If you hear Apple’s multiple iPhone ($1,000 at Amazon) names coming at you — iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max — you may have some questions. Where’s the iPhone X ($612 at Walmart)? So we’re back to regular numbers now? And what makes the Pro… Pro? Last year’s awkwardly named XS, XS Max ($1,100 at Amazon) and XR phones have undergone name overhauls. This year’s new phones are sequels to the three we got last year, which is what you really need to know. The names are largely for marketing purposes.
I started to realize, after a week with all three phones, that they’re basically the same at heart, with a few key extras in the Pro. There’s a far smaller gap between these phones than, say, the iPad and iPad Pro ($800 at Walmart). In fact, you could say all of these phones are Pro phones.
So, my iPhone 11 review is a review of all three phones because, really, they’re all variations on a theme. And the theme is: everyday function.
Phones have become polished products. What I really want more of is battery life and even better camera functions. That’s the basic story of the iPhone 11, and especially the iPhone 11 Pro.
But while Apple’s phones look like modest upgrades, the rest of the phone landscape looks like it’s undergoing an overhaul. There are wild 5G speeds on the horizon, plus bizarre and expensive folding phones. These new iPhones don’t step into those strange new worlds. They’re weirdly familiar. And we’ve seen their best features on other phones already. If phones are now like laptops, then what Apple’s done with the 11 models is add on high-quality upgrades without ruining what already works. The formula hasn’t changed, but the results are better.
Apple’s done a really good job with these new features, namely some serious camera improvements. But there’s a good reason why Apple named its more expensive and fancier phones “pro” this year. It has to do with price. Apple’s targeting the $700 iPhone 11 as the phone for most of you, in the same mold as the iPhone XR ($686 at Amazon) last year. And that’s the right move. The two iPhone Pro models aren’t must-haves. Except, well, I do use the 2x telephoto camera on the iPhone XS a lot.
And guess what? Even though the 11 has two cameras, neither of them are telephoto.
I’m not trying to be a super-pro. I just want to have a good phone and take great photos of my life and kids. This phone does that better than ever, and far more.
(Note: Product ratings are tentative, pending additional testing.)
Still starts at 64GB
The $699 iPhone 11 model gets 64GB of storage, which is probably fine for many people — and it’s a $50 price drop from last year’s iPhone XR base model. 128GB for $749 probably makes more sense if you’re shooting any video and 256GB for $849 should only be a consideration if you’re shooting a lot of video. The Pro phones add a 512GB tier that you won’t need unless you’re shooting in 4K for a living. See the chart at the bottom of this review for complete pricing details, including international prices.
Colors: iPhone 11 is the fun phone
For whatever reasons, Apple is still making the lower-priced 11 the one that can have fun with colors. There are two new colors, green and purple, that are more like mint green and lavender. These new pastel colors replace the blue and coral options from last year.
I have the green iPhone 11. Its color is pleasant, and the aluminum case color is much more seamless with the glass color. The glossy glass back feels the same as the XR last year. So does the rest of the phone, except for the dual cameras, which are raised up from the back, and placed in a frosted glass camera square.
In contrast, the iPhone 11 Pro models all have metallic shades: silver, space grey, gold, and a military-esque midnight green. The three cameras seem more industrial (maybe imposing). The back glass is matte, instead of glossy. They’re made of steel instead of aluminum. And the Pro phones feel significantly denser. They pack larger batteries, and the steel adds weight.
I like that the iPhone 11 follows in the footsteps of the iPhone XR and is the middle-sized phone again with a 6.1-inch screen — compared to the two iPhone Pro models at 5.8 inches and 6.5 inches. I’ve come to favor the smaller-sized iPhone 11 Pro, like the iPhone XS last year.
Apple’s been making impressive strides in camera quality, but so have many other phone makers. The camera arms race is something that hard core photographers study closely, but I’d argue it’s gone way past what most people need.
I’ve found iPhone photos to be really good for years, but not always as good as what a pro camera could deliver. On the other hand, iPhone video has become so excellent that it could be used as a stand-in for some professional cameras.
But in terms of those camera upgrades, this year we’re talking about a new ultra wide angle camera and a Night Mode for low-light photography being the two key upgrades in the iPhone 11. The ultra wide is an effect shot that you won’t use all that often — and if you own an older iPhone, you could always buy a snap-on ultra wide lens instead. But, Night Mode is a key feature that helps Apple catch up to similar capabilities from Google, Huawei and Samsung. And so far, Apple’s version is really impressive.
Night Mode, how it works and when it doesn’t
Like the Google Pixel 3 last year and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 this year, taking startling low-light photos seems to be in every phone-maker’s computational wheelhouse now. Apple’s version works automatically, taking an extra 1-3 seconds to capture more light and assemble a picture that, in my tests so far, ends up almost surreal and richly colored.
The HDR-like feel of the photos keeps some of the night effects, but at other times the photos can end up looking like day. Night Mode can be turned off by tapping the icon and sliding the timer off, but so far it’s been an improvement in nearly every instance.
It’s not a perfect tool: faces can get blurred, detail can be lost. But still, I’ve been wowed. The Night Mode effects work the same on the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, but the Pro also gets a telephoto camera that can use it.
You can’t use Night Mode on the ultra wide angle mode, though. That camera ends up looking a lot darker, and it doesn’t have optical image stabilization, either. That’s true on all this year’s models.
Ultra wide angle = drama camera
I don’t know how many times I’ll end up using ultra wide angle lens, because it’s really wide. You think you understand how far back ultra wide goes, and then you see your space through the camera lens and it’s a weird, warped universe.
Without a doubt, it can make for stunning shots. Ultra wide cameras are also a new trend across phone cameras. Apple promises a few extra benefits here. The iPhone 11 gets an improved ultra wide angle Portrait mode that can work with close ups of your pets and other things. All the phones get an expanded-view viewfinder that now previews what’s outside the shot, which can help you know when to use the ultra wide lens.