Generally speaking, most new devices are quite good although they frequently make only marginal improvements over their predecessors.
According to Moore’s law, the performance of a processor should double every two years. But if we compare the A13 Bionic chip introduced in the iPhone 11 models in 2019 to the A11 Bionic chip from 2017’s iPhone lineup, is Apple’s latest silicon actually twice as powerful? I have actually used the last three generations of iPhone and can say that while a small performance difference is sometimes noticeable, it’s nowhere close to a twofold performance increase.
If you’ve read one of my last posts, then you probably know my stance on whether or not the iPhone 11 Pro legitimately earns the “Pro” distinction. Instead of recycling that argument, I’m going to offer my iPhone 11 Pro review after four months of using it as my primary mobile device.
Let’s get started.
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Design & Build Quality
In terms of design and build, the iPhone 11 series introduced the new Midnight Green color and a square camera bump.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. That seems to have been Apple’s motto for the iPhone 11 series. After all, 2019 ended up being yet another year of iPhones with the same design that debuted with the iPhone X in 2017.
Like the iPhone X and iPhone XS before it, the iPhone 11 Pro has a stainless steel frame rather than the aluminum frame Apple uses on the standard models. And the frame is sandwiched by glass panels on the front and rear.
Here we have another Samsung-made OLED display — complete with the infamous notch — while the standard iPhone 11 retains the LCD that was previously Apple’s go-to for mobile display tech. But the iPhone 11 Pro’s OLED display is a thing of beauty and supports real HDR video playback for the first time on an iPhone. The absence of ProMotion is really the only shortcoming (which, in all honesty, is a borderline unforgivable omission).
On paper, the design of the iPhone 11 Pro is pretty unremarkable. However, it’s hard to quantify just how good the iPhone 11 Pro feels in the hand, which is a testament to Apple’s incredible build quality for its products. The iPhone 11 Pro also weighs more than last year’s iPhone XS due to the larger battery and increased thickness.
When you turn the iPhone 11 Pro over, you finally get to see a design element that’s new. (Or it would be if it weren’t for the numerous leaks.) In lieu of the oblong module on previous generations, there’s now a larger square module, which I’ll be referring to as ‘the camera square’.
The previous module was made of stainless steel, soldered together from two pieces that sandwiched the rear glass panel and affixed to the device’s frame to keep everything firmly in place. But the iPhone 11’s camera square is made of the same glass as the back glass panel. Basically, the camera square was milled directly from the rear glass panel so that both the rear panel and the camera square form one continuous piece of glass. This also means the camera square is color-matched to the rest of the device.
As it turned out, those leaked photos might have been a blessing in disguise, giving us time to adjust to the polarizing camera square before launch. Then when the device was officially revealed, the camera square wasn’t so abrasive. And once we got the device in hand, we realized that the iPhone 11 Pro just isn’t photogenic.
Besides the camera square and new Midnight Green color, the iPhone 11 Pro’s rear panel is now textured, giving the glass an almost matte appearance. Additionally, some reviewers found iPhone 11 Pro Max to be ever so slightly taller than the iPhone XS Max from last year, but the difference is negligible. Otherwise, there are no major changes to the design or build from last year’s iPhone XS.
Power efficiency is the biggest improvement the iPhone 11 Pro makes over the previous model.
As in previous years, Apple used the same processor in all 2019 iPhone models, which is why benchmark scores are practically identical across the entire lineup. Meanwhile, the iPhone 11 Pro didn’t get a notable performance increase from the iPhone XS. In fact, if you were to use this year’s iPhone 11 Pro and last year’s iPhone XS side-by-side, you probably couldn’t tell which device has the newer processor just by judging raw processing power alone.
For these reasons, I’m not going to spend a ton of time on performance for this iPhone 11 Pro review. Instead, I’m going to briefly mention what real-world benefits we get with Apple’s latest mobile processor.
As Apple’s VP of silicon engineering Sri Santhanam explained during the launch keynote, power efficiency was a top priority when developing the A13 Bionic. In the end, the A13 ended up being 30 percent more efficient than the previous A12 Bionic, which translates to five more hours of battery life across the entire iPhone lineup.
If given the choice of a 30-percent boost to power efficiency or a 30-percent performance increase, though, I would choose the latter without hesitation. At this point, even power users find it sufficient to be able to make it through one day on a single charge. That’s because most of us regularly have access to an outlet or wireless charging pad, so battery life isn’t quite the priority that it was when few smartphones could reliably last for a full day. Meanwhile, more processing power does more to future-proof a device, particularly as apps are getting more and more resource-intensive.
