As with most things Apple, the iPhone 11 is a top quality product. The 11 benefits from much better battery life and a truly excellent camera. It's a luxury, but a lovely one to own
There are hundreds of iPhone 11 reviews around and there are hundreds of articles telling you what you can do with it, particularly in combination with iOS 13. I don’t see the point of repeating a lot of that so I’m making this review very subjective.
I’m going to explain the thinking I went through to justify buying the iPhone 11 and add my inexpert, subjective opinions about its hardware. If you want a user guide you’ll need to look elsewhere. I included a few very basic user instructions in my article about moving to an iPhone 11 from an iPhone 6 and this review won’t contain any technical instruction.
If you’re clinically insane and wanted a cheap new car you could get a Lada Niva from Russia for about £6,500. You’re only going to get four wheels and an engine but it’ll get you from A to B, which is the point of a car; its basic utility if you like.
The thing is, many of us like more than mere utility from a car. We want a bit more quality and we want the experience to be enjoyable, which is why some people buy a BMW, Audi or Mercedes. We have to give credit to the Germans, they know how to put a car together.
You generally don’t do too much justification for mere utility. You need the utility and you buy it. The justification comes in when we want the same utility but with better quality, more luxuries or both.
This line of thinking brings me to the iPhone 11 I recently purchased.
I’ve always had little interest in phones. In early 2016 I bought the most basic iPhone 6 and the recently released iOS 13 is not supported on that model. That rankles a bit because for me it’s a three-and-a-half-year-old phone that’s now out of date according to Apple. Although I appreciate for them it’s a five-year-old phone because it was first released in 2014.
I have not tended to use phones as computing devices much because my fingers can’t cope with the tiny on-screen keyboard. I have not used them as a cameras all that often either. I prefer instead to carry around a pocket Sony Cyber-shot at times when photo opportunities may present themselves. And I hate phones on principle. A phone call interrupts me there and then whereas email doesn’t. I can attend to emails at my leisure.
I can and frequently do ignore phones when they ring. Some people seem unable to ignore a ringing phone but my dislike of them is such that my brain now filters the sound of them out. I was often in trouble at places I’ve worked for not being aware a phone was ringing on my desk a mere two feet away.
As for text messages, you may as well message my cat for all the response you’re likely to get. I kid you not when I say it has sometimes taken me over a week to notice someone has sent me a text.
All this should make phones a low priority for me, but as I read the early reviews of the iPhone 11 my interest was tweaked and desire followed hot on its heels. I also began to wonder if I should be thinking about phones in a different way. They aren’t just phones any more, although they will still perform that utility. I’d argue they aren’t even mainly phones these days. They are computers, iPods and, as far as the iPhone 11 goes, very capable cameras too.
One of the biggest things that makes this luxury desirable, though, is that Apple makes them and they are thus a delight to use. Apple stuff is nicer than the stuff put out by its competitors — it just is. I’ll never be comfortable with the on-screen keyboard because I have human hands rather than the gibbon-like appendages today’s youths seem to have. But I figured I could start using an iPhone 11 as a camera, an iPod and at least as a read-only computing device to check things like email, even if still only doing on-screen typing when it’s absolutely necessary.
Yes, get with the times, I hear you say.
Those considerations in combination with a chunk of spare cash are how I ended up justifying a new iPhone 11.
The iPhone 11 starts at £729 but £779 is what I spent to get a 128GB model and that would have been far too much in normal circumstances, despite my desire. If I hadn’t had some opportunistic spare cash, I wouldn’t have bought the iPhone 11. I’d have purchased from a different supplier or, more likely, gone for one of the older (and cheaper) iPhones still on sale.
For me to be completely happy with the iPhone 11 it would have needed to be below £600 and it was only fortunate circumstances that meant I could justify it this time. I was well aware that, like my car analogy, I was justifying a luxury.
But I did justify it or I wouldn’t be writing this article.
When I buy computing devices, I usually buy quite a high spec to future-proof them and to increase the longevity of their relevance. In 2013 I bought a 15 inch MacBook Pro and specced it up as high as it would go and it still serves well now, notwithstanding a couple of previous keyboard issues. In 2018 I bought a 12.9 inch iPad Pro and specced that up pretty high too. In keeping with the way I spec my other new hardware, I’d have preferred the iPhone 11 Pro or the Pro Max, but even the justifications I’ve mentioned so far can’t make me that extravagant with a phone.
Look, feel and size
Coming from an iPhone 6, the first obvious thing is the increased size of the iPhone 11. The 6 was 13.5 x 6.5cm (5.5 x 2.5in approx) and the angle of the dangle was 14.5cm (5.75in approx). The 11 is 15 x 7.25cm (5.8 x 2.8in) with a diagonal of 15.75cm (6.25 in). The bigger iPhone 11 benefits for more screen real estate but conversely it’s harder to carry in pockets.
I got mine in green because it was a shade of green I like. I’m very judgemental about shades of green: I like some shades and despise others. My side-by-side photo (above, taken with my Sony Cyber-shot) makes it look more like a pale blue. I can assure you it’s green, which this photo taken in a bit of sunshine (again with the Cyber-shot) demonstrates a little better, although it still looks a bit blue.
There’s no doubt the iPhone 11 is a gorgeous device, though. It’s pleasing to the eye and very satisfying in a tactile way too. It feels like a high-quality item. It’s a BMW rather than a Lada.
The iPhone 11 sports an LCD Multi-Touch Liquid Retina HD display. I’m led to believe this is a good thing although not as good as the OLED Multi-Touch Super Retina XDR displays on the Pro models.
