Apple iPhone 11 initial review

The iPhone XR was one of the company’s most successful phones in 2019, and with the competition getting ever tougher, can a new updated model continue the success?

We were at Apple’s September event in Apple Park to have a play with what is now simply called the iPhone 11 to see how it fares, how it differs, and what exactly it offers to the iPhone user in 2019 and beyond.

Apple iPhone 11 initial review The child of the iPhone XR and iPhone XS is born image 13

A familiar design with a few changes

  • New camera design
  • Two new colours: green and purple
  • 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display

The new iPhone 11, as it will now be known, follows a virtually identical design language to the iPhone XR. That means you’ll get the same 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display on the front and now a dual-camera system on the back in a newly designed camera housing.

The chassis is still aluminium, and the back is still glass; however, it’s now tougher than before and cut to include a large hole for the somewhat polarising camera section. You either love it, or you hate it. 

That camera section, which is now square, sits proudly on the iPhone. We weren’t able to determine how much wobble that will give you on a desk, but we suspect most people will opt for a case regardless of the new “toughed” approach to the experience.

Like the iPhone XR that came before it, the iPhone 11 is available in six colours, including white, black, yellow, and Product Red, as well as two new colours, green and purple.

To say green and purple is actually a misdemeanour. The green is more “mint”, while the purple is more “lavender/mauve/lilac”, depending on how you see things.

Both are lovely, though, and we suspect they will be really popular. Apple has resisted opting for iridescent effects or devices that drastically change colour when you move them in the light, as we’ve seen from Huawei or Samsung.

Apple iPhone 11 initial review The child of the iPhone XR and iPhone XS is born image 3

Photography at the heart of the experience

  • New dual-camera system
  • Upgrades to the front-facing camera
  • New camera interface

The biggest standout feature of the new iPhone 11 is the camera functionality, bringing it up to par with the iPhone XS and XS Max from 2018.

Now the iPhone 11 features two camera lenses – wide and ultra-wide – as well as new software-based features like Night Mode to really help those who like taking photos and bring it up to on-par with and hopefully beyond the capabilities found on competing devices. 

The ultra-wide lens means you can capture around four times more of the scene in front of you, and like iPhone X and iPhone XS, users have been able to do quickly move through the two lenses to create a seamless photo and video experience.

To help show you this, the camera app interface has changed, allowing you to see grey areas and the viewpoint of the ultra-wide lens if you change between the lenses. It’s a very simple and intuitive way of doing things, and it should be easy for iPhone users to grasp.

One of the biggest criticisms of the now-previous iPhones were their low-light photography capabilities.

Apple says not so anymore and has introduced Night Mode that will automatically detect when you are trying to take a photo in a dark low-light environment and adjust things accordingly.

We’ve yet to try this out ourselves, but talking to Apple demo people in the demo area after the September event keynote, the iPhone 11 can detect when you take a picture and how much you are moving the camera and try to compensate, accordingly. It can even tell whether you are using a tripod and therefore give you a much longer exposure to produce better results. 

Other camera features include expanding Portrait Mode beyond just people (like the iPhone XS) because of the two cameras, and an enhancement to the front-facing camera that brings slow-mo mode and a wider lens for group selfies.

Yes, “slofies” are going to be a thing – expect to start to see Instagram and other social networks filled with them.

The new front-facing camera is also supposed to improve Face ID, including the angle it will work from, which should mean you can open your phone while it is still laying flat on the desk, so you don’t have to pick it up anymore.

We’re looking forward to testing out the new camera and the new features and reporting back on whether it really is good enough to take the fight to devices like the Pixel, Galaxy S range, and the Huawei P30 Pro.

On the video front, there are new functionalities here, too. There’s support for up to 4K 60fps and a new mode called “Cinematic video stabilization” that should make your videos “buttery smooth”.  

There’s also a new software feature that allows you to tap and hold the shutter button to start recording video, which we like very much.

Apple iPhone 11 initial review The child of the iPhone XR and iPhone XS is born image 6

New specs show iPhone 11 means business

  • A13 Bionic processor
  • Wi-Fi 6 support
  • eSIM and Dual SIM support

A new iPhone means new powerful innards, and the iPhone 11 hasn’t been excluded in 2019 with speed enhancements.

Apple has launched what it claims is the “fastest CPU and GPU in a smartphone” with the A13 Bionic. It’s the same processor that is found in the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, and we’re pleased to see it here, too.

That new processor is mainly to control and support all the new camera functionalities, we suspect, and sadly we weren’t able to have enough time in the demo area at the September Event to see how the iPhone 11 will perform under stress. The games load fast, and everything seemed to zip along nicely as you would expect for a device that starts at $999/£999. 

Other interesting specs outside of the camera functionality include Wi-Fi 6 support for faster wireless connectivity, fast charging (as before, although you don’t get the same 18W charger in the box as you do with the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max), eSIM and Dual-SIM support.

On the sound front, Apple has introduced something called spatial audio, which creates a “virtual” sound stage to make you believe that the sound is coming out of the screen rather than just at the end of the phone. Somewhat questionably, you also get Dolby Atmos support, but we weren’t able to test either of these features at the event, and at the moment, are still very sceptical of the claim.

First Impressions

We really liked the iPhone XR when it launched in 2018 and felt that it was the iPhone many would end up going for. From what we’ve seen so far, this merges the iPhone XR with the iPhone XS to create the iPhone 11, and that’s a good thing in our books.

What’s interesting here is that Apple is clearly trying to make the iPhone 11 the standard iPhone to get; the one with the biggest appeal, both in terms of tech and price point, and we suspect that, for many who aren’t looking for the advanced “Pro” features of the new Pro range, this will be plenty good enough in most if not all cases.

We will hold out our full judgment for the time being, because there are still lots of things to test and see how they perform in the real world, but for now, it’s looking positive, very positive indeed.

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