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iPhone 11 review: an iPhone XR with a better camera

Guardian Technology 01 Oct 2019 06:00
iPhone 11 review - hand Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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.

iphone 11 review
The iPhone 11 flanked by the iPhone 11 Pro on the left and the iPhone 11 Pro Max on the right. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

A13 Bionic chip

The iPhone 11 shares the same core as the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max: Apple’s latest A13 Bionic chip, 4GB of RAM and at least 64GB of storage. It’s the fastest and most efficient of Apple’s chips yet, but the reality is that it’s very difficult to tell. The iPhone 11 doesn’t feel any faster than last year’s iPhone XR/XS, or in fact the iPhone X in day-to-day usage.

Charging the iPhone 11 with the included 5W charger is glacially slow, taking well over four hours to hit 100% from zero. Why Apple still ships a £729 phone with such a pathetic charger, I don’t know. With the £29 18W USB-C charger and £19 USB-C to Lightning cable that ships in the box with the iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone 11 fully charged in just over 100 minutes, reaching 80% in well under and hour, which is more like it. Any USB-C power delivery chargers of 18W or higher will achieve the same results and can be had for one-third less.

The iPhone 11 came out of the box with iOS 13 but was quickly updated to iOS 13.1 and then iOS 13.1.1, which was a good thing, as prior to the updates it was filled with bugs giving me all kinds of issues on three different iPhone 11 series phones.

The big new features for iOS 13 are dark mode, which turns the interface from a predominately black text on white background to white text on a dark background, either manually or on a schedule.

The iPhone 11 has a new dual 12-megapixel camera on the back. Oddly you get an ultra-wide camera alongside a standard camera, not the more typical 2x optical zoom camera. That means you’ve effectively got 0.5x and 1x optical zoom then up to 5x digital zoom, which is good, but doesn’t hold a flame to real optical zoom.

The iPhone still struggles a little with indoor lighting where it’s not quite dark enough to benefit from night mode so produces images that are a little dark and lacking in detail. The selfie camera in particular produces somewhat grainy images here, but shoots great photos in better lighting conditions.

  • The iPhone 11 is water resistant to IP68 standards of up to 2 metres for 30 seconds, which is 1 metre deeper than last year’s iPhone XR

  • Bluetooth performance is much improved, with stronger connections to even the weakest of headphones

  • The volume slider shows you a bespoke icon of the headphones you are wearing – if they are made by Apple

  • You can swipe to type on Apple’s default keyboard in iOS 13

  • Face ID is still best-in-class, now slightly faster and works at slightly wider angles

  • The new U1 chip enables enhanced location abilities, but so far it’s only used for directional AirDrop file sharing, which will be most useful for narrowing down which iPhone you want to send a file to in a cluster of iPhones – not something I do very often

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