The iPhone 11 Pro is the successor to last year’s iPhone XS and, likewise, comes in two different sizes; there’s a 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro and a 6.5-inch iPhone 11 Pro Max. The overall design of both models is essentially the same as the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max – same size display, same notch – but Apple has bumped up the specs, added some new features and given it a completely new camera system.
The iPhone 11 Pro is the first iPhone to have a triple-lens camera system; it has the same 12-megapixel wide and ultra-wide lenses as the iPhone 11, with an addition 12-megapixel telephoto lens for zoomed-in and Portrait Mode shots. That said, the iPhone 11 Pro shares so many similarities to the expensive iPhone 11 – same A13 Bionic processor, same upgraded front-facing camera as the iPhone 11, same Night Mode, same improved Dolby Atmos sound, same IP68 rating – that it really comes down to few key differences and if you’ll take advantage of them.
The Good: The iPhone 11 Pro has the distinct advantage of coming in two different sizes. The iPhone 11 Pro is smaller than the 6.1-inch iPhone 11, while the iPhone 11 Pro Max is slightly larger. I suspect that people will opt for either of the iPhone 11 Pro’s for the simple fact that they want a small or a big-screen iPhone – the Goldilocks-sized iPhone 11 simply won’t be for everybody.
The most compelling and conspicuous feature of the iPhone 11 Pro is its triple-camera system, and after using it for the better part of the week, it’s definitely the best and most versatile set of cameras that Apple has ever put in any iPhone. The ultra-wide lens will feel like a pretty significant upgrade for anybody who has an older iPhone, but as the iPhone 11 has it too, it really comes down to the telephoto lens and how if you’ll take full advantage of it. This extra lens enables the two Pro models to take two different kinds of Portrait Mode photos, one that is really zoomed-in (which is similar to what the iPhone XS could do) and one that is more zoomed-out (which is exactly the same Portrait mode as the iPhone 11) for those who want to grab for background in the photo. If you find yourself taking a lot of photos of people and pets, rather than landscapes, this extra telephoto lens feels like a real selling point.
The nice thing about all three lenses is that they all take the same quality photo. Each is a 12-megapixel camera that has its own high-quality sensor, so you can expect a pretty decent photo nobody which lens you’re using (this is not the case for most other smartphones with a multi-camera system). Each of the three lenses is capable of shooting 4K video at 60fps, which is a nice feature for vloggers and videographers to have. It’s worth noting that despite the extra lenses, like the iPhone 11, the Pro’s Night Mode only really works while using the wide lens (you can technically use Night Mode with the ultra-wide lens, but it’s really just a blown-up shot taken by the wide lens.
Night Mode on the new iPhone 11 Pro is pretty incredible.
Aside from the size and triple-camera system, the third big selling point of the iPhone 11 Pro is its hardware. Its OLED display is significantly better than the LCD display of the iPhone 11, but it’s also better than the Super Retina display of last year’s iPhone XS; the new “Super Retina XDR” display is brighter (1,200 nits versus the iPhone XS’s 600 nits) with double the contrast ratio. It’s easy to get lost in the tech jargon, but the bottom line is this: iPhone 11 Pro’s display is the best and brightest display ever in a smartphone. So if you’re somebody who plays a lot of mobile games or streams lots of shows on your iPhone, that’s a good reason to upgrade to the Pro.
Battery life is the last big reason to upgrade to the Pro if you have an older iPhone. To date, the iPhone XR has been the gold standard of long-lasting iPhones, getting almost two days of juice, and the iPhone 11 Pros are almost at that level. Apple claims that both iPhone 11 Pros get four and five hours better than their predecessors, the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max, and it’s actually pretty noticeable. The secret to the improved battery life is, yes, the A13 Bionic chip helps with energy efficiency, but Apple also put a slightly larger battery in its newer phones. This is a pretty significant thing, as it also means that the new iPhones are ever-so-slightly heavier and thicker – Apple is sacrificing design for usability, which is actually a breath of fresh air.
There are a quick few things to add to round out the “good” features. Apple says the Face ID is 30-percent faster on the new iPhones and even better at recognizing your face when resting flat on a table; however, in the week I’ve had the phones I’ve actually had a difficult time telling the difference – it’s still fast. Apple also improved AirDrop on the new iPhones, allowing you to point your iPhone at other new iPhones and AirDrop files to whomever you’re pointing at (although the iPhones must have Apple’s new U1 chip and iOS 13). And, finally, Apple is including an 18-watt USB-C wall adapter and a USB-C to Lightning cable in the box, which makes the iPhone 11 Pro feel a little bit more “Pro.”
The three above photos are taken with the 1) telephoto, 2) wide and 3) ultra-wide lenses of the iPhone 11 Pro.
Watch Out For: Apple sparked a lot of debate after its newest iPhone announcements regarding what it actually means to be a “Pro”: do the new iPhone 11 Pro’s really justify their “Pro” moniker? A lot of people were hoping for iPhones with features like faster refresh rates or maybe a USB-C charging port – basically what Apple did with its “Pro” iPads – and they didn’t get it. So, in some respects, their frustrations are justified. Then again, it makes more sense if you see Apple’s use of “Pro” as simply meaning then they’re upgraded and more pro-grade models of the affordable iPhone 11.
The big thing to watch out for is the price. Both iPhone 11 Pro models are several hundred dollars more expensive than the iPhone and have similar photo- and video-shooting capabilities as the iPhone 11. If you’re not going to take advantage of the telephoto lens and the Super Retina XDR display, and you don’t care about having a smaller or big-screen smartphone, the iPhone 11 simply makes more sense for you to purchase.
Who’s It For: Even at the big iPhone event earlier this month, I heard numerous Apple reps say that the iPhone 11 Pro was for two types of people: those who were going to use the upgraded cameras professionally, like photographers or videographers (or even mobile gamers), and then people who simply wanted “next best iPhone.” And they were spot on. These are designed for people who want the iPhone with all the best specs and high-end features. The only thing I would add is about the size. Some people want a smaller or larger iPhone than the iPhone 11, and that’s exactly what the iPhone Pro’s offer: options.
Alternatives: The cheaper iPhone 11 is the best and most obvious alternative to either iPhone 11 Pro, as it has the exact same front-facing camera system and almost the same rear-facing camera system. There’s no option to buy the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max from Apple, although you could go through Amazon or other third-party sellers and probably get a decent deal.
For those that don’t care about sending green bubbles, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note10, as well as the upcoming Google’s Pixel 4, which will be officially announced in October, are all really good smartphones.
Verdict: Apple flipped the switch with this year’s iPhones because its most premium offerings are no longer what most people should buy – that title now belongs to the iPhone 11. Don’t get me wrong: The Pro models are undoubtedly better iPhones, with better specs, a significantly superior display and an extra camera lens. If one or all of those things matter to you, or you want a smaller or larger smartphone than the 6.1-inch iPhone 11, then the iPhone 11 Pro is undoubtedly what you should go with. The fact is, however, because the iPhone 11 is so good, the “Pro” models are a harder sell than ever before.
(Need extra incentive? If you purchase an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV – new or older models – you’ll get a free one-year subscription to Apple’s new streaming service, Apple TV+, when it launches on November 1.)
Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol's editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.
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