The iPhone goes ‘pro’ but what does that really mean?
The way we see it, is that this is the elite iPhone of 2019 to contend with the Android kings and win.
Ostensibly, it looks a lot like last year’s iPhone XS, but flip it over and you’ll see the triple camera threat, which is up there with best smartphone camera we’ve tested this year, and with Apple finally catching up and developing some sharp Night Mode camera tech, it’s the best all-round smartphone camera, full stop.
The A13 Bionic chip comes out on top in benchmark testing bringing about untouchable speeds. The fact there’s no 5G option doesn’t bother us for now, but ask us again in 12 months.
The fast charger is a godsend and something iPhone fans have been waiting for.
#slofies aside, this is a serious and solid phone in every meaning of the word. A phone that’s going to take wicked photos in any scenario and carry out all your daily tasks with finesse.
We’ve been using this as our main phone for over a week and it’s not once let us down...
Design: Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
The iPhone is probably the most recognisable smartphone ever. And there’s power in familiarity.
In fact, it’s almost identical in size to the iPhone XS, only it’s a tad heavier. There have been a few tweaks though. For starters, there’s a new matte finish, like frosted glass, and it’s not only stunning, but it’s ergonomic too; easy to hold and use (in one hand) without slipping or being plagued with fingerprints.
The shiny stainless-steel running around the 2.1mm width is a lovely contrast too and makes you want to ditch a case for sure.
The 5.8in display again is identical to last year’s iPhone XS which is a little disappointing as we’d have liked to see a bit more screen and bit less notch. Buttons remain exactly the same with a volume rocker on the left, below the silent mode switch and the wake-up button (long press for Siri) is on the right-hand side. If you’re moving up from anything after an iPhone 6, it’ll all feel very familiar.
The triple-camera on the rear looks a bit funky, but we’ve grown fond of it. It certainly draws attention and once you’ve got a case on it, it’ll lie flat on a table. Each camera lens is encircled with a stainless-steel frame and it’s seriously classy. Sometimes it feels like a fashion accessory and maybe that’s why Apple know that asking over £1000 is totally feasible.
Midnight green is of course the colour of the moment, but it’s also available in space grey, silver and this one here – gold. The gold is really subtle, not too flash and we’re fans.
With IP68 dust and water proofing, it’ll stay alive for up to 30 minutes in up to 4 metres deep, again – catching up with what a lot of phones have already achieved. But at least you don’t need to worry about dropping it in the deep end of the swimming pool.
Display and sound: Bright and beautiful
The ‘super retina XDR’ display sees marginal gains from the iPhone XS but it’s still noticeably superior to the iPhone 11’s LCD display.
The contrast is excellent, with the darkest blacks and excellent brightness and picture rendering at 2436x1125 pixel resolution at 458ppi.
Dolby Vision and HDR10 video looks superb at full brightness with brilliant levels of detail and this is only made better by the growing HDR content on offer in the past year. Maximum brightness goes all the way to 800 nits, it’s easy to read the screen from all angles even in bright sunlight. And then when viewing HDR content, the brightness increases to an astounding 1200nits of brightness.
Our ears are treated to Dolby Atmos sound which is damn impressive for a smartphone. Annoying for everyone else on your train carriage, we might add.
Performance and Software: Throw in the extras
Aside from the camera, which we’ll come to later, what else is new?
Apple’s A13 Bionic chip is a notable step up, and this really becomes apparent when downloading and uploading video and editing. Even with footage over 10 minutes, it was easy to export and edit in apps like Splice and iMovie. Apps download faster than ever too and FaceID is supposedly quicker than the iPhone XS, although in reality it’s hard to tell. Plus, it was always super quick anyway.
New to iOS 13 is an improvement to Dark Mode with systemwide support for all your apps. It works by inverting white backgrounds to black/dark grey and really does reduce eye strain, and ought to eke out battery life longer into the night too. Looking and playing on an iPhone 11 Pro is so good we’re worried about screen time.
