Once upon a time, the iPhone was the best camera you had with you. Now, Apple flat out wants to make it the best camera, period. What they can't do physically with enormous lenses and sensors, they're doing computationally with ridiculously optimized silicon and machine learning. And not just by taking the iPhone to 11, but by making it pro: The iPhone 11 Pro.
Everything that's already packed into the 6.1-inch iPhone 11 is here as well, but escalated significantly: 5.8- and 6.5-inch higher-density, higher contrast, higher brightness, and extreme dynamic range OLED displays; a triple imaging system with ultra wide-angle, wide-angle, and telephoto cameras; 4x4 MIMO LTE; a full 4 meters of water resistance; up to 512 GB of storage; textured finishes that look more like metal than glass; and battery life that's boosted by a jaw-dropping 4 and 5 hours respectively.
Those differences may not mean much to most people and that's fine. I'd argue that's even the point. Today, you can get a top-shelf iPhone 11 for $699, and in a wider variety of colors too.
But, if you're the type of person who wants the best of the best, the ultimate expression of the iPhone technology and experience today, you can reach for the absolute rafters with the $999 iPhone 11 Pro or $1099 iPhone 11 Pro Max.
I've already posted my complete iPhone 11 review, so I'm going to respect your time and not recapitulate everything that's the same here — and to be clear, again, that's most things. Instead, I'm going to dive into the differences and go deep on some of the details.
That way, whether you've been waiting a while to upgrade from your last top-of-the-line iPhone and are wondering if this one will last you just as long, or you always get the latest and the greatest but want to make sure you should keep on going, or even if you're switching from Android and want to immerse yourself in just exactly how Apple implements all these high-end features, I got you.
UPDATE: A week later, fully two weeks after I first started using the iPhone 11, I've gone through and added additional information and experiences.
Most Pro ever
For the most discerning tech nerds around.
Not everyone needs this pro-level iPhone, but for those of you that need OLED, can't live without the triple-lens camera system, and thinks 4x4 MIMO LTE is where it's at, let me introduce you to my friend, the iPhone 11 Pro.
I'm Rene Ritchie and this… is the iPhone 11 Pro. But also Vector.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: In Brief
For people who want:
- Extreme Dynamic Range OLED display.
- 6.5-inch display option.
- Triple-camera system with telephoto.
- Depth-aware front-facing camera.
- Face ID biometrics.
- Midnight Green!
Not for people who want:
- Home button.
- 90 or 120Hz display.
- Fingerprint identity biometrics.
- Low, low pricing.
In addition to everything I included in my preamble to the iPhone 11 review, here's what you need to know about the Pros. Right off the bat, the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max look just about identical to last year's iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. Same sizes, same shapes. They've just got three cameras on the back now instead of two, and a giant, glossy back camera bump to go with them.
The port is still Lightning, but the cable in the box now ends with USB-C and comes with a new, 18-watt adapter that fast-charges to 50% in just 30 min.
The glass backs are textured now, and matte, which looks almost like the aluminum finishes of old. And, while there are still silver, space gray, and gold options, there's also a brand new midnight green.
Ingress protection is still IP68 and certified for up to 30 minutes, but for up to 4 meters of water now, not just two. Fear no deep end of the pool.
Apple says the batteries on the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max will last — wait for it — 4 and 5 hours longer than last year's iPhone XS and XS Max. And no, that's not a typo. I checked. Thrice: Up to 18 hours of local video playback for the Pro and 20 for the Max, 11 hours and 12 hours of video streaming, and 65 and 80 hours of wireless audio. All hail the new battery champions.
The already 4x4 MIMO — multi in, multi-out — LTE now runs up to 1.6 Gbps, so you can really get your carrier aggregation on.
Storage options are the same at 64, 256, and 512 GB, as are the price points, starting at $999 and $1099.
I've been using an iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro in midnight green, running iOS 13.0, since the Apple Event last week — and yes, with my own personal SIM cards in all of the phones, all the time, traveling from California and home here in Montreal.
And while there's a ton I absolutely love about them, there's also a ton I'd really like to love more. Or, maybe, just want more to love?
Let me explain.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: Design
The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Max are basically souped-up, tricked out versions of last year's iPhone XS and XS Max.
