Two-minute iPhone 11 Pro review

The iPhone 11 Pro launched today, and people keep asking us “What’s changed?” It’s a fair question because it looks very similar to the last year’s iPhone.

But use the camera for a few minutes and you’ll understand where Apple has made its biggest update. That question and inquisitive look from doubters quickly fades.

The iPhone 11 Pro is the best full-fledged new iPhone that you can still use with one hand thanks to its 5.8-inch screen size. It’s smaller than the 6.5-inch iPhone 11 Pro Max and the slightly more basic 6.1-inch iPhone 11. This is the one to get if you’re finally upgrading from something compact like the old iPhone SE.

Apple put a lot of effort into its triple-lens rear camera, offering a trio of 12MP lenses that shoot wide (aka regular), telephoto and brand new ultra-wide perspectives. Not having to back up to fit everything in the frame? That’s a huge perk to the ultra-wide camera. Our friends also appreciate not having their heads cut off in Portrait photos.

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro ultra-wide lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro telephoto lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro ultra-wide lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (with night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (without night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro telephoto lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro ultra-wide lens

Not to self: wash hands before touching iPhone 11 Pro with right hand

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (with night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular-wide lens (without night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (with night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (without night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro telephoto lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro telephoto lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro ultra-wide lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro telephoto lens

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (with night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (without night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (with night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (without night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (with night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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iPhone 11 Pro regular lens (without night mode enabled)

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iPhone 11 Pro camera roll

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Selfie camera

Night Mode addresses the biggest complaint we’ve heard among iPhone users over the years: Photos in dimly-lit bars and restaurants don’t look very good – not next to their Android phone-touting friends. The shame! Good news: we found Apple’s night mode bests what Samsung and Google can do, and it’s automatically applied.

The iPhone 11 Pro video gets a big upgrade in the front-facing camera. It now shoots in 4K, and it can even shoot slow motion video – what Apple’s calls ‘Slofies’ – at least in its marketing (not in the actual UI). Slofies work better with flowing, long hair to whip back and forth.

We’ll judge the camera more in our full review, but not everything is perfect: You may not get use out of the ultra-wide lens if you dislike the artsy fisheye effect – it can make people fan out and look elongated at the edges. And if you don’t need a telephoto lens, get the dual-lens iPhone 11 (telephoto is the one missing there).

The camera app, while refined by Apple, isn’t as robust as on some Android phones. There’s no ability to trigger the shutter with a gesture or change from the front to back lenses with a simple swipe. Turning off night mode is cumbersome with one hand, often requiring you to touch both the top and bottom of the screen as if you’ve signed up for thumb exercises.

We’ve found iPhone 11 Pro battery life  to be better than the iPhone XS – we’ve gone longer than a day with heavy use so far. Moving down from the XS Max isn’t such a big deal. The back cover also feels way nicer with a slightly less slippery matte finish.

Don’t be fooled, the iPhone 11 Pro remains a delicate, pricey smartphone. Its size next to the bigger iPhone 11 may fool you – it costs a lot more. It doesn’t look different from the front, so it may seem hard to to justify. But if you’ve been waiting for better photos and video out of a new iPhone, this is it – and that’s more important than a new look or 5G, at least in 2019.

iPhone 11 Pro release date and price

  • iPhone 11 Pro release date: Today, September 20
  • iPhone 11 Pro price: starts at $999 (£1,049, AU$1,749)

iPhone 11 Pro

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It’s going to come as no surprise that the new iPhone 11 Pro is an expensive little thing.

The iPhone 11 Pro price starts at $999 (£1,049, AU$1,749, AED 4,219) for the 64GB model, and while that’s the same price as the XS launched at in the US, the cost has increased for those in the UK (+£50) and Australia (+AU$120) over its predecessor. 

The iPhone 11 Pro release date is today, Friday, September 20, and iPhone 11 Pro pre-orders went live on Friday, September 13. 

The new iPhone 11 Pro comes in three storage sizes with the paltry 64GB option joined by the default-best-for-most-people 256GB ($1,149, £1,199, AU$1,999), and the power-user-maxed-out 512GB ($1,349, £1,399, AU$2,349). 

There’s no 128GB size this year, which would probably be the ideal starting size for most people.

