I think the last time when I truly loved an iPhone, we were still not even reviewing them. Apple’s iPhone 4 was such a dramatic leap from anything else out there, that it got me to switch. The design was bold, the Retina Display was fantastic, but what really sold me on it was the camera. See, in 2010, smartphone cameras were terrible, and especially for video. The iPhone 4 was the first to take this seriously, so much so that some of the photos and 720p footage I have of my children is still looking great today.
Trusting any device with your memories is a big deal. I don’t think I ever reached that level of confidence with Android until the Galaxy S6 a whopping 5 years later, but then the tables turned. iPhones still owed video, but photos became Android territory. And let’s face it, the last three generations of Google Pixel were enough to have Apple playing catch up… at least until now.
This is the iPhone 11 Pro. What Apple dubs as Pro Performance, Pro Cameras, Pro Everything. And true, lately the word Pro gets tossed around a lot, and yet, this is the first time that I can actively say that I don’t just trust an iPhone with my memories, but also some of my work load.
Yes, I know that’s shocking to hear from a guy like me, which is why I took so long to test this phone. I just couldn’t believe that history finally repeated itself. The last time I felt this way about an iPhone was 9 years ago, so bare with me as I tell you why.
What we like
I think this year, it’s like if Apple has finally been listening to consumers. The iPhone was too expensive, so we got the iPhone 11. The higher tier variants didn’t have great battery life, we got thicker designs. In that mix, I feel this small iPhone 11 Pro is the toughest sell of the bunch. I mean, why would you choose it if the 11 costs less and is good enough, and then the Pro Max just goes all out. It’s even the most expensive flagship of its size.. and yet this is the phone I picked for my personal needs, and let me start this video explaining why.
I carry two phones on a Daily basis, and the iPhone is always more of a tool for me. If I’m commuting around the city and need a phone that’s easy to handle with one hand, this is it. Don’t get me wrong, I love phablets for media consumption, but if I have to respond to your text on the go, I’ll most likely drift to the iPhone.
Design was never my cup of tea with the X or XS, and yet the 11 Pro has really grown on me. The matte finish handles fingerprints well, and then the reflections from the stainless steel frame and the camera hump give it an added touch of elegance. It’ll still wobble on a table unless you use a case, and my choice remains this tan finish from Mujjo’s leather cases.
Apple made a big deal about their updates to this display, and this is one of those things that’s hard to describe on video. That 2 Million to 1 contrast ratio is no joke, and it’s one of the reasons I picked this phone over the 11. Colors seem to pop a lot more, sharpness is just amazing. Like seriously, don’t take my word for it, go to a store and check it out if you haven’t. Even if this technically is the same display on the Galaxy Note 10+, Apple’s tuning adds an added punch that I’ve come to prefer, and the combination with these stereo speakers only enhances the experience of consuming content.
You’ll appreciate this more when you have a look at the results from this new camera system. No, Cupertino wasn’t first at bringing 3 focal lengths to the market, but boy have they gotten this right. Remember how I said I’d rarely trust an iPhone for photos before? Well, that changed this year. See, what I care about most when taking a shot is that a phone depicts the moment with accuracy, and usually switching focal on other phones poses a problem. On the iPhone 11 Pro that’s a different story in daylight. You’ll get the exact same color, detail and sharpness. Apple has really improved their HDR, and the addition of Deep Fusion in a recent software update has taken that to a whole new level.
Sadly this isn’t in every scenario. Once you switch the lights off, you do get a night mode, but not for the ultra-wide, and then for the primary or telephoto, you’re really at Apple’s mercy if you get any options to control. Even the amount of shutter speed available depends on what Apple thinks you need, and that’s not always great. Some of the results even beat the pants of the Pixel 4 in the comparison I did recently, but no all.
A similar story happens with Portraits. You do get the option to switch the effects around or even completely off, which will be necessary sometimes. Apple’s attention to detail in skin tones is seriously epic, but the treatment of hair is not. You’ll have to decide which results work best for you.
Now, where I have to finally say “Bravo” to Cupertino is in the selfie department. We finally get a wider crop for these, and with fabulous results in most cases. I’ll even prefer these selfie portraits over the Pixel because I feel it renders more natural results, so long as you have enough light. Sadly, no night mode for selfies just yet.
But then the praise continues with video. iPhones are still, hands down, the best smartphone video cameras in the market. It’s come to the point where people can’t even tell that certain hand-held shots I’ve made on reviews came from an iPhone using 4K at 60fps. In the past I’d use a gimbal to enhance the shots, but you can leave that at home now. Stabilization on this phone is crazy epic, and the liberty to switch between focal lengths in real time only makes this phone that much more useful.
