The most powerful phone on the market doesn't bring a huge swathe of changes - the camera is far more adept at photo and video, and the increased speeds mean gaming is far more impressive. However, there's not a lot different visually from the last two years of iPhone, so perhaps users will be swayed by the cheaper iPhone 11.
- Lovely back
- Camera is a real step forward for iPhone
- Very similar to iPhone XS visually
- Not a huge amount of new features outside the camera
‘By innovation only’ was the tagline on the event to launch the new iPhone 11 Pro (alongside a few other friends) - but there isn’t a huge amount of innovation on offer.
Instead, the new high-end iPhone 11 Pro is designed to be the best that Apple has to offer, with the new device bringing the most power, a new matte back finish and a camera that can do things no iPhone has ever been able to do.
One of the key reasons why Apple is accused of being iterative in recent years, of not bringing something new to the party, is the decision to stick rigidly to the design of the previous year - the iPhone 11 Pro looks like the iPhone XS, which looks like the iPhone X.
The iPhone 11 Pro looks very similar to the iPhone XS of last year from the front - Apple would contend that it doesn’t need to change a winning formula, and doesn’t see the need to just change things for the sake of it.
The rear is a lot different, as mentioned, thanks to the matte effect, and the larger camera bump instantly stands out.
Apple assures us that the upgrades inside are what counts, and there are a few of these this time around. The camera, obviously, is a key upgrade, and the smarts inside the new A13 Fusion chipset bring more power to users once again.
- Also check out our hands-on iPhone 11 Pro review
iPhone 11 Pro release date and price
Well, it’s going to come as no surprise that the new iPhone 11 Pro is an expensive little thing - starting at $999 (£729, AU$1,199), it’s going to land on Friday, September 20, with pre-orders live from Friday, September 13.
The new iPhone 11 Pro comes in three storage sizes: a paltry 64GB, the default-best-for-most-people 256GB, the power-user-maxed-out 512GB. There’s no 128GB size this year, which would probably be the ideal starting size for most people.
With no expandable storage on offer (which should come as a shock to precisely nobody that’s ever heard of an iPhone) some might moan that there’s no 1TB option, as there is with the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus, for instance, but Apple believes half that amount is all its users require.
The camera on the new iPhone 11 Pro is the thing most people will be interested in - not only was it heavily rumored in the build-up to 2019’s iPhone launch, but it’s also one of the most powerful elements of the device now.
As predicted, the rear array comprises three cameras, each with 12MP sensors: a ‘standard’ shooter, an ultra-wide option and a 2x optical zoom lens (it's only a 4x zoom when you take into account the ultra-wide lens to the telephoto lens).
Before we get into the power and versatility that the iPhone 11 Pro camera setup offers, it’s important to talk about the large square bump that sits on the rear of the phone. It’s needed because there are now three sensors and a flash in the mix too - and by having this section raised the user gets a slimmer device in the hand as well as powerful cameras.
It’s impossible to pretend that this is an attractive look for the new iPhone 11 Pro – it would be infinitely preferable if the rear was all one smooth piece of glass. And while we’re used to the camera bump from Apple, this feels like a step too far – even though the images we saw in demo seem great, the design matters to users.
We would say that fact the camera bump is a similar color as the rest of the rear of the phone really does help this – there’s no doubt the black option we saw in the build up wasn’t something many would love to look at – but it’s still rather large on the rear.
How do the photos look? Well (as usual) we had only a limited opportunity to put the cameras through their paces in the demo area. However, the overall image quality was as sharp as ever, and trying the camera in bright, clear light offered smart-looking snaps.
The background defocus mode, which Apple calls its Portrait feature, is back, and it’s more impressive than ever. There’s a high-exposure mode here, so you can create more clear-cut exposures
This has been upgraded to include the ability to take sharper, more studio-looking images from the phone, with a more effective mask being able to work out where the background and foreground begin and end.
But the bigger trick here is less about the physical camera, and more about the Neural Engine, the artificial intelligence within the iPhone 11 Pro.
That means improved low-light performance once more when compared to the performance on the iPhone X and XS - although whether it’ll be a match for Google’s Night Sight is another thing, and it’s something we need need to test further - and smart features inside will be able to improve the photo for you.
Thanks to that ultra-wide lens enabling the camera to take in more of the scene in front of you, Apple’s new iPhone range is even able to reframe the image after the photo has been taken.
So if you omit a key part of the scene from the frame - for instance, cutting someone out of a group shot or not getting the tip of an iconic tall building - you’ll be able to add them in after, provided they fell within the field of view of the ultra-wide lens.
The iPhone 11 Pro will even be able to visually suggest such enhancements for you, if it senses there’s a better snap in there somewhere, while taking the snap - this was a nice touch.
