iPhone 11 Pro review roundup: Big battery, camera, display upgrades

By

matte
The question is: Do you really need all those pro features?
Photo: Apple

There’s no question about it: The iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max are two of the best iPhones Apple ever built — and arguably the best handsets in the world right now.

That’s according to the first reviews for the devices, whose embargoes lifted this morning. All agree on the new iPhones’ excellent camera, amazing battery life, and beautiful display. But is it that much better than the regular iPhone 11? That’s where folks in our iPhone 11 Pro review roundup disagree.

iPhone 11 Pro review: Battery life

Fans have been clamoring for better iPhone battery life for years. By increasing the physical size of the handset and removing the 3D Touch system, Apple delivered that with the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max. Apple claims a four-to-five-hour increase versus last year’s iPhone XS and XS Max.

The Verge (in a 9/10 review) writes that:

“The iPhone 11 Pro Max I’ve been using every day for a week has consistently run for 12 to 14 hours on a single charge, with over 10 hours of screen-on time reported in the battery settings per 24-hour period … The smaller iPhone 11 Pro also performed well. We used it all day for the review video, sent it out for several hours of shooting photo tests and 4K video in the evening, left it off the charger overnight, and it still had 50 percent of its battery left the next morning.”

TechRadar comes to similar conclusions in its 4/5 review:

“In day-to-day use we found that this is just about a 24-hour smartphone (assuming you sleep for a portion of that time), and the fast charger that (finally) comes in the box gives you around 20% in 15 minutes, and a full charge in just an hour and a half.”

The best camera on the market

Along with battery life, the improved camera is the most commented-on feature. The iPhone 11 Pro comes with three rear camera lenses, plus the front-facing one. There’s an ultra-wide camera with an f/2.4 13mm lens, a f/1.8 26mm main camera with improved sensor, and a telephoto camera with the same sensor as last year but a faster 52mm f/2.0 lens. The front-facing selfie camera is now 12 megapixels, with a slightly wider 24mm focal length.

Apple seemed rightly proud of the results when it showed off the iPhone 11 at last week’s fast-moving keynote. And it’s not hard to see why. For the first time in a while, Apple can make the case that iPhone is the undisputed champ of smartphone cameras.

The Verge:

“[T]he iPhone 11 Pro cameras are an enormous improvement over the XS, and they beat the Pixel and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 Plus in most of our side-by-side comparisons. In fact, I think the iPhone 11 Pro is the best smartphone camera on the market right now.”

TechRadar:

“The camera bump on the rear of the phone feels a little sharp and takes up a lot of space, although if you’re right-handed it stays out of the way when you’re going about your daily tasks.”

Many reviews make note of the camera’s impressive Night mode, which preserves a whole lot of detail for low-light photography.

iPhone 11 Pro review: A beautiful display

The iPhone 11 Pro comes with what Apple calls a Super Retina XDR display. It offers increased brightness levels of 800 nits in standard mode outdoors, and 1,200 nits in the highlights of HDR content. The Verge opines that:

“I think it’s more accurate to say that this is the first real HDR display Apple’s put on a phone. The iPhone XS was theoretically capable of HDR playback, but I never found it convincing. The iPhone 11 Pro is very convincing. It’s an obvious difference when watching a Dolby Vision movie like John Wick , and the display overall holds its own against the Note 10’s excellent display.”

Tom’s Guide (in a 5/5 review) praises the brightness of the display, too.

“If you’re on the fence between the iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPhone 11, don’t bring both phones outside. You’ll notice the huge difference in brightness that I did. In fact, the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s 6.5-inch Super Retina XDR display vastly outshined the Galaxy Note 10 Plus, too, when I put both phablets side by side.”

Apple also improved the iPhone’s True Tone display system. (The company dropped a channel from its light sensor and made the other channels more sensitive.)

A13 Bionic feels the need for speed

Tom’s Guide:

“This [A13 Bionic] chip packs a CPU and GPU that are both 20% faster than last year’s A12, along with a neural engine for machine learning that’s also 20% faster. I noticed this speed difference when opening apps like Asphalt 9. The iPhone 11 Pro Max took a little less than 4 seconds, compared with 8 seconds for the Galaxy Note 10 Plus. Mortal Kombat also loaded a couple of seconds faster on the iPhone 11 Pro Max.”

Wired‘s positive review also comments on the A13 Bionic’s impressive speed:

“The phones are fast. Downloading apps is fast. Switching between apps is fast. Processing and editing photos is fast. Apple Pay is faster on this phone; Face ID feels slightly faster. Face ID supports more face angles too … AirDrop feels like a dream and may get even better once a later update to iOS 13 enables Apple’s new U1 chip, which helps nearby iPhones find each other. The new phones also support faster gigabit LTE than previous phones and, whenever it’s widely available, Wi-Fi 6.”

Not everything can be tested yet

If you’re looking for a comprehensive review on everything you’ll have to wait. The test devices were still running an iOS 13 beta, which featured numerous bugs. Nobody tested the device’s touted durability, either — mainly since nobody wanted to try smashing their sought-after review unit. Finally, Apple’s new U1 chip doesn’t work yet. For that, you’ll have to wait until the forthcoming iOS 13.1 update.

Do you need a pro iPhone?

Every review praises the new handset, but the question is whether or not it’s that much better than its predecessors or the less-expensive iPhone 11. It all comes down to the “pro” in the title. If you’re someone who has a particular need for the top features (especially that beautiful camera), this is the handset for you. If not, you may want to think twice about buying Apple’s priciest top-of-the-line handsets.

TechRadar:

“The iPhone 11 Pro Max is the best that Apple can cram into a smartphone – the high-end screen, powerful speakers, upgraded processor all support the huge upgrades to the camera. However, this phone is really for the Apple fan or someone that really needs that extra lens or a touch more battery life – the iPhone 11 feels like it offers better value.”

Tom’s Guide:

“Let’s cut to the chase. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is the smartphone I’d buy with my own money. While the $699 iPhone 11 is a fantastic value and will satisfy most buyers, I’m not most buyers. The iPhone 11 Pro Max ($1,099) has a more dynamic OLED display compared with the iPhone 11’s LCD screen. I also like having the third lens on the iPhone 11 Pro Max for telephoto zoom, which the iPhone 11 lacks. And while the regular iPhone 11 Pro has everything the iPhone 11 Pro Max does for $999, I’ll take the bigger screen and longer battery life on the Max.”

Engadget (in a 90% review):

“Apple’s new flagship is packed to the brim with new components, but the changes that really stand out are its flexible triple camera and the significant improvements to battery life. … The iPhone 11 Pro represents Apple at the peak of its smartphone game, but it might not be a must-buy if you’re a frequent upgrader.”