iPhone 11 review: 6 reasons it’s Apple’s best new smartphone
Latest iPhone was 1 out of every 10 smartphones sold in US last quarter
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac Everyone shopping for a 2019 iPhone faces a conundrum. The new Pro models come loaded with top-of-line features, but they cost much, much more than the 6.1-inch iPhone 11. Is it really necessary to pay $1,000 or more to get a great iPhone?
No, no it isn’t. In our iPhone 11 review, we’ll tell you why it’s Apple’s best new smartphone for most people.
iPhone 11 review
1. Performance is same as iPhone Pro
The iPhone 11 boasts the exact same processor as the Pro series. Exactly the same. And it’s a considerable step up from even last year’s top model. The iPhone 11 scored a 3311 in the multi-core test on Geekbench 5. The XS Max pulled in a 2735. For those considering the iPhone XR instead, this model scored 2543 on that same test. Apple made real progress with the new A13 processor.
The aging iPhone 7 pulls in a mere 1422, so an upgrade should bring a noticeable improvement in performance.
How about the Galaxy Note 10? It scored a 2531. Yes, Apple’s new mid-range model easily outscored Samsung’s latest flagship.
Beyond processor speed, the iPhone 11 also has the same amount of RAM as the Pro models: 4GB. Last year’s iPhone XR has 3GB. More RAM makes loading applications faster as they often don’t need to load at all because they’re still running in the background.
In short, if you’re looking for top-tier performance, there’s no need to pay extra for it. The iPhone is as powerful as the Pros. Or you can think of the 11 as a phone that won‘t be obsolete for many years, despite its mid-range price.
2. Dual cameras (including ultra-wide-angle)
Apple brought improvements to the cameras in all the 2019 iPhones. In the move from the iPhone XR to the 11, Apple went from one camera lens to two. But it’s more than that.
Sorry to get technical, but all three just-released handsets in the iPhone 11 series have a wide-angle ƒ/1.8 aperture lens paired with an ultra-wide ƒ/2.4 lens. Each of these is 12MP.
That new ultra-wide-angle lens is something people don’t realize they want until they see it. Remember all those times you’ve had to keep backing up to get your entire group into a picture? Never again. And beautiful pictures of wide-open spaces that used to require a panorama picture can now be taken with the press of the shutter.
The iPhone 11 takes outstanding close-up pictures too pictures, including bokeh images of pets.
But the point here is that these two lenses are the same across the entire iPhone 11 series, no matter what price tag is on the handset.
True, the Pro series adds a 2X telephoto lens, making it better at longer-distance photography. But that’s the only difference. It’s not like the old days when expensive phones had good cameras and cheaper models had cruddy ones.
Dark Mode for low-light pictures
If the way you take pictures is pointing the camera at something and pushing the shutter button, you won‘t see any differences between the pictures taken by either the iPhone 11 or the 11 Pro. Both will look amazing.
That’s especially true in poor lighting. The entire iPhone 11 series, no matter the price, offers Night Mode. This is comparable to a dedicated low-light camera, capable of making beautiful pictures in almost complete darkness. The phone is employing the A13 processor’s machine-learning capabilities to enhance the look of every object in photos. This means there can be one bright object in a dark photo and it doesn’t blank out everything else.
Deep Fusion coming soon
It doesn’t stop there. All the 2019 models will get Deep Fusion in a software update coming this fall. This system will capture 9 images when you touch the shutter button, then use machine learning to combine them for the sharpest details and lowest noise.
Let’s not overlook the front-facing camera. All the 2019 models make the jump from 7MP in their predecessors to 12MP. That’s a big jump the quality of selfies. And you can do a slow-motion selfie if you want to get on Apple’s “slowfie” bandwagon. Or take a time-lapse selfie.
The cameras in Apple’s latest iOS devices are the best it’s ever offered by a considerable margin. And, with the exception of long-distance photography, the iPhone 11 offers all the capabilities of the much pricier Pro devices.
3. A sweet LCD display
Much has been made of the fact that the iPhone 11 has an LCD while the Pro series has OLEDs. The differences are being overblown.
