Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: in pursuit of perfection

Rating: 9.3/10

Pros:

  • The new triple camera setup is just killer
  • The best display on a smartphone
  • Better battery life than iPhone XS
  • Best gaming experience on a phone 
  • Excellent spatial audio from the speakers

Cons:

  • Wide bucket notch
  • No 3.5mm dongle in the box
  • No reverse wireless charging

Introduction

Up until 2018, I was an Apple user all along. My primary phone would always be the iPhone. I’d use whichever Android phone I was reviewing as my secondary. But that changed last year when I shifted entirely to the Android ecosystem despite having the iPhone XS Max at a touching distance at any given point of time. Why? Well, because the cameras on the iPhone XS Max were really not up to snuff. But that has changed this year with the new triple-camera-toting iPhone 11 Pro and the 11 Pro Max. Bad names but great phones overall. It’s been a while since Apple announced the new iPhone 11 Pro and here’s what I think of it after the hype.

iPhone 11 Pro design: evolutionary and polarising

The iPhone 11 Pro carries forward the same design ID that started with the iPhone X. The only differences are the triple camera setup on the rear, the frosted glass back, and the placement of the Apple logo right in the dead center. And of course, that swanky new Midnight-Green color that just looks stunning. Our unit is the plain old Gold variant, which doesn’t look too bad either.

Now that triple camera setup seems to be polarising opinions. Some people hate it while others love it. I don’t care too much about it because functionally it adds a lot of value. In any case, this design will help distinguish the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max easily from the older iPhones. The module – unlike the matte frosted glass finish of the rear – has a more-conventional glass finish and it is raised ever so slightly. And, the camera rings are raised slightly more. Essentially, you get three layers and despite the layering, machine engineering is impeccable. And yes, you just cannot scratch the back. 

As a matter of fact, I wanted to actually use the phone without the case. The soft-touch feel of the back is just fantastic. The entire design has the typical Apple polish and refinement that you cannot find in many other phones. You still get the same IP68 certification but now you can go up to a maximum depth of 4 meters of water for 30 minutes. 

Now, the logo at the center was supposed to be the placeholder for the reverse wireless charging feature that was rumored before launch. Since that never happened, I guess the central placement stays. Moreover, there’s no Type-C charging port this year either. You will have to make do with the Lightning port, which I am guessing should change next year.

Also gone is the really useful 3D Touch module that I was actually a big fan of. I know many iPhone users didn’t care to use it but I will terribly miss the feeling of the display pressing like a button when 3D Touching the keyboard to move the cursor. You can still do that using the excellent Haptic Touch Engine but it is not too great. And, you have to hold for a really long time to enter jiggly mode to delete apps. Also, I miss the haptic feedback while typing on the default keyboard app, I think Apple is trying to save battery life by not enabling it. However, you can use an app like GBoard to actually get haptic feedback and it is damn good. Oh yeah, and before I forget, still no headphone jack. And, still no 3.5mm dongle in the box. Just embrace the wireless life already, guys. 

iPhone 11 Pro display: the best in a phone but with a notch

The iPhone 11 Pro has the smallest 5.8-inch display of all the phones in the iPhone 11 series. And, that makes it much easier to hold and use with one hand. It feels like a phone and not like a mini-tablet, and I love that. And, I don’t have to say much about this AMOLED panel. This is by far the most color accurate, most bright, contrast heavy, and crisp display you will find on a smartphone. That said, placed next to an iPhone XS, I couldn’t tell any difference in display quality as such. Most importantly, I don’t know how that 20,000:1 contrast ratio spec helps but it is there if you want to flex. 

You see the difference when you place it next to the iPhone 11’s LCD panel, especially when you look at HDR content on Netflix. The difference in black levels is immediately apparent. For multimedia watching, the iPhone 11 Pro’s AMOLED panel is pretty awesome and pairing that with the new spatial-audio Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers only amplifies the experience. The speakers don’t get as loud as the Pixel 3 XL but they sound extremely full and rich. 