However, we did note a small amount of judder when flipping between the different lenses as the iPhone worked to try and make things as smooth as possible - that was something that we’ve seen on a number of other phones, and makes sense when trying to interpolate a different field of view, but did diminish the overall effect somewhat.
Design and display
We’re used to Apple being iterative with its phone design - we had the iPhone 3G and 3GS, the iPhone 4 and 4S, and the iPhone 5 and 5S - so seeing it stick to this formula for the iPhone 11 Pro makes sense.
Every year we’d hope that Apple would bring something new that iPhone fans would be able to get genuinely excited about - after all, seeing a phone with a whole new look is a more visceral experience than being told about a slightly uprated camera. Instead, Apple began stretching the design cycle.
The iPhone 6 became the iPhone 6S, which morphed into the iPhone 7, which in turn became the iPhone 8. In the case of the latter handset that didn’t matter so much, as the iPhone X, sporting an all-new design, launched alongside it, so the world got the ‘new’ iPhone it wanted.
However, that iPhone X then became the iPhone XS, which has become the iPhone 11 Pro we see now. Why the long-winded history of iPhone design before we get to this new model? Smartphone buyers are increasingly keeping hold of their handsets for longer before upgrading, and a new design can be a real temptation to trade up.
But perhaps Apple recognizes that - the fact that its design is only changing every fourth model these days suggests that it thinks that the expensive process of updating the design of its handset is unwarranted.
This iPhone design history lesson has been a long-winded way of saying that the new iPhone looks a lot like the last one, and the one before that. The shiny metal edges curve away in the palm, the 5.8-inch screen is interrupted by the notch at the top, and the bottom of the phone has two perforated grilles, one of which packs a speaker, while the other is there to keep things looking aesthetically symmetrical.
It’s not fair to say that this phone looks identical to last year, especially when checking it out from the rear and the frosted matte finish – that does feel nicer in the hand, and while not a massive upgrade, it does make a difference.
The bottom of the phone houses the same Lightning connector we’ve seen for the last few years – some were expecting a switch to USB-C, as used on the new iPad Pro and MacBooks, and as seen on most new smartphones these days.
We suspect that’s coming next year, when Apple is expected to finally tool its range of handsets with an iPhone 5G and attract those users beginning to tire of the lack of variety design-wise.
Oh, and what about the iPhone 11 Pro colors? Well, we’ve got a number of them this year, with the new Midnight Green, Space Grey, Silver, and Gold.
iOS 13 and a better charger
As you might expect, the iPhone 11 Pro is the showcase for iOS 13, the latest version of Apple’s operating system. This brings new features to the new phone range, although these will also be rolled out to older models via software updates.
The performance of the phone is something Apple is touting hard, especially in the gaming area. The tagline of ‘the fastest smartphone on the market’ isn’t going to go anywhere thanks to the uprated innards, and we found no hint of slowdown when spinning through the device.
The gaming performance of the phone, powered by the A13 chipset, was indeed impressive – running at native resolution at 60 frames per second, the speed with which the light reflected off the character's armor in the game Pascal's Wager was really clear, and the overall fluidity of the game incredible.
All these features are nothing without the power to run them, of course, and Apple has made some changes to the battery in the iPhone 11 Pro.
The much-vaunted reverse wireless charging we’ve seen this year from the likes of Samsung and Huawei hasn’t materialized – this was expected, as last-minute rumors suggested it wouldn’t make the cut because Apple couldn’t get it to work as expected.
This feels like AirPower all over again – the eventually-cancelled wireless charging mat from Apple – but the company clearly didn’t want to diminish the overall impact of an iPhone that wasn’t set to make waves as it was.
Apple has – presumably – increased the size of the battery over the one used in the iPhone XS, although as usual we don’t know the exact battery capacity. On stage, it was confirmed that the new iPhone 11 Pro would last four hours longer than the iPhone XS, but really we just want it to have all-day battery life.
The iPhone XR was the first Apple phone to manage this feat, and we’re hoping that we see the same with the new model in our testing.
We’ve been previewing Apple’s latest iPhones for a number of years, and while the brand certainly knows how to put on a show to whip up the clamor for its new devices, we’re left – again – feeling like there’s not a huge jump forward.
That’s not because the iPhone 11 Pro is a poor device in any way, but because it lacks a headline feature for us to really get our teeth into.
Sure, there are changes: the camera is clearly the big upgrade, and will likely keep Apple in the debate as to which is the best camera phone on the market.
The iPhone 11 Pro is, of course, Apple’s most powerful iPhone yet. But to be truly impressive it needs to offer something exciting to make consumers feel it will improve their life in some way - and the iPhone 11 Pro feels like a smoothed-out version of 2018’s iPhone XS with a nicer back.
However, the key thing is not the headline feature set, but how the phone performs in real-world use – so let’s see if we get any nice surprises when we conduct our full iPhone 11 Pro review, as we did with the surprisingly strong battery life on the iPhone XR last year.
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