The noose around Apple’s secret labs has been loosening ever so slightly, leading to enough leaks before the official launch of this year’s iPhone. And yet, it’s not until you hold the actual production device in your hand do you realise what a thing of engineering beauty it is.
The single piece frosted glass back has a raised section to house the trio of lenses in contrasting polished glass finish and it makes you wonder why would anyone go through this much tooling trouble for a phone. But, it’s the iPhone and people expect iPhones to be great. Great enough to queue up outside stores during launch day and great enough to forsake the next vacation. But is the iPhone 11 Pro great enough to sell your D-SLR? That’s the primary reason why you’re reading this review and if not, you should anyway.
The form factor hasn’t changed an iota from last year or the year before that. It’s the familiar iPhone X mould but it does feel heavier in the hand, thanks to the denser battery that is claimed to outlast the iPhone XS by more than 4hrs. The hand feel is still second to none though and it feels like a premium piece of kit no doubt, so status symbol box is checked. Apple has always been aware of the importance that a single defining design element can have and here, it is the triple cam set-up at the back. Whether you like it or not, it’s undoubtedly recognisable even from a distance as an iPhone 11. Job done!
The Midnight Green shade is subtle but effective as another beacon of newness and like always, the slightly curved screen blends seamlessly into the glass back, without any tangible break in the surface. Of course, like everyone else, we too would’ve loved to see a USB-C port instead of Lightning and the absence of a notch would help no end, but those are boxes that will be checked in 2020 with the iPhone 12.
Obviously, the first thing you notice is the screen, and boy, does it light up! Super Retina XDR might sound like a typical Apple marketing trope but it’s real. Dolby Vision or other forms of HDR look stunning and the increased peak brightness of up to 1200nits makes it possible to watch content with perfect contrast even outdoors. The 458ppi resolution isn’t 4K spec but in practice, your eyes will never notice the difference and the upside is the battery life that Apple has managed to massage out of this display. Dark Mode, replacing 3D touch with haptic touch and optimising software… every trick in the book has been used to make this display not only their best, but even their most efficient. Colour accuracy is another hallmark of this display and it just keeps getting better year on year. The iPhone 11 Pro screen stands out amongst its peers as the truest to the natural tones the human eye sees, whether its while viewing streamed content or photos captured by the phone itself. And to Apple’s credit, the calibration of the iPhone 11’s LCD screen is so good, most people will be able to live with that too without any complaints. An image taken on the iPhone 11 and transferred on the Mac, iPad or even the Apple Watch looks almost identical across devices with minimal colour shifting or tonal inconsistencies. This isn’t a mere coincidence but a conscious effort to aim for the best displays in every category.
Every generation of the A-series chipset has set a new benchmark and the A13 Bionic is no different. Besides all the claims to be the fastest or faster by 72520% than the last one, in the real world, the most palpable expression of the 8-core neural engine is during the Night mode when the preview progressively shows you the exposure in real time. A dark subject coming to life in front of your eyes is pretty cool to watch! PUBG loads faster, Apple Arcade comes to life more rapidly and video editing is a smidge faster than the XS Max I was using last year. Face ID is visibly faster and works even if it’s not directly in front of your face, but it does need to be lifted up from a desk for example so it still won’t work at extreme angles but is definitely any improvement over gen-1. Overall, there is a perceivable difference but not not enough for you to upgrade from last years device JUST on the basis of chipset.
Thankfully, it’s the camera system that will really want you to upgrade and there’s more good news there.
