Apple iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max Review: Love at First Zoom

Apple's iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max are defined by their refinements: a lighter body made from titanium, a USB-C port for charging and fast data transfers, a processor capable of console games and, on the Pro Max, a new 5x telephoto zoom camera.

Updated Sept. 19, 2023 6:00 a.m. PT

Written by  Patrick Holland
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Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Expertise Apple, iPhone, iOS, Android, Samsung, Sony, Google, Motorola, interviews, coffee equipment, cats Credentials
  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
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Apple iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max
9.2/10 CNET Score
$999 at Apple
9.2/ 10

Apple iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max

$999 at Apple


  • Lighter and more comfortable to hold
  • 15 Pro Max's 5x optical zoom adds versatility
  • A17 Pro for console video games
  • Being able to change the focus in Portrait photos is welcome


  • Action button can only trigger one action
  • Baseline 15 Pro Max is $100 more
  • The only color option is blue

I've reviewed and tested iPhones for years, but Apple's new iPhone 15 Pro Max is the first time I've ever been this enamored. (The iPhone 12 Mini is a close second.) Both phones, along with the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus and new Apple Watches, are now available in stores.

I tested the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max for five days, but it wasn't until I was photographing a bodega cat named Kit Kat that I realized just how many improvements these phones have. They are brimming. After I took Kit Kat's picture, I saw the option to turn his image into a portrait mode photo. It's a minor detail but one with a significance: Nearly any photo can now be a portrait photo. And this isn't even the biggest addition.

Apple gave its Pro models a glow-up with a refreshed lighter build, a new shortcut button and the world's smallest processor. And it did all this while managing to keep that tried-and-true iPhone aesthetic front and center. In my time reviewing both phones, I recorded videos of penguins swimming, played the console game Resident Evil Village on the 15 Pro, gave the 15 Pro Max's new zoom lens a spin atop a San Francisco Ferris wheel and tried, absentmindedly, to put a Lightning cable into the new USB-C port. Old habits, am I right?

iPhone 15 Pro Max

The new iPhone 15 Pro Max in Apple's "natural" finsh.

James Martin/CNET

The iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max are defined by their refinements. This pair of phones is one of the most compelling releases from Apple in years.

But all this comes at a cost. While the 15 Pro costs $999 (£999, AU$1,849), the same price as the 2017 iPhone X, the barrier of entry for the 15 Pro Max is $100 more than it was last year. Apple got rid of the cheapest 128GB storage option leaving the $1,199 model with 256GB of storage as the new baseline. And that's a price right on par with Samsung's Galaxy S23 Ultra.

If you're curious about the other phones Apple is launching, check out CNET Senior Editor Lisa Eadicicco's review of the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus.

Pricing and storage comparison

PhoneStorageUS priceUK priceAustralia price
iPhone 15 Pro 128GB$999£999AU$1,849
iPhone 15 Pro 256GB$1,099£1,099AU$2,049
iPhone 15 Pro Max 256GB$1,199£1,199AU$2,199
iPhone 15 Pro 512GB$1,299£1,299AU$2,399
iPhone 15 Pro Max 512GB$1,399£1,399AU$2,549
iPhone 15 Pro 1TB$1,499£1,499AU$2,749
iPhone 15 Pro Max 1TB$1,599£1,599AU$2,899
Watch this: Review: The iPhone 15 Pro, 15 Pro Max Are Impressive

iPhone 15 Pro design embraces titanium and USB-C

The new titanium body is lovely, light and easy to hold thanks to its ever-so-slightly rounded edges. It feels less bulky than the straight-edged 12, 13 and 14 series. In fact, it's almost like Apple merged the curved sides of the X, XS and 11 families with the blocky sides of recent years to find a Goldilocks-style middle ground with the 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max. That said, most people will likely put a case on the phone and not notice these changes at all.

There are two more major changes to the body. The first is the inclusion of a USB-C port instead of the Lightning port found on previous models. While the move definitely made headlines even before Apple announced it, in reality it's not a radical change. I now plug in a USB-C cable (which comes with the phone) instead of a Lighting one. But it's convenient to use the "one ring to rule them all" of charging cables.

