The iPhone 11 is the direct successor to last year’s iPhone XR, a smartphone that was widely praised for providing lots of features and performance at a more digestible price point. With iPhone 11, Apple has done something that we aren’t used to them doing: they made the hardware better at an even lower price point.
Is the iPhone 11 an even better value than the iPhone XR was last year? Watch our hands-on video walkthrough as we take a look at the top iPhone 11 features, and be sure to subscribe to 9to5Mac on YouTube for future iPhone 11 coverage.
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A relative bargain
It’s unusual to see iPhone prices go down year over year, but that’s exactly what happened with the iPhone 11, which is the direct successor to last year’s “budget-minded” iPhone XR. Last year the iPhone XR started at $749 for the 64 GB entry-level model, while this year the iPhone 11 starts at just $699 for 64GB.
$700 is far from chump change, but the iPhone 11 is $50 cheaper than the iPhone XR was last year, yet offers significantly improved features and offers the same processor found in the most expensive iPhone you can buy today.
The iPhone 11 is the phone for most iPhone users. You can get the 128GB version, which is what I’d recommend for most people, for the same price as last year’s 64GB iPhone XR.
Top iPhone 11 features video walkthrough
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New purple and green colors
The iPhone 11 ditches the Coral and Blue colors offered on last year’s iPhone XR in favor of two new colors: Green and purple. Both new colors offer a sort of a pastel look, with the purple being the more attractive of the two in my opinion.
Repositioned Apple logo
For the first time on an iPhone, the Apple logo on the back of the handset is placed in the center of the device instead of on the top half of the device. The reasoning for this is probably due to aesthetics. Since the new rectangular camera module takes up so much space compared to previous camera designs, having an Apple logo closer to the module would have made the iPhone 11 look a bit top-heavy.
No “iPhone” text
The iPhone text, which generally occupies the lower half of Apple’s handsets, has been outright removed on the iPhone 11. This, like the repositioned Apple logo, likely has at least somewhat to do with visual balance. With no Apple logo on the top half of the device, having the iPhone text on the lower half of the handset would have looked odd. Hence, Apple made the decision to just get rid of the text altogether.
Same exact size and weight as iPhone XR
Despite the new camera module and other hardware changes inside the iPhone 11 chassis, Apple managed to keep the dimensions and weight exactly the same as the iPhone XR. Outside of the new camera module, and the few changes mentioned above, the devices look extremely similar.
Good-looking camera module
The biggest visual difference between the iPhone 11 and the iPhone XR is the new camera housing. Whereas the iPhone XR offered a single wide angle lens with a simple camera bump, the iPhone 11 features a rectangular camera housing with dual lenses of the wide and ultra wide variety.
The rectangular glass housing features a matte finish, which nicely complements the glossy glass finish found on the remainder of the iPhone’s rear. The matte/glossy contrast is the inverse of the iPhone 11 Pro, which features a glossy camera housing meshed with a matte back panel.
Alongside the two lenses inside the housing, you’ll find a microphone along with an enhanced True Tone flash.
Improved battery life
The iPhone XR once boasted the best battery life of any iPhone ever released. This year’s successor, the iPhone 11, features an additional hour of rated battery life. If it weren’t for the drastic battery life improvements of the iPhone 11 Pro lineup, this year’s budget iPhone release would have again claimed the battery life throne.
A13 Bionic CPU
One of the things that make the iPhone 11 such a great value is its inclusion of Apple’s new A13 Bionic CPU, which is the same chip that’s utilized in the companies top tier iPhone 11 Pro.
Apple notes that the A13 Bionic is the fastest CPU in a smartphone thanks to two performance cores, four efficiency cores, along with an Apple-designed GPU that are all up to 20% faster than the previous-generation.
Despite the boost in speed, the A13 Bionic is more efficient, requiring up to 30% less power on its performance cores, up to 40% less power on its efficiency cores, and up to 40% less power from the GPU.
