Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: In-progress

Hands up: I was wrong about the iPhone 11 Pro. Or at least, the design. When I first clapped eyes on it I instinctively didn’t like the look of the thing. That trio of camera lenses looked, to my eyes, awkward – ugly even – and they didn’t do much for my mild trypophobia, either. 

Now I have one in my hands, however, my opinion has softened somewhat. The square camera bump isn’t quite as prominent as I first assumed it would be and the fact it’s part of the same piece of glass – just with a different finish to the rest of the rear panel – is actually rather clever.

Although he’s long-gone, Jony Ive’s influence can still be seen, hidden in the fine details. Each camera lens is framed boldly in stainless steel, seemingly perfectly positioned in space, each one equidistant from the other

But it’s the rest of the iPhone 11 Pro’s glass rear that proves ultimately persuasive, its matte finish beautifully smooth – a silky texture that feels like beach glass, ground smooth by years of tidal shift.

READ NEXT: Apple iPhone XR review – now £120 cheaper

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: What you need to know

In reality, though, although important in its own right, the design of the iPhone 11 Pro plays second fiddle to the tangible improvements Apple has made to rest of the iPhone 11 Pro. And the big feature upgrade for 2019/20 is to the cameras, with one additional ultrawide shooter adding to the primary and 2x telephoto of last year’s S-series iPhones Xs and Xs Max.

Apple has also made a host of other improvements, to the screen, battery life, water-resistance and the performance of the phone, along with the usual extras that go along with a new version of iOS but none trumps that new camera.

Otherwise, it’s very much business as usual. There’s been no change in screen size or form factor for any of the firm’s flagships. The iPhone 11 Pro’s display still measures 5.8in across the diagonal just like the iPhone XS, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s 6.5in screen matches that of the iPhone XS Max.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Price and competition

There hasn’t been an awful lot of change when it comes to pricing, either, with the new flagships rising a mere £50 in price. The “cheapest” iPhone 11 Pro is now £1,049 for the model with 64GB of storage (no, there’s still no microSD expansion) and this price goes up to £1,199 for the 256GB model and £1,399 for the 512GB model.

Even compared with priciest the Android crop can muster, this remains A LOT OF MONEY, though. The closest in price to the iPhone 11 Pro is our favourite Android flagship, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+. This costs £999 currently but is more of a rival for the bigger 6.5in iPhone 11 Pro Max. The Samsung Galaxy S10 is the more natural competitor, and that’s over £400 cheaper at £635.

If you simply have to have an iPhone but can’t afford the 11 Pro, the 11 is a good deal cheaper at £729. You’ll have to learn to live without the Pro’s telephoto camera, AMOLED screen and improved water-resistance, though.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Design and new features

Aside from its controversial camera housing, the Apple iPhone 11 Pro’s design is nigh on identical to the iPhone Xs. The glass is tougher, says Apple, but the materials on show are the same, with a polished, colour-matched stainless steel frame surrounding the edges of the phone and hardened sapphire crystal topping each of the phone’s cameras.

The notch is still there, stubbornly clinging on despite all the brickbats hurled in its general direction, and it houses the same Face ID setup. The positioning of buttons, antenna bands, speaker grille and charging ports are all the same, too. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the front camera has been boosted to 12-megapixels from the 7-megapixels in the iPhone Xs this year, and that there’s a new Midnight Green colour to add to the more familiar Space Grey, silver and gold variants.

The only hardware differences, aside from the big ones noted above, are more subtle. The phone comes with a more powerful 18W mains charger, so it’s quicker to charge than with the 15W one supplied with the XS. It’s also now IP68 dust- and water-resistant, which means it’ll survive encounters with fresh water down to a depth of four metres for up to 30 minutes. So it’ll be okay if you drop it in at the deep end of the swimming pool.

Audio has been boosted, with support for Dolby Atmos’ object-based sound from the phone’s stereo speakers, and there’s now also a bigger battery (3,190mAh vs 2,168mAh), which Apple says adds up to four hours to the overall running time of the phone. There’s also now faster cellular connectivity, up to a maximum speed of 1.6Gbits/sec for downloads although not, as yet, any 5G connectivity.

