Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Very nearly the perfect phone

Apple’s latest flagship phone is fast, chock-full of new features and has an unbelievably good set of cameras

Editor's Choice
Price
£958 exc VAT (64GB)
  • Brilliant cameras
  • Vastly improved battery life
  • Stupendous display quality
  • Still too expensive
  • Still has that incongruous notch

In some ways, Apple has been a victim of its own success. Every year, it produces a new series of iPhones with the goal of tempting users into forking over their hard-earned cash, only to be met with frequent criticisms that not enough has been changed. Dig a bit deeper into these complaints, though, and it’s fairly evident that the reason not much changes from one iPhone to the next is that Apple has all but perfected smartphone engineering.

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Before you take to Twitter, it’s true that Android manufacturers are generally the first to implement new technologies - with 5G being the most recent example - but it’s hard to argue that, although it may not be first to implement new features, Apple does it better than anyone else. 

Which brings us to the company’s latest brainchildren. While we’re concentrating on the iPhone 11 Pro here, it’s worth pointing out the differences between the three iPhones in Apple’s latest crop. They all use Apple’s new A13 Bionic chip, but the plain iPhone 11 makes do with 4GB of RAM to its siblings’ 6GB. It also has a slightly smaller battery than the iPhone 11 Pro, but the big physical difference is its screen size and resolution: it uses a cheaper 6.1in IPS screen with a 828 x 1,792 resolution. It also has two rear cameras rather than three.

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The 11 Pro Max has an identical specification to the 11 Pro, but a larger 6.5in AMOLED screen with a boosted 1,242 x 2,688 resolution. To help power it, Apple includes a 3,500mAh battery (versus 3,190mAh for the Pro and 3,110mAh for the plain 11). 

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As such, think of the 11 Pro Max as a super-sized version of the 11 Pro, and the iPhone 11 as the more affordable option for people who can live without the camera’s new tricks.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Design 

We have to confess, we were wrong about the iPhone 11 Pro’s design. When we first saw it, we instinctively took against the look of the thing. That trio of camera lenses appeared awkward – ugly even – but now we’ve actually spent time with it, our opinion has softened. The square camera bump isn’t quite as prominent as it first appeared, and the fact it’s part of the same piece of glass – just with a different finish to the rest of the rear panel – is actually rather clever. 

Jony Ive’s influence can still be seen, hidden in the fine details. Each camera lens is framed boldly in stainless steel, seemingly perfectly positioned in space, each one equidistant from the other. But it’s the rest of the iPhone 11 Pro’s glass rear that proves ultimately persuasive: its matte finish has a silky texture that feels like beach glass, ground smooth by years of tidal shift.

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Aside from smooth glass rear, and its controversial camera housing, the iPhone 11 Pro’s design is nigh on identical to the iPhone Xs. The glass is tougher, says Apple, but the materials on show are the same, with a polished, colour-matched stainless steel frame surrounding the edges of the phone and hardened sapphire crystal topping each of the phone’s cameras.

The notch is still there, stubbornly clinging on despite all the brickbats hurled in its direction, and it houses the same Face ID setup. The positioning of buttons, antenna bands, speaker grille and charging ports are all the same, too. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the front camera has been boosted to 12 megapixels from the seven megapixels in the iPhone Xs, and that there’s a new “Midnight Green” colour to add to the more familiar “Space Grey”, silver and gold.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Display

Apple is fond of buzzwords and when it comes to its screen technologies, they’re everywhere you look. This year, the iPhone 11 Pro is equipped with a “Super Retina XDR” OLED display with support for HDR 10 and Dolby Vision. This means little more than a boost to the overall brightness of the display. It’s the same resolution as before at 1,125 x 2,436 for a pixel density of 458ppi, and it still uses OLED to deliver perfect contrast.

How much brighter is it, though? With automatic brightness mode enabled, the screen on the iPhone 11 Pro will peak at up to 766cd/m2 according to our measurements, and this is a touch better than the 686cd/m2 we measured last year on the iPhone Xs. While playing back HDR video, that rises to an even brighter 1,200cd/m2.

