Be Gentle with Apple’s New Titanium iPhone 15 Pro Max … Yikes!

Apple has introduced titanium on their latest iPhone 15 Pro Max, a choice that brings both excitement and concerns. Titanium is renowned for its remarkable properties. It’s biocompatible, used in medical applications like artificial joints and repairing bones, and it’s tough enough for building interstellar spacecraft and robotic explorers. Personally, I have a ring made from titanium reclaimed from a wheelchair, showcasing its versatility. However, Apple’s choice of titanium isn’t without its quirks, as I discovered.

#### The Marvel of Titanium

Titanium comes in various grades, each with distinct characteristics. Grade 1 titanium is the cheapest and softest, making it easy to machine, which I initially assumed Apple would use for their iPhone. But Apple surprised us with Grade 5 titanium, a much stronger and more expensive variant. For context, a one-inch titanium bar costs around $170, while a similarly sized 6061 aluminum bar, typically used in smartphones, costs just $10. The difference in material cost is stark, highlighting Apple’s commitment to premium materials.

#### Unboxing the iPhone 15 Pro Max

Opening the iPhone 15 Pro Max box reveals the sleek new device. The blue titanium finish is similar to the shade I produced, though slightly off. Notably, the box contains a braided USB-C cable instead of the usual lightning cable, signaling a shift in Apple’s approach. This move might set a new standard, leading to wider adoption of USB-C ports globally.

The phone itself feels robust, with brushed titanium sides and an etched back glass. Apple’s claim of using the strongest glass ever, dubbed “ceramic shield,” is put to the test. Typically, plastic screens scratch at a level 2 or 3, glass at 5 or 6, and sapphire at 8 or 9 on the Mohs scale. The ceramic shield scratches at a level 6, with deeper grooves at level 7, but the scratches are less pronounced, indicating a significant improvement.

#### The Titanium Frame and Its Challenges

The titanium sides feature a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) coating, which adds an ultra-thin protective layer. Despite this, the coating scratches easily, similar to anodized aluminum. Interestingly, the 5G antenna slot is impervious to scratches, hinting at a different, more resilient material. The power button and the new action button are also scratchable, showcasing the limitations of the PVD coating.

Apple spent 14 hours applying this finish, but my jerry-rigged knife removed it in seconds. This disparity underscores the vulnerability of even the most meticulously crafted surfaces. The matte back glass is resilient, resisting scratches, while the smooth Apple logo remains a minor exception.

#### Exploring the Camera and AI Features

The iPhone 15 Pro Max boasts significant camera upgrades. The main camera features a 48-megapixel sensor with a nano-scale coating to reduce glare. The standout is the 12-megapixel 5x tetraprism telephoto lens, which reflects light four times before hitting the sensor, providing enhanced stabilization. The ultra-wide camera, also 12 megapixels, works in tandem with the telephoto lens to generate spatial video, a feature reminiscent of the HTC Evo 3D from 12 years ago.

During the teardown, I aim to explore these camera innovations further. Apple’s claim that the back glass is easily removable for repairs is a commendable step toward repairability. However, they also state that the internal structure is made from 100% recycled aluminum, indicating that the frame is not solid Grade 5 titanium, explaining some of its limitations.

#### The Durability Test

The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 6.7-inch OLED display, with 2000 nits of outdoor brightness and a 120 Hz refresh rate, is impressive. However, its durability is questionable. In my durability test, the phone’s frame did not fare well. Most phones, especially iPhones, are incredibly resilient, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max snapped abnormally quickly under pressure. The titanium frame, with its high tensile strength and low elasticity, combined with the back glass, couldn’t withstand the stress. This quick failure was unexpected and concerning for a flagship device.

#### Handling Heat and Titanium’s Reaction

To further test the titanium’s properties, I exposed it to extreme heat using a MAP gas torch. While the titanium itself can handle the heat, the phone’s circuitry and screen cannot. The titanium frame began changing colors, confirming its authenticity. Apple’s choice of Grade 5 titanium, though, raises questions about cost and practicality.

Scaling a small piece of Grade 5 titanium to a block large enough to mill a phone would cost nearly $2,000, not including the complexity of shaping it. This expense makes it unlikely that Apple is using solid Grade 5 titanium for the entire frame. Instead, they likely employ a titanium-aluminum hybrid to manage costs while retaining some benefits of titanium.

#### The Practicalities of Titanium and Real-World Usage

Owning a titanium iPhone 15 Pro Max presents practical challenges. The phone’s finish is prone to scratches, and its structural integrity is compromised under pressure. While the titanium frame is impressive, it might not be the best choice for a device that needs to withstand daily wear and tear. The modular glass design is a step forward, reducing repair costs, but the overall durability remains a concern.

Furthermore, using a clear case to showcase the titanium frame could backfire, as most clear cases turn yellow under sunlight due to photooxidation. Dbrand’s never-yellowing ghost case offers a solution, maintaining the phone’s aesthetic while protecting it.

#### Comparing to the Regular iPhone 15 Pro

The regular iPhone 15 Pro does not suffer from the same structural issues as the Max version. Strong bends from the back and front do not affect its integrity, suggesting that the titanium-aluminum hybrid structure works better for the smaller model. This difference highlights the challenges Apple faces in scaling materials for larger devices.

#### Conclusion

The iPhone 15 Pro Max, with its titanium frame, represents Apple’s push for innovation and premium materials. However, this choice brings both benefits and drawbacks. The titanium frame, while strong, compromises the phone’s overall durability, making it susceptible to damage under pressure. The high cost of Grade 5 titanium further complicates its practical application.

While the phone boasts impressive features and a sleek design, its real-world durability remains questionable. As Apple continues to refine its approach, balancing innovation with practicality will be crucial. For now, users should handle their titanium iPhones with care and consider protective measures to maintain their investment.

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