Middle East Exclusive: Everything You Need To Know About The iPhone 11 Pro
For all the praise of the hyper-integrated world that Apple builds around its products – that quasi-magic coming together of software (iOS), hardware (iPhone) and services (iMessage and its ilk) – there’s a kind of snark that counterbalances it.
Sometimes, with an eye to competitors like Samsung and Google, even Apple’s biggest fans bemoan the fact that the company can feel less nimble than its rivals: slower to react, more hesitant to introduce new features, favouring consistency and reliability more than showy beta features or hit-or-miss design flexes. (To Apple’s credit, its slow-and-steady signature means that it hasn’t yet suffered a PR crisis quite on the scale of exploding batteries, or foldable phones that don’t quite fold.)
The iPhone 11 – and the impending drop of iOS 13 and iPadOS – feels like Apple’s attempt to nudge things forward. The new line-up of products is wonderful and imperfect – it shows that, with a company so devoted to detail, brilliance comes with evolution, not revolution.
Both familiar in form and an absolute mouthful, the iPhone 11 family – the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max – is a step in the right direction. The new drop won’t have Apple critics sending a mea culpa with a blue iMessage bubble, but it will keep most users happy for another cycle.
I’ve spent the past week with the bigger, pricier iPhone 11 Pro Max – it’s the model that I was most attracted to, by far the most compelling reason to upgrade from your current phone. (Those who have been patiently waiting for an iPhone upgrade – maybe you’ve got an 8 or X – the mainline iPhone 11 is a solid choice too. It shares two of the iPhone 11 Pro’s super-impressive cameras. But if you’re upgrading from the XS, don’t expect a wildly different experience, photos aside.)
Not only is the iPhone 11 Pro Max an utter beast – it clears through its tasks with a buttery speed I’ve never seen in an iPhone – it’s stupidly pretty, particularly in forest green. In hand, the Pro models feel insanely premium – chalk that up to the fusion of stainless steel and matte glass. Apple says that glass is the toughest in a smartphone – but you’d still be forgiven for not using it naked.
In the iPhone 11 Pro, top-to-bottom, Apple has married software to hardware to create an end product that addresses a heap of the small frustrations previous models have carried. (Others totally remain – but we’ll get to them.)
Case-in-point: Apple has long bragged about fast-charging abilities on its tablets and phones, but never included fast chargers in the box – not even on so-called “pro” lines. Opening up the iPhone 11 Pro was a sweet relief: the 18W charger is, finally, not a “purchased separately” matter. (The power cable is also, curiously, USB-C to Lightning – an odd half-step in the direction of having one cable that could charge all of your products from phone to tablet to laptop. Soon, my friends.)
Another forever-complaint about Apple has been this notion that the company remains obsessed with thinness over function. This year’s batch of phones, gladly, have a handsome bump in juice. Apple says the 11 Pro lasts around four hours longer than the iPhone XS, and the 11 Pro Max up to five hours longer than the XS Max. Now, that’s a lot of models, letters and numbers: but I can tell you this: in my week with the phone, it definitely feels like I still have a little gas left at the end of the day, where my XS would limp to the charger after a full eight hours of emails and calls. Apple chalks this up to a dramatically more efficient processor.
It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but the battery is one of my favourite features on this thing. I don’t mind the weight that accompanies it – 226g on the Pro Max – because, frankly, there’s now a solid chance that I’d leave the house or office without needing to carry a powerpack.
There are welcome software changes here, too. With iOS 13 comes Dark Mode – the new dark colour scheme that gives every screen on your phone that inky, easy-on-the-eyes Spotify feeling. It feels like the result of a years-long Reddit campaign, and it’s been worth the wait... Anything that gets me further away from harsh light before bedtime earns a thumbs up.
So: reasonable gear in the box? Tick. Batteries that feel a bit better suited to life in 2019? Big tick. Quality of life software improvements? Uh huh.
That brings us to the cameras. All three of ‘em. While the differences in processing power or screen quality or software suites between Apple, Google and Samsung could easily be debated from all sides, it’s been hard to say that Apple has had the best camera of the past few years.
This triple camera system is Apple’s attempt to reassert itself. All three cameras are new – making this phone faster to focus, and crisper than you might be used to. But it’s the new ultra wide camera that will steal attention. Using it made me wonder how many photo ops I’ve missed over the years, simply because there wasn’t enough space in the frame.
Ultra wides lenses are often hampered by distortion and weak focussing, but I found this to be pleasantly even, and, most importantly, seamlessly integrated into the other two lenses on hand. (Zooming through all three lenses in camera mode is a pretty sweet experience.)
Software-side improvements to the camera are also super welcomed. There’s an auto-activated Night Mode – a clear response to Google’s Night Sight – which, at last, makes getting a decent photo at a restaurant a true possibility.
We tested the camera in a candlelit meal setting, and with a model who was lit only by a feeble little table lamp. While the results are, of course, softer than day-lit shots, it feels nice to know that the option is there – and a totally passable way to snap away on nights out.
The camera UI has also been given a merciful overhaul. Rather than needing to swipe to change from photo to video mode, simply holding down the shutter button will now trigger video recording. (Burst mode – which I’m guessing only a minority of users will use on the regular, is now activated by a hold and swipe of the shutter button.) Video settings are still buried away in an off-app menu, which remains a head-scratching move. I just stuck the phone into 4K video, and left it there – but it’d be nice to have the option to change this faster.
The good news for Apple is that the shortcomings here, from the outside, feel like easy fixes. Swapping out the Lightning port for USB-C would make the phone a truly seamless part of Apple’s hardware line-up. Adding two-way wireless charging would be a neat quality of life improvement. But nothing makes more sense than tweaking the storage options: this top-of-the-line iPhone 11 Pro Max starts at a measly 64GB of storage.
It’s an utterly perplexing offer in 2019: particularly considering the big push for 4K video. iCloud is neat, but I think it’s a little odd to expect users of a Pro model phone to retrieve old videos from the cloud to show to a friend. Yes, of course, the solution is to opt for the pricier model – either the 256 or 512GB – but it still strikes as an odd hardware line-up choice. Particularly on a model designated as ‘pro’. It’d make sense for Apple to make 128GB their baseline moving forward.
It’s obvious to say that this is the best iPhone, ever. I haven’t touched on the achingly bright Super Retina XDR screen – which holds up to sunlight particularly well – or the depth of power contained in the A13 Bionic chip. It’s a more-than-worthy daily driver: even if the wild form-factor reimagination that some wanted hasn’t quite arrived yet.
Here’s the crux: there are two big reasons to upgrade. Battery, and camera. The former is obvious enough – particularly for those who have a nasty habit, like me, of forgetting to charge power banks.
But it’s heavy-duty camera users that will really love this phone. As someone who’s gone through various iterations of carrying a proper camera with me (tried everything from a Canon dSLR rig to a pocketable-ish Fuji X100T), even an incremental bump in phone camera quality means something.
And the iPhone 11 Pro is more than a bump – its video capabilities make it an intriguing option for video journalists and vloggers on the move. The photographs are crisp and clean, and it’s not been easier – or faster – to nail the frame you want.
So yes, best iPhone ever. Best iPhone camera ever. Just make sure you splurge for enough storage to store all those snaps.