iPhone 11 review roundup: Great cameras make for great upgrade

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Iphone11
It's all about the cameras.
Photo: Apple

The very first iPhone 11 reviews are out, which means it’s time to find out whether that $699+ you just spent on an upgrade was worth it. And you probably won’t be surprised to hear the results.

Apple’s most affordable iPhone this year, just like its predecessor, is a hit with critics. It is getting heaps of praise for its improved cameras, even longer battery life, and bolstered performance.

There are a few complaints, however. Find out what reviewers think of the iPhone 11 right here.

iPhone 11 review roundup

At $50 cheaper than iPhone XR, iPhone 11 is an even more compelling alternative to the flagship iPhone 11 Pro models. And Apple hasn’t cut any corners to bring the price down.

iPhone 11 is better than its predecessor in almost every way. But you might want to think twice about upgrading if you already own an iPhone XR. Here’s why.

iPhone is an even better camera

One of the biggest reasons to upgrade your iPhone in 2019 is for improved camera performance. And Apple has really stepped up its game this year. iPhone 11 is one stellar snapper.

“You’re going to spend most of your time shooting with the standard 12MP wide camera, so it’s a good thing it’s such a solid performer,” writes Chris Velazco for Engadget.

“It’s super fast at locking onto your subjects, and you’ll find plenty of rich colors and detail in your photos.”

The improved Smart HDR functionality is noticeable, some reviewers note. You get better results across the board, and iPhone 11 is better at recognizing faces — and their features.

“Apple’s Smart HDR system is a lot smarter this year,” explains Niley Patel for The Verge. “It’s more willing to blow out highlights, it keeps shadows dark, and it can recognize faces and hair and apply different processing to them.”

“I think the iPhone 11 cameras are so good that they’re worth a year-over-year upgrade from the XR; I don’t usually say that.”

Some say iPhone 11’s camera system is even better than that of iPhone XS. Not just because it can shoot Ultra Wide photos, but in general performance in many situations.

“The iPhone 11 is a very good camera, and in a lot of situations it even performed better than last year’s top-of-the-line iPhone XS,” writes Lauren Goode for Wired.

Apple marketing exec Kaiann Drance shows off the iPhone 11 during the By Innovation Only event.
Apple marketing exec Kaiann Drance shows off the dual -lens camera in the iPhone 11.
Photo: Apple

Night mode really shines

One of the most impressive camera features this year is the brand new Night mode. Apple was lagging behind its rivals in this department prior to this refresh — but now it’s taking over.

Patel says iPhone 11 “holds its own againt the Pixel 3,” and in some siuations produces even better results. You get higher detail and a more natural finish, whereas the Pixel 3 can make things too bright.

“The Pixel 3XL’s night shots were punchier sometimes, but Apple’s approach is surprisingly good for a first attempt, and certainly does a better job keeping things truer to reality,” Velazco adds.

Unparalleled performance

iPhone has always been way ahead of the competition in processing and graphics performance. And the new A13 Bionic chip in iPhone 11 ensures that nothing has changed there.

This year’s iPhone lineup is the fastest yet, which means whichever model you choose, you’re all but guaranteed a snappy experience.

“In terms of performance, the iPhone 11 is a dream in use,” says Pocket-lint. “Games load fast, apps are speedy with no lag, the device doesn’t get too hot, and everything zips along nicely as you would expect from a flagship device.”

“The phones are fast,” Goode adds. “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.”

But is there a significant improvement over the 2018 lineup? Apple says the A13 is up to 20% faster than the A12 in last year’s devices. The chances of you actually noticing that are probably slim, though.

“Realistically, the iPhone 11 doesn’t feel 20 percent faster than the models it replaces,” Engadget explains.

“If you’re coming from an iPhone XR, XS or XS Max, the iPhone 11 will only seem marginally faster at day-to-day tasks like launching and loading apps and playing intense games.”

If you’re switching from an Android, however, you will almost certainly feel the difference.

Mind-boggling battery life

iPhone XR had the best battery life of any iPhone. And Apple has somehow managed to squeeze even more out of it this year. It says you’ll get up to one hour of additional usage in between charges.

“In our tests, the iPhone 11 easily lasted a full day at a time and then some,” writes Patel. “It’s possible you could manage to kill this battery in less than a day, but you’d have to really try.”

“The XR gave me the best battery life of any iPhone I had ever tested last year, and the 11 manages to beat it, if only just,” adds Velazco. “The 11 lasted closer to 17 hours on average.”

There’s one thing reviewers aren’t happy about, though. Despite the battery life increase, iPhone 11 still ships with a painfully slow 5W charger in the box, so you’ll need to supply your own for faster top-ups.

Displays that don’t dazzle

If you’re hoping for a big display upgrade from iPhone 11, you’re going to be disappointed. Its Liquid Retina screen is identical to that in iPhone XR, which means two things.

iPhone 11’s screen is nowhere near as good as the OLED screens in iPhone 11 Pro. It’s not as sharp, as bright, or as colorful. But it is the best LCD screen Apple has ever shipped in a smartphone.

“If you’re upgrading to the iPhone 11 from another phone with an LCD display, you won’t notice much of a difference,” Wired explains. “It feels harsher on the eyes, and media looks different” than on the iPhone 11 Pro’s OLED Super Retina XDR.

“The good news is that Apple makes great LCDs, and this LCD is great,” The Verge adds. “Unless you really, deeply care about displays, it’s more than fine.”

“I would bet most people won’t be able to see a meaningful difference,” between iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, Patel concludes.

“In day-to-day use, the differences don’t matter,” Engadget says.

The verdict on iPhone 11

So, what’s the verdict from the first iPhone 11 reviews? It seems all of the reviews out so far conclude that it’s a terrific phone — and well worth its $699 price tag. It’s fast, looks great, and takes terrific pictures.

Some say that the iPhone 11 is more than enough for some, and that you should only consider spending $300 more on an iPhone 11 Pro if you really, really care about having an OLED screen.

“We loved the Apple iPhone XR when it launched in 2018. It was, and still is, an excellent device. The iPhone 11 builds on that excellence,” says Pocket-lint.

“It still makes some compromises compared to the iPhone 11 Pro models – the finish isn’t as premium, the screen isn’t as impressive and the camera lacks a couple of features – but overall, the iPhone 11 is a superb device that offers the biggest appeal in terms of technology and price point from the 2019 iPhones.”

“There are advantages to splurging on the Pros, but after getting a feel for what the iPhone 11 is capable of, those benefits won’t always justify spending the extra $300,” says Engadget. “Like I said before, the iPhone 11 is the best new iPhone for most people, and it’s unquestionably the one I would buy for myself.”

“I’d only spend the extra money on the iPhone 11 Pro if you really care about the display,” says The Verge. “I don’t think you’re missing out on much by not having a telephoto camera lens, to be honest. I personally care quite a bit about displays, so I’m getting a Pro, but I think most people will be very happy with the iPhone 11.”