Still 5.8- and 6.5-inches, the 11 Pros are roughly 0.02 inches taller, wider, and thicker, and 0.63 ounces heavier than their XS counterparts. It's enough that some screen protector companies have warned about incompatibility, but for all practical purposes, they're pretty much the same shape and size.
Now, some people are going to complain bitterly about that — how oh so boring it is. Not that they want them shaped like a paper airplanes or starfish… I don't think. But what about squared off sides again, or a waterfall display? Personally, I'd love to see the former, even if the latter is still so very silly.
But, I've felt for a while now that this year would be very much like the iPhone 7 Plus year. Same platform, an extra camera, beefed up internals, some silicon and machine learned marvels, and some cool new finishes. And, honestly, I'm fine with that approach.
If Apple wants to focus on new I.D. one year, improved internals the year after, and better optics the year after that, like they did with the original iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS, and again with the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, and iPhone 7, I'm totally fine with that.
So many people wasted so many column inches complaining about how bored they were with the iPhone 5s back in the day, only to get volcanic-level salty when they couldn't get the gold one on launch day, then applaud when it came back with the iPhone SE, and now again with the iPad Pro, that you just have to chalk it up to people being, you know, people.
Same with the notch. Subjectively, everyone can and will think whatever they want about it. Objectively it's no better or worse than full on foreheads or hole punches, or mechanical choochers what raise and lower camera modules up and down. They're all just different attempts to solve the same problem. At least until all of the Face ID sensors can be moved under the display all right and proper like. (Or we get to my beautiful dream where all the biometrics take snippets all the time and trust becomes a constant, passive, threshold rather than an active authentication gating.)
Honestly, I stopped noticing the notch roughly two days after I got the iPhone X in 2017 and haven't really thought about it since. Hole punchers or choochers either. It's just the big foreheads and chins that still bother me. They're a waste of whatever extra display and data you could be cramming up in there.
Like with the iPhone 11, though, I'd love to see what little is left of the bezels just totally blown away and have the display run full on into the steel antenna band around the edges. Screen to bezel ratio be damned, that little shave and haircut would freshen the whole thing right up and leap Apple back to the front of the modern-looking phone pack.
A week in, and I'm still preferring the 5.8-inch version. That's even after spending a good part of the last decade on the previous plus-sized iPhones. I do constantly go back and forth to the 6.5-inch Max as well, and I love it for video and especially Display Zoom. I don't need it yet but I'm reassured by it being there.
But, when I'm walking around, The West Wing-style, the 5.8-inch is just the perfect balance of display to body size. At least for me.
There's still a Lightning port on the bottom. I've been a fan of Lightning for a long time. It solved many of the problems and provided much of the functionality of USB-C, but came out years earlier. So, everyone using an iPhone could enjoy those advantages while everyone else was still stuck on microUSB … or worse.
Now, though, USB-C has been on the market for a while and is becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Apple's even switched to it on the iPad Pro.
Sure, it's still a hot mess in many ways. One unified plug design that may or may not carry PD power, USB 3, 3.1, Thunderbolt, or soon-to-be USB-4 speed.
But, I can plug an SSD drive into my iPad Pro and it just works while my iPhone Pro needs an adapter and a powered one at that.
In addition to the iPad Pro, Apple went all-in on USB-C super early for the MacBook Pro. It feels like they could have done the same with the iPhone when they took it to X, and certainly now that they're making it Pro.
That haven't though, at least not yet. And, especially at the high end, it's iPhone users who are now starting to miss out on the advantages.
Like the iPhone 11, the back is milled out of a single piece of glass. With the Pro, though, that glass is then textured to give it a matte finish that, to my eye, looks a lot less like glass, and a lot more like the textured aluminum of years past. But, Apple is maintaining contrast by leaving that camera bump part shiny. The exact opposite of the iPhone 11.
I'm guessing they feel that, since that bump just won't be ignored, they might as well go all in and highlight it. I'd have been happier, though, if they'd just made it matte as well. The finish is just that good.
The glass iPhones have been the slipperiest phones I've owned since the Nexus 4, which could go from dead center of a level dining room table to plummeting off the edge in a half-hour flat. The glass iPhones aren't that bad, but close. Especially and polished surfaces.