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In day-to-day use, you won’t notice much difference between this and last year’s phones. We placed an iPhone Xs Max next to the iPhone 11 Pro and played the same scene from Netflix’s Marco Polo; although we could see slightly more clarity in the highlights on the iPhone 11 Pro, the difference wasn’t night and day. It’s still a wonderful display for watching high-quality movie and TV content on – the best there is, in our view – it’s just not a huge improvement.

Put to the test with our X-rite colour calibrator, the iPhone 11 Pro posted impressive numbers. In our sRGB calibration tests, it was pretty much spot on in terms of colour accuracy and gamut coverage; 98.3% gamut coverage and 103.9% gamut volume is as good as it gets, while an average Delta E of 1.01 is nigh-on impeccable for a phone.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Specs and hardware

Even if Apple hadn’t improved the speed of its iPhones in 2019, it wouldn’t have mattered. A year on, the Apple A12 Bionic remains at the pinnacle of smartphone processor performance. It’s faster than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, the Kirin 980 and the Samsung Exynos 9820, all processors powering some of the fastest, and priciest, Android phones around.

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That the six-core Apple A13 Bionic inside the iPhone 11 Pro extends this lead even further won’t surprise anyone. The sheer extent of its advantage, and what this allows the phone to do, however, may well take you aback. Not only is it faster than the OnePlus 7T Pro, Google Pixel 4 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ - by as much as 50%, according to some of our Geekbench 5 tests -  it was also faster than Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro X devices, with double-digit advantages across the board. 

To see where this horsepower may come in useful we need to examine niche, near professional-level applications such as the forthcoming Filmic Pro app. Rather remarkably, this will record two streams of 4K 60fps video simultaneously from two of the three rear cameras, or one stream from the front and one from the back, again at the same time. With many modern phones only just beginning to get to grips with single streams of 4K video, the 11 Pro is truly one step ahead.

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Apple’s Achilles’ heel in recent years is battery life, with both the iPhone Xs and Xs Max falling well short of Android rivals. The good news is that the iPhone 11 Pro shows solid signs of improvement. Anecdotally, we’ve been getting comfortably better battery life with the smaller 11 Pro than the Xs Max we’ve been using for the past two months, and that impression has been backed up by the iPhone 11 Pro’s results in our video rundown test.

With Flight mode engaged and the display set to 170cd/m2 to ensure a consistent brightness across all phones we test, the iPhone 11 Pro lasted 17hrs 15mins before requiring a recharge. That’s four and a half hours longer than the iPhone Xs, which represents a significant 35% jump over last year’s phone. That’s not surprising as the battery has grown in capacity, but it’s still welcome and brings the 11 Pro almost level with the Samsung Galaxy S10. But it’s still no match for recent Snapdragon 855-equipped phones, such as the Asus ZenFone 6.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Cameras

And now for the key question: how good are those cameras? The answer is excellent. Apple hasn’t just chucked an extra lens on here and left it at that. It’s also improved image quality across the board, added a night mode that beats Google at its own game and boosted video quality as well.

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Before we get to image quality, let’s summarise what you’re getting. The iPhone 11 Pro has three cameras – one more than the iPhone Xs. The extra camera delivers an ultrawide field of view equivalent to a 13mm lens on a full-frame camera, at 12 megapixels with an aperture of f/2.4.

The other two cameras are similar to last year. There’s a primary 12-megapixel f/1.8 camera with optical image stabilisation (OIS) and a field of view equivalent to a 26mm lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor. And, finally, there’s a 2x telephoto camera with a resolution of 12 megapixels, an aperture of f/2, OIS and a field of view equivalent to a 52mm lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor.

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The front-facing selfie camera has also had an upgrade, with resolution upped to 12 megapixels from only seven. Apple has added its own version of night mode, which we’ll come onto. All three cameras on the rear are capable of recording 4K video at 60fps.

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None of this is particularly innovative. There are plenty of other phones with three rear cameras. Some have more cameras than even this and others have greater telephoto reach. The telephoto camera on the Huawei P30 Pro, for instance, gives you 5x optical zoom.

However, the image quality delivered by all three cameras is superb. In fact, generally speaking, the photos we’ve taken with the iPhone 11 Pro have been sharper and more detail-packed than both the iPhone Xs Max and the Google Pixel 4 XL, although the colour balance is a little warmer than the Xs Max. This is the case with both the primary and telephoto cameras.