With a third-generation Neural Engine, the A13 Bionic can utilize real time machine learning to help optimize photos by reducing noise, enhancing colors, or adjusting the lighting on a person’s face. The 8-core Neural Engine is also more efficient, using up to 15% less power.
U1 Ultra Wideband chip
Apple’s U1 Ultra Wideband chip appears for the first time in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, bringing Ultra Wideband technology to the iPhone for the first time. The U1 chip allows for spatial awareness, which gives the iPhone the ability to understand its precise location in relation to other U1-enabled Apple devices.
Apple describes Ultra Wideband technology as “GPS at the scale of your living room.” With the iOS 13.1 update, I was able to test out the new U1-assisted AirDrop functionality to share files between two iPhone 11 devices. AirDrop, I imagine, it just the very beginning of what Apple is planning for the U1 chip. It will likely play a big role in Apple’s rumored Tile-esque tracking hardware, among other things.
Faster Face ID
The iPhone 11 boasts faster Face ID capability thanks to iOS 13, which also speeds up Face ID unlocking on the iPhone XR and iPhone XS compared to the same hardware running iOS 12. In other words, I found Face ID to be just as fast on the iPhone XR as the iPhone 11, so iOS 13 appears to be behind the speed improvements.
The iPhone 11 adds support for spatial audio, a virtual surround decoder, which brings simulated surround to the iPhone. Certain media — think Dolby surround sound-enabled movies — will support spatial audio. Dolby 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound is supported, as is Dolby Atmos, of which the iPhone XR lacked support for.
I watched Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to compare the sound of the iPhone XR and the iPhone 11, and the iPhone 11 definitely sounded better, with more dynamic range between sound effects. Just be sure to temper your expectations, because there’s a big gulf between virtualized surround sound coming from tiny iPhone speakers, and an actual physical surround sound speaker setup in your home.
The iPhone 11 features an upgrade to Gigabit-class LTE, along with support for the 802.11ax standard, also known as Wi-Fi 6.
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Enhanced water resistance
The iPhone XR featured water resistance up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes, but the iPhone 11 doubles the depth capabilities, providing up to 30 minutes of water resistance for up to 2 meters. That still doesn’t mean that you should purposely submerge your iPhone in water, but it means that you should be good if such an accident were to occur.
Wide angle camera with 100% Focus Pixels
At first glance, it may appear that the wide angle camera is the exact same camera found on last year’s iPhone XR. While it’s true that both cameras feature a 26mm wide angle lens with f1.8 aperture, the 12MP now features improved autofocus and better low light capability due to having 100% phase detection Focus Pixels.
Ultra wide camera
Instead of mating the wide angle camera with a telephoto lens like on last year’s iPhone XS, Apple gives users what is arguably a more useful 13mm wide angle focal length with 120° field of view. The ultra wide camera features a 12MP sensor, mated with an f2.8 aperture.
Ultra wide cameras on smartphones are far from a new concept, as Android handsets have been implementing this feature for years. But for iPhone users, this is the first time having access to an ultra wide camera.
Having an ultra wide angle lens on tap means being able to capture scenes and tell stories with your photos and videos in new ways. The ultra wide camera is particularly useful for landscape photography and videography, but it’s also useful for capturing large groups of people.
With that all being said, users will need to recognize that the ultra wide camera, at least in this initial iteration in the iPhone 11, has limits. One big weakness of the ultra wide camera is handling low light. Not only is the f2.8 aperture relatively slow compared to the fast 1.8 aperture found on the wide angle lens, but the ultra wide sensor lacks the optical image stabilization found on the wide angle lens, which can also help in low light environments.
For that reason, you’ll want to avoid using the ultra wide lens in dimly-lit environments. It should also be noted that the new Night Mode camera feature, which can significantly improve low light photography, is limited to the wide angle lens.
Brighter True Tone flash
The True Tone flash on the iPhone 11 is now bigger and brighter on the iPhone 11, improving low light photography workflows where a flash is required.