However, that whole surround sound spiel feels a little stretched. These are tiny speakers inside a phone. Please don’t go in expecting a proper surround effect. I tried the speaker in regular, everyday settings like an office, in my house with a fan whirring on top of me, inside a cab, and more. But I couldn’t hear any semblance of spatial audio as such. That said, if you do listen intently you might notice a slightly better surround effect but it is not so much that it changes the whole game or anything. And, when it comes to audio quality through headphones/earphones, as usual, Apple continues to excel. But yes, if you are an audiophile the LG G8s ThinQ will be a better bet. 

While the display and the whole multimedia experience is great, the notch is still an eyesore. But, you get the industry-leading FaceID tech that now works at certain angles as well. It is not like you can place it on a table and look at it to unlock your phone but just that Face ID is more sensitive now. It is now a pretty robust and secure tech that has come far since Apple announced it first on the iPhone X. 

The other thing that I noticed in my long usage period is the display attracts micro-abrasions that are visible on the black screen under a tube-light. But, for the most part, you should be able to avoid them if you use the phone carefully. However, I know that most folks will put a screen guard on it and that should immediately alleviate any concerns.

iPhone 11 Pro cameras: just mind-blowing! 

The serious upgrades this year to the iPhone 11 Pro comes in the form of the triple camera setup on the rear. You get a 12MP regular wide, an ultra-wide, and a telephoto camera with 2x optical zoom. Apart from this, there’s the new 12MP front camera as well. Before I even break down my findings, let me tell you that the iPhone 11 Pro has the best cameras on a smartphone with a disclaimer that Pixel 4 is yet to launch and the Mate 30 Pro hasn’t landed in India yet. 

  1. The camera app has been upgraded visually. While the core modes are the same, the black border around the regular frame turns transparent to show you the area that the ultra-wide angle camera can capture. There’s also a new “Capture outside the frame” setting that is on by default for videos and not for photos. Switch it on and at any given point of time, the camera captures more of the frame that it will delete automatically after a few days. So, if you go into the Photos app, you will notice a few pictures with a box with a star on top. This means you can reframe the image for a better perspective. Trust me, when it works it comes in super handy. 
  2. The main 12MP camera has seen a serious upgrade
  3. in terms of dynamic range and details. The color processing is very close to natural this year, compared to the iPhone XS Max. You will absolutely love the pictures that come out of this phone especially if you are a stickler for good dynamic range in your shots. Below are my camera samples taken in the wide, ultrawide, and telephoto sensor, in that very order.
    wide_1
    ultra_wide_1
    tele_2
    wide_2
    ultra_wide_2
    tele_1
    wide_3
    ultra_wide_3
    tele_3
  4. The ultra-wide-angle camera offers a 120-degree field of view. In fact, it is so wide that, more often than not, my finger would come in the way of the shot. It is not surprising that pictures from this camera are not as detailed as the main camera or even the telephoto one. I could also notice some highlight clipping and exposure blowouts too. 
  5. The telephoto 2x optical zoom camera is crisper than usual now. This brings us to the one thing that makes these cameras special. The color science parity. It is just crazy good. I mean, the algorithm has been tuned so meticulously that the pictures coming from these individual cameras look like they have been captured by the same camera with different lenses. Just like you would on a DSLR. Similarly, all the camera modes such as Panorama, Slow Motion, and Timelapse, are open for all the cameras as well. This is seriously very cool. 
  6. Moving on, I shot a few portrait shots and it continues to create that DSLR-like bokeh except for a few edge detection issues that should be ironed out soon. You can now shoot portraits with the main camera as well. And, the cool new mode is the High Key Mono Portrait. The high contrast monochromatic portrait shot looks extremely professional. In fact, you can also change the level of exposure apart from the f-stop. 
    iPhone 11 Pro Portrait Camera samples (6)
    iPhone 11 Pro Portrait Camera samples (5)
    iPhone 11 Pro Portrait Camera samples (4)
    iPhone 11 Pro Portrait Camera samples (3)
    iPhone 11 Pro Portrait Camera samples (2)
    iPhone 11 Pro Portrait Camera samples (1)
  7. When it comes to selfies, the 12MP camera on the front shoots 7MP close up shots by default. But, when you switch the phone to landscape mode it automatically switches to a 12MP wide-angle selfie to capture more people in the frame. You can shoot wide-angle selfies in portrait orientation as well. The selfies look great with natural skin tones. If you like capturing selfies, you will appreciate the pictures from the 11 Pro’s front camera. And, there’s also the 120fps slow-motion video recording chops of the front camera. 
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Selfies (1)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Selfies (2)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Selfies (8)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Selfies (7)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Selfies (6)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Selfies (5)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Selfies (4)
  8. About 4K video recording: all the four cameras can shoot 60fps footage with image stabilization and the excellent audio recording as well. The iPhone 11 Pro is undoubtedly the best smartphone camera for shooting videos. It is phenomenal. Also, Slow Motion videos on the iPhone 11 Pro – while limited to 240 fps – are still the most detailed and clean looking of the slow-motion videos I’ve shot. 
  9. Obviously, the new cool feature that Apple has finally added is the dedicated Night Mode. It fires at will and allows you to adjust the shutter speed as well. It is pretty sensitive and fires up at the right moment. In fact, if you place the iPhone 11 Pro on a tripod, you can open up a 30-second shutter on the phone! The pictures using the Night Mode are more true-to-life. But, the P30 Pro still beats the iPhone 11 Pro when it comes to light sensitivity and exposure. However, the iPhone 11 Pro definitely comes in at a comfortable second spot when it comes to low light photography and that is saying a lot!
    iPhone 11 Pro Night Mode Camera Samples (5)
    iPhone 11 Pro Night Mode Camera Samples (6)
    iPhone 11 Pro Night Mode Camera Samples (3)
    iPhone 11 Pro Night Mode Camera Samples (4)
    iPhone 11 Pro Night Mode Camera Samples (1)
    iPhone 11 Pro Night Mode Camera Samples (2)
  10. Oh wait, but there is more. In medium lighting, i.e. somewhere between low light and bright, Deep Fusion kicks in on the new iPhones. It is currently active on the iOS 13.2 developer beta. Deep Fusion is an advanced form of Smart HDR where the phone takes multiple exposures and reads the pixel-level information to enhance the finer details. Stuff like sweater threads or a very textured book cover looks crisper and more refined. This is only visible at 100% crop. So, if you are a casual photographer looking to post your pictures on social media, this jump in detail won’t matter to you. But for photography nerds like myself, such kind of computational algorithm is exciting. Apple has created something legitimately awesome here.
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Camera Samples Deep Fusion (1)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Camera Samples Deep Fusion (2)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Camera Samples Deep Fusion (3)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Camera Samples Deep Fusion (4)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Camera Samples Deep Fusion (5)
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro Camera Samples Deep Fusion (6)

