For those who were expecting a 5G or foldable iPhone this year, you may know by now that that's not what exactly happened.
And that doesn't bother me one bit, honestly. Apple may have made up for it more than enough.
As we come close to the public rollout of the new iPhones this Friday, we're here, as usual, to give you a sneak peek into their latest gizmos - the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Alert: We don't have the iPhone 11 Pro. Anyway, practically the only difference it has with the 11 Pro Max is its size; both retain last year's sizes at 5.8 and 6.5 inches, respectively. So we'll also be dealing with the 11 Pro here, albeit indirectly. On the other hand, the 11 still maintains its middling (in terms of size) 6.1-inch screen.
So, unlike last year's review in which we took at look at the XS and XS Max at the same time - again, same-specced save the size - and the XR separately, we have a long review ahead of us. One very good reason for this: There are similar innovations found in these two smartphones we have right now, and we'd like to show them to you side-by-side. Buckle up, folks.
TALE OF THE TAPE: iPhone 11
Well, kudos to Apple for lowering the prices of the entry-level iPhone. But big bro won't be left out.
TALE OF THE TAPE: iPhone 11 Pro Max
Yeah. Dh10 less (but in dollar terms, they remain as is compared to last year). But anyway, in both cases, aside from the price, the new-generation cameras stand out, as well as power. We'll get to both of that later.
Save for certain somethings at the back, there's practically no change in design... yes, the notch is still there, on both the iPhone 11...
Love that reflection of my phone's camera on the Apple logo
...and the iPhone 11 Pro Max:
Wonderful shade 'back' there
I will say this: I admit that I was sceptical when the renders came out on the Web, purportedly showing some really huge and bulging camera lenses on these new iPhones. But when the real deal was revealed, they seemed okay. I share the same sentiment with those who laud Apple's minimalistic approach.
Apple bills both devices' builds - glass, frame, everything - as the strongest ever on smartphones, both at the front and back. As a matter of fact, they were made to go under more severe drop and stress tests to guarantee their durability. Kinda tempts me to give it a little drop and see if... never mind.
IP ratings have also been bumped up. The iPhone 11 is now rated IP68, up to two metres and 30 minutes compared to the XR's IP67 (one metre and 30 minutes). The iPhone 11 Pro Max, while still at IP68, can now last up to 4 metres in water compared to the XS Max's two metres (still at 30 minutes).
There are also new colours. On the iPhone 11, I'm absolutely loving the green one, with purple a very close second...
Take your colourful pick
...while the latest midnight green gets my nod on the Pros:
Those triple-lens cameras are waiting for you
And did you notice that the 'iPhone' and other thingamajig marks are gone? Plus points for a cleaner look this time around.
In particular, the glass finish on the iPhone 11 is at par with the iPhone XR, but for some reason (or is it just me?), the new and lighter shades - yes, green and purple - somehow amplify its sleek finish.
Anyway, there were rumours that the mute button would be changed, plus the Lightning port would be ditched in favour of a USB-C one, but neither came into fruition. The latter, though, would've made sense considering Apple's latest iPad Pros have that reversible port.
And a gentle precaution: There's now more 3.5mm-audio-jack-to-Lightning adaptor included in the box. That could ruffle some feathers, especially those who have their own favourite headsets that (still?) use the beloved and bitterly-embattled port.
Alongside the newest iPhones is, of course, the latest version of its operating system, iOS 13. And let's make one thing clear here: iOS 13 is what makes these new iPhones tick from within.
With iOS 13, Apple promises up to 50 per cent smaller app sizes, up to twice faster app launching and up to 30 per cent quicker Face ID unlock. While the app-launching speed seems to remain the same, Face ID is indeed noticeably faster.
Anyway, first up in iOS 13 - revealed in June's Worldwide Developers Conference - is my favourite, Dark Mode. After Apple blessed Macs with it in the not-so-recent past, they decided to put it on iOS. It really gives a calmer feel - and you won't annoy others in places like, say, the movie house:
Finally, Dark Mode on an iPhone
It also works on other apps as long as it's supported; it's available to third-party developers so they can incorporate it in their apps. Also, aside from toggling it, you can schedule it at sunset or at any time you wish. You can also activate it in Control Center as there's a new button for it in there.
Next is a critical solution to a hot-button topic: Security. Apple teased the new Sign in with Apple at the WWDC, which is a unique take on preserving user information.
