2017 was the first year in which Apple released three new iPhone models at the same event. While the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus marked a natural progression in the iPhone lineup, the brand new iPhone X with Face ID — and no home button — provided users a glimpse at the future of the iPhone.
Last year, Apple tripled down on that design by releasing three different models that all looked like the iPhone X. This meant that there were no direct successors to the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus — which Apple continues to sell to date — and, thus, no “default” iPhone model to serve as the starting point for most users.
The iPhone XR was, of course, supposed to be this model, though Apple’s naming scheme didn’t really seem to suggest that. The iPhone XR was instead seen by many as the iPhone to purchase if you couldn’t afford the iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, which was obviously unfair, as the device — though not without its share of compromises, most notably the low-resolution display — was a pretty darn good phone in its own right.
Free from the shackles of its ‘S cycle’ names, Apple had the chance to rebrand the iPhone lineup this year to clarify these new realities, and it did just that at the iPhone launch event earlier this month. As we noted earlier, company executives spent a fair amount of time establishing the iPhone 11 — which is the successor to last year’s iPhone XR, just in case anyone reading this didn’t know that already — as the iPhone for most people.
Underlining that appeal is a lower starting price — both in the US and in India — than that of the iPhone XR, addressing another criticism of last year’s iPhone lineup. Can the iPhone 11 build on the newly-found momentum of the iPhone XR to give Apple a much-needed hit in the Indian market? Read on to find out.
iPhone 11 design and display
Save for the dual-camera setup at the back and new colour finishes, the iPhone 11 looks identical to the iPhone XR. The two have the exact same dimensions (150.9×75.7×8.3mm) and weight (194g), and one could easily be mistaken for the other when seen straight on. Like before, the bezels on all sides of the display are noticeable, but not large enough to be a distraction.
The iPhone 11 is made out of aluminium and glass — once again, the “toughest glass in a smartphone, front and back,” according to Apple. Not everything is the same though, as Apple has decided to mix it up when it comes to the colours. The iPhone 11 will be available in new purple and green colour finishes, in addition to the yellow, black, white, and (Product) red colours also seen on the iPhone XR.
Though the colours that have been carried forward have the same names as before, the iPhone 11 finishes are a couple of shades lighter and less shiny than their iPhone XR counterparts. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and whether you approve of this change — or even notice it — will come down to your own taste.
Like last year, the bezels on all colour variants are black, unlike the iPhone 8 (and many earlier models) where opting for the silver and gold colour variants meant living with white bezels. A hint of the colour comes through to the front from all four sides.
Ok, we’ve waited long enough, let’s talk about the camera bump — or more accurately, the camera island. At the top-left corner of the back of this phone is a squarish area that houses two cameras, the True Tone flash, and a mic. This area has a textured matte finish — compared to the glossy finish of the rest of the back — and is slightly raised compared to the rest of the body, with the two lenses jutting out even further.
As is the case with all phones that have camera bumps, using the iPhone 11 while it’s lying flat on a surface makes it wobble, but the large bump, in fact, makes it more stable than the iPhone XR. Interestingly, Apple has dropped the ‘iPhone’ branding from the back of the phones, with the Apple logo now featured at the centre.
The display is another area in which the iPhone 11 is identical to the iPhone XR. This means you get a 6.1-inch LCD panel which, while best-in-class in terms of colour accuracy, brightness, and viewing angles, doesn’t have anywhere near the resolution or pixel density of its more expensive siblings, or for that matter many Android phones that cost about one-sixth of the iPhone 11’s asking price.
The LCD panel, of course, doesn’t have the richer blacks of the OLED panels on the iPhone XS and 11 Pro models, nor does it offer the dynamic range to let you view HDR content in all its glory. However, it does support the P3 wide colour gamut and Apple’s True Tone technology, which adapts the display’s colour tone based on ambient light conditions.
The maximum brightness of the panel on the iPhone 11 is rated at 625 nits, lower than that of the more expensive iPhone 11 Pro duo. In side-by-side comparisons in the same ambient lighting conditions, the iPhone 11 typically looked brighter than the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but that’s often the case when viewing an LCD panel alongside an OLED panel. The iPhone 11 Pro Max can, of course, hit much higher brightness levels — 800 nits under typical conditions, and 1200 nits when watching HDR content.
iPhone 11 specifications, performance, and battery life
While the iPhone 11 shares its exterior with the iPhone XR, it packs a few improvements under the hood. For starters, it’s powered by Apple’s brand new A13 Bionic chip which, Apple says, features two performance cores that are up to 20 percent faster than their equivalents in the A12 Bionic powering the previous-generation iPhone models, and use up to 30 percent less power.