With no expandable storage on offer (which should come as a shock to precisely nobody that’s ever heard of an iPhone) some might moan that there’s no 1TB option, as there is with the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus, for instance, but Apple believes half that amount is all its users require.

iPhone 11 Pro

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iPhone 11 Pro camera (from previous hands-on)

The camera on the new iPhone 11 Pro is the thing most people will be interested in – not only was it heavily rumored in the build-up to 2019’s iPhone launch, but it’s also one of the most powerful elements of the device now.

As predicted, the rear array comprises three cameras (a first for Apple), each with 12MP sensors: a ‘standard’ 12MP shooter, a 12MP ultra-wide option with a 120 degree field of view and a 12MP telephoto lens.

Before we get into the power and versatility that the iPhone 11 Pro camera setup offers, it’s important to talk about the large square bump that sits on the rear of the phone. 

It’s needed because there are now three sensors and a flash in the mix too – and by having this section raised the user gets a slimmer device in the hand as well as powerful cameras.

It’s impossible to pretend that this is an attractive look for the new iPhone 11 Pro – it would be infinitely preferable if the rear was all one smooth piece of glass. And while we’re used to the camera bump from Apple, this feels like a step too far – even though the images we saw in demo seem great, the design matters to users. 

We would say that fact the camera bump is a similar color as the rest of the rear of the phone really does help this – there’s no doubt the black option we saw in the build up wasn’t something many would love to look at – but it’s still rather large on the rear.

How do the photos look? Well (as usual) we had only a limited opportunity to put the cameras through their paces in the demo area. However, the overall image quality was as sharp as ever, and trying the camera in bright, clear light offered smart-looking snaps.

iPhone 11 Pro

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The background defocus mode, which Apple calls its Portrait feature, is back, and it’s more impressive than ever. There’s a high-exposure mode here, so you can create more clear-cut exposures when taking pictures of friends, or group shots.

This has been upgraded to include the ability to take sharper, more studio-looking images from the phone, with a more effective mask being able to work out where the background and foreground begin and end.

But the main changes here center around what the phone can do to match up to the likes of Google, Samsung and Huawei – and here’s where Apple is shouting about the smarts inside its phone. 

Firstly – and this isn’t coming straight away, but later in the year through a software update – the iPhone 11 Pro packs something called ‘Deep Fusion’ where the phone will take eight images before you even press the shutter button.

It will also take one long exposure image, and – according to Apple – will then go through the whole image pixel-by-pixel to work out the optimum color and lighting on each. It’s a bold claim, and is Apple’s take on AI photography by using the Neural Engine that’s packed into the new A13 Bionic chip inside.

Low light performance is also automatically improved (and this feature is there from the start) – again, not being able to test this at the demo was tough, but the images shown really did have some higher performance – and this was across both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro ranges.

Even zooming into the new Night Mode-shot image saw something clear and bright – it definitely looked more impressive indoors than out, and the great news is that this is automatic… there’s nothing worse than having to activate a mode like this.

Whether it’ll be a match for Google’s Night Sight is another thing, and it’s something we need need to test further.

Thanks to that ultra-wide lens enabling the camera to take in more of the scene in front of you, Apple’s new iPhone 11 Pro will even be able to visually suggest such enhancements for you, if it senses there’s a better snap in there somewhere, while taking the snap – this was a nice touch.

However, we did note a small amount of judder when flipping between the different lenses as the iPhone worked to try and make things as smooth as possible – that was something that we’ve seen on a number of other phones, and makes sense when trying to interpolate a different field of view, but did diminish the overall effect somewhat.

iPhone 11 Pro

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iPhone 11 Pro design and display

iPhone 11 Pro specs

Weight: 188g
Dimensions: 144 x 71.4 x 8.1mm
OS: iOS 13
Screen size: 5.8-inch
Resolution: 2436 x 1125
CPU: A13 Bionic
Storage: 64/256/512GB
Battery:  4 hours longer than XS
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Waterproof: IP68
Headphone jack: No

We’re used to Apple being iterative with its phone design – we had the iPhone 3G and 3GS, the iPhone 4 and 4S, and the iPhone 5 and 5S – so seeing it stick to this formula for the iPhone 11 Pro makes sense.

Every year we’d hope that Apple would bring something new that iPhone fans would be able to get genuinely excited about – after all, seeing a phone with a whole new look is a more visceral experience than being told about a slightly uprated camera. Instead, Apple began stretching the design cycle.

The iPhone 6 became the iPhone 6S, which morphed into the iPhone 7, which in turn became the iPhone 8. 

In the case of the latter handset that didn’t matter so much, as the iPhone X, sporting an all-new design, launched alongside it, so the world got the ‘new’ iPhone it wanted.