Redesigned Camera app
The stock Camera app found on the iPhone 11 has been completely rebuilt with a brand new design, intuitive controls, and tons of new changes and features. You’ll also notice a new font, specifically created for the new Camera app UI, which further complements the new digs.
The biggest difference between the prior iOS Camera app and the one featured on the iPhone 11 has to do with the new ultra wide camera.
Thanks to the ultra wide 13mm focal length with 120° field of view, the entire screen can now function as a viewfinder on the iPhone 11. The viewfinder interface composites real time views from both cameras to create a virtually seamless live view.
When composing an image of an item that’s close to the lens, the wide angle view will automatically disappear from the viewfinder because the wide angle camera would be inappropriate for such a shot, and much lower quality given its slower aperture and lack of OIS.
Of course, users will find a zoom button that allows them to manually jump between the wide angle camera and ultra wide camera with ease, but iOS can capture data from both cameras that you can play with in post.
Swiping up on the viewfinder interface will reveal a new tray of options for manually managing the flash, Night Mode, Live Photos, aspect ratio, timer, and filter. Gone is the dedicate Square shooting mode now that the aspect ratio setting is available with options of square (1:1), 4:3, and 16:9 (cropped).
Thanks to the dual camera module featuring wide + ultra wide camera, the iPhone 11 is capable of capturing both photos and video outside of the frame when shooting with the wide angle camera. This feature, which can be toggled for both photos and video in Settings → Camera, allows the user to make corrections in post. If no corrects are made, the extra frame data is discarded after 30 days.
In addition to manual composition tools, you’ll notice a new Auto Apply Adjustments feature that will suggest adjustments automatically when editing your media. Auto Adjustments can be toggled on or off via Settings → Camera as well.
Google’s Night Sight feature was a big hit among Android users, and now Apple has its own take on providing users with improved low light photography without the need for a harsh and unnatural-looking flash. Simply dubbed Night mode, this automatic feature is capable of producing brighter low light photos that feature more natural color.
Night mode is made possible by the improved wide angle 12MP optical image stabilized sensor found on the iPhone 11, the A13 Bionic chip, and intelligent software. When taking a shot in low light, multiple images are taken with the stabilized lens at a slower shutter speed, which helps to capture more precious light, as limited as it might be.
After the photos are taken, they are quickly auto-aligned to correct for subtle movement. Portions of the photo that feature too much blur, the result of movement during the time where the shutter is open, are discarded and merged together with sharper versions of the same photo. The software then fine-tunes colors for a more natural look, removes noise and enhances the final image.
What’s remarkable is that all of this happens on the fly in a split second, completely unbeknownst to the user.
Night mode enables automatically if the sensor detects that there’s not enough light to capture a decent photo in the current environment. Users can also manually enable Night Mode, and adjust the exposure time manually in a limited fashion.
As long as you use Night mode in ideal environments, you can come up with some extremely impressive photos even in areas devoid of light. It’s not on the same level as a manual mirrorless camera with the ability to open the aperture and manually slow down the shutter speed, but it’s a great automatic feature for smartphone users that will open up photographic possibilities in new environments.
When shooting photos with your iPhone 11 in normal Photo mode, you can long-press on the shutter button to initiate a video recording without switching to video mode. Once you release your finger from the shutter, the video will stop recording. If you slide your finger to the right while long-pressing the shutter button, the video will continuously record.
If you’re wondering where burst mode went, simply tap the shutter and slide your finger to the left. Continue holding your finger down for as long as you wish to take a burst of photos.
Enhanced Portrait mode
The iPhone XR featured a limited version of Portrait mode that only worked with humans. With the iPhone 11, portrait mode is opened up to animals and inanimate objects as well. And thanks to iOS 13, there’s a new High-Key Light Mono Portrait mode effect, along with the ability to adjust Portrait Lighting intensity in post.
When you zoom in when shooting videos with iPhone 11, the microphone will focus in on your subject to create the sensation of your audio “zooming” in along with the video. Unfortunately, it’s not a sensation that can be illustrated via a photo, so be sure to watch our hands-on video above to see the effect in action.
