Apple iPhone 11 review: The iPhone for everyone, but not
Unlike in the Android world where one is thoroughly spoilt for choice, buying an iPhone is fairly simple and comes down more to what you can afford than what you really want.
If you’re on a budget, pick up the 11 or the XR. If you can afford it, take the 11 Pro. If you like the size and can afford it, get the 11 Pro Max. It’s that simple.
While the Indian price tags are high enough to make anyone squeamish, whatever your choice, you can rest assured that you’re at least picking up:
- One of the fastest phones in the world
- A great camera
- A phone with a UI that’s second to none
- An entry to an unmatched app and device ecosystem
Introducing the Apple iPhone 11. Image: Anirudh Regidi/Tech2
These phones aren’t without issues, though, and despite being the best phones that Apple sells, they’re not necessarily the best phones for you.
But how do you decide? Do you shell out a premium for the iPhone 11 Pro or do you settle for the more sensible iPhone 11?
If you’re considering the Pro, head here for Nimish Sawant’s breakdown of what puts the ‘pro’ in iPhone 11 Pro. If your wallet won’t allow it, continue reading for an analysis of the 11.
iPhone 11 is the fastest phone Apple makes
As it stands, the iPhone 11 is basically the fastest phone in the world. Apple’s silicon is easily a year or two ahead of Android’s best and even “gaming” phones like the ASUS ROG II (Review) and certified powerhouses like the OnePlus 7T (Review) are barely managing to compete with last year’s crop of iPhones.
On the performance front, the iPhone 11 one-ups even the Pro phones because it features a lower resolution screen. A lower resolution means fewer pixels to drive which means there’s less stress on the chip (the A13 Bionic, in this case) powering the phone.
This time around, the iPhone 11 also carries as much RAM as its more expensive siblings, making it a no-compromise device as far as performance is concerned.
While the phone doesn’t support 5G yet, a technology that has yet to mature, it does support the fastest Wi-Fi standards, and 4G LTE that’s a bit slower than what the best phones have to offer.
iPhone 11 carries one of the best cameras Apple makes
In what is certainly an upgrade to last year’s model, the iPhone 11 features two cameras on the rear: a 12 MP f/1.8 wide and a 12 MP f/2.4 ultra-wide. These cameras are simply spectacular and the addition of Night Mode means that they’re finally competitive with Google’s Pixel and Huawei’s Mate series of smartphones.
The iPhone 11 features a 12 MP f/1.8 wide-angle camera and a 12 MP f/2.4 ultra-wide angle camera. Image: Anirudh Regidi/Tech2
The front camera also sees a major upgrade to a new sensor with a 12 MP resolution. What this means is that you can now, finally, record 4K60 videos and as a bonus, partake in the dubious joys of slo-mo selfies, a feature that Apple’s decided to dub ‘slofies’.
Personally, I’d have preferred a wide + tele combo on the rear. While the ultra-wide is indeed interesting, I think the tele is much more useful. Images from the tele are less distorted for one, and the camera also supports optical image stabilisation (OIS) and Night Mode, neither of which you’ll find on the ultra-wide. It’s also not clear if Apple’s upcoming and intriguing Deep Fusion tech will be supported on the ultra-wide. Yet another advantage of the tele is that its field of view makes for better portrait shots.
Click on the images below to view the entire album on Flickr
Regardless, photos shot on either camera are, frankly, top class. Apple’s managed to improve upon its HDR tech and most photos are easily competitive with those taken from the Pixel 3.
The primary camera is spectacular
Images, especially those captured in harsh lighting, tend to look very natural and I’m quite impressed by how the iPhone manages to maintain the dynamic range (colours in the brightest and darkest areas of an image) in almost any light.
The iPhone 11 captures quite a bit of dynamic range.
Night Mode, which finally makes it to iPhone, is effective. While it doesn’t turn night into day like Google’s Pixels, it does manage to produce images that look really good and natural in any light.
Night Mode on the iPhone 11 results in some spectacular shots.
I think the Pixel still has an edge in low light, producing sharper, brighter images that are more intelligently exposed, but the iPhone isn’t that far behind.
But this is all available only on the wide-angle camera.
