iPhone 11 Pro review: Identical looks, superlative cameras
It costs a pretty penny, but you’re paying for the best
Should you buy the Apple iPhone 11 Pro?
If you’ve come here to find out if the iPhone 11 Pro is the best iPhone you can buy at the moment then let me tell you: it is. It is an incredibly good smartphone with a near-perfect blend of performance, camera quality and battery life.
But in a year where you can buy the iPhone 11 for $550 less and not lose an awful lot, it makes the choice of whether to splurge on this first ever ‘Pro’ iPhone a little harder to justify. The iPhone 11 Pro’s $1,749 starting price would be easier to justify for most people if it were the only option.
Despite this, the 11 Pro is the best iPhone right now and the one you should buy if you can afford it.
Price and availability
The iPhone 11 Pro with 64GB storage costs $1,749 direct from Apple, up from last year’s now discontinued $1,629 iPhone XS. Comparatively the 64GB Google Pixel 4 is $1,049 and the 256GB Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus is $1,699 – while the 64GB regular iPhone 11 is $1,199.
If you want a larger display, then the iPhone 11 Pro Max with larger battery starts at $1,899.
The iPhone 11 Pro is the most expensive mainstream smartphone you can buy right now unless you’re cash rich crazy and want a Samsung Galaxy Fold ($2,999). But for that extra cash, the 11 Pro still manages to stake a claim as an iPhone to invest in if you’ll appreciate the improvements made over the iPhone XS (and the regular 11) in display, camera and battery.
If you're looking to pick up the iPhone 11 Pro on a post-paid plan, all major Australian carriers have plenty of options. You can check out our picks for the best Apple iPhone 11 Pro mobile plans via the widget below:
Design and build
The iPhone 11 Pro has a design you’ll find familiar. The front of it is indistinguishable from the iPhone X or the iPhone XS with a 5.8in notched OLED display. The flat display has black bezels around the edge, but the design still feels like it’s all screen, and I never was truly bothered by the notch in my time with it. The only way to go without one and get an ‘all-screen’ design is a mechanical pop up camera, which I think are tacky – not to mention breakable.
My silver review unit most closely resembles the original iPhone X with its silver stainless steel rim and white back glass panel. The glass is now a frosted matte finish which means the silver model is a no-fingerprint zone, though you might fare differently with the gold, space grey or new midnight green colours.
I’m also not fussed about the look of the triple camera arrangement on the back, which some say is ugly. I’m of the belief that no normal people (i.e. not us tech reviewers) care much what cameras on a smartphone look like. It’s an odd thing to get annoyed about – particularly when the results those cameras can achieve are so wonderful.
The 5.8in size is a sweet spot in the 2019/2020 iPhone line up, being smaller than the 6.5in iPhone 11 Pro Max and the 6.1in iPhone 11. I daringly reviewed the phone without a case and although phones have grown over the years, the 11 Pro still disappears in a pocket – something that cannot be said of the gargantuan Note 10 Plus.
Aside from the cameras and the matte finish, this will feel like the same phone to you if you’re looking to upgrade from an iPhone X, XS or XR. The tangible improvements that the phone brings are on the inside.
Features and specs
Apple says it has updated the iPhone 11 Pro’s screen to what it calls its Super Retina XDR display. But on paper, this is the same panel as on the iPhone X and XS with a 2436 x 1125 resolution and 458 pixels per inch.
What is new is the increased brightness of up to 800 nits from 625, and Apple has likely done some tweaks behind the scenes as it really is an astonishing display. The panel is made by Samsung, but Apple’s calibration is superior to Samsung’s oversaturated displays on its Galaxy phones.
The 11 Pro’s screen oozes good colour reproduction with inky blacks, and great viewing angles and temperature thanks to the adaptive True Tone tech that adjusts to ambient light (don’t switch it off).
The phone is powered by Apple’s A13 Bionic chip and the performance is the best you’ll find on a smartphone. Apple controlling the hardware and software implantation pays off massively and paired with the capable hardware of the 11 Pro the pairing screams through any task you throw at it.
I reviewed the phone mostly on iOS 13.2 and so experienced some aggressive closing of background processes that Apple claims to have fixed in 13.2.2. But aside from things like Safari pages not being there when I went back to them, the phone didn’t hiccup. You can have scores of apps open and hammer the thing all day and it won’t break a sweat.
This is the first high-end iPhone since the iPhone 6s to not have 3D Touch (it’s also absent from the XR and 11), which instead is replaced in iOS 13 by a long press on icons and elements. Rumour has it Apple removed it to make room for a larger battery and if this is true, I am so glad it did as battery life Is noticeably so much better than on the OLED iPhone X and XS.
The iPhone XR was the first iPhone since the iPhone 7 to not give me battery anxiety, but it wasn’t the top end iPhone last year. Now, the premium iPhone 11 Pro will comfortably last you an entire day even under heavy usage. This is, along with the cameras, the best part about the phone.
It’s not a two-day flagship like the P30 Pro but it was never on lower than 30% after each full day I used the phone. Also included in the box for the first time is an 18W fast charger, something Apple stingily does not include with the regular iPhone 11 despite it being compatible.
- Display size: 5.8-inches
- Display type: Super Retina XDR AMOLED capacitive touchscreen
- Processor: A13 Bionic
- Operating System: iOS 13
- Fingerprint Sensor: No
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 512GB
- MicroSD slot: No
- Ports: Lightning
- SIM: Single SIM with second eSIM support
- Battery: 3046mAh
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, CAT 11 LTE, Wi-Fi (802.11ac/ax), NFC
- Rear Camera: 12-megapixel (f/1.8) wide angle with OIS and PDAF + 12-megapixel (f/2.0) telephoto with OIS and PDAF
- Front-Facing Camera: 12-megapixel (f/2.2)
- Colors: Gold, Silver, Space Grey, Midnight Green
- Dimensions: 144 x 71.4 x 8.1mm
- Weight: 188g
OK so, those cameras. The set up is a main 12-megapixel f/1.8 wide angle, 12-megapixel f/2.0 telephoto and a new 12-megapixel f/2.4 ultrawide sensor. The first two have OIS, the ultrawide doesn’t. While the first two sensors are very similar to those found on the iPhone XS and X, the improvement is so vast that the 11 Pro can standalone as a complete reinvention.
