At last week’s big iPhone reveal, Tim Cook said that the iPhone XR is “the most popular iPhone” and the “most popular smartphone in the world” – turns out that a cheap or, well, more affordable iPhone, has some serious appeal. The next generation of that smartphone is the iPhone 11; it has the same dimensions, same glass-and-aluminum design and the same LCD display as the iPhone XR, but Apple upgraded the water-resistance, sound quality and battery life. Plus they gave it a few new colorways.
The iPhone 11’s biggest upgrades have to do with its camera and its price. The iPhone 11 has a dual rear-camera system with the same wide and ultra-wide lenses as the iPhone 11 Pro (no telephoto, though), and many of the same new features, such as Night mode. And at $699, Apple actually made its entry-level iPhone even more affordable; last year’s iPhone XR started at $749.
The Good: The new dual-camera system, particularly the addition of the ultra-wide lens, is a genuine reason to upgrade to the new iPhone. I found myself shooting twice as many photos as soon as a realized how fantastic those ultra-wide photos actually look. Those two lenses, a 12-megapixel wide and 12-megapixel ultra-wide, are the exact same as the ones on the iPhone 11 Pro, and they take the exact same photos. The only difference is the iPhone 11 Pro has a third telephoto lens but if you’re not zooming in or taking a lot of Portrait Mode photos, you’re not really missing out if you opt for the less expensive iPhone 11.
The iPhone 11 has the same wide and ultra-wide rear-camera system as the iPhone 11 Pro.
The iPhone 11 still has Portrait Mode, of course, but it does it differently. Last year’s iPhone XR was able to achieve Portrait Mode with a combination of its one-lens system and software, similar to how the Google Pixel has been doing so for years. This year, thanks to its dual-camera system, the iPhone 11 is able to shoot better-looking Portrait mode photos using the exact same Portrait mode as the iPhone 11 Pro by using the wide lens. Unlike the iPhone XR, the iPhone 11’s dual cameras let it achieve portrait mode with optics instead of in software, which Apple’s budget iPhone can now take Portrait Mode photos of more than just people – yes, that means dogs, cats or any other pets you have.
These new iPhones are the first that are able to capture 4K video at 60 fps (as opposed to the previous 4K video at 30 fps on last year’s iPhones) and the iPhone 11 is able to capture these videos with either its wide or ultra-wide lens. These are also the first iPhones to have Night Mode. Unlike what Google did with its most recent Pixels (called Night Sight) which requires activation, the Night Mode on the latest iPhones turns on automatically when it detects a low-light situation. Depending on the conditions, the Night Mode will determine the exposure. You can manually adjust the exposure times if you like, and it does a pretty comparable job (which is good) as the Google Pixel. Because it automatically comes on – there’s no need to toggle through Settings – odds are you’ll use Night Mode quite often, and it actually feels like a neat add-on, especially if you want to take photos of your friends in a bar or shoot some pretty neat nighttime photos.
The front-facing camera system has also been improved on all the new iPhones. The iPhone 11 has a 12-megapixel camera, compared to the 7-megapixel camera on the iPhone XR and iPhone XS, and it’s a little bit wider, so you can expand the frame (slightly) if you find yourself taking group photos with the selfie camera. And for the first time, you can record slow-motion videos with the selfie camera, which feels like a fun party trick.
The iPhone 11 has the same Night Mode as the iPhone 11 Pro models.
The iPhone 11 has more than just new cameras, though. It has the same A13 Bionic chip as the iPhone 11 Pros, which Apple claims is the fastest GPU and CPU on any smartphone, so it runs lightning smooth. This new processing chip also helps the iPhone 11, according to Apple, get one extra hour of battery life than the iPhone XR, which was already the last lasting iPhone. It’s IP68, which is the same waterproof-ness as the latest GoPro action cameras. Face ID has supposedly gotten 30-percent faster, too, although I’ve had mixed results with it.
Who It’s For: Anybody looking to buy a new iPhone that doesn’t want to spend anywhere near the $1,000 starting price of the iPhone 11 Pros and isn’t diehard about having the best camera possible.
Watch Out For: There’s no getting around the fact that the iPhone 11 is basically the same phone as the iPhone XR, but with new rear and front camera systems, the A13 Bionic chip and some bumped up specs. The two iPhones have the same curves, dimensions, display and notch – it’s all very familiar. That’s good if you like the iPhone XR, but less good if you’re trying to justify the decision to upgrade from one to the other.
Alternatives: Let’s start with the assumption that you’re dead-set on an iPhone: If you’re willing to pay a little more, the iPhone 11 Pros have a better camera system, nicer display and few other upgraded features. They also are available in smaller or larger sizes. Last year’s iPhone XR is still a great phone and Apple lowered the starting price to $599 (previously $749). A little surprisingly, Apple isn’t selling new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, but it is selling the two-year-old iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, starting at $499 and $549 respectively.
The above two photos are shot using the iPhone’s 1) wide and 2)ultra-wide lenses.
If you’re not dead-set on an iPhone, the scope of alternatives is too wide to consider fully here, but definitely includes Samsung’s latest offerings in the form of the S10 and the Note10, as well as Google’s Pixel 4, which is due to be announced in October, so it’s wise to sit tight for now.
Verdict: The iPhone 11 is the new iPhone that most people should buy. It has so many of the same features as the significantly more expensive iPhone 11 Pros, that it doesn’t feel like “the cheap iPhone.” Its dual-camera system with an ultra-wide lens and the ability to shoot 4K video at 60fps, also means that the iPhone 11 feels like a big upgrade over the older iPhone XR and iPhone 8. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also the most affordable new iPhone to be released in years.
(Need extra incentive? If you purchase an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV – new or older models – you’ll get a free one-year subscription to Apple’s new streaming service, Apple TV+, when it launches on November 1.)
Display: Liquid Retina HD
Processor: A13 Bionic
Rear Camera System: Dual 12-megapixal cameras; ultra wide (ƒ/2.4 aperture) and wide (ƒ/1.8)
Front Camera System:: 12-megapixal TrueDepth camera (ƒ/2.2)
Water-resistance: IP68 rating
Materials: Glass and aluminum design
Key features: Night Mode, 4K video at 60fps recording, slow motion selfies
Colors: Purple, yellow, green, black, white, (Product) red
Apple provided this product for review.
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