Low light, however, is where the new iPhone takes a giant leap forward. We were surprised to find that it beats the previous low-light king – the Google Pixel 4 – in most circumstances. The colours are more natural, the details are sharper and there’s less visual noise in finely textured areas. We found the iPhone nailed focus more reliably than the Pixel, too. 

As ever, video quality is fantastic. Footage from the main camera is crisp, neutral in colour and packed with details, and video stabilisation works beautifully at 4K and 60fps. Apple has now extended the ability to switch the camera as you zoom in as well, which is a feature that would previously only work at up to 30fps at 4K. As before, though, it hasn’t been perfectly implemented. There’s a clear jump-step as the view transitions from one camera to the next, with a change in colour balance and quality.

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This is a small negative point, however, and it’s possible to stop it from jumping between cameras by using the Lock Camera mode in settings. Otherwise, video recording on the 11 Pro remains the best you can get on a smartphone, especially now that Apple’s extended dynamic range feature is available in the 60fps 4K video mode as well as 30fps.

In this mode, the iPhone 11 Pro’s camera captures 4K video at 120fps internally, with each alternating frame shot at different exposure levels and then combined to produce a pseudo-HDR effect. It’s surprisingly subtle but it balances out the bright and dark areas of footage in an effective manner.

All things considered, although the differences aren’t huge between the best phones on the market, Apple has pushed the iPhone 11 Pro to the top once again. It’s the most accomplished camera collection in a smartphone.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Features

Other hardware differences are more subtle. The phone comes with a more powerful 18W mains charger, so it’s quicker to charge than with the 15W one supplied with the Xs. It’s also now IP68 dust and water-resistant, which means it will survive encounters with fresh water down to a depth of 4m for up to 30 minutes. So it should be okay if you drop it in the deep end of the swimming pool.

Audio has been boosted, with support for Dolby Atmos’ object-based sound from the phone’s stereo speakers, and the battery is also bigger than last year (3,190mAh versus 2,168mAh), which Apple says adds up to four hours to the overall running time of the phone. There’s faster cellular connectivity too – up to a maximum speed of 1.6Gbits/sec for downloads – if you want 5G, you’ll have to wait until next year.

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If there’s one feature notable for its absence from the iPhone 11 Pro and, by extension, its bigger brother the 11 Pro Max, it’s 3D Touch. In many ways, this isn’t a huge disappointment. Although innovative, we were never convinced Apple made enough use of it. There is one feature we will miss, however: the ability to push down on the keyboard and then drag the cursor around with your thumb.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Verdict

It’s difficult to divorce any discussion of the merits or otherwise of the iPhone 11 Pro without mention of the price, so let’s get that out of the way. In our view, considering how good its rivals are, the iPhone 11 Pro is simply too expensive. You can spend half as much on an Android phone that’s 90% as good as this, with better battery life and far more storage.

But there is no getting around the fact that the 11 Pro is a brilliant phone. It looks much nicer than the photos suggest and its cameras are beyond compare. It shoots amazing video, and its battery life is a huge improvement on last year’s flagship iPhones.

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If you’re an Apple devotee and don’t mind splashing out, this is the phone to buy. The only thing to decide is whether to stick with the pocket-friendly iPhone 11 Pro or opt for the giant-sized iPhone 11 Pro Max. 

Apple iPhone 11 Pro specifications

Processor

6-core, Apple A13 Bionic

RAM

4GB

Screen size

5.8in

Screen resolution

1,125 x 2,436

Pixel density

458ppi

Screen type

AMOLED

Front camera

12MP, f/2.2

Rear camera

Primary: 12MP, f/1.8; 0.5x Ultrawide: 12MP, f/2.4; 2x Telephoto: 12MP, f/2.0

Flash

Quad-LED

Dust and water resistance

IP68 (4m for 30mins)

3.5mm headphone jack

No

Wireless charging

Yes

USB connection type

Apple Lightning

Storage options

64GB; 256GB; 512GB

Memory card slot (supplied)

No

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)

Bluetooth

5

NFC

Yes (payments only)

Cellular data

4G, Cat16 (1.6Gbits/sec DL)

Dual SIM

Yes (via e-SIM)

Dimensions (WDH)

71 x 8.1 x 144mm

Weight

188g

Operating system

Apple iOS 13

Battery size

3,046mAh

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