A note to the reader: I originally wrote this review in May 2020; the content herein was migrated from my previous blog site.
In spite of switching my personal phone late last year to Android (and specifically, a Galaxy Note 10+), I also had to upgrade my work cell phone. Every two years we get an opportunity to upgrade, but it was really hard to justify a second Galaxy Note regardless of how awesome the performance was. Also, I find myself still relying on Apple’s ecosystem when it comes to Messages, since the connection to my personal iPad allows me to keep tabs on work texts even when I’m not by my phone.
What I wanted last year was the next great Pixel phone by Google…but after a truly lackluster release of the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, as well as the countless complaints about poor battery performance in most reviews, I decided to pass on Google that time around. My previous work phone was at one point a Pixel 2 XL, which I stopped using a couple months prior in an attempt to physically downsize, wherein I switched to an old, spare iPhone 7 that we had lying around the office. What I didn’t expect, though, is just how similar the footprint of my iPhone 7 was to the new iPhone 11 Pro, and while the 11 Pro is a touch heftier (in a good way), it is a very similar feel in my pocket when going from meeting to meeting. And now, about 6 months later, I have some thoughts and comments about Apple’s iPhone 11.
When the last generation of iPhones were announced, there wasn’t much excitement in the mobile community. For those of us who are used to Apple hardware, the release met everyone’s expectations, as Apple has over the years become far less daring and game-changing with new hardware releases (I think of this as the “Ford Explorer Phenomenon,” where design changes year over year are minimal because the existing design is as popular as it is; this is why the Explorer is one of the best-selling SUV’s of all time).
The minimal changes notwithstanding, the design of the iPhone 11 Pro is incredible: it is sleek and refined, it feels extremely sturdy and in no way fragile or brittle, and it has shed the “toy-like” appearance of previous years. Yes, it still has a notch, but everything about the design of this phone is known, understood, well-developed and intentional. When the iPhone X was released late in 2017, I paired it against the Pixel 2 XL in a review and identified the iPhone as the “form” compared to the Pixel 2 XL’s “function,” but 2+ years and few design changes later, the form of the iPhone 11 Pro has faded into the background in a great, great way. There is nothing physically about this phone to get in your way.
Much like the design has been refined over the last 2 years from the first release of this “body style,” so too has the performance been streamlined and refined. Apple’s internally-built silicon, the A13 Bionic chip, continues to slay the competition in performance. The caveat here is that controlling every aspect of the hardware build allows Apple to achieve some really amazing things when it comes to performance, which is something that starts at the processor level; Google, Samsung and a host of other manufacturers aren’t developing their own silicon, which necessarily limits just how great those phones can be. Regardless, just like the iPhone X and the XS, the 11 Pro’s performance is a solid “10 out of 10” in every way.
A big component of that performance comes from the screen, which (on the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max) is labeled the “Super Retina XDR display,” an OLED which on the 11 Pro maintains the previous generation’s 5.8″ size. Also carrying over from last generation are the minimal bezels and the notch, but thanks to the former you get quite a lot of screen in a relatively small form factor. Brightness is improved over the previous generation in a huge way, but it loses 3D touch which is a bit disappointing if you found yourself using those features.
The iPhone X’s camera was great, as was the camera on the XS. The 11 Pro has an additional “ultrawide” lens (maybe a bit later than it should have shown up), and thanks to some incredible software development over the last couple years and Deep Fusion, the picture quality you can get form images in all levels of light is stellar. We really have reached the point (at least with flagship phones) where the camera on your smartphone is going to be everything that most people need in nearly all situations, and with the 4K recording options available it makes the iPhone 11 Pro among the best all-around cameras available on a phone, if not the best.
When this generation iPhone was announced, an outlandish claim was made about the Pro-series phones, suggesting 4 additional hours of battery (5 for the Pro Max) over the previous generation. The Pro sports a 3000+ mAh battery compared to the 2650 mAh on the XS, and after several months of use, this battery is a beast: while I’ve been absolutely blown away by the battery on the Note 10+, in many ways the battery on this 11 Pro is even more impressive. Quick charge is also supported, thanks to the included 18W power brick (only with the 11 Pro and Pro Max models).
Everything else is similar to the XS in a great way: it’s the same Apple experience we’ve come to expect, with a few seemingly minor improvements that have a huge impact on the overall usability of this phone. This isn’t the same “form only” iPhone from 2017; with significant changes to the software, the A13 chip and a slightly beefier body, the improved performance, battery life and camera capabilities on the 11 Pro make it a really, really hard phone to beat—as long as you’re in the Apple ecosystem, that is.
Which begs the question—September is just around the corner, should you get this phone? Well, considering the price point for the iPhone 12 Pro will likely be the same as the 11 Pro, it would be foolish not to wait. That said, if Apple continues to disappoint with less-than-stellar design changes from year to year, there maybe a great opportunity to pick up a year-old 11 Pro at a significant discount while still having great overall performance.