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Hands on: iPhone 11 Pro review

The most powerful iPhone ever, obviously Tested at $999

What is a hands on review?
iPhone 11 Pro review
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

New year, new iPhones, but is the iPhone Pro enough of an upgrade?

For

  • Serious camera upgrade
  • Interesting audio tech
  • 4K HDR video boost

Against

  • Looks very familiar
  • Lacks a headline spec

We all know the drill. Every September, it's time for a new iPhone. And 2019 is no different, with three new models. The iPhone Pro is designed to be the ultimate iPhone, because of course it has to be. 

This year, as has been the trend across flagship phones for a few years, the camera upgrades take centre stage - and they seem impressive. But there are some interesting updates to the screen, video and audio specifications, too. 

Can the iPhone Pro convince you to upgrade this year?

iPhone 11 Pro release date and price

iPhone 11 Pro price release date

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 11 Pro price starts at £1049/$999 for the smallest capacity 64GB handset, so it's not cheap. It's then £1199/$1149 (256GB) or £1399/$1349 (512GB) for the other models.

The iPhone 11 Pro release date is Friday 20th September, with pre-orders live from Friday 13th September.

Design and build

iPhone 11 Pro design

(Image credit: Future)

Predictably, the iPhone 11 Pro design is instantly familiar and very similar to the iPhone XS and iPhone X of previous years. The new iPhone 11 Pro looks a lot like the last one, and the one before that. There's no need to change a winning formula, after all. 

The shiny metal edges curve nicely in your hand, the 5.8-inch screen is interrupted by the now familiar notch, and the bottom of the phone has two perforated grilles, one of which packs a speaker, while the other is there purely to keep things looking symmetrical. 

That said, around the back of the new iPhone 11 Pro, you'll notice a new matte finish and a larger camera bump to help with those snapper upgrades. The matte makes a difference, and we think feels better.

iPhone 11 Pro build

(Image credit: Future)

The bottom of the phone houses the same Lightning connector we’ve seen for the last few years, so the rumoured move to USB-C, in line with the latest iPad Pro and MacBooks, didn't materialise. Maybe next year when the iPhone should be due a bigger design upgrade.

As for the iPhone 11 Pro colours, we have space gray, black, silver and gold. 

There are three iPhone 11 Pro storage sizes: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB. There’s no 128GB size this year, which seems a little strange when 64GB is pretty small in the age of lossless audio and 4K video. As ever, Apple offers no option for expandable storage via a microSD card.

Features

iPhone 11 Pro features

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 11 Pro is the showcase for iOS 13, the latest version of Apple’s operating system. This brings new features to the new phone range, although these will also come to older iPhones via software updates.

As well as 'the most powerful iPhone ever', the iPhone 11 Pro is also being billed as ‘the fastest smartphone on the market’, with the super-fast insides pitched at mobile gaming fans as well as power users. And it certainly seemed speedy in our brief hands-on time.

To match the speed and power, Apple has upgraded the battery in the iPhone 11 Pro. The much-vaunted reverse wireless charging we’ve seen this year from the likes of Samsung and Huawei hasn’t arrived, but Apple has - presumably - increased the size of the battery over the one used in the iPhone XS. We say presumably as Apple never reveals the exact size.

On stage, it was confirmed that the new iPhone 11 Pro would last four hours longer than the iPhone XS. Will that be a real-world all-day battery? We shall see. The iPhone XR was the first Apple phone to manage this feat, and we hope the 11 Pro follows suit.

Apple doesn't tend to give much time on stage to audio, despite routinely delivering class-leading phone sound quality. That said, this year's iPhone 11 phones do feature 'spatial audio' tech courtesy of Apple's new sound virtualiser and Dolby Atmos support is also included on the Pro phones.

Display

iPhone 11 Pro display

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 11 Pro features a brand-new Super Retina XDR OLED display. It comes in 5.8 inch (2436 x 1125) on the 11 Pro or 6.5 inch (2688 x 1242) in the case of the 11 Pro Max. 

Apple says they boast the highest pixel density implemented in a phone (458ppi), with an improved 1200 nits of brightness, P3 wide-colour reproduction and support for Dolby Vision and HDR10. All three rear-facing cameras can snap 4K 'extended' HDR up to 60fps, too.

Screen operation is now 15 per cent more efficient too. And while we're on the subject of efficiency, the 11 Pro promises four hours of extra battery life compared to the iPhone XS. Essentially it's all about achieving greater speed and power in the most efficient way. 

Camera

iPhone 11 pro camera

(Image credit: Future)

The camera on the iPhone 11 Pro is one of the most powerful elements of the new iPhone. There are three rear cameras, each with 12MP sensors: a ‘standard’ camera, an ultra-wide option and a 2x optical zoom lens.

But this doesn't come for free: there's a large square bump that sits on the rear of the phone. It’s needed because there are now three sensors and a flash - and by having this section raised we can still have a super-slim phone despite all this tech. But attractive, it isn't. The fact the bump is the same colour as the phone helps, but we still find it fairly offensive, especially as iPhones are otherwise always so beautifully designed. 

From limited hands-on time, the overall camera picture quality looks as sharp as ever, and trying the camera in bright, clear light offered great-looking images.

Apple's Portrait feature is back, and looks better than ever. There’s a high-exposure mode too, so you can create more clear-cut exposures. This has been upgraded with a more effective mask being able to work out where the background and foreground begin and end.

But of as much importance is what's on the inside: the Neural Engine, the artificial intelligence within the iPhone 11 Pro. This brings improved low-light performance, to take on Google’s Night Sight on the Pixel 3XL, as well as other smart features to improve your pictures auto-magically. The iPhone 11 Pro will even visually suggest enhancements for you as you shoot, perhaps suggesting a better angle, focus or camera mode.

One thing we did spot was a small amount of judder when flipping between the different lenses. This happens on other flagship phones too, but regardless it still affects our overall impression of the iPhone 11 Pro performance.

Early verdict

iphone 11 pro verdict

(Image credit: Future)

It's deja-vu all over again. The new iPhone 11 Pro will surely be another top-class performer... but we're struggling to get too excited about the iterative updates that this expensive phone brings to the table.

Faster, longer-lasting, better pictures, but perhaps all only to the trained eye. We're left lacking a stand-out feature to get us salivating, not least if you're not particularly motivated by camera performance.

The audio and video quality of the new iPhone is nigh-on impossible to gauge in the hands-on demo time, so we look forward to finding out if Apple has moved the bar here. Could that be the clincher which makes the new iPhone feel like a bona fide upgrade option? We live in hope. Look out for our full iPhone 11 Pro review very soon.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.