After initially using the baseline iPhone 11 as my daily driver, I transitioned over to the iPhone 11 Pro Max in order to see if Apple’s top-of-the-line hardware was good enough to justify its price premium. As you’ll see in this hands-on iPhone 11 Pro review, I came away with a conclusion that largely mirrors last year’s efforts.
Like last year, I think it’s wise for the majority of users to opt for the entry-level iPhone, as that device will more than meet the needs of most customers who are looking to upgrade. However, there are a few use cases that warrant splurging for the iPhone 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max over the baseline model. Have a look at the full video review for the details.
It’s a slightly better iPhone 11…
First and foremost, be sure to read and watch our iPhone 11 review for an overall look at what these new devices have to offer. Mostly everything covered in our iPhone 11 review applies to the higher-end devices as well.
Our look at the iPhone 11 largely focused on the cameras, because that’s one of the main qualities that separates this generation of iPhones from their predecessors. With the iPhone 11 Pro, the camera functionality is even more impressive, thanks to the addition of a third camera on the rear — a telephoto lens primed for portraits, up-close shots, and lots of bokeh.
But alongside the obvious benefits of a third camera, there are several additional areas that you’ll want to consider when comparing these two devices…
iPhone 11 Pro video review
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Fit and finish
The iPhone 11 Pro employs the use of stainless steel for its outer band, which not only looks more premium but is also significantly better at resisting damage resulting from drops and dings. More importantly, for those looking to go case-less, the stainless steel band is much less slippery than the color-matched anodized aluminum band found on the iPhone 11.
While the front of the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro is largely the same, the back panel is where you’ll notice the biggest visual difference between the two smartphones. The baseline iPhone 11 features a shiny back panel with six different vivid color options including white, green, red, purple, yellow, and black.
The iPhone 11 Pro comes with a much more stoic-looking matte rear cover, with its most “out-there” color being Midnight Green, a new color option that can easily be confused for space gray in certain lighting conditions. Otherwise, you’re stuck with the same old gold, silver, and space gray colors.
As I stated in our iPhone 11 Pro top features video, the matte back cover provides a whole new texture to experience on the iPhone. It reminds me of the aluminum that used to grace the rear of iPhones long before wireless charging came into the picture. Although the matte texture is slippery, I find it more interesting to hold. I also like the way it modifies the look of the color beneath, lending it a frosted look.
Related video: iPhone 11 Pro top features
While the majority of the rear of the top tier iPhone features a matte texture, the tri-camera module adopts a contrasting shiny surface. Of course, having three cameras prominently located on the back of the iPhone in a very conspicuous rectangular module stands out, but the shininess of the module contrasted against the matte texture contributes to the cause.
All things considered, I prefer the design of the iPhone 11 Pro over the regular iPhone 11, but I’m sick and tired of the bland colors that Apple forces upon its highest-paying customers. Although I think the new Midnight Green color is interesting, it’s about as boring as any color that’s not space gray, gold, or silver can be.
If you want a smaller phone
The iPhone 11 isn’t the biggest phone in Apple’s lineup, but it’s far from small. At 6.1 inches, it’s only 0.4 inches smaller than the gargantuan iPhone 11 Pro Max. The iPhone 11 is still easier to hold, but probably not as much as you might think when compared to the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
With that being said, if you’re looking for the most pocketable phone that Apple makes, you’re going to actually have to pay more to get the non-Max iPhone 11 Pro. At just 5.8 inches, it feels significantly different in the hand than either the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro Max.
If having the smallest iPhone is the most important thing to you, then without question, you’ll want to opt for the iPhone 11 Pro.
If you want a larger phone
Conversely, if your concern is about having the largest iPhone that money can buy, then the decision to buy the 6.5-inch iPhone 11 Pro Max has already been made for you.
The iPhone 11 Max is big, in some cases too big to be comfortably used with one hand, but having those large assets on screen, with the ability to take advantage of a two-up display within apps in landscape mode, is just too good for me to pass up. I especially find the large OLED display desirable for editing photos and videos in apps like Pixelmator and LumaFusion.
Super Retina XDR
One of the key differentiating factors between the iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 is the display. Whereas the iPhone 11 boasts an excellent LED Liquid Retina display, the iPhone 11 Pro, like its predecessor, offers an OLED unit with significantly greater contrast ratio and peak brightness capability.
A whopping 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio, which doubles that of its predecessor, is what really separates this display from the regular iPhone 11. If you’re looking for the best contrast of any iPhone, and the most compelling way to view apps using the flagship Dark Mode feature in iOS 13, the iPhone 11 Pro is the clear choice.
While its predecessor, the iPhone XS, featured peak brightness of 650 nits while in bright sunlight, the iPhone 11 Pro can go up to 800 nits. And when you’re browsing HDR photos or watching HDR-enabled movies, the Super Retina XDR display can venture up to an incredible 1200 nits max brightness.
While the telephoto lens is decidedly less impactful than the ultra-wide lens, it’s one of the primary features that separates the iPhone 11 Pro from the baseline edition.
The telephoto lens on the iPhone 11 Pro provides real 2x optical zoom, with its 52 mm equivalent lens being great for portrait shots, and getting closer to subjects without physically moving. It’s basically the inverse of the ultra-wide lens and makes the iPhone 11 Pro camera system much more flexible and adaptable on the fly.