So yeah, the iPhone 11 Pro has the best set of cameras I’ve used on a phone till date.

iPhone 11 Pro software: iOS 13 bugs have been ironed out

I am currently running the phone on the iOS 13.2 developer beta just so that I could check out Deep Fusion. But, iOS 13 has seen a string of updates within a month of the software going live. After iOS 13, there was iOS 13.1, iOS 13.1.1, and now it is on iOS 13.1.2 with iOS 13.2 right around the corner. All of these updates were issued to fix a few bugs here and there. In fact, I faced one where PayTM would keep signing me out. 

Anyway, the new feature additions to iOS 13 that immediately stood out for me are:

  1. The Dark mode looks really cool and is tastefully done.
  2. The ability to pair PS4’s Dualshock 4 and the Xbox controller for gaming. You can make use of this feature to elevate your gaming experience on Apple Arcade as well. With the addition of Apple Arcade, I am convinced that if you want a gaming phone just purchase one of the new iPhones.
  3. There are more editing tools in the Photos app, which now has the ability to edit videos as well. 
  4. Apple has also updated system apps such as Maps, Notes, Reminder, and Safari for an upgraded experience. 
  5. I really love the new time-synced lyrics in Apple Music, which is damn cool. 
  6. Another tiny update that made a huge difference to me is the fact that you can now long press to directly access the devices connected to Bluetooth or any Wi-Fi network.
  7. And finally, my most favorite one. A robust privacy and security feature where Apple gives you the choice to decide access to the internet and Bluetooth for third-party apps. 