We say goodbye to 3D Touch, which we won’t miss, replaced by Haptic touch, so you need to press for longer as opposed to pressing harder. And iOS 13 employs quick option menus on pretty much every app. For instance, hold down on the WhatsApp widget and you’ll be able to go straight into the conversation with whoever you recently contacted and start a new chat without leaving the home screen.
The swipe keyboard means you can continuously brush across letters to type, which makes one-handed tapping a doddle. It’s called QuickPath and it’s great for sending generic messages like ‘Happy Birthday!’, but not so good if you like making up words as much as we do here on Stuff. It displays a grey swoosh on the keyboard from the last letter you used, like a shooting star – tres jazzy.
The 18W mains charger is a welcome newcomer to the iPhone box, and speedy charging is something Apple has been behind the rest of the pack for ages. We were able to fill up to almost 50% from a nerve-wrecking 2% in just 30 minutes. The bigger battery comes to the iPhone 11 Pro offering four hours more than the XS, which we found to be reasonably accurate.
Camera: Night Fever
Apple has been quite conservative about the number of cameras they stick on its phones, unlike the ‘more the merrier’ mantra adopted by the likes of Huawei, Samsung et al.
The 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max see the birth of the extra 12MP f/2.4 ultra-wide lens, joining the primary 12MP f/1.8 cameras with OIS and the 2X 12MP telephoto lens, which is exclusive to the Pro models.
There’s a noticeable improvement to image quality on the iPhone 11 Pro. Pictures look crisper owing to smarter processing and image layering using data from all three cameras.
The dynamic range is comparable to some DSLR cameras we’ve used, yet thankfully don’t look over saturated and overworked like we often find with smartphone cameras. The naturalistic rendering of colour and balanced exposure are key ingredients in the Apple recipe for brilliant photography.
We love portrait mode on the iPhone 11 Pro and find it’s accurate at detecting edges, even with difficult to decipher objects, like strands of hair. It beats the Huawei P30 Pro in this regard which isn’t as smart when it comes to edge detection. It doesn't come close to the P30 Pro when it comes to zooming, we should add.
The most notable development is Night Mode which, believe us when we say it, beats Google at its own game. It will automatically come into action when the phone can detect it’s dark. Depending on the available light, it will take between 1-3 seconds to render an image and the results have been eerily good.
iOS 13 brings a new interface to the camera too – giving you a preview of what your scene might look like in different aspect ratios. You can even capture images from the ultra-wide and main cameras at the same time. The front-facing selfie camera has also had an upgrade, with resolution upped from 7MP to 12MP. Images tend to be a lot warmer than on the Samsung Note 10+ or Huawei Mate 30 Pro.
The higher resolution is also handy for making a #slofie, which we recommend you try at least once.
Video quality is so undeniably epic we found ourselves using it more than ever. The image stabilsation is astounding and we managed to capture some lovely footage which edits out any shakiness. Apple has added another cool feature too – hold down the built-in shutter button and it will automatically shoot a video, just like Instagram stories. This can however lead to accidentally shooting video when you only want a still.
All three cameras on the rear are capable of recording 4K video at 60fps and the results are really quite something. You can even switch the camera as you zoom in or out whilst still filming and it’s ridiculously easy to do so; simply tap on the camera options to switch between cameras above the shutter button.
Subject tracking on video recording works phenomenally well, while audio zoom is available to narrow into the subject making the sound.
It’s the most accomplished camera array in a smartphone for stills and simply unbeatable for video. The concept of Night Mode is far from new, but Apple – after floundering around lost in space for some time – is now no.1.
iPhone 11 Pro Verdict
The iPhone 11 Pro offers the phenomenally quick A13 Bionic chip, it's the best device to experience iOS 13, and includes a full camera array for shooting and editing pro movies, taking magnificent portraits and landscapes, and with the power to do so day or night. All crammed into a perfect rectangle of joy that will slide smoothly into your pocket (unlike the 11 Pro Max) and stay juiced up all day.
Of course, all this premium power and added excellence comes at a cost. Opting for the standard iPhone 11 is an entirely acceptable compromise if the budget won't stretch, you'll simply settle for a little less luxury.