Then there are the buttons. The volume buttons feel a bit more springy than the buttons on previous stainless steel Pro models. It's like wearing a pair of foam-soled sneakers, where you get that extra spring in your step, rather than the airbag cushioning we had in shoes like the Nike Air Max back in the '80s and '90s. Both are comfortable, but the newer design with foam is more so.

iPhone 15 Pro Max

The iPhone 15 Pro Max's titanium frame. The mute switch is gone and replaced with a programable action button.

James Martin/CNET

Goodbye mute switch, hello action button

The mute (or silence) switch is gone and replaced with an action button. By default it lets you silence your iPhone, but you can also customize it to turn on the flashlight, record a voice memo and open the camera, among other things. I especially liked having it open the camera. Once the app is open, the action button doubles as a physical shutter button to take a photo. But the simple fact that I can use the button to trigger a shortcut multiplies its possibilities.

The button only reacts to two kinds of input: a tap or a press. It can only trigger one feature at a time which seems limiting. I do hope that Apple opens this up and lets people program multiple presses and taps to trigger different presets. Like maybe two presses in a row launches a shortcut and one press silences the phone. Right now, the only way to change what the button does is to go into the Settings app, scroll down to the action button and change it there. Also I'd welcome the ability to add a Control Center button that gets me into this action button menu quicker.

Read more: This Is the Only Way You Should Turn On Your iPhone Flashlight

Like last year's 14 and 14 Plus, the 15 Pros have a completely redesigned interior that makes it easier to repair. If the back glass is damaged, it should be faster and more affordable to have it replaced. Below is a comparison of how much it costs to replace the back glass on the new phone versus older Pro iPhone models.

Back glass replacement cost

PhoneiPhone 15 ProiPhone 15 Pro MaxiPhone 14 ProiPhone 14 Pro Max
Cost $169$199$499$549
iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max

The iPhone 15 Pro's camera bump (left) and the iPhone 15 Pro Max's camera bump (right).

James Martin/CNET

iPhone 15 Pro Max's 5x zoom

Let's just get this out of the way. The zoom lens on the small Pro is different from the one on the big Pro Max. The 15 Pro has a tried and true 3x telephoto camera like previous models. But the 15 Pro Max has a new 5x telephoto camera that's made with multiple prisms and some clever engineering.

In contrast, there are a number of Android phones with periscope-style telephoto lenses that use a single prism to bounce light to the sensor, like the 10x zoom on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. The advantage to Apple's design is that the lens takes up much less space and allows the image sensor to sit parallel with the lens, eliminating the restriction of having a telephoto image sensor that's limited in size by the thickness of the phone.

Both Pro phones also have a larger 48-megapixel sensor on the main camera, which helps improve performance in low light. When I was photographing with the iPhone 15 Pro Max and 14 Pro Max after dusk, I noticed that the newer phone didn't have to go into night mode as much. Also the photonic engine, Apple's fancy-pants name for photo processing, seems to help with highlights more.

Take a look at some of my favorite photos that I took with the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max.

A photo of a box office at a movie theater

This was taken in low light with the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Two great people

My portrait mode photo, shot in the style of a '90s grunge band.

Patrick Holland/CNET
A photo of a boring clam

There is nothing boring about this photo of a boring clam.

Patrick Holland/CNET
A cat in a window

Portait mode has gotten better with cat whiskers.

Patrick Holland/CNET
People dancing

I took this photo with the iPhone 15 Pro Max's 5x optical zoom.

Patrick Holland/CNET
An iPhone 15 Pro taking a portrait

A portrait mode photo being taken on an iPhone 15 Pro.

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

See all photos

iPhone 15 Pro Max cameras vs. Pixel 7 Pro, Galaxy S23 Ultra

To test the versatility of these cameras, I decided to do a studio photo shoot with my CNET colleague, Abrar Al-Heeti, an award-winning journalist and connoisseur of tea parties. I grabbed photos of Abrar with the Pixel 7 Pro, Galaxy S23 Ultra, iPhone 15 Pro Max and iPhone 15 Pro. I did my best to frame her the same way for each phone.