Never to rush in with new technologies, Apple took its time to catch up with the Asian brands in adding a third lens to its camera system but it seems to have done it right. Besides the usual Wide and Telephoto of the iPhone X and XS, you get an additional Ultra-Wide 12MP sensor with a 13mm focal length and f/2.4 aperture and what all this means is that you’ll be able to cover a 120 degree field of view in your frame. More landscape, more friends, more likes? Social status notwithstanding, Apple has done extremely well to ensure the transitions from one lens to the other is as seamless as possible without any major shift in exposure values, colour saturation or tonality (white balance) and our sample shots reveal that as clear as day. One thing to note though is that the much touted Night Mode isn’t available when in ultra-wide mode but otherwise its implementation is quite interesting. Night mode works mostly in Auto mode, sensing the available light in the room and sets the exposure values accordingly, although you can take some manual control and increase the exposure time to 4 seconds instead of the pre-assigned 3 seconds, for example. Mount the iPhone 11 Pro on a tripod and the army of sensors know that it’s more stable than your digits and can even keep an exposure time of up to 30secs when the scene demands it! The resulting pictures are nothing short of a miracle, honestly. The detail captured in low light shots is better than even the Pixel 3, Huawei P30 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S10 and these have set the tone for night photography, especially when you zoom in to a picture and look for noise or shadow details. It doesn’t overexpose like the Huawei or Samsung but has a more even handled implementation that preserves highlights and colour accuracy even in the darker areas of the picture.
Telephoto is improved too with a larger aperture of f/2.0 and while it works impeccably in daylight, it’s still susceptible to noise in low light. Thankfully, Night Mode comes to the rescue here and even in handheld mode, the A13 Bionic steps in with the help of bracketing and compensates for shake and under/over exposure and spits out a perfect image in less than a second, saved in your Photos folder. Compared to the competition, the iPhone 11 Pro aims for accuracy over an instant “wow” factor. Click a picture, take a moment to notice the closer details and almost always, it’s the iPhone 11 Pro that has more to offer. Only during pictures taken with the ultra-wide lens, the fish-eye distortion around the edges was much lesser on the Huawei P30 Pro and if you’re into macro photography and like clicking bugs in their own homes, the iPhone still will keep a safe distance from subjects before locking focus.
Video has always been an area where the iPhone has been untouchable and it only increases its lead further with the 11 Pro. Besides the 4K 60fps mode which is new, you also get to use any of the three lenses in all the modes - Slow-mo, Time Lapse and Normal allowing you to unleash your creative juices with optical stabilisation that approaches that of a gimbal gig. Audio zoom works Impressive is the best way to describe it.
A 23% drop after a 14hr night stint can only be a good thing and with the 11 Pro, Apple has addressed the single biggest shortcoming of the smaller-sized iPhones - battery life. It’s hard to corroborate Apple’s claims of “up to” 4hrs more than the XS but there’s definitely a noticeable improvement in preservation tactics. Like mentioned before, it’s due to a combination of factors that include better power management, new screen tech and denser and bigger battery itself. After a full day of power use that included photo editing, photo and video capture, social media scrolling, Safari searches and constant music playback via headphones, I still had 18% left at the fag end of the day which is unheard of on any previous iPhone of this size. I’ll take one then, thanks!
iPhone 11 Pro Verdict
Beyond the headline specs, there are tons of smaller improvements that just make living with the easiest phone in the world, even easier. Things like Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio really aim at letting you finish an entire episode of Stranger Things 3 without reaching for headphones or Airplay. The high-key Mono and slow-motion selfie mode, both are interesting enough to be used more than once and the portrait mode keeps getting better with bokeh and edge definition. Of course, the 12MP front cam goes a long way in making you more vain than ever but no one ever complained about that so why should I.
The fast charger that’s supplied in the box, the better IP rating, the stronger glass and I can go out on a limb and say that this is the best display I’ve ever seen on any phone just for sheer accuracy and brightness makes this a tough one to avoid. It may look familiar, but in this case, it’s not a bad thing since Face ID still remains the only real seamless payment method besides fingerprint authentication. Memoji stickers that work across platforms are made so much more fun and realistic thanks to that notch and all the hardware it hides. So, in the interest of the larger good, I’d let Apple have one more year to remove the notch but in the meantime, they have made a phone that is probably most that anyone in 2019 could want. The iPhone 11 comes close, very close but can you resist the lure of the midnight green? If you can stretch your budget, you certainly shouldn’t.