Apple and Corning have whipped up yet another stronger, more scratch and shatter-resistant formulation for the iPhone 11. But, it's these new, textured finishes that I'm really counting on to make just that extra little bit of difference. And, so far, so far less slick.
UPDATE: As is usual, I've managed to scuff up the front of the iPhone Pro pretty quickly, and also as usual, the back camera housing of another iPhone appears to be to blame. Sapphire beats glass. You can't see it unless the screen is off and you hold it at an angle, so it doesn't effect usage. But, if you're a perfectionist or want to mainatin resale value, get a screen protector.
The colors are still conservative. More so than the pastels of the standard iPhone 11 and much more so than the multicolor Ombre and Aurora gradients and iridescence Huawei and Samsung have been shipping for a while now.
Pro has always meant bead-blasted silver and maybe, just maybe space gray to Apple. The iPhone 11 Pro amps that up with a new shade of gold, which has been an official phone-approved option for a while now, and an entirely new midnight green.
It's super subtle, though. And while I'm fine with it, I really would have loved a splash of something stronger. Product Red. Metallic purple. Maybe even a little ombre?
UPDATE: Tyler Stalman noted that the new Midnight Green looks like Leica's famed Jungle Green. I wouldn't be at all surprised if that was the inspiration.
And, if we're going pro and introducing some segmentation into the iPhone line, maybe really go for it and offer an iPhone Edition in ceramic. Apple's materials team is just killing it on the watch and it'd be amazing to see what they could do with a small part of the phone line as well.
As to the camera bump, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm actually starting to not mind it. Maybe even like it in a strange way? Much more than the regular iPhone 11 bump, at least.
There's just something about the slightly wider super ellipse and the three lenses that make it look less like the surprise face emoji of my nightmares and more like an actual old fashioned multi-camera system. Maybe a little military. Maybe a little alien even. But, still, something that does real work in the real world. And, yeah, makes it look just a little more Pro.
Water resistance has improved on the Pro models as well. The XS was already IP68 and rated for up to 30 minutes at up to 2 meters. The Pros will go all the way down to 4 meters, though.
Pro storms, pro spills, all of that is fine. But, again, I'd still strongly caution against repeated intentional submersions, especially in salt or chlorine.
Relax, have fun, don't make phone soup.
Same with the design in general. Like I said in my iPhone 11 review, it's a super car, a high end watch, a classic camera. Iconic. So much so that, when next the iPhone design changes, I bet it'll still stays very much the same.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: Display
Apple went OLED with the iPhone X Super Retina Display. Now, with the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple's taking it to the extreme.
Apple's display team has always done a terrific job with OLED. They spec exactly what they want, down to the materials, get it manufactured on Samsung's industry leading process, and then tweak and mitigate the hell out of it, to both match Apple's other display technologies on other devices, and to mitigate everything from off-axis color shift to burn-in. Which, two years later, you still don't see any significant reports on. In an ocean of other phones with permanent spectral Poke-Balls burned into the bottom of their displays, that's more than impressive.
Still, Apple has found a way to make it even better. Now, the process itself gets better year after year, of course, but Apple's also been doing a ton of research on pro displays for the last couple of years, including and especially the Pro Display XDR — Extreme Dynamic Range — they announced alongside the new Mac Pro back in June.
So, now, Apple is making the Super Retina Display XDR as well.
To earn the name, Apple is focusing on a few different things. First is contrast. That's now 2 million to 1. Second is brightness. That can peak now at 1200 nits and sustain in sunlight at 800 nits.
As a result, HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR movies, and DCI-P3 wide gamut photos look better than ever. Blacks are still absolute black, but colors and whites are brighter than ever, really stretching out the range in between.
And they're doing all that with much better power efficiency as well. 15% better, to drop Apple's number on it.
One of the things Apple isn't doing, though, is 120Hz adaptive ProMotion. That's the technology that lets the iPad Pro ramp up to 120Hz for fast, dynamic content, but ramp back down to preserve power when the content is mostly static.
Other phones are starting to come out with 90Hz and 120Hz displays so while sticking to 60Hz isn't terrible this year, it's something Apple should think about addressing next.
