After months of rumours that suggested Apple might not have much innovation to celebrate in its next iPhone, the new iPhone 11 Pro’s three cameras, faster processor and better battery life make it a pretty tempting proposition regardless.
The prices are a touch more than last year’s models, but there’s more than enough here to form a queue when they go on sale on 20 September.
Here are our first impressions.
Design and build: battle of the bulge
From the front, the 11 Pro looks just like the iPhone XS: all-screen front with a perfectly symmetrical bezel all the way round and a same-sized notch at the top. But turn it over and the differences are obvious.
For a start, there’s a matte finish to the rear glass that’s different from any previous iPhone. It comes in more colours than before, too, adding midnight green to last year’s space grey, silver and gold. All of them are slightly different to the previous hues though. The gold has a subtle sheen that makes it really stand out and they glint as you move them in the light.
The Apple logo has been moved down to the centre of the handset’s rear and all wording, such as the official boilerplate text as well as the actual word iPhone, have been removed, giving a much more spare and elegant look.
But the big difference to the design is one that divided opinion when it leaked: the camera bulge. In fact, it’s not quite as expected. True, the large square block on the phone, holding the three rear cameras and flash, sits on the top left as expected. But instead of a deep block with flush cameras, the main block is thin and the lenses jut out a little. The result looks much, much better than we’d been led to believe. Note that the panel under the camera lenses is gloss where the rest is matte. On the iPhone 11, it’s the other way around.
The stainless steel band around the edge of the handset has also been carefully colour-matched to the rest of the phone, so there’s a dark edge on the midnight green and space grey, lighter on the other two.
Other details are just like last year’s phone, though it definitely looks and feels like something new and different – the matte finish looks like it will be less slippy than previous iPhones.
Features: three of a kind
That camera isn’t just the biggest change to the iPhone’s look, it’s the most significant new feature as well.
At this stage it’s hard to know exactly how good it is, but it clearly has incredible potential. Apple’s sample shots look amazing and if the efforts made by non-professional photographers like us come anywhere near, this will be a great camera phone.
It already has a novel and enjoyable interface. The image on screen showing what the camera shows appears as you’d expect it to, except there’s a bigger photo area framing it. This is what the ultra-wide lens sees. If that’s what you want in the photo, you can switch lenses with a tap. The interface is broadly recognisable as similar to previous iPhone camera features but with extra flourishes.
There are also extra effects. The most striking is one where the background is bleached white and the subject brought into sharp relief. The effect is all the more striking because the image is bled dry of colour to create a high-contrast monochrome shot.
Of course, there’s more to a phone than just its camera. And one feature that’s different is 3D Touch. It’s gone. This is the haptic feedback effect that accompanies a firm press on an app icon, say, to reveal a drop-down menu.
That’s now been replaced by Haptic Touch, a system introduced on the iPhone XR and now extended to the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, and becoming a decent replacement thanks to gaining more widespread uses.
While some found it slower and less effective on the iPhone XR than 3D Touch, here Haptic Touch seems to be almost indistinguishable from the 3D Touch that preceded it. A faster processor promises lightning-fast responses and powerful graphics, though we’ll have to wait to try this out to assess this.
Battery life is also significantly improved on the new models. Apple claims the iPhone Pro’s battery will last four hours longer than on the iPhone XS, and on the larger iPhone Pro Max, it’s a whopping five hours better. Those are impressive claims, so let’s hope they stand up to real-life testing.
iPhone 11 Pro Initial verdict
With its new finish the iPhone 11 Pro looks suitably stylish and even the camera bump, which had been feared to be ugly, looks much better in the flesh.
If the photos its trio of cameras delivers are anywhere near as awesome as the ones Apple showed off during the unveiling, the 11 Pro could give Huawei and Google a serious run for their money.