(Pocket-lint) - Apple ditched the iPhone XS and XS Max in favour of the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. These two 2019 models sit at the top of the range above the 'standard' iPhone 11 and iPhone SE, and as their names suggest, feature additional features for those who really want the best of the best.
But by adding a 'Pro' label has the iPhone 11 Pro put itself out of reach of most users? Will people be ok with that triple camera arrangement to the rear? And does the iPhone 11 actually make the best sense of all?
A design that will divide
- Three cameras on the rear of the phone
- IP68 water-resistant (to 4m for 30mins)
- New Midnight Green colour option
The iPhone 11 Pro uses the same design language as found in the iPhone XS - at least in all but the cameras department. That means the same 5.8-inch OLED display – which has been improved in terms of brightness and contrast, but more on that in a bit – and you still get the polished stainless-steel chassis with glass back.
The rear glass has been toughened to withstand more knocks, bumps, water, and dust; however, it has changed to introduce a different camera section and gets a matte frosted finish, so it doesn't reflect as much as its predecessors.
The biggest design change is the addition of a third camera on the rear of the device, which takes the camera from being more integrated to a now major "look at me" part of the design language. This is a phone that wants you to know it has three cameras. Those cameras protrude from the case and, rather than being hidden in a single block, each has its own lens frame. It's certainly a polarising design, with some of the people we've asked either loving the bold lines or hating them.
While the iPhone 11 gets six colours to choose from, the iPhone 11 Pro has four colour options. The first three – Space Grey, Silver, Gold – are the same as the iPhone XS range that went before it, while the fourth – Midnight Green – we think is the best of the bunch, coming across as a dark forest-like hue.
The design has a familiar-yet-new feel about it. For users of the iPhone X or iPhone XS, the shape and design is the same. The iPhone wording has been lost from the rear, and the logo, for those who pay attention to these things, has been moved to the centre away from the camera enclosure. There's still a Lightning port, so it's not gone too "pro" like the iPad Pro and adopted USB-C. The speaker grilles are found either side and the volume and power buttons are still ever present, so no worries about buttonless designs like the Vivo NEX 3 and, to some degree, Huawei Mate 30 offer.
- 5.8-inch OLED display
- Now called Super Retina XDR
While the iPhone 11 Pro features the same size display as the XS, at 5.8-inches, it's not the same display and comes with some considerable upgrades (also of note: it's a marginally smaller screen than you'll find in the iPhone 11). There's still True Tone support and a wide colour gamut, but it now offers up to 1200 nits peak brightness, more than enough for high dynamic range (HDR) video playback, and an up to 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio, which is twice that of the iPhone XS.
That's why Apple is running with the 'Super Retina XDR' name. You can really see the difference between this model and the previous OLED iPhone models, and everything really pops, be it luscious game graphics, dark scenes, or vibrant explosions. So whether watching movies, catching up on Netflix, or playing games, this screen really sings.
This move to the Super Retina XDR display – although it's worth noting Apple hasn't chased the lead established by others to create a bezel-less experience, sometimes coined as a Waterfall Display – delivers two further outcomes: a better battery life because it's a much more efficient (in combination with a newer processor), and the loss of 3D Touch.
Due to a lack of support from developers, Apple had already removed 3D Touch from the iPhone XR, so all iPhone 11 models haved moved to Haptic Touch instead. That means you can finally do things like long-press on the settings icon and pick a Wi-Fi network or a Bluetooth device quickly and easily. In use, this has already been a game changer – especially when it comes to selecting which Bluetooth headphones to connect to (we have different headphones for running, obviously).
A huge audio boost
- Dolby Atmos support
- Spatial surround sound
One of the surprising additions to the iPhone 11 Pro is the introduction of spatial audio. We were incredibly sceptical about the technology at the launch event in 2019 – but listening to it at home and on the go, we're really impressed. It's so good that we can't differentiate between it and the newly added support for Dolby Atmos when it's present like on a movie from the Apple iTunes store.
The feature, which is system wide, works by tricking your ears into believing the sound stage created by the speakers is much bigger than it actually is, and by using the top speaker normally used to hear people on a call to amplify the sound further you get a much more immersive sound experience. It's really clever.
As an entertainment device, whether it's watching a new trailer on YouTube, a funny clip on Twitter, or enjoying a game on Apple Arcade, the iPhone 11 Pro has now become industry leading. Few others have spent time on speaker technology – if anything it's got worse since the heyday of HTC Boomsound due to smaller phone bodies and less space to position speakers.
A new powerful processor means longer battery
- A13 Bionic processor
- 18W Fast charger included in the box
- Spatial audio and Dolby Atmos support
A new iPhone usually means a new processor. For 2019, Apple moved to the A13 Bionic, an upgrade from the iPhone XS A12 Bionic, which means more speed. Everything is smooth, loads fast, and works without lag – but we found that to be the case with the iPhone XS in 2018, so our day-to-day hasn't been affected really. We've just reached that point where performance is at such a high level.