The photos this phone chucks out are hands down the best ever on an iPhone and are noticeably better in many circumstances compared to the Pixel 4, Huawei P30 Pro and Galaxy Note 10. You will be amazed at how good they are.
The zoom between each of the three lenses is seamless, and the viewfinder even shows you what’s outside the frame to help you improve composition. You can also now hold the shutter button record video and drag left for burst shots.
Portrait mode shots of people are still stunning and are even great on the single front facing 12-megapixel camera. But the mode from the rear cameras does still struggle on some subjects such as food, drink and plants.
Apple has finally joined the Google Pixel party and applied excellent post-processing software smarts to the cameras on the 11 Pro, and it shows. Images from all three sensors have excellent dynamic range and a level of detail you simply didn’t get from even the year-old iPhone XS. The photos are not the truest to life in colour reproduction, but their ever so slightly sharpened and stylised finesse is incredibly good, and to my eyes far preferable to the oversaturation on premium phones from Huawei and Oppo.
Apple calls some of the smarts Deep Fusion, which it brought to the phone in the iOS 13.2 update. Deep Fusion is described by Apple as a process where the phone takes nine shots – four shots either side of your shutter press and one longer exposure at the moment of press – and uses the phone’s neural engine and A13 chip to boil them down into one excellently processed image.
Unlike some Chinese manufacturer’s special camera modes, you cannot toggle Deep Fusion on and off, and I found it hard to tell when it is being applied to photos as there is no visual indication in the camera app. Apple says it happens in lower than ideal lights in order to pull more detail out of images.
This is very Apple – add a complex feature and remove the complexity of choice from the user. This might annoy some, but if you trust the phone to be a superlative point and shoot camera, then you’ll be delighted with the results.
Deep Fusion is separate to the new, astounding night mode on the iPhone 11 Pro, which again you can’t manually enable, but you do get a visual indicator in the app when it’s on. It is as good as what is found on the Pixel 4 and is a sort of smartphone magic, finding light and killing noise in dark conditions. It cannot tackle the night sky in quite the same excellent way the Pixel 4 can, though. For more on that, check out our feature on the Pixel 4's dedicated astrophotography mode here.
Video is also stunning: if you record video on a smartphone and want the best, this is the phone to get. It can record up to 4K 60fps, though even at HD 30fps results are very good, with excellent stabilisation. Adding a gimbal and external mic to the 11 Pro for video capture is as close as you could argue an actual professional use case for this phone.
If you can live without the telephoto lens then the wide and ultrawide are the exact same on the cheaper iPhone 11, and you get Deep Fusion and night mode too.
iOS 13 is an extension of iOS 12 and it has come with more bugs than you might imagine. I’ve spent a good chunk of time with it on the 11 Pro and have updated right up to iOS 13.2.2, an update that solves a background process killing bug.
I’m happier with the software than some fellow Apple commentators might have you believe, but your mileage may vary. On the 11 Pro’s hardware I’ve found it to be slick, smooth and no issue. Face ID is implemented incredibly fast with unlocking and biometric authentication in apps like ANZ and 1Password for a seamless experience simply not found on any competing smartphone in the market. I never once missed a fingerprint sensor, which I do either miss or revert to on every single Android phone with an inferior facial recognition system to the iPhone’s.
There are aspects of iOS that are still limiting like home screen personalisation and widgets, but it’s notifications that are still primitive and the most limiting software experience on an iPhone still. If you’re hardcore iOS fan then you won’t know any different, but the intelligence and flexibility of notification management on Android 9 and 10 is streets ahead of Apple’s implementation. That said, after a week or so, you do tend to forget. It’s a fickle tech world out there.
The other almost forgotten aspect of using an iPhone is the slick integration with other Apple products. Pairing to my AirPods was simple and never cut out, with automatic reconnections seamless where many Android phones constantly struggle. My credit cards in Apple Wallet simply sync to Apple Pay for websites and the App Store, all authenticated immediately by Face ID are as a fluid experience head and shoulders above what is available on Android too.
The Bottom Line
The iPhone 11 Pro finally brings the iPhone in line with the highest end Android phones out there by delivering excellent battery life and a superlative triple camera set up. Paired with the manageable and beautifully premium 5.8in OLED display, this is the best iPhone you can buy – even if most of the features are available on the regular iPhone 11.
But all those great things come at a premium, particularly as the base 64GB model isn’t enough storage for most people. That means I recommend this phone at 256GB which makes it a cool $1,999.
Apple just about gets away with barely changing the design from the iPhone X in 2017 because of the improvements, but surely next year will see something different. For now, the 11 Pro has added an attractive matte finish and an extra camera to tide you over.
The outright price is very expensive, and despite the improvements I still think this is a very similar day to day experience to the iPhone X, XS and XR. But if you have an iPhone 6, 7 or 8 series then this should be on your upgrade choice list next to the iPhone 11. If you are a pixel peeper then the extra camera and better, sharper display will be worth the extra spend, and should be managable if you’re buying on contract.
But for most people, the cheaper iPhone 11 has the same processor, two of three excellent cameras with Deep Fusion and superlative night mode, a larger screen and comparable quoted battery life.
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