Basically, it gives you the option to hide your e-mail address and not share it - along with other potential personal info - when you sign in to certain sites or apps. Other services ask you to log in with Facebook or Google; while this is convenient, it does use your real e-mail address (unless you're using a dummy one for these purposes). Sign in with Apple - obviously using your Apple ID - automatically creates a random and unique e-mail address, which that service or app can send e-mails to; the temporary e-mail address created will then forward all those communiques to your real e-mail address.
Sounds too complicated? Well, in other words, you can receive all the garbage from those sites or services without making your actual address known to them. It's that simple.
I'm definitely using this
Sign in with Apple, while announced to come with iOS 13, isn't live yet - though it can be expected to come soon. This could be a game-changer in account security, especially in the present environment wherein tech firms are being bamboozled for all their privacy issues.
Photos, meanwhile, has been given a new look and flow. Basically, it gives you a 'curated view' of your best shots from each day, month and year. It will hide similar snaps so you won't get annoyed from all those repetitive photos you took just to make sure you got you what you wanted:
Sorry; I haven't filled up my Photos app enough to show years, even months
And by the way, if you've assigned birthdays to any of those in your People album, Photos will highlight their snaps on their special day. Happy birthday!
There are also improvements to photo and video editing... we'll come back to that a little later.
Maps also got a number of improvements, including the ability to pan around 360 degrees, broader road network coverage, a favourites section that lets you get easy navigation to places you frequently go to and real-time transit info. It also has a more realistic view - though this is, for now, limited to a number of US cities but will be rolled out in other countries next year.
There's also junction view, which will help your through complex roads, especially those with layered, intersecting ways. Flight time status - including serving you up information on airport terminals, gate locations and departure times - is also here. An upcoming feature that will allow you to share your ETA (estimated time of arrival) will be coming soon, too.
Siri, meanwhile, now has a more natural voice and a new neural text-to-speech tech that allows it to read longer text. It now also has proactive suggestions and, coming soon, follow-up questions (telling it to 'order my hamburger' may prompt it to ask something like 'which location?') and suggested automations that suggest relevant shortcuts at the right time relative to location or time of day. Also slated to come are new features for AirPods, including Announce Messages, allowing Siri to read incoming notifications from Messages or any other SiriKit-enabled app, and audio sharing allowing you to share what you're listening two on two different sets of AirPods, each with independent volume control.
Reminders, on the other hand, received an overhaul, with a new design, the ability to include attachments and smart lists that organise everything. A new quick toolbar will allow you to add certain tags and even media. It's also now integrated with Messages; if you're chatting with a person on Messages whom you've tagged in a reminder, it'll pop up.
Speaking of Messages, you can now share your name and an image on iMessage; search has also been improved to make finding something quicker.
And, of course... Animoji and Memoji. Add a mouse, cow and... an octopus...
Squidward, I'm comin' for ya
...plus more ways to customise Memoji:
For CarPlay, there's a new dashboard that shows your music tracks, turns, Siri suggestions and a large map, plus a revamped status bar. Updates for Apple Music, Calendar, Siri and Do Not Disturb are also in place.
One last major update before we leave iOS 13 behind: Voice Control, a new feature that allows you to control your iOS device using just your - you guessed it - voice.
And before we get into what most of you probably have been waiting for, the prophecy has been confirmed: iOS 13 will no longer support the iPhone 5 range (quite expected). So, for your convenience (and since I'm happy typing these), the devices that'll enjoy the new software are the SE, 6S, 6S Plus, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus, X, XR, XS, XS Max, 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, plus the seventh-generation iPod Touch. That list will make you notice that you may have, at most, a six-year old iPhone already.
Getting specific: iPhone 11
This is where we draw the line between these two beasts.
The iPhone XR last year impressed with good specs, great battery and, of course, reasonable price tags (in this day and age). So you'd expect that its successor will have some bumped-up specs along with an inevitable price increase, right?
Well, that's two-fold: The spec bump-up is of course for real, but prices are down. Hooray!
Apple pegs the iPhone 11's juice to last an hour more than the XR. In our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, the iPhone 11 - during three trials - yielded an average of 12 per cent.
The included charger is a standard one and has a USB-to-Lightning cable, but you can opt to get a sold-separately Apple 18W charger that promises up to squeeze in 50 per cent juice in 30 minutes. (You can get one for Dh119; charging cable sold separately.)
Charging it using the included wall plug took a very boring 15 minutes to get to 10 per cent. So, I didn't even bother to continue doing so; I drained it and restarted the drill using the 18W charger included in the 11 Pro Max box. It zipped to 51 per cent after 30 minutes, 83 per cent in an hour and crawled to 100 per cent 25 minutes after. Excellent.