Three portraits of Abrar
Enlarge Image
Three portraits of Abrar

Even under studio lighting, each phone took very different approaches to Abrar's photo.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Of the five photos, the 10x zoom photo from the S23 Ultra is my least favorite. The Pixel's photo made the background dark and smoothed out the paper's textures and flaws behind Abrar. In terms of her skin, both the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max skewed her complexion warmer while retaining the most detail.

The Samsung's 3x optical zoom shot looks wonderful, but has a heavy amount of skin smoothing, which some people prefer. And the Pixel did the best at accurately capturing Abrar's skin in terms of color and detail. Again, all of these photos are good. However, the 15 Pro Max and Pixel images are my favorites.

Two portraits of Abrar
Enlarge Image
Two portraits of Abrar

3x photos of Abrar taken with the iPhone 15 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Patrick Holland/CNET

I also decided to take the 15 Pro Max, the Pixel and S23 Ultra up on a Golden Gate Park Ferris wheel in San Francisco. It was overcast and there was fog (ah, San Francisco summers!), and those conditions challenged all three phones. But the Galaxy S23 Ultra was at even more of a disadvantage.

While the Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max both have a 5x optical zoom, in order to match it on the S23 Ultra, I set it to 5x digital zoom and, as you can see below, the results weren't great. The Pixel fared better, but notice the detail in the trees looks muddy compared to what the iPhone grabbed. None of these photos are great but the iPhone's snap is the best of the three.

Three photos of the University of San Francisco
Enlarge Image
Three photos of the University of San Francisco

Each photo was taken at 5x.

Patrick Holland/CNET

But wait, Samsung has something the other phones don't: a 10x optical zoom. It gets much closer. The quality isn't great, but it looks better than the iPhone 15 Pro Max's 10x digital zoom. The Galaxy S23 Ultra photo is fighting against that fog and the contrast is heavy-handed.

A photo of the University of San Francsico

This was taken with the Galaxy S23 Ultra's 10x optical zoom camera.

Patrick Holland/CNET
A photo of the University of San Francsico

A photo taken at 10x digital zoom on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Also if, like me, you're wondering what that building is, it's the University of San Francisco. But at the time I didn't know. So I used the iPhone's Visual Lookup tool to find out. While the iPhone did identify it as a landmark, it couldn't actually tell me what it was. In fact, it shared a photo of Sa'at Tower in Iran. So, I hopped on my Pixel, used Google Lens, and found out correctly that it was the university, which adds up since I live in San Francisco, not Iran.

Changing a photo's focal point on the iPhone 15 Pro Max

After you take a photo or portrait, you can change the focus point after the fact.

Stephen Beacham/CNET

iPhone 15 Pro portraits are a no brainer

Then there's portraits in photo mode which let you take a regular photo and change it to a portrait mode pic after the fact for certain subjects (humans, dogs and cats). Here's a photo I took of Kit Kat the bodega cat in photo mode. Remember him from the beginning? I can turn portrait mode on, adjust the aperture to keep his whiskers in focus and even apply portrait lighting effects.


I took a photo of Kit Kat outside a bodega in San Francisco. I was able to convert it into these two portrait mode photos after the fact even though the 15 Pro Max wasn't in portrait mode when I took it.

Patrick Holland/CNET

But I can also change focus after the fact. Check out the '90s grunge band photos of me and my pal Beacham. I can change the focus from me to him after I take the photo. This is going to be a killer feature for parents.

I'm also happy to say that the new lens coating on the 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max helps reduce light source reflections. On the whole if there is a reflection or lens flare it's minimal at best and usually a single point.

A photo of people walking at sunset

The 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max handle light reflections and lens flare much better than previous models. Notice the small circle of light reflection on the man's backpack.

Patrick Holland/CNET

In night mode, I did get some strange light streaking when using the 5x telephoto camera on the 15 Pro Max with string lights and a lamp inside a bar. I wonder if it has something to do with the prisms used for the lens. But to be clear, out of the hundreds of photos I've taken only three had these streaks.

A night mode photo of a sidewalk with string lights

This is a night mode photo taken with the 15 Pro Max's 5x zoom. Notice the way the string lights look.

