iPhone 11 Review: 3 Months Later

iPhone 11 Pro in New York
iPhone 11 Pro in New York (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

I've been using the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max day in, day out, since just after Apple introduced them roughly three months ago this week.

In that time, I've shot the hell out of them, including a ton of b-roll for this channel. I've crushed the batteries through multiple international trips and Pokemon Go events. I've dropped them in my pockets with keys and other phones and just plain dropped them. Including into the river.

And here's how they've held up.

iPhone 11 long-term review: Durability

Apple announced the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro as having the toughest glass ever on a smartphone. And… I've kind of proven that both true and false at the same time.

I think, for the last three years, Apple has been working on toughness as in resistance to breaking. Because I've dropped each and every one of them since then and only broken and iPhone 8 Plus when I slipped on the ice and landed on, People's elbow style, it when it was in my pocket.

Other than that, they've held up brilliantly well. Except for the scratching.

Now, I need to concede up front that I don't use phones like normal people. Especially when I'm reviewing them. Even more especially when I'm reviewing multiple of them at the same time.

I'm not Jerry Rig Anything-ing them. But I am stacking them on concrete and rocks for product shots. I'd quickly dumping them in my pockets with keys and other phones at I move between shots and tests — and nothing, in my experience, scratches a phone's screen like another phone's camera housing.

But, even still, it just feels like iPhones are scratching just a little bit faster and more frequently than they used to, for me at least.

My friends who bought iPhones 11s and 11 Pros at launch and use them far more normally than I do don't have any scratches. So, factor that in as you will and maybe get a screen protector if you're not super gentle either and worry about it.

Also, while the scratches annoy the hell out of me in theory, when the screen is lit up, I don't even notice them.

Still, I hope Apple is working on the chemistry and/or materials to make them as scratch resistant and they've been drop resistant.

iPhone 11 long-term review: Cameras

Originally, I found the iPhone 11 camera bump to be all shades of fugly. Same with the Pixel 4s. Like people were running around slapping emoji surprise faces on all the phones.

iPhone 11 Pro Camera

iPhone 11 Pro camera (Image credit: iMore)

The iPhone 11 Pro I liked slightly more just because it looked like an old timy wimy three lens camera. Especially in Leica safari green. I mean, new midnight green. Now, I'm kinda just ok with all of them.

Apple gets blasted so always for putting form over function but whenever they put function over form, like with these giant camera bumps or the Smart Battery hump, they get blasted even more.

Credit it to them, though. They leaned into these camera bumps. Hard. Like, damn near horizontal — With the bump and the lenses front and center in ads and on billboards. And, I can see why. The cameras work fantastically well. So, more like this please.

I did an entire, deep-dive camera review a couple months ago.

And a full comparison to the Pixel 4.

What I'd love to see next is usable depth effect on video next. Samsung's already playing around with it, but it's kinda goofy. Here's hoping Apple… or Google… can figure out how to nail it.

I'd also love it if Apple would fix whatever it is that's making it take so long for photos to show up in the Photos app. Thumbnails, like Quick Actions, are instant. So they're there. They just don't appear in the gallery without an extended wait or force quit.

Also, iCloud seems to have forgotten that near line storage means recent and frequently accessed photos should stay local as in never leave the device but, I can take a shot and go to view and share it, and even though I literally just took it I suddenly have to wait for it to download. Which is beyond baffling and just gums up what's otherwise still the fastest end-to-end photo-taking process in the business.

I know some people want manual control over Smart HDR, which is the bright light mode, Deep Fusion, which is the mid-light mode, and Night Mode, which handles low-light, but I actually like that they're abstracted away. Discreet modes feels like a stop-gap and maybe some marketing and in a year or two, I think they'll go away and the camera will just use all those computational techniques as part of a continuum to deliver the best photo possible in any given situation.

So, especially because the live preview is so damn good, I'd rather just use it as a camera and have it do all the heavy lifting for me.

I do wish I could take longer astrophotography exposures though. Both the iPhone 11 and the Pixel 4 have introduced the feature and I'd love to be able to compare them at longer than 30-second shots.

Otherwise, with everything from the new ultra-wide-angle to QuickVideo, shooting with an iPhone 11 is just plain fun.

iPhone 11 long-term review: Design

I still prefer last year's more saturated iPhone XR colors to this year's iPhone 11 pastels. That's obviously subjective personal taste, and maybe me just being out of touch with what baby Yoda's are wearing these days.

iPhone 11

Apple Q2 2020 (Image credit: iMore)

The iPhone 11 Pro colors and matte, almost metallic texture remains aces for me though, especially the new midnight green and gold. But, yeah, I'd still love a product RED Pro.

The LCD on the iPhone 11 is so well-calibrated, even though it's lower resolution, in everyday apps it can still be hard to tell it apart from the OLED iPhone 11 Pro, which is just about the best compliment I can give Apple's display team.

HDR video still sets the iPhone 11 Pro apart though, especially now that Disney+ and Apple TV+ are serving it up on a high-bit-rate platter.

I prefer watching it on my Apple TV, of course, but when I'm away from my LG OLED, I'm amazed at how well the iPhone 11 Pro puts that exact same experience, including the new spatial audio and Dolby Atmos, right in my hands. And ears. And eyeballs.

The new peak and sustained brightness levels, especially after putting up with the lack of brightness on the Pixel 4, has also been phenomenal. Not just for HDR but for just being out and about on sunny days.

I do miss the 90hz on the Pixel 4, even though the Pixel 4 dumps you in and out of it so always. Like everyone else on the internet, I'd love to see Apple bring ProMotion to the iPhone, but only if they can do it as well and as consistently as they do it on the iPad.