The ultra-wide is an acquired taste
The 120-degree ultra-wide is a really fun camera system that can produce some amazing shots, but you really need to be paying close attention to what you’re doing. The severe distortion inherent to ultra-wide lenses is quite apparent and you’ll have to learn to take advantage of it when composing your shot. I’d also recommend you avoid taking group photos with this camera, unless you’re fine with your friends looking like they popped out of a Dr Seuss book.
You need to understand the field of view of the ultra-wide angle lens to put it to good use.
The lack of OIS and Night Mode on the ultra-wide does limit its usefulness, especially in low light. Apple’s HDR tech is good, which makes this camera still very capable in difficult lighting, but it’s simply not as effective as the tele or wide in low light. Videos are also not as well stabilised.
Despite that, I’d go so far as to say that this is by far the best ultra-wide camera system on a phone so far.
Selfies are finally tolerable
iPhone selfies have always been a bit ho-hum; not bad but not great. The new 12 MP selfie camera finally pushes them somewhere between the ‘surprisingly decent’ and ‘woah’ categories.
The selfie camera sees quite the update, but it’s still not as good as the ones on its Android counterparts.
Selfies are sharper and more detailed than before, and the enhanced dynamic range is certainly welcome, but even in good lighting, they lack sharpness and detail when compared to selfies from cheaper Android phones.
Portrait mode still doesn’t work
While Apple may have introduced Portrait Mode, it’s only Google that’s truly mastered the craft. To date, I’ve yet to see even one Portrait Mode shot that hasn’t messed up in some way. The iPhone 11, now that it has two cameras, does produce better portrait shots than its predecessor the XR, but it still can’t guarantee a great shot.
Even with two cameras, the iPhone 11 does a poor job of isolating subjects.
For Portrait Mode to work, the stars need to align, the lighting needs to be perfect and the subject needs to be perfectly isolated from the background, and even then it’s not guaranteed to work right.
Portrait Lighting modes like high key mono are a cool idea on paper, but they’re a bit pointless if the camera can’t figure out how to properly isolate the subject from the background.
High key mono feels more like an advanced black ‘n white image mode. If portrait mode worked, it would be far more useful.
These gripes apply to the front camera as well.
Videos are in another league
Videos, whether slo-mo, 4K60 or FHD60, look like they’re shot with pro video gear and expensive stabilisation equipment. You could be out chasing your dog or partying at a night club and the video camera will deliver regardless. 4K60 HDR recording on the front camera also means your vlogging capabilities just received an upgrade.
The camera app still needs work
The default Apple camera app is as limiting as the camera is powerful. What I’d love to see is something like a ‘Pro’ mode that will let me do things like adjust shutter speed and exposure, or at the very least, get the option to switch video modes on the fly.
The iOS 13 camera app is as barebones as they come. Image: Anirudh Regidi/Tech2
Thankfully, the latest beta build of iOS has apparently fixed the latter issue. It’s also hopefully fixed all the bugs in the new OS, more on that later.
iPhone 11 display is great, but only if you don’t know any better
The iPhone 11 is one of the most expensive phones you can buy today. At Rs 64,999 for the 64 GB model (Rs 79,999 for the 256 GB model I’m reviewing), this phone is competing with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S10 (review), Huawei’s P30 Pro, and even the OnePlus 7T Pro.
All of these phones come with fantastic OLED displays.
The iPhone 11 comes with an LCD display.
The iPhone 11 display is superb, but it’s not a flagship display. Image: Anirudh Regidi/Tech2
Yes, the 11’s LCD is probably the best LCD display you can find, and yes, unless you’ve used an OLED, you won’t really have complaints.
But, the fact remains that Apple is not bundling a flagship display with a flagship product.
Coming from an iPhone X, the iPhone 11’s LCD just appears slightly washed out and desaturated, especially when watching videos in the dark. The display is simply not as vibrant as that on any competing smartphone.
Videos look amazing on the large iPhone 11 display. They look even more amazing on an OLED though. Image: Anirudh Regidi/Tech2
I find the resolution to be a problem as well. Apple will tell you that it’s using a ‘Retina display’ with a high pixel density, but what it won’t tell you is that app scaling isn’t consistent on the lower resolution display (HD+) of the iPhone 11. The Apple Arcade logo, for example, appears pixellated on the 11 but perfect on the X, XS and 11 Pro. It’s the most first-world of first-world problems, but we are talking about a very expensive phone here and I think it’s reasonable to expect nothing but the best from the device.