Patrick Holland/CNET
A night mode photo of a bar

Notice the lens flare from the light on the right.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Video recordings look good. I'm excited about being able to record in log format, which makes footage look flat with desaturated colors. Recording in log gives more leeway to make iPhone videos match the color with footage from other cameras you use, versus baking in the color into the video file. I can see using Apple log videos for films where you're using multiple cameras from different brands or in social media videos, like the one we made for this review.

Playing Resident Evil Village on an iPhone 15 Pro

The new iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max have an A17 Pro chip that is powerful enough to handle console video games including Resident Evil Village.

Stephen Beacham/CNET

The iPhone 15 Pro is the next gaming console

The brain behind everything on the 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max is the new A17 Pro chip. Its processing and graphics performance is best shown off with video games. And I'm not talking about Candy Crush.

The 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max support full console games like Resident Evil Village, which I got to test… well, at least the beginning. Resident Evil Village looks phenomenal on the 15 Pro Max's screen, especially in terms of the lighting and shading. In my time, and through my casual gamer's eyes, I was impressed. It speaks volumes that games like this can come to the iPhone.

I'm not even a week into using the new iPhones, so I still need to run CNET's array of battery drain and charging tests. But I can share how the battery has fared so far. For the most part the 15 Pro Max's battery made it through a full day of use (from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m) usually ending the day with 20 to 25% to spare. On perhaps the most demanding day I spent with the phone (taking photos, recording videos and with the screen at max brightness) the 15 Pro Max started out with a full battery in the morning and had 7% left by the end of the day.

I did run a wired charging test with both the 15 Pro and Pro Max. I used the included USB-C cable that comes in the box and a Twelve South 20-watt wall charger. Over 30 minutes the 15 Pro's battery went from 4% to 66% and the 15 Pro Max recharged from 7% to 56%. Both phones support wired charging up to 27 watts which I plan to test and will update this review with the results.

The iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max also support 15-watt wireless charging via MagSafe or Qi2. I tested both on a Belkin BoostCharge Pro stand. Over 30 minutes, the 15 Pro went from 30% to 52% and the 15 Pro Max went from 7% to 28%, which are remarkably similar results.

iPhone 15 Pro Max in StandBy mode

An iPhone 15 Pro Max in StandBy mode.

James Martin/CNET

The iPhone 15 Pro is home for iOS 17

If the A17 Pro chip is the brains, then iOS 17 is the 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max's soul. The new OS is filled with lots of small quality of life improvements throughout. StandBy mode has won me over. I love being able to have my lock screen show the time in alarm clock-size numbers, app widgets or photos while it charges. The interface is clean and contemporary and breathes new life into the iPhone.

I also love making custom stickers from photos and live photos in Messages. It makes communicating with friends and family even more expressive. Autocorrect on the keyboard works so well for me. I'm usually a horrible phone typist, but this new autocorrect gets me. And I don't even curse that much.

Read more: iOS 17 Review: StandBy Mode Changed My Relationship With My iPhone

At the end of the day, I am impressed with the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max. I recommend both for anyone coming from a 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max or older. If you're trying to decide between the 15 Pro and the 15 Pro Max, that 5x telephoto on the Pro Max is compelling. But if you don't take a lot of zoomed in photos, it might be best to stick with the smaller Pro size. Also, if you're considering buying either phone there are a number of trade-in discounts you should consider.

iPhone 15 Pro specs vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max, Google Pixel 7 Pro, Galaxy S23 Ultra

