Apple iPhone 11 Review: Slick, Capable And Drop-Dead Glorious
The Apple iPhone 11 has just gone on sale, and it looks like being a storming success. This phone is the direct successor to the iPhone XR – many thought it was going to be called the iPhone XR2. But where that was the cut-price alternative to the XS, the subtle renaming means this phone is the definitive iPhone. And as such, it resets the pricing for the iPhone to more manageable levels than before.
Even better, it’s actually $50 less than the iPhone XR previously cost, though it’s significantly more powerful, as we’ll see. It’s not usually the case that reviews start with the pricing, but it’s important here. $699 is a great price for a brand-new iPhone. Sure, you can spend more for the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, but, really, do you need to?
Apple iPhone 11 in purple.
Classy, colourful design
The iPhone 11 comes in six splendid colors. Four are variants on last year’s XR shades: black, white, yellow and PRODUCT(RED). They are all subtly different from last year as you can see if you compare them to the iPhone XR which, unlike the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, is still available – at the bargain price of $599, that’s $150 less than when it first arrived 11 months ago.
But if you want an iPhone which looks utterly different, you’ll need one of the two new hues: green and purple. The green is a fresh and minty shade that’s appealing but the purple is the standout, I’d say.
It’s too light to really be purple, if you ask me, but whatever you call it, it’s beautiful. Delicately understated and powerfully bright in the same moment, the purple iPhone 11 is a real head-turner.
It has a gloss back with a matte camera square, unlike the iPhone 11 Pro which has a matte glass back and a glossy camera square.
That square was the source of much uncertainty, by the way, before the iPhone launched. Leaks suggested a large, protuberant block, possibly black all over like previous iPhone cameras. In fact, the block is much lower than expected, with the cameras peeping out above them.
You know what? We should have expected that, because the lens rising above the block is exactly what we saw on the iPhone XR.
It looks much better than the leaks suggested, and I really like it, though I recognize not everyone will.
Dual cameras on the iPhone 11.
The lenses have shiny rings around them, by the way, contrasting the matte square. On the subject of leaks, some said the mute switch on this iPhone would change to a vertical switcher like early iPads had. That didn’t happen and the switch is the same as other iPhones: flick it back to silence the phone.
The aluminum antenna band that goes round the edges is color-matched to the glass back and the buttons and switches. In fact, even the inside of the Lightning socket is a perfect match, which is a typical Apple detail. It means that even when the iPhone is lying on its back, you can see what color it is from almost every angle.
Although previously color iPhones like the iPhone 5c and iPhone XR have been synonymous with cut-price versions, this is a classy enough design to look premium.
Other design elements include waterproofing so the iPhone 11 can lie in 2 meters of water for half an hour without damage, that’s IP68. This is a reassuring thing, though quite commonplace in smartphones now.
As well as being water-resistant, it’s tough. Apple says it’s the toughest glass ever in a smartphone, both front and back.
Like the iPhone XR, the speaker grille at the bottom of the iPhone is symmetrical, though only one is a speaker, the other perfectly milled holes are cosmetic. Still, the iPhone XS and iPhone 11 Pro has an asymmetric grille.
The Lightning Connector and symmetrical milled holes on the base of the iPhone w11.
Bright, colorful display
Just as the back of the phone is colorful, so is the display. It’s the same as last year’s iPhone XR screen but even though it’s no match for the much higher resolution of the Pro phones, it still looks sharp. On its own, you will rarely feel it isn’t great. Only when side by side with a Pro is the lower detail level evident.
Of course, it has the other iPhone specialties such as True Tone which matches ambient color temperature to make colors more faithful.
This is an LCD screen, not an OLED like the iPhone 11 Pro and almost every other flagship smartphone, but Apple has worked wonders with it. Not just with the colors, but the way the screen goes evenly to all the edges of the phone. The bezel around the display is thicker than the iPhone Pro but it still looks very good and the evenness of display is the most impressive thing. Apple calls it Liquid Retina.
The camera interface on the iPhone 11.
Multiple rear cameras
When it first launched a phone with two cameras, Apple restricted this feature to its large-screen handset, the iPhone 6s Plus. Only with the iPhone X did a smaller-format phone have two cameras. Even the iPhone XR last year only featured one snapper.
This time, the iPhone 11 has two. This is a big step up and makes a huge difference. One of the key upgrades to phone photography in recent years has been the addition of Portrait effects, where your subject is brought into even sharper relief because the background is delicately blurred.
Some phones, like the Google Pixel 3, have managed this bokeh effect with one lens and a lot of clever software. That’s the route the iPhone XR went down, but there were limitations. For instance, this Portrait Mode only worked when human eyes were recognized. No vase of flowers would have a fuzzy background or, more importantly, a beloved pet.
The addition of a second lens here has meant that finally dogs, cats and other animals can all enjoy the photographic elegance that humans have been afforded.