4K 60 FPS video across all cameras
For the first time in an iPhone, you can now shoot up to 4K60 on every camera on the phone. That includes the wide angle camera, ultra wide camera, and even the front-facing TrueDepth Camera.
4K Cinematic video stabilization
Apple’s software-based cinematic video stabilization is really good at helping you grab stable handheld footage. The iPhone XR only featured such stabilization on 1080p and lower quality video. The iPhone 11 now features 4K cinematic video stabilization for both the front and rear-facing cameras, and its benefits are evident in side by side comparisons between the two phones.
Extended dynamic range up to 60 frames per second
For the very first time, the A13 Bionic now makes it possible to shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second in extended dynamic range, allowing you to take properly exposed videos in challenging environments featuring a wide range of shadows and highlights.
Extended dynamic range doubles the frame rate to capture frames that alternate between standard exposure and short exposure. These frames are then combined to provide a greater amount of dynamic range, resulting in better-looking videos even in challenging environments.
The previous-generation iPhone XR was only able to shoot extended dynamic range 4K videos at 30 frames per second, doubling the frame rate to 60fps when capturing standard and short exposure frames. With the new iPhone 11, Apple has upped the frame rate to a whopping 120 frames per second, which is just an insane amount of data at 4K. These frames are then combined to create the final 4K 60 frames per second video in extended dynamic range.
Next-generation Smart HDR
As was noted by 9to5Mac’s Benjamin Mayo, Apple believes it has improved Smart HDR so much that you’ll no longer find the option to keep a copy of the non-HDR photo when Smart HDR is enabled. The next-generation Smart HDR features a 10-bit pipeline vs the 8-bit pipeline of the previous generation, allowing for more natural-looking skin tones, shadow roll off, highlights, etc. Apple’s improved Smart HDR feature is available for both the front and rear-facing cameras on the iPhone 11.
12MP TrueDepth Camera
The TrueDepth Camera on the iPhone 11 gets a noticeable bump in resolution, going from 7MP on the iPhone XR to 12MP on the iPhone 11. Both cameras sport the same f2.2 aperture, but the resolution improvements make it possible to capture 4K video for the first time on the iPhone’s front-facing camera.
The iPhone 11 TrueDepth Camera also sports a significantly wider 23mm focal length (35mm equivalent) compared to the 32mm focal length on the iPhone XR. This design, coupled with the additional 5MP of resolution, allows the iPhone 11 camera to crop the image for a digital zoom. The camera interface includes a handy zoom button for selfies to manually transition between native and crop modes.
Auto Zoom out
When placing the front-facing camera into landscape mode, the camera will automatically “zoom out” by removing the crop and going back to its native 23mm focal length. Of course, you can use the zoom button to toggle digital zoom. The wider focal length is perfect for group selfies, which is why auto zoom kicks in when your phone is placed in landscape mode.
For the first time on an iPhone, the front-facing camera supports slow motion at 120fps, which Apple has somewhat cringingly dubbed “slofies” (it’s even attempted to trademark the term). On older iPhone hardware, the camera would automatically switch to the rear-facing camera when switching to slo-mo mode, but on the iPhone 11 users can freely switch between the cameras while in slo-mo. Keep in mind that slow motion video will always look better when using the rear-facing camera thanks to the better optics and support for 240 fps for super-smooth slow motion.
The iPhone 11 is a great follow-up to last year’s iPhone XR. It’s headlined by big year-over-year camera improvements for both photos and videos. With even better battery life than last year’s “budget” model, the iPhone 11 at $50 cheaper than the iPhone XR, and $300 cheaper than the base model iPhone 11 Pro, makes this phone the smartest choice for most iPhone users.
We’ll be back soon with a full review of the iPhone 11 with more in-depth analysis and opinions. In the meantime, tell us what you think about the iPhone 11 down below in the comments.