iPhone 11 Pro review: Nothing ‘Pro’ about it, just the
If you were to run a survey to find out what most people want in a new smartphone, they’d probably say they want something that looks great, performs well with a decent battery and, of course, a great camera system.
Funnily enough, that’s what you get with the iPhone 11 Pro. But to complicate things, it’s also what you get with the iPhone 11, which costs £320/$300 less. The Pro is certainly an upgrade, but it doesn’t do a lot to justify its “Pro” branding or price. You can see how it scrubs up to the rest of the range in our best iPhone chart.
That being said, the iPhone 11 Pro is a phenomenal iPhone with some obvious (and not-so-obvious) improvements over previous offerings.
Note: This review refers to the iPhone 11 Pro as a single entity, though we tested both the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. The only difference between the two phones is that the Max is larger and has longer battery life. It’s best to just think of the iPhone 11 Pro as a single product that comes in two sizes.
Design: Built to last (probably)
When it comes to modern flagships, most are extremely fragile, which is why about 99 percent of them are stuffed into a case at the point of opening. Sporting a new frosted glass rear made out of a single piece of glass – including the camera bump – Apple claims that this is the toughest glass in a smartphone, and that the iPhone 11 Pro is the toughest smartphone ever. Bold claims.
Of course, we’re not about to smash a couple of brand-new iPhones to find out, but a lot of YouTubers who specialise in that sort of thing have. They unanimously praise the durability of the iPhone 11 Pro; it’s certainly not indestructible, and you can definitely still shatter it with a particularly nasty drop, but it’ll take more of an impact to cause serious damage than any iPhone before it.
There’s also improved waterproofing on offer, with the 11 Pro capable of surviving up to 30 minutes at a depth of 4m, and that’s better than most competing phones too.
It goes without saying that if you’re going to spend a grand on a phone, it should be built to last, but that’s not the be-all. It should also look good, and while the iPhone 11 Pro doesn’t look too different than the iPhone XS from last year, there are a few minor changes on offer.
The big square camera module on the back, while a lot to take in initially, isn’t as much of an eyesore as it at first appears and you’ll stop noticing it within a few days. It’s the frosted effect that makes all the difference: the frosted glass gives the phone a matte finish that is a huge improvement on the glossy, fingerprint-magnet finish of the iPhone XS, let alone the Piano Black iPhone X – anybody else remember that? And the new colour, Midnight Green, is the perfect addition to the standard Space Grey, Silver and Rose Gold options.
Display: A better display that sort of isn’t
One of the key “Pro” improvements of the iPhone 11 Pro is supposed to be its display. It’s an OLED display with the same resolution as last year’s iPhone XS, albeit brighter and more energy-efficient (at equivalent brightness) this time around.
Apple claims the display goes up to 800 nits during normal viewing, and 1,200 nits when viewing HDR content, but in real life, you won’t really notice.
Side-by-side with the iPhone XS Max, you can’t really see any difference when viewing HDR content like Blade Runner 2049. Both look gorgeous, but you have to really pixel-peek, holding both phones side-by-side, to see a difference.
It’s much the same in bright daylight: while it’s easier to see that the iPhone 11 Pro’s display is brighter when doing normal tasks, the difference isn’t so stark that you’ll suddenly be able to use your phone at the beach without a bit of shade. If you weren’t holding it next to last year’s iPhone, you probably wouldn’t even notice the difference.
Apple has branded the iPhone 11 Pro’s display as “Super Retina XDR”, and even suggests it delivers the “experience” of its ultra-high-end Pro Display XDR. Let’s clear this up: there’s no such thing as “extreme dynamic range” or XDR, both are made-up Apple marketing phrases. As much as the company would like it to, he iPhone 11 Pro’s mobile display can’t hold a candle to the 10-bit colour or brightness of Apple’s new pro studio monitor.
You might be reading that and thinking that the iPhone 11 Pro display is a disappointment, but that’s not the case – it is gorgeous, detailed and vibrant, it’s just that it’s barely better than the fantastic OLED display on last year’s iPhone XS.
Photo & video: It’s all about that camera
Apple’s high-end iPhones have had a wide and telephoto camera duo on the rear of the phone for a few years, so it was about time for Apple to switch things up – and that’s what it did with the iPhone 11 Pro and its third ultra-wide camera.
