Lifestyle

iPhone 11 review: The low-key MVP

The iPhone 11 is Apple's budget-friendly alternative to the iPhone 11 Pro, but it might well be the better smartphone for you

If you know anything about the iPhone 11, it’s probably that it’s not the iPhone 11 Pro: Apple’s new top-tier handset with the triple-lens camera and glorious Super Retina XDR display. So you might not be expecting that much from the “standard” iPhone, other than a bunch of incentives to accept the up-sell and spend the extra cash on the pricier Pro. Because that’s how these things tend to go with Apple, isn’t it?

Well, not this year and certainly not with the iPhone 11. In a shock plot twist to rival the Stranger Things series three finale, this year’s basic iPhone comes with a bunch of welcome new features. Better still, it’s actually seen a discount compared to 2018’s iPhone XR. In Apple-land this occurrence is somewhat akin to Jürgen Klopp turning up to the Anfield touchline in a suit and tie: it probably happened before, but no one cares to remember.

Truth be told, the iPhone 11 is the low-key MVP of Apple’s smartphone line-up in 2019 and we’ve been using one for the past week. Here’s what you need to know about it.

Twice as nice

As much as the iPhone 11 Pro is Apple’s first phone to feature a triple-lens camera, the iPhone 11 is Apple’s first entry-level iPhone to feature a dual-lens camera. Thanks to the combination of a wide-angle and an ultra-wide angle lens, this means more photographic punch for your pound.

With an ultra-wide angle lens, you can now cram more mates into your photos, capture the full splendour of an awe-inspiring landscape and take some really trippy stuff when you stick the iPhone 11 near some water or a mirror. Sitting somewhere between a “smartphone essential” and “nice-to-have”, the ultra-wide lens basically allows you to dab a little extra flavour on your photos. It’s the kind of thing that can elevate your Instagram from a reel of point-and-shoot puppy snaps to a reel of point-and-shoot puppy snaps with some more arty ones thrown in.

In general, the iPhone 11’s rear camera delivers crisp, detailed shots that won’t disappoint whatever you throw at it. Especially with the new addition of Night Mode, which uses a longer exposure to capture dramatically more detail in low light conditions.

Whether you’re sat in a bar for the evening or strolling underneath the stars, it’s hard to describe the effect without sounding hyperbolic, simply because the difference between Night Mode and dimly lit iPhone photography of old is so dramatic. So long as your subject isn’t leaping around as you take the photo – sorry pups – you’ll see a bunch more light and colour in your snaps. Other “Night Mode” equivalents appeared on iPhone rivals but this is one of the best implementations we’ve seen of the feature.

Oxford Circus shot in ultra wide on the iPhone 11

Screen time

If the iPhone 11 has that new ultra-wide angle lens and Night Mode as well, you’re probably wondering what it misses out on compared to the Pro? Well, there are a couple of things, but the big miss is that third telephoto lens for optically zooming into shots. The iPhone 11 still has a digital zoom, but there’s a greater sacrifice of clarity and detail with this setup.

The topline here is that if you’re really into your photos and video then you’re going to want the iPhone 11 Pro. On the plus side, the iPhone 11 doesn’t skimp on the newfound ability to take “slowfies” or slow-motion selfies for anyone who isn’t a fan of portmanteau. In terms of Apple’s more silly innovations, this one ranks above Animojis in terms of dragging a laugh out of WhatsApp.

More so than even the Pro’s triple threat of a camera, the key differentiator between the iPhone 11 and its big brother can be seen in its screen. Whereas the Pro has a newly refreshed Oled panel, the 11 sticks with the True Tone LCD panel from 2018’s iPhone XR. Having used an XR for the last six months or so, this is by no means a disaster.

To be sure, the Pro’s Oled panel is class apart for both resolution and contrast. Give it a movie or Netflix Original shot in high dynamic range and it feels like a real luxury. If, like us, you tend to watch a bit more lowbrow fare such as the Ashes highlights and the odd Hot Ones episode then it’ll prove just fine. Colours are accurate, there’s a good amount of detail and the brightness is nothing to sniff at either. Apple has always put a lot of effort into its screen tech and this one by no means lets the side down.

You can't mistake its biology

If you can cope with only having a dual-lens camera to play with and a screen that isn’t Oled, then pretty much everything else about the iPhone 11 shares parity with the Pro. With good reason too: the iPhone XR was Apple’s best-selling handset last year and doesn’t intend to drop the ball on that “people’s choice” status.

For this reason it comes with the same A13 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max – the one that Apple proclaims to be the fastest going in a smartphone today, despite offering significant battery life savings since last year. All you need to know is that this is a supremely speedy phone. It won’t stutter opening up the camera app or pause for thought when flitting over to YouTube. Oh, and Fortnite will play just fine when you want to need to entertain a youngling at short notice.

Elsewhere, Face ID is faster than ever and better at handling awkward angles thanks to the no-nonsense stylings of iOS 13. Water-resistance has been improved to 30 minutes at a depth of 2 metres for when your handset takes an unexpected splash and its glass has been strengthened to help avoid a smash. Even battery life has seen a bump of about an hour, so you can get through a day with the thing.

A side-to-side of Night Mode on the iPhone 11 and a low light shot on the iPhone XR

iPhone 11 review: GQ’s verdict

What really makes the iPhone 11 worthwhile is that it doesn’t feel like a product of compromise. It’s got a swagger and a personality of its own that’s most noticeable in the bold pastel shades it’s adorned in. Gone are the days when the most interesting colour you could get the iPhone in was rose gold.

It’s the “fun” iPhone and not in the sense that it’s unnecessarily flashy and comes with a selection of pre-installed gimmicks you’ll use once and never again. No, this is a proper iPhone with a weighty yet slender glass design and pretty much everything you’d want from a smartphone in 2019. Plus, the usual differentiators such as the ever-reliable iOS, support for Apple Watch and, yes, even the notch.

Most importantly of all, the iPhone 11 is good enough to ensure that opting for the more expensive 11 Pro doesn’t feel like an inevitability. This year you have a genuine choice over your iPhone upgrade and that hasn’t always been the case. Plus, only one of these new phones is available in mauve.

The iPhone 11 is available from £729 at apple.com. It is available at a discount of up to £200 via Apple's iPhone trade-in scheme.

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