However, it seems at par with the day-and-a-half use I experienced with the XR. But I don't really see that as a problem, because that's still at par with some of the best battery life out there.
Thank you for marathoning all the way to this part (assuming you did read the rest of the stuff up there). The iPhone 11 now has a dual-camera system, and here are the results of our sweaty run, and compared to its predecessor, the iPhone XR.
Is the cooler season upon us?
At first glance, you may not see much difference between the XR and 11. But if you'll look closely, the latter gives lighter hues, making certain dark areas a tad clearer.
Lights, camera, action!
Seems that lights' glares are better fixed when from afar. They also look more natural on the 11.
Oh, a bar!
Ditto for those lightbulbs on top. And those blue and greenish hues look sharper, showing off the branches better.
Now, the 'highlight on lowlight': Apple's brand-new Night Mode. You've heard this from elsewhere (as a matter of fact, everywhere else), but see what Apple just did with it:
Where are all the kids?
Night Mode automatically activates when the iPhone detects that it's in a less-than-ideal lighting situation. You'll see it as white/yellow moon-ish icon beside the flash icon on the upper-left-hand area of the display... and we have an instant sample of what it can result it in:
A sign of good things to come?
Almost all of us lucky enough to witness these cameras' demos at Apple Park couldn't believe our eyes. The lighting is great and doesn't give an overexposed impression. Details are kept as they should be, with smudges kept at a minimum.
Here's a sample shot using KT's front yard, in normal a 5x zoom; XR's on the left, 11's on the right:
Sorry; forgot to label it
And here's on more to drive the point home:
Some more sample shots for the 11:
Haven't had ice cream in hours
There will be some corners saying that, especially in good lighting, the 11 doesn't have much difference compared to the XR. But if you'll take a closer look, I think there are less smudges (won't go away completely) and, as I've pointed out earlier, hues look sharper especially in low light. That Night Mode, however, is as sturdy as it can get.
Getting specific: iPhone 11 Pro Max
Apple's new top-of-the-line monster takes certain things steps further. Users of the XS and XS Max won't find it any different to handle - but the real deal is inside.
Last year, the XS and XS Max were only up half-an-hour and an hour-and-a-half, respectively, versus the X. In this go-around, Apple promises up to four hours more battery life on the 11 Pro and five more on the 11 Pro Max - that is a lot of power.
And so onwards to our YouTube test: The 11 Pro Max lost 9 per cent of power, compared to the XS Max's 10 per cent - anything in the single-digit range is an excellent result. As a matter of fact, as I let it run, there were hours in which it only dropped 8 per cent.
And if with the XS Max I was good enough until about after lunch, the 11 Pro Max gave me a boost until late-afternoon - that's about a three-hour difference. That's big, and that would've lasted longer had I not listened to streaming music in large parts of those days.
As a matter of fact, the 11 Pro Max's battery was so good I had a hard time draining it in order to run more tests. Amazing.
Wireless charging is back on the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, but reverse wireless charging is still not an option. There are reports out there in the wild on why that feature wasn't included - but it's still all speculation.
Anyway, as we've mentioned earlier, the 11 Pro Max includes an 18W fast charger, the first time Apple has packaged one in its iPhones. Of note: Unlike the iPhone 11 that uses USB to connect to the Lightning port, the 18W charger has USB-C - meaning you can only use that charger if you have that type of cable. That makes sense though, because USB-C is indeed built for faster charging and data transfer.
The 11 Pro Max's fast-charging capability can juice it up to 50 per cent in half-an-hour; from there, as with all fast-charging protocols, it slows down from there. And here's how it went in our run: 48 per cent in 30 minutes, 82 per cent in an hour and 100 per cent in an hour and 20 minutes. Not bad, especially if you need a boost real quick.
Congratulations for making it this far (ignore our greetings if you jumped straight here).
The iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max both have, for the first time in an iPhone, a triple-lens camera system. Is Apple too late to join this trifecta party?
Better late than never, especially if the results are worth the talk (and wait). Of course, we'll be stacking it up against its direct ancestor, the XS Max:
Another hot, sunny day
While the differences can be quite unnoticeable, the 11 Pro Max gives more clarity to the smallest details, as seen on the clouds.
Flowers should be there
There's no overexposure, so photos in bright lights are sure-fire shots.
I wish I had one of these
Again, there are no noticeable differences in the foreground - but check out the sky again: The natural feel is back with the 11 Pro Max's shot and it gives a more real look at the actual situation of the time of day.
