Hands on: iPhone 11 review: Can the low-cost option steal the show again?

The iPhone XR was something of a slow-burner from last year – it launched later than the flagship phone, the iPhone XS, and didn’t pack the same level of features.

However, the fact that it was a cheaper option than the XS (and the XS Max) meant it quickly picked up traction – to the point where this year the XR’s successor, the iPhone 11, could be the most important handset in Apple’s range.

While it doesn’t have the same feature set as the new iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone 11 still needs to make a splash this year – so what does it offer that the iPhone XR didn’t?

iPhone 11 release date and price

The iPhone 11 release date is set to be a lot earlier than its predecessor relative to the flagship phone. The iPhone XR launched later than the XS last year, but the iPhone 11 will launch alongside the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, with pre-orders starting on September 13 before it goes on sale from September 20.

The price is hugely impressive in the US, where it starts at $699 for the 64GB storage model – we can’t begin to call this phone ‘cheap’, but that’s a drop over the iPhone XR, and it’s an incredible thing for Apple to do here (it’s £729 in the UK, and AU$1,199 in Australia, which is less of a drop over the XR than in US, but still competitive).

There are, as usual, a range of storage options to go for – these start with the aforementioned 64GB model, and there are 256GB and 512GB versions too, if you’re looking to spend more money to get extra storage.


Like the iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone 11 packs a large camera bump on the rear, with the square design housing two sensors (the iPhone XR only had one).

The fact that it has this square design on the rear is interesting, as it doesn’t need this extra square space – it could just have the thin lozenge that adorned the rear of the iPhone XS. 

But Apple clearly wants users to feel like there’s some shared visual identity between the range, with all three of the iPhone 11 models packing the same rather unsightly square block on the rear.

But enough about how this bump looks – what does it actually do? Well, two sensors live in there, both 12MP. However, this time around it’s the standard lens plus an ultra-wide angle lens, enabling you to pull back to see more of a scene, with an instant visual suggestion to do so:

You can still capture background blur shots of course, with improved masking to produce ‘studio-quality’ portraits.

The quality of the images we took was impressive, although we couldn’t test the camera hard in low-light settings, which is a real test for today’s high-end smartphones. Apple is touting its night mode for such situations, and the test images they had for us to see looked good indeed.

The front-facing camera has been improved too – the sensor has been upgraded to 12MP to facilitate wider-angle pics when you rotate the phone to landscape, and you can shoot slow-motion selfies as well (which Apple is infuriatingly calling Slofies).

Night mode looked impressive in the demo shots we saw(Image credit: TechRadar)

Design and display

Apple hasn’t messed with the formula of the iPhone XR for the iPhone 11, with the same chunkier chassis, compared to the iPhone 11 Pro, coming with a chunkier border around the 6.1-inch LCD (Liquid Retina) screen.

If you hold the iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 side by side you’ll notice the real difference in design, with the latter feeling significantly thicker in the hand, although the Pro also has a nice matte finish. 

However, we tested both the iPhone XR and XS for more than a month last year, and after a short time both phones felt similarly smooth and premium in the hand, so we don’t anticipate this being a huge issue.

The LCD display of the iPhone XR returns here to keep costs down compared to a pricier OLED option. It’s still bright and clear – and it seems to help when it comes to battery life, as the iPhone XR has the best battery life of any iPhone we’ve tried.

However, the resolution on the iPhone 11 is a little lower than on the iPhone 11 Pro, again thanks to the cost-saving efforts on show – and it’s worth it for the lower price point. Of course, side-by-side you can tell that the iPhone 11 doesn’t have the same image reproduction quality as the new flagship.

There is one thing the iPhone XR had going for it over its better-specified brother last year: more colors. That’s the case again in 2019, with the iPhone 11 colors enlivening the demo area once more.

You can choose from black, white, yellow, lavender and mint green, as well as the standard Product (RED) for your new lower-cost iPhone, and the look of the range is certainly more dynamic and fashion-friendly than that of the more expensive models.

Like the other new iPhones, the iPhone 11 is flaunting iOS 13, and the lower-cost device makes full use of the fancy new features the operating system brings with it.

Like the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, it’s also packing the A13 Bionic chipset inside, although we suspect with less RAM, as per last year – even though our Apple demo person said the internal spec was precisely the same.

Rumors leading up to the launch event suggested a lower performance score for the iPhone 11, so we suspect that under heavy load the device won’t be quite as snappy as the higher-end version – but Apple is saying this is the fastest CPU of any phone out there, so we think those benchmarks were bogus in the build-up.

That’s not to say it’ll struggle with any tasks, as during our testing with the demo unit there was nothing to suggest a hint of slowdown – but then again, it’s not really possible to push a phone hard when you’re fending off hordes of other journalists trying to do the same thing.

Gaming was particularly impressive in our demo – the shadows and detail reproduction in Pascal’s Wager impressed a lot, as did the fluid gameplay.

When it comes to the iPhone 11 battery life, the new handset has a lot to live up to: the iPhone XR had the best battery life of any modern iPhone, and we want to see the same again here.

All the preconditions are there: a theoretically more efficient processor inside, the more power-friendly screen, and (presumably) efforts made to eke out a little more life this year. Apple is claiming one hour more battery life than on the iPhone XR, which means that things inside have to have been made more efficient.

Sadly, there’s no fast charger in the box with the iPhone 11 as there is with the 11 Pro – again this fits with the cost-saving theme, but we were hoping it would come as standard so that battery concerns could be minimised somewhat.

That said, if you’ve got a phone that charges wirelessly, getting a pad for home and work should see you on full power for a lot of your day – so perhaps this isn’t much of a miss after all.

In terms of overall battery life, we’ll need to run some more stringent tests on the iPhone 11 for our full review, which will be coming soon.

Early verdict

The iPhone XR was the underground hit for Apple last year. It took high honors throughout our review process, and while it didn’t perform anywhere near as powerfully as the flagship XS, it stole the show for being a cheaper and highly capable entry into the iPhone universe.

Now the iPhone 11 is aiming to repeat that trick – but it doesn’t have a huge number of upgrades to really draw the eye. 

Apart from the camera improvements, it’s mostly the power that’s been upped, so we’ll need to find out whether this phone offers a material upgrade over last year’s model.

But let’s not move away from the headline here – the iPhone 11 is one of the cheapest iPhones in years, and so many users will be drawn to the fact that you can now get a brand-new iPhone for far less than the $999 many might have expected. It’s not the most powerful smartphone out there, but does offer some decent features for a handset from Apple at this price point.

More Information: techradar.com

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