Now, I love, love, love HDR. I have an LG OLED TV at home. I seek out Dolby Vision theaters. If you offer me a choice between higher resolution and higher dynamic range, I will pick HDR every day and twice on Marvel movie launch days.
I just love it. It makes everything look richer and realer than real. And that's a big part of why I love OLED on the iPhone Pro as well.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: Haptic Touch
The other thing I loved was 3D Touch. But that's gone now. Apple created it… and now they've killed it. Dead.
To make up for it, though, Apple has gone all in with the Haptic Touch they debuted on last year's iPhone XR.
On one hand, it provides a lot cleaner, a lot more consistent user experience. Touch controls can easily become overloaded and 3D Touch would cause a lot of collisions for a lot people. Just ask anyone frustrated with trying to get an icon or especially a folder into jiggly mode.
Apple also never managed to scale 3D Touch to iPads, so you'd have a different experience on the small screen compared to the big one, which made it harder to build optimal interface habits.
Now, with iOS 13, the long press has won. Everything just works the same across all devices, but with Haptic Touch you still get that familiar force feedback on the iPhone. Just without all the speed and tactility of the deep press.
And that's the drawback. A long press feels like it takes longer than a deep press, which makes the system feel ever-so-slightly slower. Also, while Haptic Touch is in more places now, it's still not quite everywhere 3D Touch was.
It supports Home screen shortcuts, which is huge for me. Just press on an app and you get all the options — plus a new one right at the top to go into jiggly mode and rearrange apps. Which, on its own, will fix so many collisions and is so great to see.
You've also got peak-style previews now in Mail, Safari, Notes, Photos, Maps, News, Phone, Music, and pretty much everywhere else you'd expect.
About the only things I'm still missing are the ones haptic touch would probably have an impossible time reproducing — the ones that require actual pressure manipulation to work.
That includes the previous keyboard functionality where you could deep press to toggle between cursor movement and selection. The two finger alternative just isn't as elegant or as exacting.
And, of course, drawing apps, where 3D Touch provided pressure data that could be used for line thickness or opacity. There's no alternative for that, sadly.
At least not until Apple brings the Pencil to the iPhone Pro the way they did to the iPad Pro.
I know that sounds ridiculous to some people but it's why the Galaxy Note has always been the only Samsung phone to really tempt me.
I would hard settle on the 6.5-inch Max in a heartbeat to use it with the Apple Pencil. More than even the iPad mini, it would be the digital field notes and sketch pad of my dreams.
Hey, as long as Apple is making the iPhone a Pro, they might as well make it every bit as pro as the iPad.
For everything else, though, haptic touch is winning me over.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: Cameras
There's a new ultra wide camera in town and the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max have it. But, really, all the cameras here are new in one way or another.
The main, wide-angle camera is still an effective 26mm, 6-element wide angle f/1.8 but it's got way better light sensitivity now and also 100% Focus Pixels, which is Apple's name for phase detection auto focus. It just means that instead of some fraction of the pixels in the camera sensor being used to determine focus, every one of them is being used in order to make it three times faster in low-light, which is something we'll talk more about in a minute.
The updated telephoto camera is still an effective 52mm, and 6-element, but has gone from f/2.4 to a larger f/2.0, letting it capture 40% more light.
The new ultra wide angle camera is an effective 13mm, 5-element, f/2.4, and 120º field of view.
And, as you'd expect, because iPhone, they all work together as part of a unified, fused camera system.
The interface is the same as the standard iPhone 11 but in addition to the wide angle camera hinting at what lurks off to the sides in ultra wide angle mode, wide angle does the same in telephoto mode.
Instead of being able to tap between 1x wide angle and 2x telephoto optical zoom like on every Plus sized iPhone ever and the X and XS, or between 1x wide angle and 0.5x ultra wide angle like on the iPhone 11, you can tap between all three on the iPhone 11 Pro. Effectively giving you up to 4x optical zoom.
And again, Apple is fusing the camera output in the preview, not faking it, so what it hints at is accurate as to what you'll get. I love that.
Effectively, it means you have a much broader range from a single vantage point, from close up to wide to long, all without having to sneaker zoom in or out, taking time and potentially altering the angle or losing the light or composition.