Apple isn't alone on this, the continued improvement in speed and performance across the industry allows us to do a range of things behind the scenes – like stitching all that photo data together, rather than just load Facebook faster – but we suspect the demands of apps will eventually grow into the new hardware available to them. Bottom line: if you were expecting your games to load faster, you probably won't notice.
What you will notice is a vastly improved battery life. In a range of tests, when playing games, shooting video, and general usage while travelling out and about to meetings across London, the iPhone 11 Pro has more than enough juice to last the day and then some.
At times we've got to 5pm and still been on 60 per cent – even after what we would have called heavy usage. At that point our iPhone XS would have usually been on 30 per cent and the nervous anxiety would have crept in.
Another piece of hardware worth noting is the U1 chip, which uses ultra-wideband technology for spatial awareness. This should mean features like AirDrop become even better, with directionally aware suggestions. At the moment, however, it's restricted to iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro rather than earlier models, but it does offer up plenty of potentials in the future. As the use case grows we'll be sure to revisit this feature in the future.
There's also fast charging, as found in the iPhone XS, but for the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple actually includes an 18W charger in the box, so you can enjoy it without having to go and buy an additional charger.
What the iPhone 11 Pro lacks
- No 5G
- No reverse charging
However, what isn't included in the iPhone 11 Pro is bilateral or reverse wireless charging, which would allow you to charge your AirPods or Apple Watch by placing them on the back of the device – something that Apple competitors, such as Huawei and Samsung, offer in various devices.
Another disappointing exclusion from the spec sheet is 5G connectivity. It's something the networks were probably hoping for, considering that other makers are already there. That might not sound as 'Pro' as the name suggests really, but we believe it spells what's to come with the iPhone 12.
It's all about photography
- Triple camera system
- New ultra-wide lens added
- Night Mode
- The front-facing camera also upgraded
If you like photography then Apple has its sights on impressing you. The iPhone 11 Pro features three cameras on the back to offer a comprehensive package. You now get a 12 megapixel regular wide camera (26mm equivalent), 12 megapixel 2x zoom (52mm equivalent), and a 12 megapixel ultra-wide lens (13mm equivalent) on the back.
The quality of the cameras is superb. While the sensors are the same for the wide and telephoto as we've seen previously on the iPhone XS, the ultra-wide lens allows you to get much more of the picture in – it's the thing that really sets the cameras apart from the standard iPhone 11.
The camera app has been adapted to show you at all times what you could be snapping if you switch to the ultra-wide lens – and, like the ability to change from wide to zoom previously, the experience is opened up to include the ultra-wide, too. One of the nicer upshots is that Portrait mode no longer has to be so in-your-face close.
Pictures are sharp and crisp with plenty of detail. It really is much, much better than the iPhone XS and iPhones that have come before it.
Apple also introduced Night Mode, presumably in response to the successes Google has with its Night Sight feature, and the system works using software smarts to understand you are taking a picture at night and tries to compensate accordingly.
Numerous tests show that if you can stand still, photograph something that isn't moving too much and have at least some light present – it won't work in complete darkness, but then no camera will – then you'll be more than happy with the results.
What's perhaps the most defining thing about Night Mode though is that it's all automatic. It determines when you need it and for how long, leaving you to concentrate on taking the picture. If the iPhone 11 Pro thinks you don't need it, it won't come on, and that's a very different experience from Night Mode on other devices.
Look at the example below, taken with Night Mode off in near pitch darkness, then click to the next image to see it on and how dramatic the difference is.
We're really pleased with the results. If you like taking pictures out at dinner or in a bar, or anywhere where the light is poor, you'll feel the same. The only catch is that it doesn't work on the ultra-wide lens.
On the video front, you can shoot up to 4K 60fps with HDR support; iOS 13 introduces new video editing features; and Apple has even gone as far as introing a new font, called SF Camera, specifically for the camera app.
The iPhone 11 Pro leans on its cameras to really impress, the addition of that ultra-wide lens making for a superb and versatile triple camera system. The screen is better than the previous XS model, too, and we find the size of this Pro much more sensible than the ultra-massive Pro Max.
However, there's an argument that the whole 'pro' sell won't be for all; the additional camera adds bulk and not all will like the design of it, while the 'standard' iPhone 11 will be more than enough to suit most people's needs.
Ultimately, if you want to have the best that Apple makes, then you go for the iPhone 11 Pro. It's stylish (especially in the Midnight Green finish), feature packed, the battery life is great, and the screen is superb.
Think of it as the business class of phones: once you've tried out those extras, going back to premium just won't feel as special. That's why we're going with the Pro as our iPhone top pick – and why it'll be the one living in our pocket for 2020.
This article was first published 11 September 2019 and has been updated to reflect the current market offering.
For many this is the best iPhone match; it's actually larger than the Pro with a marginally bigger screen (but it's lower-res and contrast). It's still got great cameras, just not the addition of the ultra-wide, while iOS 13 and a new processor makes for battery battery life than the XR. And if you're waiting on 5G then this model won't break the bank, readying you for the 2020 upgrade due around September.