Telephoto shot, same distance
The iPhone 11 Pro provides the best example of the redesigned camera app, because it integrates all three cameras into a seamless interface, while the baseline iPhone 11 does so with only two cameras. As such, the pro model provides a better display of the machine learning advances made possible by the A13 Bionic.
Here’s an excerpt from my iPhone 11 review explaining why the camera system is so impressive from a software and integration perspective:
iPhone 11 engineers worked to precisely calibrate each camera for white balance and exposure, and then after pairing the cameras, calibrated them again for module alignment. While Apple did a commendable job of achieving consistency and color across each camera, it’s not completely invisible to the discerning eye. An eagle-eyed user can tell when the camera shifts between lenses, as I noticed subtle color changes in the viewfinder when doing so.
Like the iPhone 11, it isn’t a totally seamless affair when it comes to switching between three cameras, but I still find the integration extremely impressive. Unless you’re really looking for the seams, the whole experience works like a single zoom lens that happens to be able to instantly jump between varying focal lengths.
A faster telephoto lens
If you’re coming from the iPhone XS or XS Max, you’ll be happy to know that the telephoto camera has been upgraded. It now features an f/2.0 aperture for a 40% increase in light capture, making it considerably faster than its predecessor. This provides obvious low light benefits, but it also results in a creamier background bokeh for up-close subject matter.
If you’re heavy into iPhone photography or videography, then I think the iPhone 11 Pro, with the addition of the telephoto camera, along with the beautiful Super Retina XDR display on which to edit and review footage, is the better smartphone for you.
18W fast charger
Fast charging affords up to a 50% charge in around 30 minutes. Although the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 11 Pro both support fast charging, only the iPhone 11 Pro comes bundled with the necessary hardware to make it happen.
Thanks to the 18W charger and USB to Lightning Cable included in the box, you won’t need to acquire any additional hardware to fast-charge your iPhone 11 Pro.
I’ve long complained about the inexplicable reluctance to include anything but a measly 5W power adapter with its iPhone, but with the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple is finally giving customers what they deserve.
If you want the best battery life of any iPhone that Apple currently offers, then the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the iPhone for you. Thanks to a hyper-optimized A13 Bionic chip, the OLED display, and a larger battery, the iPhone 11 Pro Max lasts up to five hours longer than its predecessor.
Even the smaller iPhone 11 Pro boasts better battery life than the baseline iPhone 11, which was the follow up to the previous battery king, the iPhone XR. But either way you go, whether it be the iPhone 11 or the iPhone 11 Pro, I’ve found battery life to be excellent.
Two things that I don’t like about the iPhone 11 Pro
64 GB starting storage
To be honest it feels a little insulting to pay $999 (or $1,099 for the iPhone 11 Pro Max) and only get a measly 64 GB of storage. To add insult to injury, Apple charges an absurd $150 to upgrade to the next-highest storage tier of 256 GB. At the very least I believe that the “pro” iPhone should start with a minimum of 128 GB of storage, or Apple should offer a cheaper 128 GB upgrade tier like it does with the lower-end model.
3D Touch goes bye-bye
If you’re coming from an iPhone XS, you may be surprised to learn that Apple removed 3D Touch capability from its successor. Filling in its place is Haptic Touch, which is essentially a glorified long-press shortcut, instead of a true pressure-sensitive function like 3D Touch was.
Even though there are benefits to removing 3D Touch, including a more unified shortcut experience across the iPhone and iPad lineup, and better battery life due to having more space inside the chassis, its removal remains a disappointment for fans of the technology.
Haptic Touch is inferior to 3D Touch in the sense that it limits your ability to control it. Instead of pressing the screen to force an action like you could with 3D Touch, Haptic Touch requires that you wait on iOS to respond. In other words, Haptic Touch is inherently less responsive and slower than 3D Touch.
If you’re heavily into taking photos and videos, then you won’t find a better smartphone than the iPhone 11 Pro. It features an exceptional display with a more capable triple-camera system than the regular iPhone 11. The telephoto lens is especially nice for getting up close and personal on subjects and portrait photography. It also lends better low-light performance than its predecessor on the iPhone XS.
Battery life is also drastically improved on the iPhone 11 Pro, with the Max version boasting the best battery life of any iPhone in the product line’s history. Users will also be happy to know that you can now charge your iPhone faster than ever right out of the box, thanks to the included 18W fast charger.
Also worth considering is the option to have a smaller more pocketable iPhone with the 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro or a much larger device with the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Both devices sport an amazing new display that boasts double the contrast ratio of last year’s iPhone XS, and can get super bright for viewing in challenging environments, or when viewing HDR content.
Yet with all of that said, unless you’re super serious about taking photos and videos to the point where you think the addition of a telephoto lens will add considerably more value to your toolset, I think the majority of smartphone users will be better off saving money and going with the baseline iPhone 11.
Make no mistake, the iPhone 11 Pro is amazing, but it doesn’t add enough additional value for most users to justify the price premium when you get many of the same goodies offered on the $699 “entry-level” iPhone. That includes the same exact A13 Bionic system on a chip, the same ultra-wide camera, along with excellent battery life.
What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s worth paying extra for the iPhone 11 Pro, or do you think it’s best to stick with the iPhone 11? Feel free to sound off down below in the comments.
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