The iPhone 15 Pro titanium experience: weighs less, costs more, feels elite

The iPhone 15 Pro titanium experience: weighs less, costs more, feels elite
Titanium is the word of the day, because Apple has incorporated titanium frames in the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max new models. The rumor mill has it that titanium will also make it to the Xiaomi 14 Pro (expected in December 2023) and to Samsung’s Galaxy S24 Ultra (we’ll have to wait until February 2024 for a confirmation on that). In a word, the titanium fad won’t fade away in the coming months. 

According to Apple, these are the lightest Pro models ever:

  • iPhone 15 Pro Max: 221 grams
  • iPhone 14 Pro Max: 240 grams 
  • iPhone 15 Pro: 187 grams
  • iPhone 14 Pro: 206 grams

The new contoured edges are introduced alongside the thinnest borders ever on an iPhone. In other words, that's how the designers have managed to shrink the iPhone physical dimensions without affecting the display size. Cool stuff!

Watch guys and gals (an important branch of the Bad Financial Decision society, along with “Car guys”, “Boat guys”, “Vinyl guys”, etc.) can never forget their first titanium experience. Especially when coming from a hefty stainless steel watch: putting on a titanium timepiece is like a revelation. It’s twice as light, but somehow it doesn’t feel cheap and plasticky. On the contrary, it radiates a stylish high-class vibe that makes you want to wear that thing to bed...

We’re getting out of hand here, but that’s an important de-tour, because the way things are going, you’ll be touching titanium more and more in the months (possibly, years) to come. So, better prepare yourself for the titanium experience.

That’s not the first time a phone manufacturer is using titanium, but Apple (and, respectively Xiaomi and Samsung) may be the first to do so on a mass-produced device. The previous titanium-phone tryouts were the 2017 $699 Essential Phone (which was discounted after the parent company ceased to exist) and the absolutely mad 2019 $3000 concept phone Xiaomi Mi Mix Alpha (that raised eyebrows with the promise of a 180.6% screen-to-body ratio and other ludicrous features).

Why is titanium on iPhone 15 so special?

You’re probably sick of hearing it already, but titanium is one special metal – it’s lightweight and very strong. It’s as strong as steel, but roughly twice as light. That’s because titanium is less dense than steel. In fact, titanium has the highest strength-to-density ratio of any known metal. Another selling point is that its corrosion resistance is very high, making it a pretty useful material when it comes to building aircraft, spacecraft parts, missiles or ships. Its third distinctive feature is that it’s biocompatible – meaning that it generally does not react with fleshy tissue and bone, making it important for prosthetic devices.

If someone asks you what exact type of titanium you’ve got in your brand new iPhone 15 Pro, you can safely say that it’s – but first write it down – Ti-6Al-4V. That’s the (very) technical name for Grade 5 Titanium – the most widely used titanium alloy. Compared to “pure titanium”, Grade 5 has much higher tensile strength and a higher yield point. Thus, titanium Grade 5 is preferable when the strength is more important than the corrosion resistance.

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Commercially “pure titanium” is what are called the titanium Grades from 1 to 4, but don’t let that lead you to believe that just because you’ve got titanium Grade 5 in your new iPhone 15 Pro, it’s somehow not “pure”. Commercially pure titanium ranges from Grade 1, which has the highest corrosion resistance, formability and lowest strength, to Grade 4, which offers the highest strength and moderate formability.

The non-Pro variants of the iPhone 15 are utilizing an aerospace grade aluminum frames.

An alloy that was sent to Mars

Apple's titanium Grade 5 alloy is indeed very special. That same alloy was used on the Mars rover! The titanium alloy, says Apple, was bonded through a solid state diffusion, an industry-first innovation: using a new thermal mechanical process that joins these two metals. There's aluminum on the inside: it's usage helps create synergistic properties with the titanium enclosure (that's of help, when it comes to thermal dissipation and further weight reduction). 

How will the titanium frame make the iPhone 15 Pro any different?

So, what are you getting with the titanium frames on the iPhone 15 Pro and the iPhone 15 Pro Max? A higher price for the material itself, for starters. Titanium is several times more expensive than other material options (like steel and aluminum), so inflation is not the only reason prices are climbing like a Nepal Sherpa on a good day (the iPhone 15 Pro retains the same $999 release price as the iPhone 14 Pro from last year, but the new Pro Max version goes to $1199 from its counterpart price of $1099 from 2022). There are more premium parts in the new devices, parts that are costly. There's also more storage on the baseline iPhone 15 Pro Max model (256GB) than there was on the iPhone 14 Pro Max (128GB), but the $100 price hike is surely not due to the doubled storage capacity. It's 2023 and storage is not expensive anymore.

The titanium frames are expected to, if not hide, at least not emphasize usage marks like scratches and bumps. That’s because the frame finish is more of a brushed one instead of a glossy mirror-like one. Fingerprint also has got to be less of an issue with the titanium – something that was pretty much unavoidable with the stainless steel frame.

The new refined brush texture was enabled by a multi-step process including a precise machine-sanding brushing and blasting, plus there's another layer of coating for added protection. There are four finishes of the titanium: Black titanium, White titanium, Blue titanium and Natural titanium. The last one "celebrates its raw metallic nature", as the Cupertino giant puts in. There's also a new internal chassis architecture that makes the iPhone 15 Pro more repairable: that's possible thanks to a new structural frame that allows the back glass to be easily replaced.

And, of course, the overall weight of the device is going down thanks to the lighter titanium frames. On paper, the reduced 19 grams (the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s 240 grams vs. the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 221 grams) is not a weight change that’s to be noticed right away, but still – less is more.

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