The four efficiency cores in the A13 Bionic use up to 40 percent less power than their A12 equivalents, while offering performance improvements of up to 20 percent. Apple is claiming similar numbers — 20 percent faster, 40 percent more power efficient relative to the A12 — with the GPU in the A13.
An increasing number of apps use machine learning to enable new functionalities, and with Apple’s focus on privacy and on-device computing, the machine learning capabilities of the iPhone’s hardware are arguably more important than those of any other device. With that in mind, Apple has equipped the A13 Bionic with a neural engine that’s up to 20 percent faster, while using up to 15 percent less power.
Further boosting the machine learning capabilities of the A13 Bionic are two machine learning accelerators on the CPU designed to speed up specific tasks. Apple’s newest chip also includes a new machine learning controller for scheduling machine learning tasks across these units.
So what does this mean in the real world? As expected, the iPhone 11 handled everything that we threw at it without any problems. Playing games like Asphalt 9: Legends was a breeze, with plenty of detail clearly visible throughout all areas, and an expectedly stutter-free experience in even the busiest of scenes.
Android flagships are only now starting to come close to the benchmark scores recorded by last year’s iPhone models, and the A13 Bionic-powered 2019 iPhones are set to move the goalposts even further. The iPhone 11 scored 5,469 and 13,550 in Geekbench 4’s single- and multi-core tests, which is around 20 percent higher than the fastest Android smartphones out there right now.
In 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme Unlimited — which is used to test raw CPU and GPU power — the iPhone 11 scored 97,510 points, which is more than 50 percent higher than what we’ve seen on any Android smartphone, which underlines Apple’s lead in terms of silicon engineering.
The iPhone 11 comes in 64GB (Rs. 64,900), 128GB (Rs. 69,900), and 256GB (Rs. 79,900) storage options, just like the iPhone XR did at its launch. Benchmarks reveal that the iPhone 11 packs 4GB of RAM. The phone is now rated IP68 for water and dust resistance — the XR was IP67 — and should be able to survive at a depth of 2 metres for up to 30 minutes, though Apple’s warranty still won’t cover water damage.
There’s support for Gigabit-class LTE — if you can find the networks to go with it — and the iPhone 11 family supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5, which makes them reasonably future-proof in the wireless department. Apple says the iPhone 11 trio also support “Bluetooth beamforming”, which should enable up to 45 percent more range than the iPhone XR when streaming audio.
Like before, there’s dual-SIM support thanks to the eSIM, which only Airtel and Reliance Jio support in India at the moment. The software experience of using the iPhone with two active SIMs hasn’t changed since we documented it in our iPhone XR review.
All three new iPhone models support Dolby Atmos, which elevates the media consumption experience, especially when you are viewing content that’s encoded for this standard. Even while listening to music, podcasts, or watching typical YouTube videos, the stereo speakers get sufficiently loud.
The iPhone 11 trio come with identical Face ID capabilities for unlocking themselves in a fast and secure manner. Like before, Face ID works flawlessly in all kinds of lightning conditions, even when it’s pitch dark. Apple claims that with iOS 13, Face ID is up to 30 percent faster, offers greater range, and “support for more angles”.
We found it hard to verify these claims, especially since we had no Face ID-related complaints to begin with. One thing that’s missing is the ability to unlock the phone in any orientation, like you can with the latest iPad Pro models, but that’s understandable as we don’t expect to pick up and start using a phone in landscape mode.
The iPhone 11 models ship with a brand new Apple U1 chip that is capable of taking advantage of spatial and directional awareness to, say, let you point your iPhone at another user and have them show up as the first name in the list of AirDrop recipients when you are trying to share a photo in a room full of Apple devices. Your intended recipient will also need to have a device with the U1 chip. That’s one use case that we know of so far, but there are potentially other scenarios such as integration with Apple’s rumoured Tile-like tagging device and other smart home devices that could emerge in the future.
Apart from Face ID-related improvements, iOS 13 also brings a host of changes like system-wide Dark Mode; revamped Photos and Reminders apps; enhancements to the Messages app; the ability to give Siri an Indian voice; and more. For a more in-depth look at iOS 13, read our iPhone 11 Pro Max review.
Though Apple doesn’t officially reveal the battery sizes (or amounts of RAM) of iOS devices, the battery on the iPhone 11 is said to be marginally bigger than that of the iPhone XR. However, the power efficiency of the A13 Bionic really shines through, as the iPhone 11 managed to last 15 hours and 20 minutes in our HD battery loop test, which is exactly two hours more than what the iPhone XR managed.
