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Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff
Three excellent cameras and Night mode
Amazing Super Retina XDR display
Awesome A13 Bionic power
A little heavier than the last models
The notch is getting a little retro
Not cheap, especially for 64GB of storage (to start)
Apple may have sacrificed some sex appeal for more and better cameras, but the trade-off is worth it. The Apple iPhone 11 Pro and larger iPhone 11 Pro Max are still the best iPhones ever. They have brilliant screens, powerful CPUs and amazing battery life. And, with iOS 13, they're a pleasure to use.
Some devices are so complex it’s a disservice to view them through a single attribute. Take the Apple iPhone 11 Pro and its larger sibling, the iPhone 11 Pro Max. To call them “phones” or even smartphones is reductive, at best. They’re pocketable computers with communication, content capture and sharing, and productivity features.
And yet, when people look at the new handsets, which Apple unveiled on September 10 in Cupertino, CA, all they can see is the three-camera lens configuration seated in a raised glass square on the back of each device.
Reduced to a meme, the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max might come across as a major misstep in Apple’s decade-plus, storied smartphone manufacturing design and development career. But that would be a misreading of the facts.
Reading through the thousands of social media responses to my first photos of the 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro and 6.5-inch iPhone 11 Pro Max, I became convinced the product looked different in photos than it does in person. While I wouldn’t call the camera square beautiful, it is bold, telegraphing its photographic intentions and capabilities to anyone who cares.
And I care; I care very much.
Aside from the radical camera module redesign, Apple did not stray far from the iPhone body design language introduced back with the iPhone 6 and that has continued through to last year’s iPhone XS.
Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro ($999, 64 GB) and 11 Pro Max ($1,099 64 GB) feature many of the same recognizable curves found on the iPhone XS.
Leaving aside for a moment the screen technology changes, Apple didn’t even change the screen design. All the new iPhones still feature the TrueDepth notch in an otherwise unblemished, almost edge-to-edge screen.
However, what will be noticeable to almost anyone who’s held an iPhone in the last few years is that these new devices have put on a little weight.
Apple no longer talks about the weight and thickness of their iPhones in any meaningful way. That’s because being the thinnest didn’t really gain them anything (remember when people were purposely bending their 6.9 mm-thin iPhones?).
At 144 mm tall by 71.4 mm wide by 8.1 mm deep, the 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro is slightly larger than the iPhone XS and noticeably thicker than last year’s 7.7 mm smartphone. The story is the same on the larger 6.5-inch iPhone 11 Pro Max. It’s 158 mm by 77.8 mm by 8.1 mm thick. And at 226 grams, it’s 18 grams heavier than the Apple iPhone XS Max.
Dimension-wise, the new iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max don’t feel much different, but the added thickness and weight are unmistakable. And don’t even bother comparing it to a bigger-screen, 6.8-inch Samsung Galaxy Note10+. Samsung’s handset is both thinner (7.9 mm) and significantly lighter (196 grams) than the smaller screened Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, while still including an S-Pen stylus.
I’m not implying that either iPhone 11 Pro is uncomfortable to hold. In fact, I’m especially fond of the brushed glass back on the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which is built on a rigid—still slightly torque-able—stainless steel chassis. It feels good, looks sharp, and hides 100 percent of your fingerprints. Apple’s 6.1-inch iPhone 11, by the way, features polished glass that still does a better job of hiding fingerprints than the Gorilla Glass on the Samsung Galaxy Note10+. Even though the iPhone 11 Pro body isn’t wildly different from the iPhone XS, it is, according to Apple, more watertight. The iPhone 11 Pro can survive 30 minutes in up to 4 meters of water.
I didn’t have a deep pool available to me, but just to make sure that the iPhone 11 Pro could handle at least a dunk in the toilet, I filled a cooler with about 2 feet of water and dropped both the iPhone 11 Pro models into it. They easily survived 10 minutes in the drink.
Instead of wasting time trying to convince you that the iPhone 11 Pro camera module is not as ugly as you think it is, I’d rather focus on the engineering feat it took that make that raised box. The back is actually one continuous piece of glass milled down around the raised square. It’s really a beautiful piece of material design, right down the glass circles surrounding the three large lenses and larger True Tone LED flash and microphone holes. The glass does not cover the lenses. Instead, Apple is once again using Sapphire Crystal on all three of them, giving them almost as much sapphire as you might find on a $749 Apple Watch face.
