another plus that some people might appreciate is video output to a display or TV. With Lightning, you had to use a dongle to connect it to an external display. But with the proper USB-C cable with DisplayPort, a connected iPhone 15 Pro or 15 Pro Max can output 4K resolution in HDR at 60 fps. I'm sure you're already imagining all the PowerPoints you'll be able to show off in 4K, but it's going to shine most for 4K HDR movies and games.
Obviously, the switch to USB-C means you can now use one cable to charge all your USB-C devices. Even better is the ability to use the iPhone 15 Pro’s USB-C port for charging AirPods, an Apple Watch, or another iPhone (USB-C or Lightning). In the case of charging another iPhone, the iPhone with less battery life is the one that gets charged. It's a pretty rad feature, and another thing that Android has had for years, and iPhones finally have it, too.
The new port unfortunately doesn't come with faster charging. Like the iPhone 14 Pros, the iPhone 15 Pros only fast charge at a maximum speed of 27W (50 percent in around 30 minutes), which is considerably slow compared to the faster charging on many Android phones. And you have to buy a fast charger separately if you don't already have one. Maybe we’ll get faster charging in the iPhone 16 Pros?
At this point, iPhones — especially the "pro" models — are more camera than phone. Everyone waits with bated breath to see what improvements Apple made to the camera because it's arguably the biggest selling point.
The marquee upgrade is a 5x telephoto lens on the iPhone 15 Pro Max; the iPhone 15 Pro has the same 3x telephoto lens as the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max. The 5x telephoto is equivalent to a 120mm focal length lens on a traditional 35mm camera. It allows for shooting from farther away with the type of background compression that is typical in these long zoom lenses. The telephoto lenses on Samsung's Galaxy phones still have the edge when it comes to digital/hybrid zoom, but at least iPhones can now take sharper photos from a greater distance.
In the below comparisons, you can see the difference between digital and optical zoom at 3x and 5x zoom. While the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 3x digital zoom gets close to the 3x optical zoom on iPhone 15 Pro, the details aren’t as clean. The opposite is true for the iPhone 15 Pro’s 5x digital zoom, which doesn’t create as sharp images or wide of a field of view as the 5x optical zoom on the iPhone 15 Pro Max. If you need zoom reach, the iPhone 15 Pro Max camera might be the better option.
The 3x telephoto lens on the iPhone 15 Pro (this image) is sharper than the 3x digital zoom on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
The same scene taken with the iPhone 15 Pro’s 3x digital zoom is less sharp.
A 5x digital zoomed-in photo taken with the iPhone 15 Pro.
A 5x optically zoomed-in photo taken with the iPhone 15 Pro’s telephoto lens.
An improved physical lens, larger aperture, and bigger sensor size all contribute to better photos and videos with the iPhone 15 Pros. But equally important is the computational photography stack enabled by the image signal processor and Photonic Engine inside of the A17 Pro chip. Apple's specialty has always been the ability to make capturing photos and video as simple and invisible as possible.
Take the three new focal lengths that you can enable from the main 48-megapixel camera. At first glance, the 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm appear to be a simple crop in on the large sensor. The 24mm is 1x, 28mm is 1.2x, 35mm is 1.5x. Apple just assigned traditional focal length names to each zoom level, right? Wrong. There's a ton happening behind the scenes; the iPhone camera isn't just punching in on the sensor. Using the 35mm shooting view as an example, the camera is actually taking a 12-megapixel image from the ultra-wide lens, the higher resolution details and dynamic range from the 48-megapixel main lens, and then combining them together to produce a 24-megapixel image that is essentially the best of both. The result is a photo that accurately resembles a photo taken with a 35mm lens without a loss in image quality. All of this happens in the background the second you tap the shutter button.
The photos don't lie. With the new default 24-megapixel image resolution, photos from the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max are sharper than the 12-megapixel pictures from the iPhone 14 Pros. The extra clarity and dynamic range from all the computational photography applied on top of an image may be lost on you if you're sharing within the confines of a 2 x 3-inch social media app post, but if you're printing photos or viewing on a monitor you'll see the difference. You can drop the resolution down from 24 megapixels to 12 megapixels, but you see worse image quality.
