iPhone 11 review: A hard-to-beat combination of price, features, and quality Credit: IDGIDG
Business Management

iPhone 11 review: A hard-to-beat combination of price, features, and quality

Last year, Apple introduced the iPhone XR as the “affordable” offering in its new iPhone lineup. We liked the XR a lot, and we even said that it might be the best iPhone Apple has ever made. The follow-up to the iPhone XR is the new iPhone 11, and the fact that Apple decided to bless this model with the “iPhone 11” title—and not call it something like the iPhone 11R—says a lot about where the company positions the phone. 

But can this phone carry the burden of being known as the iPhone 11? As a matter of fact, it can. The satisfying speed boost, dual camera setup, and long battery life combine to make the iPhone 11 even better than last year’s iPhone XR. And given its relatively low price tag, it’s probably the best new iPhone for most people.

Read our full review of the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max

Camera improvements

The marquee feature of the iPhone 11 is its 12-megapixel dual camera setup. It seems as though Apple decided that with this year’s phones, they would make the camera bump deliberately eye-catching. The iPhone XR’s single camera is barely noticeable, and the iPhone XS’s dual camera bump design doesn’t make you think twice about what it looks like. But the iPhone 11’s dual camera demands your attention, screaming, “Smile! You’re on camera!”

iphone xr iphone 11 cameras IDG

The iPhone XR (left) has a single wide camera. The iPhone 11 (right) has wide and ultra wide cameras.

The iPhone 11 has a wide camera like the one on the iPhone XR, but the iPhone 11’s second camera is an ultra wide camera that offers a 2x zoom out, allowing you to capture more of whatever environment you’re shooting. These two cameras are also on the iPhone 11 Pro, which adds a third, telephoto camera to zoom in really close.

The ultra wide is an excellent addition, giving you even more flexibility when shooting pictures. Fortunately, Apple makes it easy to switch between wide and ultra wide. When framing a shot in the Camera app, a 1x button appears at the bottom of the image frame, which means the wide camera is in use. Tap this button, and the phone switches to the ultra wide camera, and the 1x button becomes a 0.5x button. Tap the button again to switch back. Also, when you’re in the 1x camera view, you’ll get a preview for what a 0.5x ultra wide shot would look like.

phone 11 mural wide IDG

Shot using the iPhone 11 1x wide camera.

iphone 11 camera app wide viewfinder IDG

While using the wide camera, you can see a preview of the ultra wide view without having to switch to the ultra wide camera.

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The resulting image using the iPhone 11 ultra wide camera.

In terms of actual picture quality, both the wide and ultra wide produce great-looking photos. Colors are accurate, and the cameras deliver a stunning level of detail and image clarity. Of course, we’ve said the same thing about previous iPhones, and it’s still true with the iPhone 11. But exclusive to the iPhone 11 (and 11 Pro) is a new Night mode that completely reinvents Apple’s low-light photography game. Indeed, if you’re looking for just one reason to buy a new iPhone, this is probably it. Night mode takes images shot in dark environments and uses software processing to reveal details that would otherwise be lost.

We have details on how to use Night mode and how it works in a separate article. Low-light enhancement has been available in Android phones, and it’s finally on the iPhone, and it works really well. Our sister publication, PCWorld, even found that Apple’s Night mode is better than Android’s version. Bottom line: It’s a useful feature that produces great results.

iphone 11 night mode before IDG

Shot without using Night mode.

iphone 11 night mode after IDG

Shot with Night mode active.

What it’s like to shoot using Night mode.

The one issue I have with the iPhone 11’s rear camera is the lack of optical zoom. As it was with the iPhone XR, the iPhone 11 has only digital zoom, up to 5x. In some instances, especially when you go past 2x digital zoom, you get noticeable image noise, making for an unsightly photo. So, if you’re like me and you tend to use zoom a lot, you need to rethink how you use it on the iPhone 11. 

iphone 11 camera closeup IDG

There’s no optical zoom with the iPhone 11 camera, though it does offer 5x digital zoom.