You can still digitally zoom up to 10x and it looks… somewhere between terrible and non-terrible, but other cameras are going higher optically now, and even using ludicrously cool periscope lenses and machine learning to make functional if hella creepy 50x zoom.
Apple's absolutely nailing the cameras and zooms it has, but they're not pushing it yet when it comes to the extreme telephoto. Or, for that matter, macro. Now that I finally have ultra wide angle, I have to start pining for something else, don't I?
Last year, I lamented that I wanted both the iPhone XS's telephoto and the iPhone XR's wide angle portrait modes both on the same camera. Even if the latter had to remain limited to Focus Pixels and segmentation masks.
Well, this year we're getting almost exactly that. Almost because, thanks to the third camera, wide angle portrait mode isn't limited at all. Just like the wide angle provides real depth data to the telephoto portrait mode, now the ultra wide angle provides real depth data to the wide angle portrait mode.
Auto-adjustments works similarly. Once you turn on Photos Capture Outside the Frame in Settings, you can shoot with telephoto and extra field of view data will be captured from the wide angle, or with the wide angle and it'll be captured from the ultra wide angle.
Then, machine learning will stitch that extra data into the photo for subject reframing, basically to recover people or pets that may have accidentally been cropped out, and horizon correction, if you accidentally shot off-angle.
It requires a good amount of light, but it can work wonders if and when you need it. Especially because the data is also accessible via the cropping tool. You can tell when it's available by the little auto adjust icon at the top right of the Photos page, opposite the Live Photo icon on the left. When you see it, just hit edit, hit crop, and then move around your photo until it's exactly where you want it.
The same technology is used in QuickTake, which I talked about in the iPhone 11 review. After you tap to take a photo, and hold down to switch to video, machine learning follows your subject and the wider data is used for tracking and stabilization.
It's awesome, and one of the things I love most about Apple: They tend to ship feature sets, not chipsets. They didn't ship a second camera. They shipped 2x optical zoom and portrait mode. Likewise, here they're not shipping a third camera, they're shipping 4x optical zoom, other clever features like Auto Adjustments, and later this year, the super detailed deep fusion.
I also love that they don't tend to do features as one-offs. Everything builds on everything else. They invest in it, like it's a platform, and so when new elements are added in, they almost instantly become more than the some of their parts.
For example, Apple spent a few years building up their DCI P3, completely color calibrated and managed imaging pipeline. Which, internally this year, is now 10-bit.
It can do over a trillion operations per photo, and because it fuses the image signal processor with the neural engine — which previously included facial landmarking and segmentation masking, so it could tell not just where a face was, but the individual parts, and separate it all from the background — it can now do semantic rendering as well.
That means it can expose, multi-scale tonal map, and sharpen that face, for example, differently than it would bricks or beams in the background.
Apple is also using it as part of its new and improved Smart HDR process to better distinguish and preserve skin tones and textures, to prevent blowouts, and reduce noise while preserving proper details. And, again, to expose and present people not just as part of the shot but as the focus of the shot.
Stepping back, it's also what's allowing Apple to keep color and cast consistent even as you're switching between all three of the new cameras. Which, if you've ever watched an MKBHD or TheMrMobile review, you know isn't the case with other triple camera systems.
What Apple is doing here specifically is pairing and calibrating all three cameras for color and exposure together at the factory. Then, while you're using one, Apple sends all the data, in real time, to the other cameras. So, if and when you switch between them, they're all primed and ready with everything from focus to exposure to white balance too tonal mapping.
Now, that lets them minimize shifts in tone and color, but not eliminate is complete. Because, for example, all three cameras have three different apertures. So, when in low light conditions you can see some differences, not so much in color but in exposure. When in bright light, though, the consistency is impressive. Most impressive.
The third thing I love about Apple is that more often than not, the capabilities behind the features are also given over to developers in the form of frameworks they can use in their own apps.
Halide and Obscura, famously, expose a ton of manual controls and a RAW mode beyond what apple offers in the built-in camera app. Focos exposes the depth data, almost like a 3D model, for you to work with.
But that also prompts the question: If Apple's offering a Pro iPhone with a Pro camera, should the Camera App also become more… Pro?