Yes, I'm at the Marina the whole afternoon
Here's another good example of how the sky - the clouds, in particular - are detailed better on the 11 Pro Max; look at it closely to appreciate it.
Now, on to the key selling point again, Night Mode:
Sorry; that's the 11 Pro Max, not 11
Great work on livening up the water there, plus the general feel of the shot.
This feature doesn't only work outdoors; even indoors, where light is limited, it has the ability to brighten up the entire thing. Believe me, it's as if there was an actual, proper lighting inside the bed's area.
And just to compare with a similar shot earlier, here's how that KT front yard scene looks on the 11 Pro Max:
Whoops... forgot to label it again
And here's another new feature on the latest iPhone: Ultra-wide-angle shots. Here it is in all its glory:
The new iPhones can capture up to four times more in a frame - thanks to its 2x optical zoom in and 2x optical zoom out - so group shots won't be a problem. Here's one more for good measure (pun intended):
Get everything in the frame
In addition to those zoom stats above, you'll also get up to 10x digital zoom on the Pro models. These zooms are also available on video, though the iPhone 11 Pro only has 6x digital zoom; the garden-variety iPhone 11, meanwhile, only has 2x optical zoom out and 3x digital zoom. The Pros also have dual-OIS, with the wide-angle lens working in harmony with the telephoto lens.
And there's one more neat thing Apple added to iOS 13: While using the camera and you try to zoom in, you'll catch a glimpse of what's going out on the erstwhile black edges, giving you an idea of how much more you can take in a frame:
'See' what I mean?
This applies to all 11 variants. And iOS 13 has one more thing that gives it a leg - er, actually, a wheel up: A new zoom dial:
Feeling like a pro already?
That, my friends, eliminates the need to pinch in and out in order to zoom, which can be annoying because it could put you out of focus. The new dial allows you to be steadier when taking a shot.
Some more parting 'shots' on the iPhone 11 Pro Max...
Hitting the grill after a busy day
...and one last shot on low light, just for very good measure:
All three iPhone 11 devices have the same-specced TrueDepth camera up front. You've seen Animoji and Memoji earlier, so let's focus on the more serious stuff, AKA, Portrait mode:
Don't make me laugh!
See something unfamiliar up there? That's the new High-Key Light Mono filter, which gives studio-level results. I already like Stage Light Mono, but this new one seems to have taken over that favourite spot.
To sum it up, the strength of the iPhone 11 line-up's cameras are in its new ability to automatically adjust shots before giving the final result. I also noticed that both hardware and software can sense just the right amount of light needed for all situations, not to the point of brightening up a scene just for the sake of doing so, potentially making shots end up overexposed, losing detail and making them look so unnatural.
That was a lot to digest. The Apple iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max (also the 11 Pro), to me, more than make up for any disappointment there is for not having a 5G iPhone (or even a teaser for a foldable one). Apple was able to hit it as straight as an arrow with the improvements in battery and, most importantly, the camera.
That said, lowering the price for the iPhone 11 was a brilliant move from Apple. I was batting - expecting, as a matter of fact - for such action, on the premise that lower prices may mean more sales. I was a bit saddened that they didn't do the same for the Pro models; even a $50 price drop would've meant a lot. At least, for the second consecutive year, the base price for the flagship iPhone sticks - but they could've at least ditched the 64GB model for 128GB, which I have been saying as the ideal, price-friendly storage capacity option for most users (unless you're too devoted to taking every photo and video you deem 'worthy').
The only real question, however, is how good will the iPhone 11 smartphones do? We're in what has been called a 'gap year', in the sense that there will be those who would wait for the next iPhone that will be compatible with 5G. To be fair, 5G is still spotty right now; I've said before that Apple not coming up with a 5G phone this year could be a blessing in disguise, since it gives them the time to see the market mature and come out with a better device that it would've had this year.
GOODIES: Great camera, crisp screen, even lower price, performance improvements
GOOFIES: Battery seems the same as the XR
EDITOR RATING: This one's a close call - a really, really close call. The combination of performance and even more reasonable pricing is compelling. I haven't given a perfect score before... but there's always a first time to everything. Congratulations, Apple. 5/5
iPhone 11 Pro Max
GOODIES - Great build, excellent camera, significantly better battery, fast charger in the box
GOOFIES - 64GB still the base model, remains expensive
EDITOR RATING - The price tags remain the same; I mean, if they were able to do it on the 11, why not to the Pros too? I would've also absolutely loved seeing the base model bumped up to 128GB. But those upgrades to the battery, iOS 13, a fast charger included and most especially the camera are sights and feels to behold. 4.5/5
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