The iPhone 11 Pro takes better photo and video than almost any other smartphone released in 2019.
The prospect of having multiple rear camera sensors on a smartphone was initially considered overindulgent and unnecessary. However, most critics changed their minds when they realized how useful multiple cameras can be.
With the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple has moved into triple camera territory after a few years of dual-camera iPhones. Those previous generations consisted of a standard and a telephoto lens. However, the iPhone 11 Pro adds the long-requested ultrawide sensor to the mix, allowing you to fit more into the frame of a photo without having to physically distance yourself from your subject.
Even before you consider actual photo quality, Apple’s decision to add the ultrawide sensor would be enough to warrant praise. But the fact that all three cameras on the iPhone 11 Pro are of such high quality just makes the device even easier to recommend.
On the hardware side, Apple made a big deal about how all three of the iPhone 11 Pro’s cameras sensors were calibrated and optimized to have much the same color sciences. This may sound unremarkable, but it’s actually a pretty big deal.
Typically, you’ll notice some differences between the photos taken with each of a smartphone’s cameras. That’s because smartphones with multiple cameras have different camera sensors, each with its own specs. Because of this, photos taken will differ in sharpness, color reproduction, contrast, etc., from one sensor to the next.
But Apple went to great lengths to calibrate each of the three rear cameras on the iPhone 11 Pro. So if you take a photo of the same scene with each of the iPhone 11 Pro’s sensors and compare them, all three photos would have almost identical color reproduction, dynamic range, and contrast.
Apple is also catching up to — and, by some accounts, even surpassing — Google when it comes to computational photography.
Computational photography is a number of software processes that combine, overlay, or piece together photos with different exposures to produce the best possible image. In the past, computational photography was used to compensate for the limitations of smartphone cameras, but these days it’s more commonly employed to make good photos even better.
The iPhone 11 Pro benefits from Apple’s new neural image processing technology called Deep Fusion. I won’t bore you with the details other than to say that it uses machine learning to optimize your photos and has become a real game-changer, taking the iPhone from “solid performer” to a real standout in mobile photography.
Other important photography features were introduced with the iPhone 11 series, too. In particular, there’s a new Night Mode on the iPhone. Although some are frustrated it can’t be activated manually, the iPhone’s Night Mode is as good or better than Google’s Night Sight by many accounts.
Let’s not forget that the iPhone continues to be the best smartphone for video recording, and Apple’s lead has only increased with the iPhone 11 Pro.
Is the iPhone 11 Pro Worth It?
It’s time to answer the main question: Is the iPhone 11 Pro worth it?
Not to be anticlimactic, but there’s no clear-cut answer. Obviously, it’s a terrific device, but whether or not the iPhone 11 Pro is worth $1000 really depends on what you specifically need and value.
The two areas where the iPhone 11 Pro makes the biggest improvements over last the iPhone XS are battery life and camera performance. So if you opt to get an iPhone 11 Pro, you can expect the device to last longer than any iPhone before it and to take better photos and video than basically any other smartphone on the market.
If you don’t care about camera performance and can make just about any smartphone battery last a whole day, then the iPhone 11 Pro probably doesn’t offer enough improvements and new features to warrant the price. In this case, the standard iPhone 11 is a solid option, and arguably the best choice for most people. After all, it has most of the same features as the iPhone 11 Pro with the only notable differences being that the Pro has a third camera and an OLED display. But the standard iPhone 11 starts at $699, or $300 less than the iPhone 11 Pro.
Another solid option is the iPhone XR from 2018. Sure, it’s a previous-generation device, but as I explained, the performance difference between Apple’s 2018 and 2019 processors is negligible. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that only major power users would really notice the difference.
As I bring this iPhone 11 Pro review to a close, I’d like to make one thing clear: I love my iPhone 11 Pro. It’s been a real workhorse for me, and although I didn’t necessarily need any of the improvements it made to the iPhone XS, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t appreciate having them. Even though I work from home and have pretty much continuous access to an outlet or wireless charging pad, the boost in battery life has been particularly enjoyable.
Now I’d like to hear from you. What do you think about the 2019 iPhones? Does the iPhone 11 Pro have enough improvements over the previous generation, or do you think Apple should’ve done more? And what do you think is coming down the pipeline for the 2020 iPhone lineup?