Landscape photographers will find a lot to enjoy with the new ultra-wide lens, but I think even the everyday user will find themselves using ultra-wide quite often – especially as you get a preview of the potential ultra-wide framing within the updated Camera UI. You can get more people in a shot without backing up or capture that big statue or sculpture without having to stand so far away that people walk in front of you.
The confusion comes when you factor in that the iPhone 11, the “non-Pro” model, has the same camera. Weirdly, it’s the telephoto camera that distinguishes Pro from non-Pro, and honestly, it’s just not that big a deal. Admittedly, the telephoto camera has been improved with a wider f/2.0 aperture that lets in a lot more light than the iPhone X and XS, but it’s much handier to zoom out with an ultra-wide than zoom in with a 2x telephoto.
It’s nice to take portrait mode photos with the standard wide-angle lens (which you couldn’t on the iPhone X or XS), but it’s just another way the Pro fails to distinguish itself from the standard model.
The combination of improved sensors and a much more powerful A13 Bionic processor combine to produce much better photos than the iPhone XS, which was already regarded as one of the best cameras on a smartphone. There’s enhanced detail and dynamic range on offer, and colour accuracy is really on point – this phone captures some of the most true-to-life colours of any smartphone I’ve seen, especially considering the best Android phones sometimes get a little too carried away with making the colours “pop” and sharpen things up with a post-processing filter.
Flip the phone around and you’ll find the improved selfie camera. The selfie camera is now 12 megapixels, up from 7, with a field of view 15 degrees wider (85 instead of the 70-degree field of view on previous iPhones). It might not sound like it, but both make a significant difference. You’ll get clearer and sharper shots in more conditions, and group selfies are easier than ever.
One of the most exciting additions for iPhone fans is Night mode. When this was introduced on the Google Pixel and followed on other Android phones, iPhone users were understandably upset that they didn’t have the same feature. The wait is over, and it’s as impressive as you might imagine.
When it’s dark enough to warrant its use, Night mode automatically engages, and will ask you to hold your phone still from one to three seconds while the screen brightens, as if developing a photo.
The resulting photos are usually quite impressive, thanks to Deep Fusion technology powered by the A13 Bionic that dramatically improves overall image quality by enhancing it on a pixel-by-pixel basis. Night mode shots are much brighter and more colourful, but not unnaturally so, as is the case with many high-end Android phones – it doesn’t turn night into day, it just captures a shot that looks like what your eye might see at night.
When it comes to video, you’ve got the option of shooting up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second on the rear cameras while still benefitting from extended dynamic range and image stabilisation – features that were previously only available up to [email protected] Throw in the ability to smoothly zoom in from ultrawide to telephoto with a new zoom dial and you’ve got a powerfully capable video device.
There are also a few really thoughtful improvements to the Camera interface, but why these aren’t universal to the iPhone range is unclear to me. You’ve got the option to tap-and-hold on the shutter button to start recording a video, swipe to one direction to lock video recording, swipe the other to take a burst shot, but there’s one key improvement I use almost every time I open the Camera app.
Features like changing the aspect ratio, choosing filters, and setting a timer are now accessed in a features bar that appears when you swipe up on the camera modes and disappears when you swipe down. It’s a good place for this stuff, and gives easy access to more advanced camera controls with a tap. iOS 14 even allows you to change video resolution via the Camera app – a long-time requested feature – so the tweaks aren’t done yet either.
Performance: The fastest phone money can buy
Apple’s A-series processors are second to none; the A12 Bionic of the iPhone XR and XS was the overall fastest mobile CPU on any smartphone, and had nearly the fastest GPU. Despite this, Apple says it has made significant improvements with the A13 Bionic.
The new A13 Bionic uses TSMC’s new second-generation 7nm process, which improves energy efficiency and allows for higher clock speeds, and the results are impressive.
According to Apple, pretty much every part of the A13 is 20 percent faster than before: the CPU (high power and high efficiency cores), the GPU, and the Neural Engine. In addition, you’ll also find new machine learning accelerators in the CPU – separate from the Neural Engine – that perform matrix multiplication operations six times faster.
The 7nm chipset also provides improved power efficiency. Apple says the Neural engine uses 15 percent less power, the big CPU cores use 30 percent less power, the little high-efficiency CPU cores use 40 percent less power, and so does the GPU.
There’s a catch, though. Apple says these power improvements are “for those applications and tasks that don’t need more performance than the A12.” In other words, the GPU uses 40 percent less power when running at the same speed as the GPU in the A12 – when it clocks up to run 20 percent faster, that power savings is reduced or lost.