Compared to the iPhone 14 Pro cameras, the iPhone 15 Pros tend to spit out photos with a warmer color temperature and just the slightest bit more dynamic range. Smart HDR 5 seems to blow out the highlights a lot less while maintaining shadow detail and contrast. As you can see for yourself, there’s just a smidge more richness to photos shot on iPhone 15 Pro that gives them added pop and depth. I like the new image processing; it’s not too saturated and not too flat.
A 12-megapixel photo taken with an iPhone 14 Pro.
A 24-megapixel photo taken with an iPhone 14 Pro.
A crop of the iPhone 14 Pro photo.
A crop of the iPhone 15 Pro photo showing the extra bit of detail from the sharper 24-megapixel resolution.
Furthermore, Apple has added additional options for saving photos. On the iPhone 14 Pros, the only way to capture a 48-megapixel photo prior to iOS 17 was to shoot ProRAW. The downside of a 48-megapixel ProRAW file is its massive file size: around 70-80MB versus 1.5-3.5MB for a 12-megapixel JPEG. On the iPhone 15 Pros, there are settings to capture 48-megapixel images as either JPEG or HEIF (high efficiency) files. 48-megapixel HEIF photos clock in around 5MB and the same resolution JPEGs at 10MB. Both are a fraction of ProRAW. You lose a lot of information for post-processing compared to ProRAW, but you do get all the extra pixels if 24 megapixels isn't enough. The option to shoot 48-megapixel JPEG or HEIF is also available for the iPhone 14 Pros, but only after updating the software to iOS 17.
One setting not available on the iPhone 15 Pros is ProRAW at 24 megapixels. As on the iPhone 14 Pros, ProRAW is only available at 48 megapixels or 12 megapixels.
An ultra-wide photo taken with the iPhone 14 Pro.
An ultra-wide photo taken with the iPhone 15 Pro. Notice the warmer color temperature and better HDR, especially in the building bricks, green tree leaves, and sky.
An indoor photo taken with the iPhone 14 Pro.
Once again, you can see the warmer tones in the same shot taken with the iPhone 15 Pro.
Apple says the iPhone 15 Pros take better low-light photos across the board from the 48-megapixel main lens, 12-megapixel ultra-wide, and 12-megapixel telephoto. My test shots show marginal improvements in Night mode despite Apple saying the Photonic Engine improves image quality. I would have preferred a faster Night mode that doesn't require waiting a few seconds to process. I know you gotta hold still for a few seconds for the camera to take multiple shots to composite them together, but it's challenging to tell people to stay still in the dark.
Perhaps the coolest camera feature on both iPhone 15 Pros (and the regular iPhone 15s) is the ability to take portrait photos in regular photo mode. The feature works like so: in photo mode, if the camera detects a person's face, cat, or dog, a little "f" (for f-stop) icon will appear to indicate that it's capturing depth information. If there are no faces or cats or dogs, you can tap on the screen to manually activate the depth information capture and the "f" icon will also show up. After taking a photo, you can tap the "Edit" button within the Photos app and then the "f Portrait" icon to adjust the bokeh/background blur (a.k.a. the aperture). It works remarkably well with bokeh that looks as natural as what you get from Portrait mode.
There are some other welcome improvements such as continuous zoom for Cinematic and Portrait modes, focus and depth adjustment after a shot is taken, reduced lens flares on the main camera thanks to a "nanoscale" coating, Night mode for portraits, and improved Action mode performance in low-light with the ultra-wide lens, to name a few. Added together, they beef up the camera system nicely. If you've been wishing for these, Apple has delivered.
I haven't even mentioned video yet. I'll save the deep dive for a YouTuber, but here's the CliffsNotes. On top of being able to record ProRes video to external SSD (requires at least 220Mb/s write speeds and up to 4.5W of power), the frame rate for 4K has been upped from 30 fps to 60 fps. ProRes can be captured in Log encoding (for color-grading in post) and the iPhone 15 Pros support the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) which is a workflow standard used by big-time film studios and TV productions. If all this sounds like jargon to you, that's totally fine because it means they're actually "pro" features compared to ones in past iPhone Pros.
A12 Pro Performance & Battery Life
The A17 Pro is the chip that makes every computational feature in the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro Max look easy. It's also the most powerful chip that Apple has ever shipped in an iPhone. This year, the gains are more on the GPU side (up to 20 percent faster), but that doesn't mean there are no CPU improvements (up to 10 percent faster).
