Apple iPhone 11 Pro & iPhone 11 Pro Max Review
The iPhone 11 Pro isn’t just the best iPhone, but arguably the best smartphone around. At the very least, the most polished. The hefty starting price is imposing – especially given it still only starts with 64GB of storage – but otherwise, it’s hard to fault the iPhone 11 Pro.
At first glance, the iPhone 11 Pro might look like more of the same. After all, most phones are more of the same these days. The iPhone 11 Pro certainly looks like more of the same, housed in a pretty similar shell to last year’s devices.
Appearances can be deceiving, however. While the iPhone 11 Pro doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it makes meaningful improvements to camera quality and battery life – arguably the two most important features of any top-end smartphone.
The improvements come at cost, with the iPhone 11 Pro family starting at $1,749. That’s the highest starting price of any iPhone in Australia to date. It’s hard to argue with the fact the iPhone 11 Pro is a great phone. There’s just the question of whether or not it’s worth it.
Before we continue, it’s worth noting that the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are identical, with the exception of screen size and battery capacity. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a larger screen and will last a little longer per charge, but otherwise, the pair are identical. They have the same camera setup, the same processor, the same facial recognition tech, the same everything, really.
If you’re a really demanding smartphone user, you might find some value in the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s slightly larger battery, but most people shouldn’t have any issue making it through a full day on either phone. In short, all you need to pick is which size screen you’d prefer.
Here’s a quick look at how the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max compare in terms of specs and price:
|iPhone 11||iPhone 11 Pro||iPhone 11 Pro Max|
|Display||6.1-inch LED||5.8-inch OLED||6.5-inch OLED|
|Resolution||Retina||Super Retina||Super Retina|
|Material||Aluminium||Stainless Steel||Stainless Steel|
|Rear-Facing Camera||12MP + 12MP||12MP + 12MP + 12MP||12MP + 12MP + 12MP|
|Storage||64GB – 256GB||64GB – 512GB||64GB – 512GB|
|Water-Resistance||Up to 2 metres||Up to 4 metres||Up to 4 metres|
|Price||From $1,199||From $1,749||From $1,899|
More than meets the eye
The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are more exciting than they may seem. While it’s easy to think of this generation as another “S” year thanks to similarities between the 11 Pro and the XS family, there’s more to Apple’s latest than a familiar design.
It is a pretty familiar design, however. From the front, the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are dead-ringers for the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. Screen-sizes have held firm from last year and that notch hasn’t gotten any smaller. At the very least, the tech under the notch is better. Facial recognition is faster, and works at a wider angles. It took two years, but we’re at the point now where facial recognition unlock is almost seamless. The biggest issue is that it won’t work in landscape, which is odd, given that it does on the iPad Pro.
Despite the improvements, there’s still a bit of a learning curve if you’re coming from an iPhone 8 or older. It will take a bit of time to get used to the lack of home button, gesture navigation (you swipe up to close an app now, for example), and the repositioned control centre (you’ll swipe down from the right of the notch). But at the least, the combination of better hardware and software makes the onboarding experience a little smoother than what you’d have faced on an iPhone XS or iPhone X. Especially given that third party apps are now consistently optimised for Apple’s new style of smartphone.
On the back of the phone is where you’ll start to see the difference. The jump to three cameras is the most obvious one, but more about that shortly. Apple has also moved to a matte finish for the rear-facing glass, which I’m a big fan of. It has a grippier texture to it, and it does a much better job of hiding fingerprints. It keeps your $1,749+ phone looking like a $1,749+ phone. Of course, when you’re using a $1,749+ phone, you should almost certainly be using a case. Apple says the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are made from the most durable glass found in any smartphone, but at the end of the day, glass is still glass and there’s a special kind of heartbreak you get when you shatter a phone you spent as much as $2,499 on.
The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are also a little bit thicker than predecessors, which is actually a good thing. Apple has seemingly abandoned its unrelenting pursuit of “thin” in favour of better battery life. Significantly better battery life. You should be able to comfortably get around a day-and-a-half per charge on both the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max with fairly standard usage. Even heavier use should still leave you with a comfortable buffer at the end of the day. Either way, for the vast majority of people, these are iPhones you should never have to think about topping up during the day.
And of course, the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max have all the obligatory annual upgrades including a brighter, more vibrant OLED display, and a faster, more efficient processor.
Better battery life is always welcome, but the camera is easily the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max’s most significant upgrade.
Camera quality has improved across the board, but the most obvious change is the move to a three lens camera system, starting with a primary lens, a 2x zoom lens, and a 0.5x ultra-wide angle lens. All three measure in at 12MP.