While the iPhone 11 Pro’s distinctive camera back will make it recognizable from a distance as something new and, Apple hopes, special, Apple is not leading the pack on biometrics, connectivity, and screen size.
I like Apple’s Face ID technology and consider it a secure and smart way to unlock my iPhone, log into online services, and make payments. But Apple’s devotion to facial recognition technology means that the TrueDepth module notch survives multiple iPhone generations even as the competition is is pushing everything off the front of their smartphones in favor of edge-to-edge-to-edge-to-edge and infinity screens. Others are now drilling tiny holes in their screens to accommodate selfie cameras (OnePlus put its selfie camera in a risky, mechanical pop-up camera module, leaving its screen unblemished). Apple claims that Face ID recognition is even faster than before. It is fast and consistent, but, at least in my tests, not noticeably faster. I did detect slightly better off-angle facial recognition.
I’ve now tested multiple Android smartphones with under-the-screen fingerprint readers. While none of them are perfect, they all work well enough. To be fair to Apple, though, none of competition ever really built what I consider near fool-proof facial recognition technology.
Apple’s smartphones now have one of the most noticeable black bezels around their screens, at least when compared to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ and the OnePlus 7 Pro, both of which use curved screens to visually extend the sides of their displays.
There’s also no iPhone 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max 5G option. Here, I think Apple’s made the right choice. 5G is a confusing and mostly non-existent mess in the U.S. and probably won’t settle down for another year or so. By then, Apple will have its 5G iPhone 12.
If we go by the numbers, Apple’s OLED Super Retina XDR display is, at 458 ppi 2436x1125 pixels, not the sharpest smartphone display on the market. The 498 ppi Galaxy Note10+ holds that honor. They do match up on the 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio, however.
Even so, this is a gorgeous screen, especially on the larger device (2688x1242 pixels). The increased to 800 nits brightness (up to 1,200 nits maximum) is, by the way, noticeable in full daylight, at least as compared to the iPhone XS.
Perhaps the best way to experience the display’s stunning visual quality is by viewing 4K 60 FPS video. I shot some on the iPhone 11 Pro and was startled by the hyper-realism. Even on the small smartphone screen, I had the impulse to reach into the display and touch the scenery. I’ve never really griped about the notch, but when a screen is this good, it’s a shame to devote the space to anything else.
The iPhone 11 Pro also marks the end of 3D Touch. This under-the-screen technology kept track of how hard you pressed on a screen, and would open up additional, quick-access features on, say, the Camera app if the phone detected more pressure as you held your finger on the icon for a few seconds. The iPhone 11 Pro (as well as 11 Pro Max and standard 11) now use Haptic Touch elusively. Now you have to press a little longer to access some of these features and, in some cases, in specific spots.
My thumb typing is abysmal and I have relied on 3D Touch to press the keyboard screen and gain quick access to the keyboard mouse, which lets me slide my finger around on the keyboard (as if it was on a trackpad), placing the cursor wherever I need to correct a typo. With Haptic Touch, I have to press exactly on the space bar to activate the virtual trackpad. It’s a minor annoyance that I’m already adjusting to.
Whatever misgiving you might have about the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max camera design will fade away the minute you start using them.
There are now three 12 MP cameras on the back of the iPhone 11 Pro (aside from size, all specs on the iPhone 11 Pro Max are exactly the same, so my comments on one address both products). Actually, there are now four 12 MP cameras on the device if you count the one in the TrueDepth module on the front. There’s the:
At a glance, all of these lenses are larger than those found on the iPhone XS and XS Max. The new ultra-wide is a six-element lens, while the wide and telephoto are both five-element lenses.
All of them take excellent, color-accurate, and detailed images. Apple is late to the game with an ultra-wide lens, but Apple clearly brought its A-Game. Along with standard photos, you can use the ultra-wide lens in video, time-lapse (which makes them much more dramatic), and panoramic, which creates an almost 360-degree photo effect.