For my short-sighted self, the display is even more irritating because I tend to hold the phone closer to my face and I can clearly see individual pixels when I do.
But it’s not all bad. A friend who was upgrading from an iPhone 6s recently bought the XR and was blown away by the quality of the display.
Essentially, if you care about display quality, the iPhone 11 Pro is the way to go. If you don’t, the iPhone 11 is just fine. In fact, the XR is also just fine.
iPhone 11 design is little more than an afterthought
Whether you love it or hate it, Apple’s iPhone X design is inarguably iconic. Notch aside, the phone is slender and elegant, and that steel frame only elevates the design further.
The iPhone 11 design is clumsy and the phone feels a bit bloated. Bezels are also huge. Image: Anirudh Regidi/Tech2
The iPhone 11 is anything but. It’s a nice phone, but it feels bloated and clumsy, and the chunky bezels only accentuate this effect. And I’m not a fan of the new colour options either. The Lavender variant I received for review just looks like gaudy nail polish.
To top it off, the rear camera bump also looks ugly and out of place on the 11. The 11 Pro has three cameras, making better use of the square bump. The 11 only has two and seems off kilter because of it. I’d have preferred the more refined, iPhone X-like dual-camera bump.
This is a phone that looks out of place in Apple’s sophisticated lineup of devices.
iPhone 11 battery life alone justifies an upgrade
After Night Mode, my favourite feature of the new iPhone has to be battery life. The design and display are virtually unchanged from last year, and the performance bump is not noticeable.
On a regular work day, I usually charge my phone twice. Once before leaving for work and once before leaving for home. With the iPhone 11, I plug it in for charging only before sleeping.
The iPhone 11 lasts 1-3 hrs longer than the phone it replaces. That’s a significant upgrade. Image: Anirudh Regidi/Tech2
Screen-on time has gone from about 4-5 hrs on the XR to about 6-7 hrs on the 11. There are days where I’ve even seen 8+ hrs of screen-on time.
Sadly, the joys of stellar battery life are dampened by Apple’s inclusion of the horrible 5 W charger. That charger is, I think, the slowest charger available on any phone over the price of Rs 10,000 in India. Thankfully, you don’t have to charge the phone that often.
iOS 13 bugs, missing 3D Touch, UWB and more
If iOS 12 focused on bug fixes, iOS 13 focuses on introducing bugs. The OS features are great, when they work, but iOS 13 is also so buggy that it feels like I’m on beta software. Apps crash all the time, UI elements disappear, the phone freezes at random and features like Continuity refuse to work. I hope Apple does something about these issues soon, because these bugs can get very annoying.
iOS 13 introduces some much-needed quality of life improvements, and a tonne of bugs. Image: Apple
The iPhone XR never had 3D Touch and the 11 also skips on the feature. I’m one of the few users who enjoyed 3D Touch and I’m a little sad that it’s no more. While it makes no difference to the 11, the larger batteries in the Pro models as a result of eliminating 3D Touch do make up for the loss.
Other features include an updated machine learning core on the A13 Bionic chip, the introduction of Ultra-Wide Band tech and machine-learning enabled camera features (which we’ve explored in more detail in the iPhone 11 Pro review).
iPhone 11: To buy or not to buy
The iPhone 11 is a fantastic phone. It’s powerful and capable, but it’s design and display feel compromised.
After spending a couple of weeks with the phone, and having come from an iPhone X, here’s my advice for you:
- Buy the iPhone XR if: you’re coming from a much older device or just need an iPhone.
- Buy the iPhone 11 if: you’re coming from a much older phone, can’t afford the 11 Pro, and are fascinated by the ultra-wide camera.
- Don’t buy the iPhone 11 if: you’re coming from an iPhone X, XS or XR. If you’re on the XS or XR, the 11 isn’t worth an upgrade. If you’re coming from a X, the 11 is functionally an upgrade, especially in the camera department, but you’ll immediately notice the compromised design and display tech and the compromises will drive you mad. If you’re on a X, save up for the 11 Pro or wait till the 11s comes out next year.
Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.