iPhone 11 Pro: To upgrade or not

Preorders for the new iPhone 11 and 11 Pro have begun, so let's see what features new models have over last year's iPhones.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
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Lexy Savvides
4 min read

After months of rumors and speculation, the iPhone 11 is finally here. In this week's Apple Core wrap, let's see how the new phones stack up compared to last year's models and see what extras you may get if you're upgrading from an older iPhone. We won't know for sure which is the "best" of the new bunch until after we've tested and reviewed them, so stay tuned. But in the meantime, here's what we know.

Read: iPhone camera comparison: iPhone 11 with Deep Fusion vs. iPhone XR

iPhone 11 and 11 Pro get design tweaks

Apple has changed up its naming convention this year and its new 2019 flagship phone is now known as the 11 Pro (and 11 Pro Max) rather than the roman numeral XS. 

Looking at both phones from the front, there's no obvious differences between the 11 Pro and the phone it replaces, the XS. Size-wise, they're the same with a 5.8-inch display, or 6.5-inches for the Max models. The new phones have a super retina XDR display, which is still OLED, but Apple says it's brighter: 800 nits in bright sunlight and up to 1,200 nits when viewing content like HDR10 movies. The XS Max screen had a maximum of 725 nits, by comparison.

The iPhone 11 is the same 6.1-inch size as last year's iPhone XR and still has a LCD screen.


Last year's XS Max (left) and this year's 11 Pro Max (right).

James Martin/CNET

The notch on the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max houses the TrueDepth camera which gets a resolution bump from 7 megapixels on the older phones to 12 megapixels on the new ones. FaceID is said to be faster, according to Apple, and works from more angles. (This is something the rumors indicated a few months ago.)

Colors this year are nothing too crazy on the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max: There's gold, space grey, silver and midnight green. The back is now a textured matte glass, which may be easier to hold than the glossy versions. The iPhone 11 gets purple and green, replacing the coral and blue options on the XR.

See the full spec breakdown between this year's iPhone 11 Pro and last year's iPhone XS here.

One of the most significant jumps in performance from old to new phones could be battery life. The 11 Pro gives you up to 4 hours more battery life than the XS, and the 11 Pro Max is 5 hours more than the XS Max. You'll also get an 18W fast charger in the box. Unfortunately, we didn't get reverse wireless charging for other phones or the Apple Watch , like some rumors were indicating.

The iPhone 11 gives you one hour more battery life than last year's XR, a total of 17 hours of video playback.

Night mode, ultra-wide camera finally lands on iPhone

The rumors were true on two big camera features: the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max all get night mode for clearer low-light photos, as well as an ultra-wide angle lens in the camera array at the back.

We've seen ultra-wide lenses on several Android phones before like the Galaxy Note 10 Plus and the Huawei P30 Pro , but this is a first for the iPhone. But on some of these other phones, photos taken on the wide-angle lens can look quite different in terms of color and exposure from the other cameras. Apple dedicated a section on its iPhone 11 Pro product page talking about how the three cameras are calibrated for white balance and exposure, so it's going to be interesting to see how this all translates when we get our hands on the phones.


An example of Apple's night mode in action.


Night mode turns on automatically depending on the lighting in the scene. The phone takes multiple photos in quick succession, then stitches, aligns, adjusts contrast and color to achieve the effect. Apple also says smart HDR has been improved over the older phones. 

One of the other intriguing camera features is what Apple calls Deep Fusion: coming via software update to the 11 Pro phones in the fall, it promises to optimize photos for detail and low noise.

iPhone 11 and 11 Pro are stronger than before

Testing the underwater capabilities of last year's XR and XS.


Each year Apple generally improves the iPhone's toughness and water resistance and this time is no exception. During the keynote, the company said the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max have the toughest glass in any phone -- on the front and back. 

Last year's iPhones were significantly stronger than any previous model and the XS refused to crack even after several drops, emerging with only a few scratches and bumps. The XR, however, took four drops to break the camera. Naturally, we're expecting even better results from this year's batch.

You'll also be able to take the new iPhones to greater depths underwater: 4 meters for 30 minutes for the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. This beats the rated depth of 2 meters for 30 minutes on the XS and XS Max. That said, last year's XS was able to withstand 8 meters of water in our informal test and emerged unscathed and undamaged.

What features don't the new iPhones include?

Fans of 3D Touch may be disappointed as the new phones all use haptic touch, which we saw in last year's iPhone XR. And for those of us who were waiting with anticipation to see if rumors on reverse wireless charging were true, well… they're not. All the new phones can still charge wirelessly on a Qi pad but you won't be able to charge one phone from another (like you can on the newer Samsung Galaxy phones) or charge an Apple Watch from the back either.

What is a big advantage this year is cheaper storage on the iPhone 11. At $699 outright for the 64GB model, it's $50 cheaper than the debut price of last year's iPhone XR, which was $749. (The XR is still available, now at a reduced price of $599).

Watch this: iPhone 11 Pro vs. iPhone XS: Flagship phones compared