I also miss the Pixel 4's ability to do facial recognition even in Landscape mode, like when I'm watching videos or shooting photos and I accidentally lock the screen, because someone in ID thought it would be funny to keep the power button opposite the volume slash shutter button. And then I have to re-unlock, but first rotate the iPhone back to portrait mode to do it, like an animal.

Same with the old landscape mode home screen from the old Plus-sized iPhones. Just give it to me everywhere. Let landscape be landscape.

Also, the Pixel 4 setting that lets you blast through the Lock screen, right into the phone. It has its downsides in terms of missing Lock screen notifications and unintentional unlocks, but I still loved having the option and I'd love it if the iPhone had it as well.

I've gotten used to Haptic Touch, which is the same as the iPhone XR but replaces 3D Touch on the iPhone 11 Pro. I like how it finally makes iPhone and iPad experience consistent. I do miss the ability to switch between cursor movement and text selection that 3D Touch offered on the virtual trackpad but Haptic Touch still does not.

That, combined with how buggy and just plain bizarre iOS 13 text selection can be at times has just made it more frustrating than it was. I hope Apple zero's out those regressions and soon.

I still really dig the overall design. Sure, it's been the same since the 2017 iPhone X and largely similar since the 2014 iPhone 6. But I don't need different just for the sake of different. That's always a dice roll away from worse. I just need better. Always better.

And, from materials to size to battery capacity to comfort, the iPhones 11 are the better best yet.

iPhone 11 long-term review: Performance

The A13 Bionic system-on-a-chip, or SoC, is so fast that I don't think I've been able to really peg it, even three months later. In years past, with chipsets past, I've done that relatively quickly and easily with computational photography or augmented reality — AR. But deep fusion's half-a-second to resolve is about the closest I've come with the iPhones 11.

iPhone 11 Pro

iPhone 11 Pro (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

Battery life has also been phenomenal. I can still kill it in 6 or so hours of constant Pokemon Go, or constant use while traveling and roaming. But that's quite a bit longer than any previous phone has lasted me.

They had Pokemon Go Safari Zone in Montreal this year, which isn't just constant screen-on at full brightness, GPS, data, and processor firing, but in highly congested, super hot and humid conditions where those radios and chips are just screaming.

From 100% to 20%, the 11, 11 Pro, and XS Max lasted almost 4 hours and the 11 Pro Max just over 4 hours. The XR lasted just over 3:30 and the XS, barely 3:30.

More recently, just doing a regular community day event, the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro lasted 5:30, and the Max still had battery to spare. The Pixel 4, by contrast, didn't even make it to 4 hours.

On far less strenuous days, I go to bed and, never mind not being in the red, I'm barely under 50%. Many days I can go almost two days between charges, especially on the 11 Pro Max.

For years now, in these reviews, I've been asking Apple to address the more power-hungry things people now do regularly if not constantly with their phones. Social media, emphasis on posting and watching so much media, streaming video, location-based gaming, photo filters, all of it.

With the XR, Apple made huge progress. But it was an outlier. Now, with the 11, they're fully there. With every model.

As much as Apple believes lightness is tied to user experience because no one wants to game or read or watch or whatever for hours on end with a brick they can't keep holding up, there has to be a balance. And the iPhones 11 are it.

Now, we've got 5G and even more AR coming over the next couple of years. So please, at the very least, hold this new line.

iPhone 11 long-term review: Conclusion

iOS 13 has been all shades of buggy, as evidenced by how many updates Apple has had to push out for it. And, I don't know what Siri has been drinking lately but if anything it's been considerably loopier for me just when it desperately needs to get much more consistent and considerate.

But, when it comes to the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro hardware, there's just not that much left for me to complain about. Aside from still wanting higher throughput USB-C on the Pro versions.

Even that may be a theoretical want at this point, given how fast and solid the new U1 ultra-wide-band enabled AirDrop has been. Still, having the best possible hardline as well would be even better. And, since the iPhone still doesn't surface PCI express, it still can't do Thunderbolt 3 anyway.

Reverse inductive charging would be great, but skipping early, still virtually non-existent millimeter-wave 5G and the early modems for it was still absolutely the right call. You can tell by the lack of similarly breathless complaints about it not being on the Pixel 4 this year either.

But, real talk. As everyone who's been watching the channel for a while knows, months ago, before the iPhone 11 was even announced, when so many people in tech were looking at spoilers and saying the iPhone 11 was going to a boring and iterative and a must-skip, right here, right in these videos, I was talking about how everything from the new camera system to the U1 chip was really solid and really cool, and was going to make the iPhone 11 really can't miss.

And, while I certainly don't hate or hesitate to say I told you so, I think almost all the other reviews by all the other reviewers since, and just everyone who has one using it for the last few months, really bears that out.

Especially now that Apple has cleaned up the branding and set the iPhone 11 as the new baseline, starting at $699, and giving almost everyone almost everything they need for that price, and even more with a jump to 128 GB for an extra $50 bucks. Less if you have a trade in, or you sell your old phone yourself first.

They're terrific phones, terrific cameras, and their silicon is so far ahead you'll have years of headroom for updates and apps. And, given the more recent spoilers, if you like this design or need an LCD display or want a smaller phone with three cameras, the iPhone 11 may well be the upgrade to get.

Either way, my overall advice remains unchanged: Always wait until you really need a new phone, then buy the best phone you can afford, and enjoy the hell out of it, because there'll always be something new and many things next.

And if, three months later, that's the iPhone 11 or Pro, then you'll really enjoy.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.