New cameras, longer battery life, Night Mode, a goofy selfie feature and a price drop. That's a respectable upgrade list.
Update, Nov. 9, 2020: iPhone 12 is here. Read CNET's reviews of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max.
When you first hear the names of Apple's new iPhones -- the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max -- you may have some questions. Where's the iPhone X? And what makes the iPhone Pro... Pro? What happened to last year's XS and XS Max? This year's new phones are polished sequels (literally and figuratively) to the three we got last year. For some people the iPhone 11 just needs to be better than the XS. And it indeed is. But for others, it's nice to know where Apple stands in the larger landscape of phones. There are wild 5G speeds on the horizon, plus bizarre and expensive foldable phones like Samsung's Galaxy Fold. And then there's the more expensive $799 (£669, AU$1,049) Google Pixel 4, which actually makes the $699 (£729, AU$1,199) iPhone 11 look like an even better value.
Read more: iPhone SE 2020 review
Apple did a great job with new features, including some serious camera improvements like Night Mode for taking photos in dimly lit situations and Deep Fusion, a new way for the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro to process photos taken in situations where the lighting is bright enough for you to see, but nothing like being outside on a sunny day.
Read: iPhone 11 vs. iPhone 11 Pro: Important differences to help you decide which one to buy
But there's a good reason why the company named its more expensive and fancier phones "Pro" this year: Price. Apple is smartly targeting the $699 iPhone 11 as the phone for most people, in the same mold as the iPhone XR last year.
Essentially, the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro are 85% the exact same phone. If you want a dedicated telephoto camera with 2x optical zoom, different size options, a better screen and finish, you're going to pay 30% more. That is not to say the $999 iPhone 11 Pro and $1,099 11 Pro Max aren't great phones. It's just that the iPhone 11 is actually that good. And that is why Apple's "value" phone with its wonderful cameras, solid build (which survived CNET's drop and water tests) and iOS 13.2 earns the iPhone 11 a CNET Editors' Choice Award.
Editors' note, March 30: Five months after Apple launched the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, the phones still represent two of the best that you can buy today. In February, the Galaxy S20 launched at a starting price of $999. Technically it's the most affordable phone in Samsung's current generation. Compared to the Galaxy S20, the iPhone 11 is an absolute steal. The original review, published on Sept. 17, follows below.
The $699 iPhone 11 model gets 64GB of storage, which is probably fine for many people -- and it's a $50 price drop from last year's iPhone XR base model. 128GB for $749 probably makes more sense if you're shooting any video and 256GB for $849 should only be a consideration if you're shooting a lot of video. The Pro phones add a 512GB tier that you won't need unless you're shooting in 4K for a living. See the chart at the bottom of this review for complete pricing details, including UK and Australian prices.
Read more: Steven Soderbergh might need to upgrade to the iPhone 11 Pro for his next film
For whatever reasons, Apple is still making the lower-priced iPhone 11, the one that comes in fun colors. There are two new colors, called green and purple, that are more like mint green and lavender. These new pastel colors replace the blue and coral options from last year.
I have the green iPhone 11. Its color is pleasant, and the aluminum case color is much closer to seamless with the glass color. The glossy glass back feels the same as last year's XR. So does the rest of the phone -- except for the dual cameras, which are raised up from the back and placed in a frosted glass camera square.
In contrast, the iPhone 11 Pro models all have metallic shades: silver, space gray, gold and a military-esque midnight green. The three cameras seem more industrial (maybe imposing). The back glass is matte, instead of glossy. They're made of steel instead of aluminum. And the Pro phones feel significantly denser. They pack larger batteries, and the steel adds weight.
I like that the iPhone 11 follows in the footsteps of the iPhone XR and is the middle-size phone again with a 6.1-inch screen -- compared with the two iPhone Pro models at 5.8 inches and 6.5 inches. I've come to favor the smaller iPhone 11 Pro, like the iPhone XS last year.
Over the past few years, Apple has made impressive strides in camera quality, but so have many other phone makers like Samsung, Huawei and Google. The camera arms race is something that hard-core photographers study closely, but I'd argue it's gone way past what most people need. The iPhone 11 cameras are some of the best for photos and video capture that you can buy today.
The 11 comes with a new ultrawide-angle camera, Night Mode for low-light photography, Deep Fusion processing for better indoor shots, faster autofocus and overall sharper images with more accurate color reproduction. For a more in-depth look at the camera differences between this year's iPhone and last year's, read our iPhone camera comparison between the iPhone 11 with Deep Fusion and the iPhone XR. The ultrawide offers a radical change in perspective that can be dizzyingly unique visually. This won't become your go-to camera, but it's just a blast to use.