In the new Geekbench 5 test, the single-core performance of the A13 is about 20 percent higher than the A12, which was 20 percent faster than the A11. Where multi-core performance took a 16 percent leap from the A11 to the A12, this year it takes a 30 percent improvement in the A13. Compute performance keeps climbing by 40 percent year on year.
No other phone is even close to these numbers.
No matter how you look at it, this is an insanely fast and impressively efficient mobile chipset. Every year, Apple sets the bar for mobile system-on-chip design, and it’s safe to say the company has done it again with the A13 Bionic.
Battery life: Tremendous battery life
You probably won’t notice, but the iPhone 11 Pro is slightly thicker and heavier than the iPhone XS, and all that space is seemingly taken up by a bigger battery – much to the delight of fans. There’s also a more efficient OLED display and better battery-saving features in the A13 processor to provide a noticeable improvement to battery life compared to its predecessor. Apple claims it all adds up to an extra four hours of battery life in the iPhone 11 Pro, compared to the iPhone XS, while the iPhone 11 Pro Max can go five hours longer than the iPhone XS Max.
It’s near-impossible to replicate whatever real-world usage scenarios Apple uses to come up with those figures, but the iPhone 11 Pro is a certifiable battery giant.
In our battery benchmark, the iPhone 11 Pro lasted 37 percent longer than the iPhone XS – about an hour and a half more. The iPhone 11 Pro Max saw almost the same improvement, which works out to a nearly two-hour longer running time.
When it comes to the iPhone 11 Pro Max, I can easily surpass eight hours of screen-on time without doing anything to conserve battery life. In fact, much of that time has been spent playing games, which are notorious for running down your battery, and that’s simply phenomenal. You might be able to make your iPhone 11 Pro Max battery run out before the end of the day, but you’d have to try pretty hard.
While on the subject of battery, we should note that the iPhone 11 Pro comes with an 18-watt USB-C charger in the box, and a Lightning-to-USB-C cable. This is, simply put, several years overdue, although it’s disappointing to see that the regular iPhone 11 still comes with the 5-watt USB-A power adapter.
As you might expect, the charging experience is a little quicker now too. Using the included 18-watt adapter, I charged a dead iPhone 11 Pro Max up to 32 percent in just 20 minutes, and about 50 percent in half an hour. One hour of charging brought me up to 83 percent, but the charge rate starts to get pretty slow after that (as it does with nearly all rechargeable batteries).
Price and availability
The iPhone 11 Pro is expensive, there’s no doubt about it, especially when you consider the regular iPhone 11 starts at £729/$699 and offers a broadly similar set of features, and that’s even more true of the iPhone 11 Pro Max:
- iPhone 11 Pro (64GB): £1,049/$999
- iPhone 11 Pro (256GB): £1,199/$1,149
- iPhone 11 Pro (512GB): £1,399/$1,349
- iPhone 11 Pro Max (64GB): £1,149/$1,099
- iPhone 11 Pro Max (256GB): £1,299/$1,249
- iPhone 11 Pro Max (512GB): £1,499/$1,449
If there’s one thing you can be certain about, it’s that there’s a better iPhone every year. That doesn’t mean one should upgrade every year, of course – as is usually the case, those with an iPhone XR or XS should probably hold out for another year, while those with older phones will see a more dramatic improvement if they upgrade.
The problem is that you can get almost all the important improvements of this year’s iPhones in the standard iPhone 11, which costs hundreds less than the iPhone 11 Pro. With the most important camera features no longer exclusive to the high-end model, and 3D Touch gone from all models, and an even larger price gap than ever before, the iPhone 11 Pro is in an awkward position.
The iPhone 11 Pro is undoubtedly the best iPhone available right now, and one of the best smartphones a person can buy, full stop. How can you not love the fastest, longest-lasting, most-durable, best-camera iPhone ever?
But with all that said, it doesn’t really break any new ground. It does everything the iPhone XS does, just better, and it adds features that have been long-time staples on Android phones, but it’s hardly the revolution the iPhone X was, and unlike rivals, it doesn’t have any 5G capabilities. It’s tough to recommend over the basic, non-Pro iPhone 11, which is very nearly as good and costs a third less. If Apple is going to continue the Pro branding and drastic price gap, it needs to do more to justify them both.