In terms of day-to-day usage, that should translate to the iPhone 11 easily lasting through a day of medium to heavy use, and still having a decent amount of juice left in the tank at the end of the day. If you are a light user, you could potentially get through two full days before reaching for the charger.
Though Apple has finally fixed one of our long-standing complaints by bundling faster chargers with the iPhone 11 Pro models, the iPhone 11 disappointingly still comes with only a 5W charger in the box. This makes the phone extremely slow to charge.
In 30 minutes, the bundled charger took the phone from empty to just 18 percent — and to only 33 percent in 60 minutes — which is painfully slow. A full charge from empty took over three-and-a-half hours, some of which is down to iOS 13’s new ‘Optimised Battery Charging’ setting — turned on out of the box — that can potentially slow down charging past 80 percent to improve the long-term health of your phone’s battery. Even accounting for that, there’s no excuse for shipping a 5W charger with a phone in 2019, and we wish Apple had stopped doing this two years ago. The iPhone 11 does support faster charging, so you can pair it with another charger for a better experience.
The iPhone 11 trio also support wireless charging with speeds that are comparable to last year’s models.
iPhone 11 cameras
Arguably the biggest improvements that the iPhone 11 brings are in the camera department. This has been achieved with a combination of hardware and software enhancements. A new Ultra Wide camera with an f/2.4 lens and 12-megapixel sensor is paired with an improved 12-megapixel f/1.8 standard Wide camera. It’s this new, improved Wide camera sensor that also enables Night Mode, one of the headline features of the iPhone 11 trio.
Until around five years ago, the iPhone was by all accounts the best camera smartphone around, and while the newest iPhone models still hold their own in most scenarios, one area where Apple has fallen behind the competition has been low-light photography.
Capturing images using digital devices like smartphones has always been about making a series of decisions using mathematical equations, and your choices impact the resulting images. Image processing algorithms are used to determine simple things, like “How green should this green be?,” and even more basic stuff like the overall brightness levels of an entire image.
Looking at photos captured using successive iPhones, it seems from the outside that Apple’s philosophy has been about reproducing colours and lighting conditions that accurately represent a scene, even if the resulting images don’t look as pleasing to the eye as those captured by the competition. While Google, Samsung, and Huawei — among others — have been using their implementations of Night Mode to turn nearly pitch-black frames into scenes as well-lit as a film set, Apple has been reluctant to go down that road. Until now.
The iPhone 11 trio bring Apple’s own implementation of Night Mode, though the company insists it still wants to capture photographs that represent what it was like to be at that place at the time by capturing the “emotion” of a scene, retaining original colours, and without destroying any sense of time and place.
Based on the shots that we took, Apple has certainly achieved that objective, as Night Mode results in excellent photos with very good colour accuracy but without artificially brightening the image. Night mode on the iPhone 11 gives you images that are at par with, if not ahead of the competition in low-light conditions, which is a huge improvement over the previous generation iPhones, which often delivered dark blotches in the same conditions.
The camera app automatically activates Night Mode when it detects low-light conditions. This is indicated with a half-moon icon in yellow with a number alongside, which is the number of seconds you will need to hold the phone steady as the open shutter lets more light in. You can either tap the shutter button and then watch the seconds count down as the image is captured, or tap the yellow moon icon to increase or decrease this time before you hit the shutter. We feel that this UI offers a better experience than other phones that make you stand still for an indeterminate amount of time while they capture, process, and save an image.
Most of the night shots we took required anywhere between two and four seconds, and the one time we manually bumped up the number to nine seconds, we didn’t see any appreciable improvement, which indicates that the algorithm has found a decent mix between optimising for results and user convenience.
Live Photos and the flash are not available in Night Mode, which is understandable. Night Mode is also restricted to the Wide camera and is not available with the Ultra Wide. If the light is not ideal, but not extremely low either, the half-moon icon will appear in white and you can tap it to manually enable night mode. This is the app’s way of letting you take shots with or without the night mode in conditions where there might be decent-enough light. Of course even in extremely low light you can disable night mode
All this might sound complex, but we had no problems picking up these controls and we believe most users will be able to do the same. By not relegating Night Mode to a separate section of the camera app, Apple has made sure the feature remains discoverable, while giving users enough control over the experience.
This thoughtful design is extended to how the new Ultra Wide camera is integrated within the app. Instead of having yet another button to switch from one camera to the other like most manufacturers have done, Apple treats the Ultra Wide camera as a “0.5x zoom”, essentially letting you take a step back from the current view.