Night Mode is a key feature that helps Apple catch up to similar capabilities from Google, Huawei and Samsung. And so far, Apple's version is impressive.
Like the Google Pixel 4, the Huawei P30 Pro and Samsung's Galaxy Note 10, taking startling low-light photos seems to be in every phone-maker's computational wheelhouse now. Apple's version brightens photos, captures less image noise and does all of this automatically. The way it works is when you open up the default camera app, the phone determines when it's dark enough to go into Night Mode. At this time, there isn't a manual way to trigger the mode.
Night Mode uses adaptive bracketing and takes a series of photos, some with a longer shutter speed, others with a shorter one. The iPhone then fuses all the photos together to reduce motion blur and brighten shadows. When I took handheld Night Mode shots the sequence would take about 3 to 5 seconds. When I put the iPhone on a tripod I got a 10-second time and was even able to manually override that for a 28-second Night Mode shot.
I took a photo of a tree in my backyard that was in complete darkness. Below is a shot with the iPhone 11 using Night Mode and another with last year's iPhone XS.
The HDR-like feel of the photos keeps some of the night effects, but at other times the photos can end up looking like day. Night Mode can be turned off by tapping the icon and sliding the timer off, but so far it's been an improvement in nearly every instance.
It's not a perfect tool: Faces can get blurred, detail can be lost. But still, I've been wowed. The Night Mode effects work the same on the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, but the Pro also gets a telephoto camera that can use it.
You can't use Night Mode in the ultrawide-angle mode, though. That camera ends up looking a lot darker, and it doesn't have optical image stabilization, either. That's true on all this year's models.
The newest camera has an ultrawide 13mm equivalent lens that is just a plain fun to use. If the main wide camera is like a business suit and the "tele" lens is a sporty blazer, then the ultrawide is the equivalent of a Hawaiian shirt. It's obviously different and really changes the way you shoot. It won't be great in every situation, but it can be equal parts handy, like when shooting in smaller spaces, and artistic, adding drama to a mundane scene.
Apple balanced the distortion so there's a little (which you want for that ultrawide look) but it's not horrible. I immediately found angles on my subjects that made them look larger than life. Best of all, you can use the ultrawide lens when shooting video. In fact, during a recording you can switch between cameras. Apple even put a cool zoom effect to transition between lenses.
Without a doubt, it can make for stunning shots. Ultrawide cameras are another new trend across phone cameras. Apple promises a few extra benefits here. The iPhone 11 gets an improved ultrawide-angle Portrait mode that can work with close-ups of your pets and other things. All the phones get an expanded-view viewfinder that now previews what's outside the shot, which can help you know when to use the ultrawide lens.
A funky extra also captures some ultrawide camera data in a Quick Take video, when you press and hold the camera button in the Camera app. It looks to pull in people who might be out of frame. So far, I haven't had this mode work for me yet.
Apple will also be using the multiple cameras for an upcoming Deep Fusion feature coming to all the phones next month. More on that below. It promises to deliver a superphoto taken from multiple shots. It's not quite Smart HDR, but it'll work automatically. I'm reminded of the promises of the Nokia 9, which aimed to blend photos into a superimage, too.
The iPhone 11's new Deep Fusion processing shines under a medium amount of light. It's best to think of medium light as lighting inside a room with no natural light, or an office where your desk is far away from the windows. The lighting is bright enough for you to see, but nothing like being outside on a sunny day.
Like Smart HDR, it takes multiple images and merges them together. But unlike Smart HDR, Deep Fusion does an analysis and optimizes things on a pixel level to make details pop, capture less image noise and improve brightness. The differences between an iPhone 11 photo using Deep Fusion and one from the XR without the new process are subtle.
Keep in mind that Deep Fusion processing isn't the only thing that improves photos from the iPhone 11. There's the improved sharpness and focus from the phone's new main camera. Overall, your photos will just look better without any extra effort from you.
Below are photos of a public phone in a BART station. The lighting was dim but didn't trigger the iPhone 11's Night Mode. (Also, holy heck, they still make pay phones!) Notice the text and scratches on the phone in the photo taken with the iPhone 11 compared with the one taken with the XR. The details are so much sharper. You can also see how the iPhone 11's Deep Fusion minimizes image noise in the wall behind the phone. The iPhone XR's photo gets the smear treatment from its noise reduction.
I already loved the iPhone's video functions. I shot some test footage on the new phones, and was curious about the extra processing stabilization. The iPhone X and XS were already good enough for me to walk around and shoot Apple's event demo room. The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro do it better, but I found the wide camera was a bit smoother than the ultrawide one.
The video doesn't use Night Mode, but videos did look better in darker spaces. Still, video in seriously dark places comes out darker than photos (even without Night Mode). We used some video footage in our review video, check it out.