This year marks the first time we’ve seen an ultra-wide angle lens on an iPhone, letting you zoom out rather than in. You get a little bit of fisheye distortion when using it, but it’s fairly minimal. It becomes most noticeable when you have straight objects in the periphery of your shot. Like in this photo, for example:
In addition to taking wider shots, the iPhone 11 Pro can use its ultra-wide lens to reframe photos where you’ve flubbed the composition. The phone comes with a new feature known as “Photo Capture Outside the Frame”. If you have it switched on, you’ll be able to add in elements missing from your original shot (this doesn’t replace your original photo, just stitches in parts of the secondary picture). This option won’t appear on every photo you take; you’ll typically only be able to reframe photos where something has obviously been cut out. If you’ve cut off part of someone’s head, for example. Capture Outside the Frame also works with the 2x zoom lens, using the primary lens for your secondary photo. It’s freaking cool tech.
Here’s a shot where I intentionally cut out part of the subject:
And here’s it reframed:
“Photo Capture Outside the Frame” isn’t switched on by default, presumably because it means you’re always taking two photos for every shot, which is bound to eat up storage. Secondary photos are deleted after 30 days if you haven’t used them to edit a picture. Similar functionality exists for video, and it’s on out-of-the-box.
Improved lowlight performance is another key new iPhone 11 Pro camera feature. It’s a little overdue, but Apple has embraced the same kind of “night mode” photography we’ve been seeing on smartphones from Huawei and Google since last year. In dark environments, night mode is used to take multiple images over a longer period of time. These are then stitched together into a brighter photo.
There are a few differences between the iPhone 11 Pro’s night mode and what you’ll find on competing devices. The most evident is that it switches on automatically when your iPhone decides its dark enough. On other phones, you typically need to swap to a dedicated mode. If you don’t want to use night mode on your iPhone 11 Pro, you can still switch it off. You can also manually set your exposure time if you want more control of your final image – something we haven’t seen on other devices. If you’ve got your iPhone 11 Pro on a tripod, you’ll be able to use set exposure times of up to 10 seconds.
The other is the overall night mode aesthetic; the resulting images aren’t quite as dramatic as what you’d get from a Huawei P30 Pro or Google Pixel 3. Photos taken using the iPhone 11 Pro night mode are clearer and brighter, but they still feel like they were taken at night.
The difference between a photo you took with and without night mode might be quite subtle if there are already strong light sources present – streetlights on a highway, for example. Here’s a shot without night mode:
And here’s the shot with it on:
However, it still makes a huge difference when you’re actually shooting in darkness. These photos were taken in a completely dark room with minimal ambient light coming in through the windows. Here’s the photo without night mode:
And here’s the same shot with night mode switched on:
In general, the iPhone 11 Pro’s night mode does a great job of focusing at night and compensating for hand movement. This results in surprisingly detailed shots with a minimal amount of noise. The Huawei P30 Pro can retain more details in extreme lowlight and tends to perform better than the iPhone 11 Pro when night mode isn’t switched on. However, the iPhone 11 Pro tends to win out in other lowlight situations, thanks to more natural colours and less compression artefacts. Looking more broadly, the iPhone 11 Pro tends to consistently beat the Pixel 3 and Galaxy Note 10+ in terms of night mode performance.
Night mode only works on the iPhone 11 Pro’s 1x and 2x lenses, presumably because the 0.5x lens has no optical stabilisation. This does mean photos from the ultra-wide lens are darker than what you get on the other two.
The iPhone 11 Pro’s lowlight photography should also get further improvement later this year, with a computational photography mode called Deep Fusion that combines nine images into a single better photo. Deep Fusion is meant to switch on indoors and in medium light to help create more detailed images, but in situations that aren’t so dark they require night mode. Deep Fusion won’t be a separate camera mode and will switch on automatically where required. The Deep Fusion samples Apple has provided certainly looking promising, so it will be interesting to test it out. Deep Fusion should be available as part of iOS 13.2, which is due out before the end of the year.
Sadly, the iPhone 11 Pro’s zoom is only a 2x lens. 2x zoom is still pretty useful, but we’re now seeing smartphone manufacturers like OPPO and Huawei include 5x zoom lenses in their devices.
While it would have been interesting to see Apple push zoom further, the sheer consistency between the iPhone 11 Pro’s three lenses makes up for this. Photos from the ultra-wide and zoom lens are a little darker at night than what you get from the primary lens, but otherwise, going between lenses is seamless. Colour and quality are uniform no matter what lens you’re using, which isn’t something we’ve really seen on any other multi-lens smartphone. It feels like you’re shooting with one versatile camera, rather than three separate lenses.