If there’s one feature notable for its absence from the iPhone 11 Pro and, by extension, it’s bigger brother the 11 Pro Max, it’s 3D Touch. In many ways, this isn’t a huge disappointment. Although innovative, I was never convinced Apple made enough use of it. There is one feature I will miss, however: the ability to push down on the keyboard and then drag the cursor around with your thumb.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Display

Apple is well known for its fondness of acronyms and buzzwords and when it comes to its screen technologies, they’re everywhere you look. This year, the iPhone 11 Pro is equipped with a “Super Retina XDR” OLED display with support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision. In plain English, this means little more than a boost to the overall brightness of the display. It’s the same resolution as before at 1,125 x 2,436 for a pixel density of 458ppi, and it still uses OLED tech to deliver perfect contrast.

How much brighter is it, though? With automatic brightness mode enabled, the screen on the iPhone 11 Pro will peak at up to 766cd/m2 according to my measurements (with the screen filled with white), and this is a notch better than the 686cd/m2 I measured last year on the iPhone Xs. While playing back HDR video, that rises to an even brighter 1,200cd/m2.

In reality, you won’t notice much difference between this and last year’s phones in day to day use. I placed an iPhone Xs Max right next to the iPhone 11 Pro and played the same scene from Netflix’s Marco Polo and, although I could see slightly more clarity in the highlights on the iPhone 11 Pro, the difference wasn’t night and day. It’s still a wonderful display for watching high-quality movie and TV content on – the best there is, in my view – it’s just not a huge improvement.

Put to the test with our X-rite colour calibrator, the iPhone 11 Pro posted typically impressive numbers. In our sRGB calibration tests, it was pretty much spot on in terms of colour accuracy and gamut coverage; 98.3% gamut coverage and 103.9% gamut volume is pretty much as good as it gets and an average Delta E of 1.01 (the lower the better) is impeccable.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro review: Performance

It’s become a familiar trope but it’s nonetheless true to state that if Apple hadn’t improved the speed of its iPhones in 2019, it wouldn’t have mattered one jot. Even a year on, the Apple A12 Bionic remains at the pinnacle of smartphone processor performance. It’s faster than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, the Kirin 980 and the Samsung Exynos 9820, all processors powering the fastest, and most expensive, Android phones around.

That the six-core Apple A13 Bionic inside the iPhone 11 Pro extends this lead even further won’t surprise anyone. The sheer extent of its advantage, and what this allows the phone to do, however, may well take you aback. Here’s a graph of how the phone benchmarks against its closest rivals, to demonstrate just how far it is ahead:

The iPhone 11 Pro is, in short, hugely overpowered for everyday tasks and even the most demanding games will barely cause it to break sweat. Where all this horsepower may come in useful is in niche, near professional-level applications such as the forthcoming Filmic Pro app. This app, rather remarkably, will be able to record two streams of 4k 60fps video simultaneously from two of the three rear cameras, or one stream from the front and one from the back, again at the same time. With many modern phones only just beginning to get to grips with single streams of 4k video, the iPhone 11 Pro looks truly to be one step ahead.

As for battery life, I haven’t yet had the time to run our benchmark tests yet but first impressions are good. As I write, the gauge is on 34% after 13-and-a-half hours of hard use, during which time I’ve been running benchmarks, testing the video and stills camera plenty, streaming HDR video and some live sport, too. I’ll flesh this out next week, but, so far, the battery life feels stronger than even the bigger iPhone Xs Max I’ve been using for the past few months.

  • This is an in-progress review, to which we will be adding sections to at regular intervals in the coming days. Next week, I’ll be looking in detail at the iPhone 11 Pro’s three cameras, the new night mode, the improvements that iOS 13 brings with it and adding more fully fledged impressions of how good, or bad, the battery life on the new phone is. We’ll also be delivering our final verdict and star rating, too.

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