I say this every year because it's true: the chips in iPhones are in a class of their own. They blow past the best Qualcomm Snapdragon chips in Android phones every year and maintain a comfortable lead for years to come. The A17 Pro is no different.
While I can't say there is a meaningful difference in speed for general phone tasks like launching apps or swiping across iOS 17, I am seeing better responsiveness when searching for stuff (in Messages and Spotlight) or re-opening idle apps. This is most likely due to the 16-core Neural Engine's 2x faster machine learning processing and the increased RAM (8GB, up from 6GB in the iPhone 14 Pros).
Compared to my iPhone 14 Pro, iOS 17 runs as well or just slightly faster. I have little to say about iOS 17 except that it's a free, no-brainer software update if your iPhone supports it. There's no reason not to update to iOS 17 unless your iPhone doesn't have enough storage, in which case you should delete some stuff and make room for it. You don't want to miss features like Standby mode that turns iPhones into interactive nightstand clocks, an improved autocorrect keyboard, interactive widgets, contact posters, and more.
Gaming is where the A17 Pro will really shine brightest. The six-core GPU is capable of some impressive graphics performance including hardware-accelerated ray tracing and MetalFX upscaling. These are two graphics technologies that will allow developers to easily bring their console-quality 3D games (complete with original graphics assets) to the iPhone without having to rework them for less powerful hardware.
I was given a preview copy of Capcom's Resident Evil Village and I kid you not, the game looks spectacular on the iPhone 15 Pros' HDR displays. I wasn't playing a watered-down version of the game — it was the full console game running on an iPhone. 3D models were extremely detailed and the lighting looked realistic, perfectly capturing the game's dark and creepy mood.
Only a handful of 3D games that take advantage of the A17 Pro have been announced: Resident Evil Village, Resident Evil 4, and Death Stranding all coming by the end of the year. Assassin's Creed Mirage is coming in early 2024. Even without trying the other titles, Village has me very optimistic about a gaming renaissance on iPhone. The kind of reboot that could really make the iPhone the "best game console." All Apple has to do is not drop the ball on getting developers to bring their games.
The A17 Pro's graphics capabilities don't come without a hit to battery life. While MetalFX upscaling does help reduce power consumption, a beefy GPU still sucks a good chunk of power. An hour of Resident Evil Village was enough to drain almost 18 percent of battery life, which isn't great.
On the topic of battery life, the iPhone 15 Pros have the same rated hours as the iPhone 14 Pros. Apple claims up to 23 hours (video) / 20 hours (video streamed) / 75 hours (audio) on the iPhone 15 Pro and up to 29 hours (video) / 25 hours (video streamed) / 95 hours (audio) on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
In my testing, that works out to a full day of battery using the iPhone 15 Pro and almost 1.5 days using the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Your battery mileage will vary depending on the apps, widgets, always-on display setting, etc. But "all-day" seems to be the benchmark Apple is comfortable maintaining.
The Whole Package
I don't think deciding on the iPhone 15 Pro is as simple as "It has a USB-C port." There is no longer one single feature that makes Apple's premium iPhones worth buying. Apple has packed so many big, medium, and small features into the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max that everything needs to be considered.
For me, I look at all of the improvements and see that it’ll bring me a lot of value. I love the titanium and lighter overall weight. All of the camera upgrades will allow me to better capture memories, and content for personal and professional use. The Action button is a hell of a convenience that lets me customize my phone experience to my own preference. USB-C simplifies my charging situation and allows for new workflows. And the A17 Pro chip is a beast that I am confident will keep the iPhone 15 Pros running at peak performance for many software updates to come.
Apple has packed so many big, medium, and small features into the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max that everything needs to be considered.
But maybe new safety features like Roadside Assistance via satellite might be really important to you. Or maybe you care about having the second-generation Ultra Wideband chip for locating friends or family using Precision Finding in the Find My app, or you're a smart home nut who has been waiting for Wi-Fi 6E and Thread support.
The iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max are pricey — they have been for many years now — but they're deservedly so. There's so much inside the slabs that it's impossible for me to get to everything without writing a whole book. My advice is: if there are enough features that catch your attention and your current phone isn't cutting it, you can't go wrong with either the iPhone 15 Pro or 15 Pro Max. They’re really a no-fuss and robust whole package — again.
Photographs by Raymond Wong