The interface for moving between lenses is also really nice. If you’re shooting with the 1x or 2x lens, the camera app will show you a preview of what you can capture if you zoom out within the black bars around the interface. It’s a small change, but a welcome one. Here’s a comparison of the three lenses:
Portrait mode is the iPhone 11 Pro’s biggest weakness in terms of camera. It does a pretty decent job of simulating DSLR-like “bokeh”, the tastefully out-of-focus background you get behind your subject, but it’s not quite as good as what we’re seeing on competing smartphones. It mostly gets people right, but it can still have issues with long or unruly hair such as my own or objects like glasses. Even Kenny’s relatively tame hair is a little soft around the top of his head.
Similar occurs when you’re taking photos of animals or objects. The focus on this cockatoo is spot on, but the grape it’s eating blends into the background.
Android smartphones have been addressing these issues by adding a depth-sensing Time of Flight lens, which is rumoured to be an inclusion on 2020 iPhones.
Lastly, the iPhone 11 Pro selfie camera has also been upgraded to a 12MP lens. This gives you wider angle selfies if you’re shooting in landscape, but you’ll still get a 7MP by default when shooting in portrait. Mostly so it doesn’t look like you have freakishly long arms. Here’s an example of a wide angle selfie:
Not a bad spot for a tinnie, hey?
Once again, it’s impossible to discuss the new iPhones without delving into the all-time high prices. The 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro starts at $1,749 while the 6.5-inch iPhone 11 Pro Max will set you back at least $1,899. Both are more expensive than their predecessors, albeit due to the weak Australian dollar.
Prices naturally increase with storage capacity, with the 512GB iPhone 11 Pro Max topping out at a massive $2,499. $2,499 seems like a dumb amount of money to spend on a smartphone, and the 512GB model is complete overkill for 99% of people. You really shouldn’t buy a 512GB iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max unless you’ve genuinely exhausted a 256GB model in the past, or if you have more money than you know what to do with.
What’s harder to forgive is the paltry amount of storage in the starting model: the entry-level iPhone 11 Pros only have 64GB. Other premium handsets like the Note 10+, Huawei P30 Pro, and OPPO Reno 5G all have 256GB variants available for less than the starting pricing of a 64GB iPhone 11 Pro. When you’re selling one of the most expensive phones around, surely you can give your customers at least 128GB out of the box. Even sub-$500 phones have that much storage these days. It’s 2019.
On the plus side, Apple relented this year and is finally including a fast charger in the box. This will allow your iPhone 11 Pro to go from flat to 50% charged in about half-an-hour. This has been possible on iPhones from the 8 and up, but getting the equipment to do so would previously cost an extra $100 or so.
Apple has faced some criticism for not including 5G connectivity in the iPhone 11 Pro, but it’s not a big deal. Australian 4G networks are some of the best in the world, and 5G coverage is very limited right now. While it’s certainly nice to have a “futureproof” device, 5G isn’t mature enough as a technology to be the deciding factor for whether or not you buy a phone.
Who are the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max for?
If you’re the kind of person who needs the best iPhone, the iPhone 11 Pro is for you. It might cost more than the standard iPhone 11, but the combination of a longer battery, an extra camera lens, and a nicer display make it a clear winner. Whether these are worth a $550+ premium depends on who you are, but if you have to have the best, the iPhone 11 Pro is clearly it.
But not only is the iPhone 11 Pro the best iPhone you can buy, it’s easy to argue it’s also the best smartphone you can buy right now. Past iPhones haven’t quite had the camera and battery performance of their Android rivals, but the iPhone 11 Pro admirably addresses these pain points. Sure, the Huawei P30 Pro can take better photos in some circumstances and some Android flagships get slightly more charge than the smaller iPhone 11 Pro, but none of this detracts from the overall package. Any gaps are minor enough that they won’t matter to most, especially when you consider factors like the tight hardware and software iteration that make the iPhone 11 Pro feel seamless.
Even if you’re hesitant to call the iPhone 11 Pro the best smartphone on the market, at the very least, it’s the most polished. It’s a smartphone that’s very hard to fault. Well, other than when it comes to price. Starting at $1,749, the iPhone 11 Pro is one of the priciest devices around. On one hand, there are plenty of great smartphones available for much less, but on the other, the iPhone 11 Pro is good enough to justify the cost.
More iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max camera samples
High Key Light Mono Portrait Mode
2x zoom, 100% crop
I don’t want an iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max, what should I buy?
The iPhone 11 is the more sensible iPhone. You can a pick up a 128GB iPhone 11 for about $500 less than a 64GB iPhone 11 Pro. There’s plenty of love about the iPhone 11 Pro, but if you can’t quite justify the cost, you won’t be disappointed by the standard iPhone 11. It’s also way more colourful.
Google Pixel 3a
If all you want is a great camera at a good price, you should consider the Pixel 3a. It only costs $649 and has a camera that easily goes toe-to-toe with the best for the most part.
Huawei P30 Pro
If camera is your main concern, the Huawei P30 Pro is an excellent choice with fantastic lowlight performance and a more capable zoom lens.