The cameras are identical to two of the three on the pricier iPhone 11 Pro – one of many ways the iPhone 11 offers outstanding value. Both are 12MP sensors, with one twice the focal length of the other, so the telephoto offers an equivalent 2x zoom with no loss of resolution.
Other cameraphones do more than this, so if this phone is to stand out, it needs other features. Well, it has some, and it does stand out as a result.
First, Apple has added a new effect to its Portrait Mode quiver, which is significantly expanded over the one-lens iPhone XR. Two lenses means the iPhone 11, like the Pro and Pro Max, has six different Portrait settings: Natural Light, Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light, Stage Light Mono and the new one, High-Key Light Mono. Where Stage Light Mono leaves your subject picked out against a black background, here the background is bleached white. In both cases, all color is drained from the images. It’s a striking effect, made all the more convincing by just how accurately the iPhone can cut around the subject’s hair, for instance. And the depth of field, which determines what’s in focus and what’s not, can be adjusted both before and after you trip the shutter.
Then there’s Night mode, something other cameraphones have had but the iPhone has lacked. Often, low-light situations are exactly when that camera in your pocket is called into use, in a restaurant or club, for instance.
Apple’s Night mode swings into action when needed automatically, not when you invoke it. This is typical of Apple which aims to make its phone camera intuitive and easy to use.
So a small circular icon with a moon in it appears when it deems light is low enough for it to be needed. It will then take multiple images across a period of, say, a second and meld them together to give the best result.
In very low light the effect can be very striking, with colors brightened but true to life, unlike the artificially bright effect some phones come up with. You can adjust the length of time the phone is taking extra pics for, if you want.
There’s another new feature for those interested: the slofie. No, I don’t care for the name, either, but it is short for slow-motion video selfie. It shoots video at 120 frames per second and the results can be quite fun, I admit.
Apple’s cameras had been overtaken by rivals such as the Google Pixel 3, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and, above all, the Huawei P30 Pro.
You can read my cameraphone shoot-out here.
But now, with the addition of a second camera, coolly accurate Night mode and more varied Portrait effect, Apple is back in the game.
It’s always been great for video, and that’s improved here, too, with 4K video at 60fps and a feature called QuickTake video, launched by holding the shutter button in Photo mode, In this setting, the camera can track subjects automatically. You can edit video on the phone in advanced ways, including changing the aspect ratio or the format from landscape to portrait and vice versa. It’s pretty cool.
Overall, these features are enough to make the camera on the iPhone 11 very compelling.
Apple iPhone 11 – the unchanged mute switch.
Performance is crazy-quick
The iPhone 11 shares its processor with the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max. What this really means is the processor is designed to be fast enough to handle the extra demands put on it by, say, the higher-resolution display and three cameras found on the Pro models which means, unsurprisingly, that it’s blazingly fast here.
Apple has quoted figures for how much faster apps launch, for instance, but in practice it’s just really, really quick. The previous iPhone processor, called A12 Bionic, remained unbeaten in performance terms for most of the time it was available, and this new chip, somewhat unimaginatively called the A13 Bionic, moves things forward again.
There are other factors at work, such as iOS 13 which aims to be, as every successive OS does, to be more efficient.
As more advanced apps come on stream, expect the iPhone 11 to take them in its stride.
New Animoji (hurrah) in iOS 13 include a very cute octopus who gently moves to float in the same spot, an adorable cow and a feisty mouse. Memoji, the ones you create so they look like a cartoony version of you, now come in stickers you can add to messages. There are faster wi-fi speeds than before and the U1 chip which adds a kind of spatial awareness so that, for instance, when you point your iPhone 11 at another phone with the U1 chip (which is really just another iPhone 11 or Pro for now), it will recognize which phone is nearest as you AirDrop a file from one to the other. Face ID is faster and works across more angles. This is also an iOS 13 feature so it will come to other iPhones with the TrueDepth front-facing camera.
Taken on the Ultra-wide lens on the iPhone 11.
The battery on the iPhone XR was the longest-living of any iPhone, Apple said, so it’s a nice bonus that this one is even longer, by an extra hour. As to how long that really means, my experience of using it as my main phone day after day has been that it has lasted easily until the end of the day. There are even bigger strides forward on the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max which gain, respectively, four hours and five hours extra life each day.
The point is, you can use your phone as you like without fear of it conking out before you do. A welcome absence of battery anxiety.
Last year I rashly claimed the iPhone XR would become a best-seller. In the end, it really was, becoming the most popular smartphone in the world at one point, Apple says.
This year, I think the iPhone 11 will do way, way better. The advances in the camera, the improved battery life, cute new colors and an impressive $50 price cut will all edge the iPhone 11 into sensational sales, and soon.
If you don’t want the three cameras on the Pro models, you get a very decent amount of the capabilities of the Pro for significantly less money. And for many, perhaps most, people, that will be more than enough.
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