The wider-angled front-facing camera is welcome. It can digitally zoom in or out to accommodate a wider view that includes more people and background. The 12-megapixel front-facing camera looks better and I was happy with the results, but you have to be artful with the wider camera. Sometimes I ended up looking like a little face in a mountain of shirt.
My kids instantly started messing around with the slow-motion selfie feature. Yes, that's the slofie. It's not a Live Photo, though. It's just a video mode. That makes it hard to do much with, because the file sizes get large. I do, however, have a lot of extended 120-fps slow-motion scenes of my kids sticking out their tongues.
After conducting our formal battery tests and living with the iPhone 11 for over a month, we found the battery life is about the same as last year's iPhone XR. In our streaming video tests the iPhone 11 lasted 13 hours and 52 minutes compared with the iPhone XR's time of 12 hours and 7 minutes in the same test. In daily use, the iPhone 11 has been lasting about a day and a half.
The A13 processor and RAM are the same on all the new iPhone models (4GB RAM, and a seemingly equally fast processor by benchmarks). It's a bit faster in single tasking, and a bigger leap in multitasking. Graphics performance, in theory, looks great, coming closer to last year's iPad Pro.
The LCD display is the same as last year, and it's totally fine. Apple's imposing-sounding Super Retina XDR display on the iPhone 11 Pro models is technically higher-res, more vivid and brighter than the iPhone 11's display. But when you compare them side by side, most people (including me) are hard-pressed to find a difference. Apple does a great job with its LCD Liquid Retina display in the iPhone 11. It doesn't feel like a compromise except when looking at dark images with subtle light details. Oh, and the notch is exactly the same as before. I'd rather it weren't, but at least I'm used to it now.
I'm annoyed these don't have USB-C charging, or a way to charge the Apple Watch or AirPods from the back the way Samsung's phones let you charge Samsung watches and the Galaxy Buds. The iPhone 11 Pro now comes with a better 18-watt charger that includes a more useful Lightning-to-USB-C cable, at least. But the regular iPhone 11 does not.
Wi-Fi 6: The new Wi-Fi standard is faster, but on my home 100-megabit network I didn't see any changes over the iPhone XS.
Read more: The iPhone 11 supports Wi-Fi 6: Here's what that means for you
Faster cellular (but not 5G): Gigabit LTE is on the iPhone 11, which the XR didn't have. The iPhone 11 still has 2x2 MIMO antennas. You get 4x4 MIMO on the iPhone 11 Pro, which can improve signal strength and speed, but we'll see over time what the differences are.
The iPhone 11 is rated for 2 meters of water resistance for 30 minutes. The iPhone 11 Pro is rated for 4 meters, for 30 minutes. In our iPhone 11 and 11 Pro water submersion tests (with the help of an underwater drone) the phones proved they were more than capable of being submerged beyond what they were designed for.
Last year's iPhone XS lasted surprisingly well in our drop test. The XR, not quite as much. All the "11 phones" sport improved glass, per Apple. We ran a drop test on both the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro. We dropped each phone from four different heights: 3, 6, 8 and 11 feet. From 8 feet and below both phones survived being dropped onto a concrete floor. The iPhone 11 Pro is the only one that showed damage. A few pixels on the 11 Pro's screen stopped working and there was a minor scuff on the aluminum bumper and a cosmetic scratch on the top lens housing. The camera itself still worked.
From 11 feet, both phones still didn't crack, but the iPhone 11's rear camera stopped working and the iPhone 11 Pro's SIM card tray popped out. It was easily pushed back into play, but a small bulge appeared along the seam of where the screen joins the stainless-steel frame. For more details, check out this story about CNET's drop test of the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro.
Ultrawideband (UWB) is a technology that can offer location features more accurate than Bluetooth . This year's iPhones have a new U1 chip that could come to other devices or even rumored Apple location tags later this year. Apple promises that with the U1 chip, AirDrop will now work more precisely by pointing one iPhone 11 toward another iPhone 11. It could also improve AR by locating beacons in a space. The U1 features aren't coming until Sept. 30 with iOS 13.1, so we'll check back then.
The iPhone XR, the direct ancestor of the iPhone 11, now sells for $100 less, starting at $599. If you're not interested in a wide-angle camera or night photos, I'd say go with that. If you got the XR last year, the iPhone 11 definitely isn't enough of a reason to upgrade.
If you couldn't tell, I think the standard iPhone 11 has everything you'd need for the price, except for that telephoto lens. Whether or not that extra camera lens, an extra boost of battery life, a more vivid OLED display and a stainless-steel body add up to a worthwhile $300 upgrade depends on how much you value those features.