The transition in the viewfinder is smooth and instant, so you do not realise that you are jumping from one physical camera to the other, and it actually feels as if you’ve just zoomed out. If you press and hold the 0.5x button, you will be presented with a circular slider that can be used to further zoom in/ out of the current view. If you go from one side of the 1x mark to the other very slowly, you will notice the app shifting from one camera to the other, but to most users, it will seem like one smooth transition. The iPhone 11 offers no optical zoom but can get up to 5x digital zoom with photos, and 3x with videos.
When you are in 1x (default) mode, the bars at the top and bottom of the camera app turn translucent, with an overlay of the view from the Ultra Wide camera behind them, giving you a real-time preview of what the frame would look like with the other camera.
There’s another change in the Camera app. Even if you are in Photo mode, long-pressing the capture button will now start recording a video, a feature Apple is calling QuickTake. The video recording stops as soon as you release the button, or you can slide to the right (if the phone is portrait orientation) to continue recording. If you are wondering whether the Burst mode is gone, the answer is no, but you now have to press the capture button and immediately slide to the left to quickly capture a series of shots.
The Ultra Wide camera opens up the possibilities of taking some really interesting shots, and unlike our experience with several other smartphones, we couldn’t spot any distortion or artefacts at the edges of the images. Both the Wide and Ultra Wide sensors have the same resolution, but the former performs significantly better in low light.
Thanks to the dual cameras, Portrait Mode on iPhone 11 now works with pets as well as objects, an improvement over the iPhone XR, where the portrait mode worked only with humans. However, our experience using Portrait Mode with objects ended up with decidedly mixed results in terms of edge detection. As before, iOS offers you plenty of control in terms of editing the effects after an image has been clicked, with iOS 13 bringing additional controls as well as lighting effects.
The selfie camera is improved as well, with a new 12-megapixel sensor and a lens that has a wider field of view. Selfies look good — and there’s support for Portrait Mode with depth control and six lighting effects. By default, the selfie camera is set to capture a tight shot but you can tap a button to take a taller shot. Flip the phone to landscape mode, and the phone automatically switches to this wider angle for a group selfie.
The front camera now supports 4K at 60fps as well as 120fps slow-motion — the unfortunately named ‘slofies’. Though we had fun capturing them, here’s hoping this name never catches on.
Capturing videos with the iPhone 11 is great, as always. You can record in 4K at 60fps with both the Wide and Ultra Wide cameras, but optical image stabilisation is available only with the former. Apple says the new iPhone models feature improve stabilisation by utilising data from some of the pixels that are outside of the frame, apart from additional computational enhancements.
A new feature called audio zoom — which is nothing like Samsung’s zoom-in mic — is meant to “match the audio to the framing of the video”, which sounds a bit like recording spatial audio, especially since we noticed in our videos that the left and right audio channels roughly corresponded to sounds coming from the left and right sides of the frame.
There’s a lot to like about the iPhone 11. In fact, apart from the relatively low-resolution display — which most people won’t notice — and the ridiculously slow bundled charger — which everyone will definitely notice — there’s very little that we can find fault with that’s specific to this phone. Night Mode is an extremely useful addition, and the Camera app has useful touches that are typical of Apple. The Ultra Wide camera will come in handy as well.
We, of course, will still complain about Apple’s software and services offering sub-par experiences, especially in India. Apple Pay is still just a dream, and apart from adding an Indian accent, there haven’t been any meaningful improvements to Siri — in India or elsewhere — for a while now.
We would also like to see iOS adopt more features that reflect the reality of big screen phones such as picture-in-picture video and/ or navigation overlays, but that seems to be another drum that we keep on beating without it finding the right audience.
In recent years Apple has beaten us all down with high prices to the extent that a price tag of Rs. 64,900 seems rather accessible, despite the fact you’ll struggle to find many Android phones that cost as much. Throw in some inevitable pre-booking discounts/ cashbacks, and the iPhone 11 should be available for under Rs. 60,000.
At that price, it’s a no-brainer to pick the iPhone 11 over the iPhone XR, which continues to be available at a new price Rs. 49,990. The extra Rs. 10,000 or so gets you better set of cameras and a faster processor, though the iPhone XR is still faster than even the most expensive Android smartphone you can buy.
If you have this much money to spend and don’t mind crossing the aisle, you cannot go wrong with any of the Samsung Galaxy S10 or Galaxy Note 10 models. A new Google Pixel phone is also just around the corner as well, so you might wait and see what Mountain View has to offer.