It’s worth mentioning that Apple finally upgraded the front-facing TrueDepth camera, from a 7-megapixel camera that shoots 1080p/60fps video to a 12-megapixel camera that shoots 4K/60fps video camera. And the front camera can record slow motion video, which wasn’t previously available. So, yeah. Let’s see if Apple can make “slofies” happen.

Fast phone gets even faster

At the heart of the iPhone 11 is a new A13 Bionic processor, the successor to the A12 Bionic that’s in the iPhone XR. The A12 Bionic is an impressive chip, so what does the A13 Bionic do to follow it up? With CPU performance, the gains are modest. In Geekbench 5 benchmarks, the iPhone 11 saw a 14 percent increase over the iPhone XR in single-core CPU performance, while multi-core CPU performance jumped 18 percent.

geekbench 5 iphone 11 xr IDG

Results are scores. Longer bars/higher results are better. Click to enlarge.

In benchmarks that stress the iPhone’s graphics performance, the iPhone 11 showed more impressive gains over the iPhone XR. In 3DMark’s Sling Shot benchmark, the iPhone 11 was 29 percent faster in both the Sling Shot Extreme and Sling Shot Extreme Unlimited tests. In the 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, the iPhone 11 was 20 percent faster.

3dmark slingshot iphone 11 xr IDG

Results are scores. Longer bars/higher results are better. Click to enlarge.

3dmark icestorm iphone 11 xr IDG

Results are scores. Longer bars/higher results are better. Click to enlarge.

The numbers show a boost in performance, but does the iPhone 11 feel faster than the iPhone XR? It most certainly does. In daily use, the iPhone 11 feels snappier, apps feel like they launch faster, and graphics performance in games is noticeably smoother. This is even true when comparing the performance to the iPhone XS, which uses the same processor as the iPhone XR.

The iPhone 11 has the same processor as the iPhone 11 Pro, and the benchmark results overall for those phones were in line with each other. So, basically, for a few hundred dollars less, you can get the same performance in the iPhone 11 as you do the Pros. If performance is your top consideration, this is a value proposition that’s difficult to ignore.

A little longer battery life

Apple says that the iPhone 11’s 3,046 mAh battery lasts up to one hour longer than the iPhone XR’s 2,942 mAh battery, and you can get up to 17 hours of video playback, 10 hours of streamed video, and 65 hours of audio playback. Notably, Apple no longer provides an estimate for what it called “Talk time (wireless).” For the iPhone XR it was 25 hours, and we can calculate that you could get up to 26 hours on the iPhone 11. According to an Apple representative, the longer battery life was achieved through a combination of a bigger battery, and software and hardware optimizations.

We used the Geekbench 4 Battery Life test to gauge battery life and to compare it to other iPhones. Our test results showed that the iPhone 11 and the iPhone XR have similar battery life. In fact, in our testing, the iPhone 11 lasted only a few seconds longer than the iPhone XR. Our Geekbench 4 Battery Life test runs processor-intensive tasks (with screen dimming turned off) until the battery is drained, so it’s not representative of real-world usage. Nonetheless, it’s an effective way to consistently test different phones.

battery iphone 11 xr IDG

Results are times in minutes. Longer bars/higher results are better. Click to enlarge.

During daily use, I never had to charge the iPhone 11 before the end of my day. I think I’m a more demanding user than most, because I play Pokémon Go during my commute to and from work and on dog walks. On my most demanding day (a Saturday strolling through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park playing PoGo, watching my son’s soccer match, and using Apple Maps navigation), I ended the day with 24 percent battery left. Not bad at all.

The one major flaw in regards to the battery life is the included charger. Apple still includes a puny, slow 5-watt charger with its low-end model iPhone. For $29, you can buy Apple’s 18W USB-C Power Adapter—the same one that’s included with the iPhone 11 Pro. It’s a bummer that Apple doesn’t include this charger with the baseline model. The iPhone 11 also supports wireless charging, but you’ll have to buy a Qi wireless charger separately.