I lean toward the smaller iPhone 11 Pro as my favorite iPhone this year. But for most people who are in the market for an iPhone upgrade, I'd recommend the iPhone 11. Or just waiting. You're definitely OK with last year's phone, and I'd even stay put if you have an iPhone 8 or iPhone X. Next year's iPhones could be part of a big upgrade cycle that's likely to include 5G. And Google's new Pixel 4 phones are another option.
This year's iPhone 11 models are boring upgrades, but they are good ones. And all three are worthy of being called "Pro."
|iPhone 11||iPhone 11 Pro||iPhone 11 Pro Max||iPhone XR||iPhone XS||iPhone XS Max|
|Display size, resolution||6.1-inch LCD Liquid Retina; 1,792x828 pixels||5.8-inch OLED Super Retina XDR; 2,436x1,125 pixels||6.5-inch OLED Super Retina XDR; 2,688x1,242 pixels||6.1-inch LCD Liquid Retina; 1,792x828 pixels||5.8-inch OLED Super Retina; 2,436x1,125 pixels||6.5-inch Super Retina OLED; 2,688x1,242 pixels|
|Dimensions (inches)||5.94x2.98x0.33 in||5.67x2.81x0.32 in||6.22x3.06x0.32 in||5.9x3x0.33 in||5.7x2.8x0.3 in||6.2x3x0.3 in|
|Dimensions (millimeters)||151x76x8.3 mm||144x71x8.1 mm||158x78x8.1 mm||151x76x8.3 mm||144x71x7.7 mm||158x77x7.7 mm|
|Weight (ounces, grams)||6.84 oz; 194g||6.63 oz; 188g||7.97 oz; 226g||6.8oz; 194g||6.2 oz; 177g||7.3oz; 208g|
|Mobile software||iOS 13||iOS 13||iOS 13||iOS 12||iOS 12||iOS 12|
|Camera||12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)||12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 12-megapixel (telephoto)||12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 12-megapixel (telephoto)||12-megapixel (wide)||12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)||12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)|
|Front-facing camera||12-megapixel with Face ID||12-megapixel with Face ID||12-megapixel with Face ID||7-megapixel with Face ID||7-megapixel with Face ID||7-megapixel with Face ID|
|Processor||Apple A13 Bionic||Apple A13 Bionic||Apple A13 Bionic||Apple A12 Bionic||Apple A12 Bionic||Apple A12 Bionic|
|Storage||64GB, 128GB, 256GB||64GB, 256GB, 512GB||64GB, 256GB, 512GB||64GB, 128GB, 256GB||64GB, 256GB, 512GB||64GB, 256GB, 512GB|
|RAM||Not disclosed||Not disclosed||Not disclosed||Not disclosed||Not disclosed||Not disclosed|
|Battery||Not disclosed, but Apple claims it will last 1 hour longer than iPhone XR||Not disclosed, but Apple claims it will last 4 hours longer than iPhone XS||Not disclosed, but Apple claims it will last 5 hours longer than iPhone XS Max||2,942 mAh (not officially disclosed by Apple)||2,658 mAh (not officially disclosed by Apple)||3,174 mAh (not officially disclosed by Apple)|
|Fingerprint sensor||None (Face ID)||None (Face ID)||None (Face ID)||None (Face ID)||None (Face ID)||None (Face ID)|
|Special features||Water-resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging||Water-resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging||Water-resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging||Water-resistant (IP67), dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging||Water-resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging||Water-resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$699 (64GB), $749 (128GB), $849 (256GB)||$999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB), $1,349 (512GB)||$1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB)||$749 (64GB), $799 (128GB), $899 (256GB)||$999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB), $1,349 (512GB)||$1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB)|
|Price (GBP)||£729 (64GB), £779 (128GB), £879 (256GB)||£1,049 (64GB), £1,199 (256GB), £1,399 (512GB)||£1,149 (64GB), £1,299 (256GB), £1,499 (512GB)||£749 (64GB), £799 (128GB), £899 (256GB)||£999 (64GB), £1,149 (256GB), £1,349 (512GB)||£1,099 (64GB), £1,249 (256GB), £1,449 (512GB)|
|Price (AUD)||AU$1,199 (64GB), AU$1,279 (128GB), AU$1,449 (256GB)||AU$1,749 (64GB), AU$1,999 (256GB), AU$2,349 (512GB)||AU$1,899 (64GB), AU$2,149 (256GB), AU$2,499 (512GB)||AU$1,229 (64GB), AU$1,299 (128GB), AU$1,479 (256GB)||AU$1,629 (64GB), AU$1,879 (256GB), AU$2,199 (512GB)||AU$1,799 (64GB), AU$2,049 (256GB), AU$2,369 (512GB)|