iPhone 11 first impressions: Pretty, powerful, and a perfect shooter


iPhone 11 continues to shine while iPhone 11 Pro Max sales flatten out
Don't believe the scaremongers.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Apple’s newest iPhone lineup has landed. I picked up an iPhone 11 this year and I’ve hardly put it down since it landed on my doorstep this morning. So, here are my first impressions so far.

iPhone 11 first impressions

I picked up the iPhone 11 out of curiosity. I’ve spent very little time with an iPhone XR (I upgraded from iPhone X to XS last year) and I wondered whether the cheaper model would be enough for me.

I chose the red color option because I like red, and I opted for 64GB of storage just because it’s the cheapest. I have a 64GB iPhone XS and I’m yet to run out of storage.

This obviously isn’t a full iPhone 11 review. We’re saving those for next week when we’ve had more time with the full lineup. But it is my thoughts so far on Apple’s entry-level iPhone.

A more durable design

iPhone 11 is almost identical to last year’s iPhone XR in size, weight, and appearance. The noticeable differences are a second camera lens on its back, and brand new color options.

There are other differences you won’t see, though.

iPhone 11 is noticeably bigger than iPhone XS.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Apple says this year’s iPhone lineup comes with the strongest glass ever in a smartphone, so it should be harder to scratch and shatter. iPhone 11 also offers improved water-resistance.

The design is great if you were happy with the iPhone XR. But it’s slightly disappointing if you were hoping Apple would make its most affordable handset thinner and lighter this year.

Picking up an iPhone 11 for the first time can be particularly jarring for someone switching from an iPhone X or iPhone XS. It’s noticeably larger and heavier, but you soon get used to it.

Apple says its iPhone lineup uses tougher glass this year.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

I’m glad I ordered the red model. It’s a wonderfully vibrant red that sticks out like a sore thumb. I love it.

A familiar display

iPhone 11 packs the same 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display as its predecessor. Nothing has changed here. It offers the same resolution, the same brightness, and the same contrast ratio.

It might be the best LCD display you will find in a smartphone. It’s got great color accuracy and sports the same edge-to-edge design as iPhone 11 Pro’s display, albeit with slightly larger bezels.

It’s not quite a Super Retina screen.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

I wrongly assumed I would be let down by that Liquid Retina display after a year with iPhone XS. But I was wrong.

It’s not as sharp or as colorful or as bright as a Super Retina display. And you’ll notice that if you really try — especially if you put an iPhone 11 and an 11 Pro side-by-side. But it is a great display, and for almost everyone, it’s more than good enough.

The best iPhone cameras

Camera performance is the biggest reason to upgrade to iPhone 11 this year. You get an additional lens for shooting Ultra Wide photos and videos, a long-anticipated Night mode, and more.

The primary 12-megapixel sensor has also been improved. Even the front-facing selfie camera is better, thanks to a new 12-megapixel sensor that shoots slow-motion “Slofies.”

iPhone 11 packs Apple’s best cameras to date.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Here’s where Apple knocks it out of the park. The photos and videos you will shoot with this year’s iPhone lineup will be the best you’ve ever captured with a smartphone. Period.

I’ve only taken a few snaps with iPhone 11 since unboxing it, but I have already been impressed with the results. The new Ultra Wide camera is terrific, and I can’t wait to try Night mode.

Wide vs. Ultra Wide (untouched).
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

One thing I miss already, however, is that Telephoto lens. Lots of reviewers say that it’s not necessary, and that having the Ultra Wide is more beneficial for most people. That’s probably true.

But I use the Telephoto lens all the time. Having optical zoom has proven incredibly handy for me — especially when taking photos for Cult of Mac. This is one thing I’m not sure I will get used to.

Perfect performance

The other, less significant reason to upgrade this year is for Apple’s new A13 Bionic chip. It’s even faster than last year’s A12 Bionic, and considerably more efficient. But will you notice it?

So far, after just a few hours of use, iPhone 11 doesn’t really feel any faster to me than the iPhone XS I’ve been using for the past year. Everything I do feels the same.

Did I mention how good it looks?
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

This may change when developers update their apps to take full advantage of the A13 chip. But for now, it’s unlikely you’ll notice a big speed increase if you’re upgrading from the A12.

There are other things you may notice. The A13 comes with a brand new U1 chip, which uses a special wideband radio to pricesely locate your iPhone in relation to other U1 devices.

The U1 will make AirDrop even easier. You’ll be able to point your device at another iPhone 11 user and AirDrop will recognize you want to send something to them (not other users nearby).

But this functionality won’t be available until we get iOS 13.1. And even then, the U1 chip won’t prove particularly special. That could change when Apple’s rumored tag trackers finally arrive.

Faster Face ID

Improved sensors mean Face ID is even faster in iPhone 11, and it can now recognize your face from new angles. You can unlock your phone while it’s lying on your desk, without picking it up.

Are you upgrading to iPhone 11 this year?
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

This is a nice, noticeable improvement that makes a winning technology even better. As a big Face ID fan already, I’m glad Apple has found a way to push it even further forward.

iPhone 11: The verdict so far

I’ve spent only a few hours with iPhone 11, so I’m not going to give you a complete verdict on it just yet. But I do have some things to say.

iPhone 11 has been a pleasant surprise. I didn’t think there was any real reason for iPhone XR owners to upgrade in 2019, but I’ve changed my mind. The cameras alone make it worthwhile.

Couple those with impressive audio, faster Face ID, and the new A13 chip and you have a splendid smartphone.

Will I be keeping my iPhone 11? Probably not. My iPhone XS is still terrific 12 months on, and I’m worried I’ll miss its Telephoto camera too much if I ditch it now. But we’ll see.


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.