However, that iPhone X then became the iPhone XS, which has become the iPhone 11 Pro we see now. Why the long-winded history of iPhone design before we get to this new model? 

Smartphone buyers are increasingly keeping hold of their handsets for longer before upgrading, and a new design can be a real temptation to trade up.

iPhone 11 Pro

Fits nicely into one hand

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But perhaps Apple recognizes that – the fact that its design is only changing every fourth model these days suggests that it thinks that the expensive process of updating the design of its handset is unwarranted.

This iPhone design history lesson has been a long-winded way of saying that the new iPhone looks a lot like the last one, and the one before that. The shiny metal edges curve away in the palm, the 5.8-inch screen is interrupted by the notch at the top, and the bottom of the phone has two perforated grilles, one of which packs a speaker, while the other is there to keep things looking aesthetically symmetrical.

It’s not fair to say that this phone looks identical to last year, especially when checking it out from the rear and the frosted matte finish – that does feel nicer in the hand, and while not a massive upgrade, it does make a difference.

iPhone 11 Pro

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The bottom of the phone houses the same Lightning connector we’ve seen for the last few years – some were expecting a switch to USB-C, as used on the new iPad Pro and MacBooks, and as seen on most new smartphones these days.

We suspect that’s coming next year, when Apple is expected to finally tool its range of handsets with an iPhone 5G and attract those users beginning to tire of the lack of variety design-wise.

Oh, and what about the iPhone 11 Pro colors? Well, we’ve got a number of them this year, with the new Midnight Green, Space Grey, Silver, and Gold.

iPhone 11 Pro

Comes with an 18W charger – way better than the old 5W charger

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iPhone 11 Pro battery and iOS 13

As you might expect, the iPhone 11 Pro is the showcase for iOS 13, the latest version of Apple’s operating system. This brings new features to the new phone range, although these will also be rolled out to older models via software updates.

The performance of the phone is something Apple is touting hard, especially in the gaming area. The tagline of ‘the fastest smartphone on the market’ isn’t going to go anywhere thanks to the uprated innards, and we found no hint of slowdown when spinning through the device.

The gaming performance of the phone, powered by the A13 chipset, was indeed impressive – running at native resolution at 60 frames per second, the speed with which the light reflected off the character’s armor in the game Pascal’s Wager was really clear, and the overall fluidity of the game incredible.

All these features are nothing without the power to run them, of course, and Apple has made some changes to the battery in the iPhone 11 Pro.

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Dark mode in iOS 13 makes apps like Apple Music look very different

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The much-vaunted reverse wireless charging we’ve seen this year from the likes of Samsung and Huawei hasn’t materialized – this was expected, as last-minute rumors suggested it wouldn’t make the cut because Apple couldn’t get it to work as expected. 

This feels like AirPower all over again – the eventually-cancelled wireless charging mat from Apple – but the company clearly didn’t want to diminish the overall impact of an iPhone that wasn’t set to make waves as it was. And in fairness, this feature was never vaunted, so it’s hard to say that it’s a real loss.

Apple has – presumably – increased the size of the battery over the one used in the iPhone XS, although as usual we don’t know the exact battery capacity. On stage, it was confirmed that the new iPhone 11 Pro would last four hours longer than the iPhone XS, but really we just want it to have all-day battery life.

The iPhone XR was the first Apple phone to manage this feat, and we’re hoping that we see the same with the new model in our testing.

iPhone 11 Pro

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Early verdict

We’ve been previewing Apple’s latest iPhones for a number of years, and while the brand certainly knows how to put on a show to whip up the clamor for its new devices, we’re left – again – feeling like there’s not a huge jump forward.

That’s not because the iPhone 11 Pro is a poor device in any way, but because it lacks a headline feature for us to really get our teeth into.

Sure, there are changes: the camera is clearly the big upgrade, and will likely keep Apple in the debate as to which is the best camera phone on the market. 

The iPhone 11 Pro is, of course, Apple’s most powerful iPhone yet. But to be truly impressive it needs to offer something exciting to make consumers feel it will improve their life in some way – and the iPhone 11 Pro feels like a smoothed-out version of 2018’s iPhone XS with a nicer back.

However, the key thing is not the headline feature set, but how the phone performs in real-world use – so let’s see if we get any nice surprises when we conduct our full iPhone 11 Pro review, as we did with the surprisingly strong battery life on the iPhone XR last year.