The design: Don’t mess with what works

Apple didn’t change much when it comes to industrial design. The iPhone 11 is very much like the iPhone XR, with anodized aluminum sides, the display notch, and a glass back available in black, green, purple, white, yellow and (Product)Red. That said, color execution this year is different: Apple decided to go with pastel-like shades that are more subtle than the bright colors of the XR.

iphone 11 bezel IDG

The iPhone 11’s bezel (right) is thicker than the bezel on the OLED phones, like the iPhone 11 Pro Max (left).

The iPhone 11 still sports black bezels that are thicker than those on the iPhones with OLEDs. And as long as this model continues to use an LCD (a lower-cost part than the OLED in the Pro model), the thicker bezels will persist to help stop light leakage. Mind you, I didn’t find the bezels bothersome. In fact, I actually didn’t notice them until they were pointed out to me.

The most noticeable design change between the iPhone 11 and the iPhone XR (besides the colors and the camera bump) is the placement of the Apple logo, which is now centered instead of up near the camera. Rumor had it that one of the new features of the iPhone 11 was to be bilateral wireless charging, and the Apple logo would be centered to mark the spot where users should place their devices. But when the new iPhones were released, bilateral charging wasn’t part of the feature list.

iphone xr iphone 11 full IDG

On the iPhone 11 (left, purple), Apple moved the logo to the center of the phone. They also removed the “iPhone” tag.

A not-so-noticeable change is the iPhone 11’s improved water resistance, which is now at 2 meters for up to 30 minutes, double the depth of the iPhone XR.

The iPhone XR’s design worked well, so Apple was wise to stick to it on the iPhone 11. Best of all, the iPhone 11 doesn’t feel like a cheaper version of the Pro models. It feels good and solid in the hand, and it’s comfortable to use. Maybe the bezels will bother you, but you’d have to be pretty particular to find fault with them

Liquid Retina HD display

Another major feature that remains unchanged is the display. Apple is again using a 6.1-inch LCD, while the iPhone 11 Pro has an OLED. The iPhone 11 screen (Apple calls it a “Liquid Retina HD” display) is a Retina display with 326 ppi resolution, a 1,400 to 1 contrast ratio, and 625 nits of brightness. The iPhone 11 Pro’s “Super Retina XDR” display is rated at 458 ppi, has a 2,000,000 to 1 contrast ratio, and offers 800 nits of brightness.

If you put the iPhone 11 and the 11 Pro next to each other, you can see differences if you look hard enough. The iPhone 11 Pro’s screen is brighter, the colors have a little more pop, black looks deeper, and the detail is a tiny bit sharper.

iphone 11 globe 2 IDG

The iPhone 11 uses the same good-looking LCD found in the iPhone XR.

But lacking any comparisons, the iPhone 11’s screen looks great all on its own. The color quality, brightness, and sharpness are much more than satisfactory. Yes, the OLED sets a high bar, and no, the LCD can’t match it. But the LCD still looks great, and unless you simply demand the best, you won’t find yourself pining for the Pro OLED.

Bottom line

Apple had a winner with the iPhone XR, and while its follow up doesn’t have to rewrite the book on mobile phones, it needs to do enough to be a worthy heir to the throne. The new iPhone 11 is up to the task, with compelling changes to the camera that will have even users of the year-old iPhone XR seriously consider upgrading.

To top it off, there’s the iPhone 11 price. It starts at $699 for the 64GB model, which is $50 less than the introductory price of the iPhone XR. Apple gets a lot of flak for its iPhone prices, so a price reduction of the company’s most affordable iPhone is very much welcomed. It makes the iPhone 11 even more attractive, especially when you compare its price to that of the $999 64GB iPhone 11 Pro or the $1,099 64GB iPhone 11 Pro Max. (Apple still sells the iPhone XR, starting at $599.)

If you have an iPhone 8 or older and you’ve put off an upgrade, now is the time to pull the trigger. You’ll enjoy great speed improvements and longer battery life. You’ll also be able to have more fun with your photos with the dual camera setup and Night mode. You’ll need to get used to an iPhone without a Home button and the switch from Touch ID to Face ID, but give it a few days—the gestures and Face ID quickly become second nature.

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