Considering how many selfies we all take, bringing the front-facing camera in line with the other lenses (it's now 12 MP with an f/2.2 aperture) was a smart move on Apple’s part. I was really impressed with the image quality, especially portrait mode. When using the front-facing camera, you can also achieve a slightly more wide angle effect by tapping a pair of arrow icons on the screen. This is not a zoom out or traditional wide angle. Instead, the camera is switching from a slight crop of the full 12 MP frame to a full-frame image, which lets you pull more people into your group selfie. The best part is that if you flip the camera to landscape orientation, the selfie camera automatically adjusts to full-frame.The camera is also now capable of shooting 4K 60 fps video, which I think will be a boon for YouTubers who like to have the live-screen feedback while they shoot but hate sacrificing video quality. Now they can have both.
If I were a model or had a stitch of hair on my head, I might be a little more excited about slow-motion selfies. I did a test with my wife, who did the model hair toss for me and noticed that, at least in lower-light conditions, the “slofie” can get a little grainy. It’s not surprising since slow motion photography always works better in bright light.
Like the iPhone XR before it, the iPhone 11 Pro can now use the wide lens for more dramatic Portrait Mode images. The iPhone XS would combine the wide and telephoto, which meant you always had to step back from your subject.
One area where portrait mode on the rear-facing cameras still struggled was with lens frames. I took a collection of photos of my son, and when he turned his head to the side, Portrait Mode blurred out the part of his eyeglass frame that no longer had his face as a background.
To support all these new lenses and photography options, Apple significantly updated its camera app.
Instead of 1X and 2X and the main zoom options, there are now three, with ultra-wide represented as a “0.5x” or half zoom. It’s choice I find a little confusing, since Samsung represents its three shooting modes with a stand of trees: one tree represents 2X, two represents no zoom and a somewhat distant group of three trees represents ultra-wide. I honestly can no longer decide which is clearer.
Even if you’re not in the iPhone 11 Pro’s new ultra-wide camera mode, the new camera app will always show you just how much visual information you’re leaving behind: the black borders of the camera app turn translucent so you can see what the ultra-wide lens would add if you were using it.
Apple has also introduced a Camera App drawer, which you access by swiping up near the bottom of the screen. Under it are controls for aspect ratio (4:3 or 16:9), Live photos, flash, filters, HDR, and your timer (I was a little upset that Apple hid it this way). I like the new QuickTake video feature, which lets you switch from photo mode to video simply by holding down the shutter button. You can then slide it to the right to lock it on, while maintaining access to a photo-in-video button on the right.
The most exciting camera update, though, is Night mode, Apple’s first feature-level effort with low-light photography. In this area, too, Apple is playing catch-up but with some rather stunning results.
Night mode is not something you select. Instead, the iPhone 11 Pro automatically turns on Night mode in low-light situations. It’s indicated by a yellow, eclipse-like icon in the upper left-hand corner of the Camera app screen.
One of the things I think most people are surprised to discover when they use night photo capabilities on other phones like Samsung’s Galaxy line and the Google Pixel is that shooting in, essentially, the dark requires the smartphone camera shutter to stay open for a few seconds and for you to stand still.
In Night mode, Apple offers some of the clearest guidance on how to get the best ultra-low-light shot. I took photos in dark spaces, enclosed almost lightless rooms, and at night. In each case, Night Mode instructed me to “Hold Still” as it on-the-fly adjusted the length of time it would hold open the shutter. Usually, this is between three and five seconds (you can watch the shutter timer slowly scroll down as it counts off the seconds). You can also either manually set the shutter to remain open for up to 28 seconds to capture light trails or, if you place the smartphone on a tripod, have it automatically hold the shutter open longer to capture, as I did, stars sparkling in the night sky.
Left on auto, my Night mode night sky shots look almost like daytime, except for the obvious stars in the sky.
In a side-by-side-by-side test with the Google Pixel 3 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro Max produced the clearest Night mode shot of the interior of my almost pitch-black shed. All three photos were decent, but the Note10+ introduced a ton of noise to the image and the Pixel 3 sacrificed some detail for brightness.
I’m also impressed with the changes Apple’s made to Smart HDR. Back light photography is actually better than what I could achieve with my DSLR (if I left it in auto mode), and this is without a flash. In comparisons with Samsung’s Galaxy Note10+, the iPhone 11 Pro managed to accurately capture shadowed details lost or almost glossed over by competitors.
Apple has also improved its front-facing Portrait Mode photography algorithms. Even with the new High Key mono mode, Apple managed to find the edge of my bald head and produce what look like studio-quality photographs. I’m pretty sure this will be on the back cover of my first book.