Should it build-on more manual controls, allow you to shoot in RAW, have pretty much every toggle currently buried in Settings exposed and available right up in the app, and otherwise do more of what a pro photographer might want to do?
I'm of two minds on this. On one hand, I can see having all that stuff just front loaded, ready, and waiting to be interesting to people who really do want to do a lot of their own heavy photography lifting.
On the other, even the iPhone Pro camera isn't a traditional camera with a huge hunk of glass hanging off it up front and a ginormous sensor lurking inside. Pretty much everything that's making iPhone photography so great is happening beyond manual, beyond RAW.
Maybe it would be interesting if Apple let us bias more settings the way we can focus and exposure, or save a RAW version of the image alongside the processed, like we can with the extra field of view data for Auto Adjustments.
That way we get all the benefits of the silicon and the machine learning, but also the ability to go back and tweak the data more to our liking, when and if we need to.
The biggest new camera news, of course, is the new SF Camera font Apple's rolled out for the interface. While it definitely pays a lot of respect to Leica's aesthetic, it's also most definitely through the lens of Apple.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: Night Mode
I went over how the Night Mode interface works in the iPhone 11 Review. The way the technology works, though, is just as fascinating. It comes on automatically and uses the better low light capabilities and 100% Focus Pixels of the main, effective 26mm, f/18 wide angle camera, to capture an image that's both significantly brighter but also without the traditional noise.
UPDATE: I had the opportunity to take the iPhone 11 out at night in New York City and compare its Night Mode to the Google Pixel 3, Huawei P30 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy Note 20. Hit play on the video to see the results.
It does that by fusing together multiple images, using adaptive bracketing, based on what it determines from the preview. Those brackets can go from very short, if there's more motion, to longer, if there's more shadow. Then it fuses them all together to both minimize blur and maximize the amount of detail recovered.
Thanks to the imaging pipeline I mentioned earlier, it can also figure out the subject of the scene, people, faces, parts of faces, and make sure skin tones keep the best color and detail possible.
Again, it shouldn't let night look like day, it should just let you see in the dark.
UPDATE: There appears to be some ghosting or light artifacts in some Night Mode images. I've heard through the grapevine that Apple is aware of them and will be fixing them in a future update.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: Video
With the iPhone 11 Pro, you get all the same video capabilities you get with the iPhone 11, plus that telephoto camera.
All three cameras can shoot up to 4K, 60fps, extended dynamic range. What that means is they really shoot 120fps but interleave half the frames in order to produce that extended dynamic range data.
When you put it together, you get all the same benefits of multiple angles all from the same vantage point, with consistent color and exposure across the cameras.
And you also get the demo that stole the show back during the Apple Event — Filmic Pro capturing all four feeds of 4K, telephoto, wide angle, ultra wide angle, and selfie, all at the same time.
Yeah, there's a new 4K selfie camera on the front as well. It can go wider, from 70º to 85º. I covered it in the iPhone 11 Review, so check it out.
I can just imagine using it for tech videos, getting close ups, hero shots, wide angles, and my reactions, all at the same time, and then seamlessly switching between them during the edit.
It's in beta now but I got to try it when I was in the hands-on area and yeah, it really shows that even after all these years we're still just scratching the surface of what these cameras are going to be able to do.
Especially when they're already this damn good.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: Performance
Like I mentioned in the iPhone 11 review, Apple's latest, greatest system-on-a-chip, the A13 Bionic, manages to be both faster and less power hungry at the same time. 20% faster across the efficiency, performance, graphics, and neural engine cores, and 40, 25, 30, and 15% less power hungry respectively.
Part of that is thanks to TSMC's second generation 7 nanometer process, which is what the A13 is fabricated on. The other part is Apple designing each and every one of its 8.5 billion transistors to be as performant and as efficient as possible. And then, Apple uses hundreds of voltage domains and hundreds of thousands of gate clocking domains so that they can only light up exactly the logic in the chipset they need to light up, keeping power draw at an absolute minimum.
There are also new machine learning accelerators providing for 6x faster matrix multiplication. Something I think even high-end Intel boxes might be envious of.
Apple calls it the fastest chipset ever in a smartphone and, based on prior performance, that's likely only part of the story — it's probably faster than a lot of current desktop chips as well.