It goes without saying, there are many new tweaks that I am missing out on but iOS 13 continues to be a completely different experience compared to Android. Whether it is better the Android is a whole other discussion that I don’t want to get into right now. 

iPhone 11 Pro performance: phenomenally good

Every year, with new iPhones we get new SoCs designed in-house by Apple. This year it is the A13 Bionic, which is touted to be more powerful than the outgoing A12 Bionic. You also get 4 gigs of RAM on both the iPhone 11 Pro and the 11 Pro Max. Essentially, the performance is just excellent but I didn’t find that much of a difference between the previous iPhone and this one. Daily usage is fantastic with a smooth experience that you get thanks to the 120Hz touch refresh rate on the phone. Yes, it is not a 90Hz panel by default but the iPhone’s 60Hz panel feels like 90Hz anyway. 

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Benchmarks (3)
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Benchmarks (2)
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Benchmarks (1)

Here is a handy comparison chart of AnTuTu, Geekbench, and storage benchmark scores on different phones, and you can tell that the iPhone 11 Pro is just leagues ahead of the other phones. The generation gap in performance continues to exist. Clearly, the iPhone 11 series of phones are the most powerful phones you can buy today. Even the gaming experience on graphically intensive games such as PUBG and COD: Mobile is killer. I just hope Tencent introduces the Extreme 60fps mode in the HDR setting for the iPhones soon. 

Since I have used the phone for a long time, I can also tell you with a certain amount of confidence that you won’t face a single slowdown or lag even if you push it to its limits. However, I did notice that the phone got slightly warm after an hour or so of COD: Mobile. But, it wasn’t so much that we should set off an alarm or something. 

iPhone 11 Pro network performance: Wi-Fi 6 and U1 are the biggest additions

The iPhone 11 Pro now comes with Wi-Fi 6, which means faster throughput and a more stable connection. But, the most exciting addition is the new Ultraband U1 chip. This chip can track the spatial relationship between objects within a range that is wider than Bluetooth. Applications and use cases for U1 will pop up soon but you can currently understand how it works with the new and upgraded Airdrop. Once you point your phone in the direction of another phone with a U1 chip, the icon of that phone is moved to the top of the listing. 

Apart from this, call quality and network stability have been particularly great. I did notice a few random call drops but that is definitely Airtel’s fault and not the 11 Pro’s. 

iPhone 11 Pro battery life: great improvements across the board

Apple claims that the battery life has become better on the iPhone 11 Pro. And well, that is true. The 3,046mAh battery inside the 11 Pro returned a Screen-on-Time of 5 hrs and 30 minutes on an average. I would take the phone out of charge at around 7 am every day and by the time I’d put it back to charge at around 11 pm, there would be around 15% left. This is based on moderate usage with light gaming, some social media surfing, etc. This is still pretty good. 

However, is this the best battery life on a premium flagship phone? No. But it is still better than the Note 10+, S10+, and the Pixel 3 XL. Furthermore, Apple bundles an 18W fast charger in the box which could charge the phone from 0 to 100 in 1 hour and 31 minutes in my testing. Obviously, there are Android phones that can do it faster, but for an iPhone, this is pretty great. You can also charge the iPhone 11 Pro wirelessly, so there’s that. 

Also read: Apple Arcade review: gaming on Android feels like a joke in comparison

Should you buy the iPhone 11 Pro?

A month later, the iPhone 11 Pro deserves all the hype. It is one of the best phones I’ve used all year. I am switching to the 11 Pro as my primary and if you are an Apple fan, you should too. If you are on an iPhone X or older, you must upgrade to the newer phones because they are totally worth it. If you have an iPhone XS/XS Max, you can wait it out. But yeah, these phones don’t come cheap. You could also consider the iPhone 11 – which is priced competitively – but, if you are someone like me, you’d really appreciate the better AMOLED display with thinner bezels and the finish of the iPhone 11 Pro. Although, I don’t think these are really Pro phones. Maybe they are Pro phones for someone moving from an iPhone 8 or older. Otherwise, I think not. 

That said, I do think that this is the year Apple has really upped the ante and made it tough for the whole Android landscape. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen quite a few friends from the industry – who generally avoided the iPhone like a plague — go ahead and buy one as their primary phone. Because, this year, it is truly worth it.

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?