You would think that, by now, Qualcomm would be able to achieve some sort of parity with Apple, but Apple’s bespoke silicon consistently stays a step ahead of virtually all other mobile CPU manufacturers.
Backed by, according to Geekbench, 3.68 GB of RAM (a slight uptick from the XS) Apple’s new A13 Bionic CPUs Geekbench 5 scores are significantly higher than those of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 mobile CPU.
To put these numbers in context, I played CPU-taxing games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Asphalt 9: Legends, and edited video, including 4K clips, on the iPhone 11 Pro without any issues. Asphalt, in particular, looked amazing on the Super Retina XDR screen.
The one place where I noticed the phone getting a little warm was when editing 1080p 240 fps slow motion video. Nothing major, just a little warmth in the center of the back.
I would challenge you to find a single app or process these phones can’t handle. It occurred to me, for instance, that I might prefer the full version of Procreate instead of the Pocket one that’s only available to the iPhone. Obviously, there might be some issues navigating the app on the iPhone 11 Pro’s 5.8-inch screen (but maybe not on the Pro Max’s 6.5-inch one).
The iPhone 11 Pro works just fine as a phone. Call quality is clear, and the audio held up nicely in a stiff breeze. I almost never use my iPhone as an actual phone, but I suppose folks still do.
Music sounds great on the iPhone 11 Pro’s stereo speakers (one is in the base of the device, the other is in the TrueDepth Module). Yes, it can get loud, but what’s more exciting is the new spatial audio.
I rented the new Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The movie is not very good, but the special effects are wild and the audio is intense. Now, as with any 5.1 or 7.1 surround audio, the iPhone 11 Pro’s spatial audio effect (A.K.A. 3D audio) can make it sound like some audio is coming from behind you or beside you. The concept of 3D audio is not new, but it is exciting to see (or should I say hear) on a smartphone and it almost made the movie worth watching.
The new Apple iPhone 11 Pro (along with the Pro Max and iPhone 11) ships with iOS 13. Apple’s updated mobile operating system is packed with updates large and small. I’ve been running the beta on an iPhone XS for months and am still stumbling on new features and tiny adjustments.
Naturally, the combination of iOS 13 and the newest iPhones is a perfect marriage. There are the aforementioned Camera app updates, which include new portrait mode tools for adjusting key light intensity, and they’re paired with an entirely new Photos app.
Photos is now a more visually engaging native app that mixes up the image thumbnail sizes and includes video; it will also pre-play video clips. There’s also the new “For You” tab that helpfully suggests shareable images. It’s also where Apple collects your curated memories. It made a lovely video out of all my Apple event images. Perhaps I should just post that on YouTube.
iOS 13 has the long-awaited Dark Mode, which you can now quickly toggle on an off by haptic-pressing the display brightness control under Control Center. I’ve never understood the obsession with Dark Mode, so this is a nice-to-have but, for me at least, not-super-necessary update.
I’m more impressed by the new native and non-destructive video editing tools, which are accessible through either the Camera app or in Photos. You’ve always been able to trim videos and, with slow motion ones, adjust where the slow effect begins and ends. Now you can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness, noise reduction, and more. My favorite new native video editing feature is cropping, which includes video straightening, distortion, rotation and flipping. There are a lot of third-party video apps that are about to get Sherlocked.
Apple also updated its Maps app. Full disclosure: I use Apple maps on my iPhone all the time (the turn-by-turn directions I get on my connected Apple Watch are invaluable). iOS 13 adds real-time transit updates (not that useful in in New York City where subway trains usually show up every few minutes) and the powerful new Look Around feature.
Look Around is essentially a lot like Google’s Street view, but with much better imagery. It is not available everywhere, though. I found good coverage for San Francisco, but none for Manhattan. Apple plans to roll out more coverage by the end of the year.
In iOS 13, Siri’s male and female voices do sound more natural and I may start using Siri Shortcuts now that they’re pre-installed in the OS. I used the Shortcuts app to create a shortcut called “Distance to home,” which when I say, “Hey Siri, Distance to Home,” will instantly calculate and tell me how far it is from my current location to my house.