The only Achilles’ heel left on previous iPhones was selfie video, until now. 4K at 60fps from the selfie camera, and levels of dynamic range that are really hard to find. Stabilization is what I’d call good enough, so maybe you might still want to carry a gimbal for those.
Probably what’s most shocking is that I can spend intense amounts of time shooting video or taking photos and this phone does not bog down. Apple’s A13 Bionic doesn’t just look good in benchmarks, I do have to praise it for real world use. The rest of the internals are on point with most of the standards of 2019.
That said, if you ask the average iPhone user, they don’t care as much about any of this, as they do about the ecosystem. Apple does this so well, that people think twice before switching. I edit all my videos on a Mac, use an iPad Pro for scripting and meetings, the Apple Watch is my weapon of choice for fitness, and man these AirPods Pro are surprisingly far better than I expected. Surely I don’t need for my phone to be an iPhone to still use most of these, but features like AirDrop alone are enough for me to cave in.
What we’re mixed about
But here’s the thing. The last time I drank real KoolAid was around 15 years ago. This is not a fanboy piece guys. There are things where I’m mixed, and it starts with battery life.
I’m mixed because it’s technically not bad, but it’s also technically not good either. I can finally say that I end a day with one charge, but don’t expect this phone to go any further. At least you now get a fast charger in the box.
And the second reason is seriously iOS. When Apple launched iPadOS, most of us were cheering because we felt it was the end of an era for the boring iPhone launcher, but no, that remained an iPad exclusive. I’m not sure if Apple has even noticed that this launcher is a crazy 12 years old. Still, I’m mixed because it does handle itself well. Stupid little updates like the swipe functionality on the keyboard with multi-lingual support have made one handed use only better. I’m not a fan of how many steps I have to follow to make a phone call, but at least the phone has been doing it without a stutter in the most recent update.
Because yes, that leads to the third reason. I don’t think any version of iOS has been this buggy. From horrible delays on Face ID, to it not working at all sometimes, to dropped frames when switching screens in the launcher, or the phone heating up out of the blue for no reason until you turned it off. Yeah if that’s your story, make sure you update.
And then the fourth reason is really one I never thought I’d ever care about at all and it’s the death of 3D Touch. It’s not until you lose something that you realize how much you miss it. Haptic touch just doesn’t cut it at times. You find yourself pressing hard on things expecting a reaction and the latency is just really bad.
What we don’t like
Last but not least, let me throw in something I actually don’t like at all about this phone. My bill at the time of payment was an insane $1,249.00. Why? Because one thing this phone doesn’t have is Pro storage. Dear Apple, 4K video takes up a lot of storage, and so do photos, plus games, etc. This is the most expensive flagship of its range, with the least amount of starting storage, so I had to go for 256GB.
And don’t even get me started about Apple Care+, which I do recommend you get, but that is now more expensive. Break the front of this phone, $329. Break the back, and it’s a crazy $550. You can avoid all that if you cough up the new $200 price tag that covers two accidental replacements for a much smaller fee. About the only good thing is that now you can pay it month to month for $10.
To conclude, I guess the only question this video doesn’t answer is what is Pro about this new iPhone? And the answer actually depends. Watch my separate comparison of iPhone 11 Pro vs Galaxy Note10 to dive into more detail on that, as I feel that the Note10 is more for the office professional that needs to get things done.
My case is very different. I make videos for a living, and if I would need a phone to assist me in my creative professional work, then yes, I’d pick the iPhone 11 Pro over any other device. The color accuracy of the display is ideal for photo edits. The camera system is seriously the crutch I use as a backup for my videos. The microphone I use for the Pocketnow Daily is powered by a lightning connector. Having an iPhone for me has been seriously a necessity for at least 3 generations, so yes, it does win the Pro moniquer with me.
Now, necessity is enough to keep the phone in my bag at all times and that’s it, where as this is the first time that I find myself using an iPhone more than ever before. I have a hard time moving away from this display, and from these cameras, so much so, that it takes me back to remembering my times with the iPhone 4. It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve trusted an iPhone so much, and that’s how I feel here.
“The iPhone 11 Pro is seriously excess if we were to judge it only for its price, and yet I can’t remember the last time I loved an iPhone so much. Apple needed three generations to perfect what began with the iPhone X, and I think it’s finally time for me to say that this is the coolest iPhone I’ve ever used.”