Picking an iPhone now feels a lot like picking a laptop. It used to be that the iPhone you’d be interested in would be “the new one”. Apple put paid to that whole idea years ago but now it feels like a legitimate exercise to line up all your options and compare the numbers. Or at least the features that matter to you. Because not only are there three new ones, including this iPhone 11, there’s also last year’s bestselling iPhone XR still on sale and cheaper than ever. So that’s four already.
This is not going to be a grand iPhone review, waxing on about innovation out of Cupertino, but it’s worth saying now that the iPhone 11 is a futureproof phone – it has the fewest features of the 2019 cohort but even these might be overkill for a lot of people. So let’s do it, let’s situate the iPhone 11 in the line-up to help you pick the right model. It won’t be as tedious as choosing a laptop, honest.
The iPhone 11 is Apple’s latest lower cost smartphone for 2019 that’s clearly aimed at a broader market, offering most of what its top phones do but for £320 less. Costing from £729, the iPhone 11 is also £20 cheaper than last year’s iPhone XR was on launch – the phone it has now replaced.
In fact the iPhone 11 is identical on the outside to the iPhone XR in almost all the ways that matter. It’s the same size and weight. It’s got the same glass and aluminium design, same 6.1in LCD screen with rounded corners, the same large notch at the top and same thick bezels around the sides. Flip it over and it’s got the same glass rear, except that “iPhone” is no longer written on the back and the Apple logo is positioned lower. The biggest difference is the new large, square camera lump in the top left corner, which on the iPhone 11 houses a new dual camera system.
If you were hoping Apple would slim down the bezels on its successor to the iPhone XR, think again. Yes, the design is still a tremendous improvement over phones like the iPhone 8, but the front of the iPhone 11 is unchanged from 2018. A thick and uniform bezel surrounds the 6.1-inch screen and there’s the same wide notch at the top, carrying the TrueDepth camera and sensors for Face ID.
This iPhone feels substantial, and the glossy glass back isn’t as slippery as the matte finish on the Pro models. That said, you’ll want a case. It’s not as durable as the Pro models because it’s made of aluminum and not stainless steel. It does have an IP68 water resistance rating, so it can survive up to 2 meters underwater for up to 30 minutes.
iPhone 11 Design
If you like some color with your iOS, the iPhone 11 is the phone for you. Rather than the muted, sober finishes of the iPhone 11 Pro, this more affordable handset counts some brighter options among its six available designs. Along with the usual black and white, there are yellow, purple, green, and PRODUCT(RED) versions, and they can all handle up to 30 minutes in water up to two meters deep. That’s twice the depth the iPhone XR could handle last year.
Also like the iPhone XR, the iPhone 11 slots in the middle of the three device range. Its 6.1-inch screen is bigger than that of the iPhone 11 Pro, but smaller than the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Indeed, you could well see it being the most popular size for those who don’t want to compromise on display real-estate yet don’t have the hands, pocket, or purse to carry Apple’s largest phone.
Spec and battery boosts that add up
Even putting the new features of iOS 13 to one side – dark mode, Find My and revamped privacy controls are a few that stick out – Apple has made tweaks here and there. None turn the iPhone 11 into an entirely different experience to the iPhone XR but nonetheless you might want to pay for them.
There’s an hour extra battery, which doesn’t hurt, and Apple’s claim that the 11 can go for 10 hours of video streaming is on par with what we’ve seen in our testing. There’s no 18W fast charger in the box (unlike with the Pros) and we haven’t been able to test out whether it can go from nought to 80 per cent in 30 minutes yet. But if you want to buy one, it costs £29.
iPhone 11 Performance
Despite the price difference, the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro are very similar inside where it really counts. Both use the Apple A13 Bionic chipset, the latest iteration of its homegrown processor, with its combination of power and frugality improvements.
On the one hand, the A13 Bionic offers more performance over the old iPhone. Since iPhone 11 upgraders are unlikely to be former iPhone XR owners, but instead coming from an even older iPhone, that bump in speed is going to be more noticeable.
iPhone 11 Camera
It’s the cameras where the iPhone 11 is the most compelling. Last year’s iPhone XR was a photographic compromise: its single primary camera was capable of great shots, true, but the other niceties we’ve grown used to having on modern smartphones were absent. Things like not having a zoom lens, and Portrait mode being delivered through a software system that would only work on humans, seemed designed to nudge people into buying a more expensive device.
Creature of the night
The star of the iPhone 11’s camera is the new Night mode. It’s not a dedicated night mode like Google’s Night Sight on Pixel phones, but it automatically kicks in when it detects poor lighting conditions. You can turn it off, leave it on the automatic setting, or set it to the maximum long-exposure that the camera deems necessary. That can vary, but the camera can go all the way up to a 28-second exposure (if it’s dark enough and the phone is on a tripod).
The phone is well built, feeling extremely solid and it has the best LCD screen you’re likely to see on a phone although it isn’t as good-looking, colour rich, bright or high contrast as the OLED screens fitted to the iPhone 11 Pro or Apple’s many rivals costing £500 and up.
The iPhone 11 also suffers from the same disadvantages as the iPhone XR before it, namely it’s fairly heavy and wide with rounded edges that provide little in the way of grip. Compared to Samsung’s Galaxy S10, which has the same size 6.1in screen, the iPhone 11 is 5.3mm wider and 37g heavier and significantly harder to use one-handed.