True, in a side-by-side comparison the iPhone 11 Pro series has a better-looking screen. Slightly. It’s the difference between very, very good and extremely good.
And that’s not only true under ideal conditions, but it holds up when the going gets tough. This isn’t one of the old LCDs that washed out in the sun. This screen is easily usable in direct sunlight. There’re no problems reading texts or email not just outdoors in the shade, but with the sun shining right on the screen.
Again, the OLED screen of the Pro-series models looks slightly better in this harsh lighting. But only if you’re planning to frequently watch movies while sitting in the sun should the difference in screen type cause you to pay extra for an iPhone 11 Pro.
Especially as Apple doesn’t make iPhone 11 buyers sacrifice screen size to save money. The handset has a 6.1-inch display with a 1792-by-828-pixel resolution. That works out to 326 ppi.
If you haven’t noticed, the iPhone 11 has a larger display than the much pricier 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro, though it’s smaller than the 6.5-inch 11 Pro Max. At 458 ppi, both of these have more pixels per inch, but this is another situation where it’s the difference between beautiful and astounding.
And anyone considering an upgrade shouldn’t overlook the huge increase in screen size from older Apple offerings. A move from the 4.7-inch screen in the iPhone 7 to a 6.1 inch one will improve everything done on the device. And the chassis of an iPhone 11 is actually much smaller than an iPhone 7 Plus while still offering a larger display.
4. iPhone 11 battery life
Battery life is another area where paying a lot more doesn’t get bring much improvement. Apple says the iPhone 11 is good for 10 hours of wireless video playback, a very strenuous task that indicates the shortest battery life to be expected. The iPhone 11 Pro can go 11 hours under the same conditions, while Apple promises the 11 Pro Max is good for 12 hours. That’s not a dramatic difference.
There hasn’t been time to perform our own tests, but Apple’s past promises of battery life have generally been low — tested models generally did better than promised.
For people considering an upgrade from an older model, the move to larger screens has been hard on battery life. Apple promised the iPhone 7 was good for 13 hours of video playback, for example. The 7 Plus lasted up to 14 hours. But that’s when these devices were new. After years of use, the battery inevitably degrades, so moving from one of these to an iPhone 11 will bring a longer time between charges.
5. Choose from six great colors
The iPhone 11 is available in six color options. There’s basic black or white naturally, but also green, purple, yellow and Product(Red).
Most earlier models offered just three color possibilities, though Apple has been stepping up its game lately. Still, the only iOS device with that range of hues is last year’s XR.
Admittedly, most people aren’t going to choose the iPhone 11 just because it comes a purple casing. But it is a nice benefit for those who like a colorful phone.
6. iPhone 11 price
The iPhone 11 is about as good as the Pro series in many ways, but comes in a close second in others. If the price difference was small there’d be no doubt one of the iPhone 11 Pro models is the better option. But the difference is huge. Truly enormous.
At $699, the iPhone 11 costs $300 less than the 11 Pro. It’s a whopping $400 less — 43% lower — than the price of iPhone 11 Pro Max.
If there was some aspect of these handsets where the Pro series was tremendously better than the cheaper option then there‘d be some justification for paying so much more. There’s not. And that’s what makes the iPhone 11 Apple’s best new smartphone.
Only those who have $300 or $400 to spend on a slightly better display, somewhat longer battery life, and improved long-distance photos should choose the Pro models. Everyone else should save their money.
As for people considering upgrading, remember that a new iPhone 7 Plus cost $769 back in 2016. iPhone 6 Plus cost $749 the year it came out. Compared to those prices, the iPhone 11 is a deal.
iPhone 11 review: Final thoughts
I’m replacing an iPhone XS Max with the iPhone 11 and am completely pleased with change. As someone in the iPhone Upgrade Program, I pay a monthly fee for my device, and choosing a cheaper model saves me $200 over the next year.
If I can move from Apple’s most powerful 2018 handset to the iPhone 11 and be happy, I believe anyone will be thrilled at upgrading from an iPhone 7, 7 Plus, or anything older.