The plain 11 has a resolution of 1792x828 pixels at 326 ppi. For comparison, the Pro has a 2436x1125-pixel resolution at 458 ppi and the Pro Max has a 2688x1242-pixel resolution at 458 ppi.
Enough with the numbers, it has a delightful screen to look at and everything is clear and legible.
The biggest change for me is the camera. iPhones have had dual cameras before the 11 but, coming from a 6, I’d never experienced them. At the flick of a button you can swap from what Apple call Wide mode to an Ultra Wide mode that captures four times the scenery. I have no idea why Apple named the modes like that because I’d have called them Normal and Wide.
Let’s get something straight, though. I’m not an expert photographer. I’m not even a ‘moderate amateur’ photographer. I don’t take many photographs in general, although I may take a few more now that I have decent quality camera in my phone.
The iPhone 11 also comes equipped with something called Night Mode. The camera will detect when it’s too dark. A normal photo would be useless but, instead of switching on the flash, it’ll attempt to grab any passing photons it can find and enhance the image in a much better way than a flash would. You may have to hold the camera still for a little longer because the phone will keep the shutter open longer to trap more photons. I’ve tried this and it works very well. Flash photos always look so artificial and Night Mode is a distinct improvement.
As an example of Night Mode, take a look at the following picture of my slumbering cat (click or tap on the picture to see a bigger version).
The left picture is the iPhone 6 without flash and you can’t see a thing. The middle picture is the iPhone 6 with flash. The right picture is the iPhone 11 in Night Mode (and no flash).
It looks like I’m cheating because it appears there’s more light coming from the window on the right of the image, but that’s not the case. I took those pictures at the same time in quick succession. The Night Mode on the iPhone 11 is dragging the meagre photons that are coming from that window and performing some magic to enhance everything.
Note how Night Mode illuminates the picture on the wall above the cat better than the flash. Also note how the blanket the cat is asleep on and the settee itself are truer colours (take my word for it).
The camera is also far better than my Sony Cyber-shot in every way and that’s all the more impressive considering it’s part of a phone. I know the Cyber-shot isn’t a brilliant camera anyway, but it has dedicated utility, which the iPhone doesn’t.
It will of course take video too, up to 4K at 60 fps. I’ve already said I don’t take many photographs and I take even fewer videos, but I may now take more with the iPhone 11.
The battery life of the iPhone 11 is much better than it was on the iPhone 6. On the 6 I could barely get a day out of the battery, even though I hardly used the thing. For the most part it would just sit there and drain its battery on whatever background tasks it was doing. The 11’s battery claims to support 17 hours of video playback (although 10 hours if you’re streaming it) or 65 hours of audio playback on one charge.
All I know is that when I pop it into my bedside alarm clock and charger at night, I have about 70 or 80% charge left rather than the 30 or 40% I’d have left on my 6. Granted the iPhone 6’s battery was older and therefore less efficient, but that’s easily countered by my increased use of the 11 at the moment due to new toy syndrome.
Given that extra charging capacity and longevity, I’ll use my iPhone for listening to music a lot more. I have a set of Beats bluetooth headphones. Up until about 4PM each day I use my MacBook on my desk as my main computing device. I put my iPad next to it and use that to play music for my headphones. I’ll probably use my (more portable) iPhone now instead now that the battery will last.
After 4PM I tend to use my iPad on the coffee table for all my computing tasks. By that time my cat has usually bullied me to provide a knee for her to sit on. I’d often continue playing music on my iPad in the late afternoon and evening but now I’ll probably use the iPhone during that period too.
The increased battery life of the iPhone 11 means a lot to me.
The main reason I’m not interested in an Apple Watch is because I could not be bothered to charge it every day. I love the idea of one but I’d want a week or more out of every charge. Until then I’ll stick with Omega automatic.
Toughness and other miscellany
The Home button has disappeared. It disappeared after the iPhone 8 but, coming from an iPhone 6, this was completely new to me. A combination of the side buttons and a series of gestures replaces the Home button and I was comfortable using them in less than an hour. Face ID was new to me too, replacing the fingerprint as biometric security.
The iPhone 11 is very tough too, which is handy for me as I'm bound to drop it at some point. I am a klutz of the highest order.
All these features I’ve been mentioning are in some ways neither here nor there. I could get a perfectly reasonable phone, complete with camera and music player, from another brand. But, whilst I have not seen all the other phones out there, I think they’d struggle to match Apple’s offerings both in terms of functionality and quality. It’s not just the hardware either, Apple's operating systems are simply nicer to use.
If that all sounds like prejudiced opinions of an Apple fan-boy then you’d be right. In my defence, I came to Apple after two decades of Windows PCs for laptops and desktops, and I used other phones before I switched to Apple and iOS. I think Apple’s stuff is better — it’s as simple as that. It's the standard all other manufacturers try to emulate.
So how do I score the iPhone 11? It’s an excellent device and I love using it. Taking both hardware and software together — in particular iOS 13 — it’s a five star item as far as I’m concerned.
There is one drawback I can’t ignore, though: it’s too expensive. Even given all I’ve said here and my complete awareness that this is a luxury, I wouldn’t have bought it if I hadn’t had a fortuitous wad of cash at the time. I could not in normal circumstances justify £779 for a phone.
All their stuff is expensive. I’d argue it’s all about a third too much on average, even accepting they’re luxury items. But all their stuff is good — very good — too of course. That is except for the Apple TV remote, which appears to have been designed for another species entirely. I would not willingly change from Apple to something else, but I fear accelerating prices may force me to do so in the future.
I’m going to be kind and only knock off half a star for the price thing. I justified the price to myself and it seems many other people are doing the same. So it’s 4.5 stars from me for the iPhone 11, which is quite high praise from someone who doesn’t particularly like phones in the first place.