Better sustained performance and better efficiency – What Johny Srouji's silicon team has been able to do, year after year, is nothing short of astounding. Yes, they only have one client and don't have to sell chips to wide range of vendors, or worry about profit or loss on a per-chip basis, or bifurcate between a couple of different chips depending on geography.
But, still, they support an ever-increasing amount of differentiating features on iOS devices, and they keep racing forward — and dragging the industry behind them — as fast as they can.
And now that the A13 is embedding machine learning not just in the neural engine but in the CPU and GPU as well, to better provide for models that run better on those processors than the neural engine, and with a new machine learning controller to optimize dispatch, it just seems like they're going even faster.
All of that translates into better and faster photo parsing, natural language processing, and augmented reality experiences in apps, and more.
To get a sense of just how much the silicon team is touching on the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, Apple showed off this list during the introduction:
Advanced power management, cryptography accelerator, machine learning, Secure Enclave, HDR imaging, high-efficiency audio processing, depth engine, neural engine, pro display engine, desktop-class storage controller, pro video encoder, always-on processor, HDR video processor, camera fusion, computational photography, high performance unified memory, high bandwidth cache, advanced silicon packaging, and enhanced OLED processing.
It's my hope that the AI team John Gianandrea is putting together now will have just as much impact on the next decade as the silicon team has had on the last one.
When you put all the power savings together, everything from the OLED display to the A13, you end up with something pretty damn astonishing:
Four extra hours of battery life for the iPhone 11 Pro and 5 extra hours for the iPhone 11 Pro Max. That's over and above last year's iPhone XS and XS Max, and Apple uses the figure to mean however many hours of average workload you got out of those devices, you'd get that plus 4 or 5 extra hours of the same type of workload with these devices.
Apple's rough estimates include 18 or 20 hours of local video playback, 11 or 12 hours of streaming video playback, and 65 or 80 hours of wireless audio playback for iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max respectively.
Which is better than the incredibly impressive iPhone XR got last year, and even better iPhone 11 gets this year. All hail the new champions.
And Apple's even thrown an 18 watts USB-C cable and adapter into the box this time so you can charge back up to 50% capacity in just 30 minutes.
No bilateral wireless charging from the back of the iPhone to your AirPods though. Turns out sometimes a rumor is just a rumor. At least for now.
I'd love to see it at some point, though, but really only if it could handle beyond Qi standard Apple Watch charging as well. Which makes it much trickier.
Now, of course, those battery life claims are just numbers and these are brand new phones with brand new batteries, so they're going to hit pretty close to that right now.
To make sure though, I took them on the absolute most savage test run I could — Pokémon GO Community Day. Hours and hours of screen-on, GPS firing, data churning, processor burning… and all of them had over half their power left by the time we evolved the last special move at the last minute of the event.
The rest of the day I've spent filming b-roll for both reviews with both phones, and as we approached midnight, they're only just beginning to hit the red.
Obviously, I'll be paying close attention to how that holds up over the next few weeks and months, so stay tuned for updates.
But, as things stand right now, this is looking to be the best battery boost Apple has ever given an iPhone.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: 5G
The 4x4 MIMO LTE radio in the iPhone 11 Pro has been updated to support up to 1.6 Gbps per second. It's better but it's no 5G.
Then again, 5G isn't exactly 5G yet.
I just did a whole separate video to address this, so I'll just link you there rather than repeat it all here. But, suffice it to say, the 5G is a hot mess right now and the only thing hotter is the first generation chips being used to support it.
That's why no one is putting 5G into mainstream world phones yet. And Apple only makes mainstream world phones.
Moto is doing mods. Samsung small batch variants. And Apple could theoretically do the same, using the current generation of, essentially, test chips for the limited test markets. But even the thought of an iPhone-scale device hitting their fledging, fragile networks probably keeps the carriers up in a cold sweat most of the night.
Unless you want to be part of the early tests, and pay handsomely for the privilege, if 5G is legitimately your next big purchasing driver, you should save your money and buy a far more mature 5G phone in a year or so, if and when the current issues are all ironed out, and future radio chips can do everything, all-bands, all on one thin modem, or integrated right into the system-on-a-chip.