iPhone 15 ProiPhone 15 Pro MaxGoogle Pixel 7 ProGalaxy S23 Ultra
Display size, tech, resolution, refresh rate, brightness 6.1-inch OLED; 2,556x1,179 pixels; 120Hz adaptive6.7-inch OLED; 2,796x1,290 pixels; 120Hz adaptive6.7-inch OLED display, QHD+ (1,440x3,120 pixels), 120Hz refresh rate, 1,500-nit brightness6.8-inch AMOLED; 3,088x1,440 pixels; 120Hz adaptive
Pixel density 460 ppi460 ppi512 ppi500 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 2.78 x 5.77 x 0.32 in3.02 x 6.29 x 0.32 in6.4 x 3.0 x 0.3 in3.07 x 6.43 x 0.35 in
Dimensions (millimeters) 70.6 x 146.6 x 8.25 mm76.7 x 159.9 x 8.25 mm162.9 x 76.6 x 8.9 mm78 x 163.3 x 8.9 mm
Weight (grams, ounces) 187 g (6.6 oz)221 g (7.81 oz)212g (7.5 oz)234 g (8.25 oz)
Mobile software iOS 17iOS 17Android 13Android 13
Camera 48-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 12-megapixel telephoto (3x optical)48-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 12-megapixel telephoto (5x optical)50-megapixel (main), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 48-megapixel (telephoto)200-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide) 10-megapixel (telephoto) 10-megapixel (telephoto)
Front-facing camera 12-megapixel12-megapixel10.8-megapixel12-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K8K
Processor A17 ProA17 ProGoogle Tensor G2Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB256GB, 512GB, 1TB12GB RAM + 128GB, 256GB, 512GB8GB + 256GB; 12GB + 256GB; 12GB + 512GB; 12GB + 1TB
Expandable storage NoneNoneNoneNone
Battery Undisclosed; Apple claims up to 23 hours of video playback (20 hours streamed)Undisclosed; Apple claims up to 29 hours of video playback (25 hours streamed)5,000 mAh5,000 mAh (45W wired charging)
Fingerprint sensor None (Face ID)None (Face ID)In-displayIn-display
Headphone jack NoneNoneNoneNone
Special features 5G (mmw/Sub6), Action Button, Always-On display, IP68 rating, MagSafe, Dynamic Island, 5x optical zoom (120mm equivalent), satellite connectivity, eSIM, Thread networking technology5G (mmw/Sub6), Action Button, Always-On display, IP68 rating, MagSafe, Dynamic Island, 5x optical zoom (120mm equivalent), satellite connectivity, eSIM, Thread networking technology5G, Magic Eraser, Photo Unblur, Real Tone, Face Unblur, Long Exposure Mode, Action Pan; Hold For Me, Wait Times, Direct My Call Live Translate,5G (mmw/Sub6), IP68 rating, wireless PowerShare to charge other devices, integrated S Pen, 100x Space Zoom, 10x Optical Zoom, UWB for finding other devices
US price off-contract $999 (128GB, $1,099 (256GB), $1,299 (512GB), $1,499 (1TB)$1,199 (256GB), $1,399 (512GB), $1,599 (1TB)$899 (128GB + 12GB)$1,200 (12GB/256GB)
UK price £999 (128GB), £1,099 (256GB), £1,299 (512GB), £1,499 (1TB)£1,199 (256GB), £1,399 (512GB), £1,599 (1TB)£849£1,249 (12GB/256GB)
Australia price AU$1,849 (128GB), AU$2,049 (256GB), AU$2,399 (512GB), AU$2,749 (1TB)AU$2,199 (256GB), AU$2,549 (512GB), AU$2,899 (1TB)AU$1,299AU$1,949 (12GB/256GB)

How we test phones

Every phone tested by CNET's reviews team was actually used in the real world. We test a phone's features, play games and take photos. We examine the display to see if it's bright, sharp and vibrant. We analyze the design and build to see how it is to hold and whether it has an IP-rating for water-resistance. We push the processor's performance to the extremes using both standardized benchmark tools like GeekBench and 3DMark, along with our own anecdotal observations navigating the interface, recording high-resolution videos and playing graphically intense games at high refresh rates.

All the cameras are tested in a variety of conditions from bright sunlight to dark indoor scenes. We try out special features like night mode and portrait mode and compare our findings against similarly priced competing phones. We also check out the battery life by using it daily as well as running a series of battery drain tests.

We take into account additional features like support for 5G, satellite connectivity, fingerprint and face sensors, stylus support, fast charging speeds, foldable displays among others that can be useful. And we of course balance all of this against the price to give you the verdict on whether that phone, whatever price it is, actually represents good value. While these tests may not always be reflected in CNET's initial review, we conduct follow-up and long-term testing in most circumstances.