There are dozens of other feature enhancements in iOS 13, including CarPlay Dashboard and the new Quick Path keyboard which lets you swipe around the virtual keyboard to type. I know some people love this feature on Android phones, but I could not get used to using it and still found typing the old-fashioned way faster and easier.
Apple has also added a number of new Animoji characters, including an octopus and a cow. My favorite, though, are the new Memoji Stickers, which combine common emoji expressions with your own personal Animoji and that you can send in place of emojis via iMessage, FaceTime, and other apps.
Some of iOS 13’s more powerful features, like Apple Sign On, where you can use your Apple ID to sign onto other apps and services, and advanced ARKit 3 tools like body tracking and people occlusion mostly await developers to introduce them in their apps. I did, however, see an early example of people occlusion in the Friends 25 app. It shows real potential.
Overall, I’d say this is one of Apple’s better OS updates. It manages to make significant platform changes without somehow making the platform unrecognizable.
Unlike its smartphone competitors, Apple doesn’t like to list the exact specifications of its iPhone batteries. So we’re left with somewhat vague promises like, the iPhone 11 Pro “lasts 4 hours longer than the iPhone XS” and the iPhone 11 Pro Max “lasts up to 5 hours longer than the iPhone XS Max.”
The thing is, I’d be more frustrated if these claims weren’t true.
When I set up my new iPhone 11 Pro, I did so by using the backup from my previous iPhone. This meant the phone spend hours downloading old photos, videos, settings and apps, which killed the Day One battery life. I tried not to judge the phone too harshly because I’ve experienced this before with previous new iPhones.
By the second day, my iPhone 11 Pro was fully restored and, as I write this, I haven’t recharged it since yesterday at 8 AM. So, it’s given me a day-plus on a single charge. Obviously, I didn’t do anything with the phone while I was sleeping, so we have to cut out 9 hours of standby mode. So, let’s say I got about 20 hours, and that's with turning Auto Lock off and setting screen brightness to near maximum. I did the same thing, by the way, with the large iPhone 11 Pro Max. As I write this, the iPhone 11 Pro has about 5% power remaining and the iPhone 11 Pro Max has about 10%.
I did not do anything special to achieve that battery performance, but I also didn’t, for example, play video games for 20-plus hours. I did watch a two hour movie at one point, but I also browsed the web, checked social media, took a lot of photos and video, listened to music, played games, and tried out a variety of other apps. As always, your battery performance will vary based on your own iPhone 11 Pro activities.
With the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple includes a redesigned charger for the first time since switching to the lighting port. This is Apple’s first 18w fast charger for the iPhone. On one end of the included cable is the standard lighting charger that plugs into the bottom of the iPhone, but on the other side is a USB-C plug and port. Someday, I’m certain, Apple will switch the iPhone to all USB-C. In a little more than an hour, the iPhone 11 Pro Max was nearly fully charged.
There's still wireless charging, which works smoothly with any Qi-based charger, but no wireless charge share. I was really looking forward to placing my capable-of-charging-wirelessly AirPods 2 on the back of the iPhone 11 Pro, especially since the phone now appears to have juice to burn.
Apple has made a few changes to connectivity technology, including updating the WiFi to 802.11ax WiFi 6 and adding an Ultra wideband (UWB) chip for spatial awareness. Eventually, you will be able to direct AirDrops by pointing your iPhone at a specific recipient.
No longer the thinnest, lightest or even prettiest smartphone (it was never the cheapest), Apple appears ready to rely more and more on people’s devotion to the platform (and its growing array of services) and their desire for excellent photography.
The Apple iPhone 11 Pro and larger Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max are unquestionably excellent smartphones, but they’re built on an aging chassis design that feels like it’s in need of an overhaul. What's more, Apple made a mistake not starting the base models with 128 GB of storage.
I don’t expect anyone to buy the new iPhone simply because they want to show off their new camera square, but they will upgrade for the new, formidable camera capabilities.
Apple has introduced some unwelcome confusion to the line by repositioning the iPhone XR upgrade as the baseline device and calling it simply the iPhone 11. That’s an excellent device, but it doesn’t have a 2X optical zoom lens or the gorgeous OLED display. On the other hand, it starts at just $699.
For anyone who wants the ultimate iPhone (and is willing to play at least $999), the iPhone 11 Pro (or the $1,099 iPhone 11 Pro Max) is the iPhone you want and will surely love.
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