That's for low band or sub-6. It remains to be seen if millimeter wave, which is currently only being tested in the U.S., ever actually becomes a consumer carrier product and doesn't just go the way of WiMAX.
Until then, no one, no one who doesn't want to short Apple stock, work in network testing, or who just feeds off negative attention wants any part of ragging on the iPhone not having 5G right now.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: U1
Apple has a whole new chipset in the iPhone 11. Called U1, it's all about ultra Wideband, which is all about ultra precise positioning.
Apple's only saying it'll let you do things like point your iPhone at someone else's in a group for AirDrop to prioritize that person, for example, but it's not hard to imagine it'll be key to a bunch of location… and item finding technology and products eventually.
I'm super excited about it, and not just because even when you add it to this year's H-series headphone chip, and the previous year's A-series SoC, M-series sensor fusion hub, S-series SiP, T-series co-processors for the Mac, and W-series wireless chips for the Watch, that still leaves a score of letters for Apple's silicon team to whip up over the next few years.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: Pricing and availability
The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $999 and the iPhone 11 Pro Max starts at $1099 for 64GB. Which, you know, I said felt kinda tight already on the standard iPhone 11 Models. Here, especially considering what these new cameras can do, it just feels constrictive.
I get that some people just want thin clients or to stream or cloud store everything, but that's not how a Pro tool works. And, unlike the iPhone 11 where it costs just $50 more to go to 128 GB, with the Pros it costs $150 more to go to 256 GB. Good thing Apple is doubling down on trade-ins and installments.
I know Apple wants to hit certain price points and maintain certain margins, which look way down since the Jobs years, especially if you factor out much higher margin services. But for me, the perfect Pro storage SKUs would be 128 GB base, then 512 GB and 1 TB right on top, just like iPad Pro.
That way I could shoot 4K 60fps EDR all day, every day, and not have to worry about topping out. Not for a long while at least.
Like the 11, you can get AppleCare+ to extend your warranty for $149 or with theft and loss protection for $249, if you want to. I always do, because I'm incredibly clumsy and disaster prone.
You can also go to an Apple Retail Store, if you have one nearby, in addition to all the usual set up sessions and support services, Today at Apple provides a wide range of classes to get you up to the pro level of your new phone.
It's part of the value of the iPhone and I still don't think Apple does enough to really highlight everything you get for your money.
iPhone 11 Pro launches this Friday, September 20th.
iPhone 11 Pro Review: Bottom Line
It's funny. Leading up to the iPhone 11 launch, I saw some people worrying it would be too iterative or too expensive. So, I ran a poll, asking you if were going all in or leaning towards the less expensive model.
But, nope. Hard nope. As you almost always do, you went right for the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Same with the event. It was going to be too iterative. Too boring. But then Apple showed off the new camera system and all of us salty old nerds were bolting upright, salivating again.
Then, pre-orders happened, and so many people who were so certain they wouldn't order, that this year would be must skip, were suddenly setting alarms, because it was must-have, immediately, before shipping slipped so much as a day.
I know, it's a thousand dollar phone that looks a lot like last year's thousand dollar phone. I get it. Even with trade ins and installments, it's still up in the hundreds. But, for some people, it's more than that — it's their primary computer and camera.
So, in fulfilling that function, is the iPhone 11 Pro worth it. Is it even really Pro?
Again, the standard iPhone 11 is terrific. Like I said, what differences there are may not mean much to most people and that's fine. That's even the point. It's the $699 iPhone for everyone.
But, if you're exactly the type of nerd who really appreciates OLED displays, a professional photographer or videographer that really wants that new triple camera system, a power users who's lusting for that longer battery life, sure, it may be missing out on USB C, the Pencil or ProMotion, but it's packed with everything else. And that's as pro as an iPhone's ever been.
So, if you want the best of the best, the ultimate expression of the iPhone technology and experience today, you can reach for the absolute rafters with the iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Most Pro ever
For the most discerning tech nerds around.
Not everyone needs this pro-level iPhone, but for those of you that need OLED, can't live without the triple-lens camera system, and thinks 4x4 MIMO LTE is where it's at, let me introduce you to my friend, the iPhone 11 Pro.
Originally published September 2019.
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