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The Good Even faster speed, improved battery life. The iPhone 11's cameras get an excellent new Night Mode and an ultrawide-angle camera that can add extra detail in photos. Fantastic video camera.

The Bad Only Pro models get the 2x telephoto. The ultrawide-angle camera doesn’t add Night Mode. No USB-C port. The Pro phones have a faster 18-watt charger but iPhone 11 doesn't. Still has a good (but not OLED) display.

The Bottom Line Apple may have skipped flashy extras on this year's phones, but the iPhone 11 is the best midtier model the company's ever made.

9.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 10
  • Camera 9

When you first hear the names of?Apple's new iPhones -- the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max -- you may have some questions. Where's the iPhone X ($595 at Amazon)? So we're back to regular numbers now? And what makes the iPhone Pro... Pro? Last year's awkwardly named XS, XS Max ($1,099 at Amazon) and XR phones have undergone name overhauls. This year's new phones are sequels to the three we got last year, which is what you really need to know. The names are largely for marketing purposes. (The Apple Watch Series 5, at least, is an uncomplicated progression.)

I started to realize, after a week with all three phones, that they're all the same at heart, with a few key extras in the Pro. There's a far smaller difference between these phones than, say, the iPad and the?iPad Pro ($800 at Walmart). In fact, you could say all of these phones are Pro phones.

So my iPhone 11 review is a review of all three phones because, really, they're all variations on a theme. And the theme is everyday function.?

Phones have become polished products. What I really want is more battery life and better camera functions. That's the basic story of the iPhone 11, and especially the iPhone 11 Pro.?

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While the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max (left and top) have three 12-megapixel cameras, the iPhone 11 (right) has only two.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But while Apple's upgrades look modest, the rest of the phone landscape is undergoing an overhaul. There are wild 5G speeds on the horizon, plus bizarre and expensive foldable phones. Apple's new iPhones don't step into those strange new worlds. They're weirdly familiar and we've seen their best features before. If phones are now like laptops, then what Apple's done with the 11 models is add on high-quality upgrades without ruining what already works. The formula hasn't changed, but the results are better.

Apple's done a great job with these new features, including some serious camera improvements. But there's a good reason why the company named its more expensive and fancier phones "pro" this year: It has to do with price. Apple's targeting the $699 (£729, AU$1,199) iPhone 11 as the phone for most of you, in the same mold as the iPhone XR ($749 at Amazon) last year. And that's the right move. The two iPhone Pro models aren't must-haves. Except, well, I do use the 2x telephoto camera on the iPhone XS a lot.

Read more:?Steven Soderbergh might need to upgrade to the iPhone 11 Pro for his next film

And guess what? Even though the 11 has two cameras, neither of them are telephoto. But I'm not trying to be a super pro. I just want to have a good phone and take great photos of my life and kids. This phone does that better than ever, and far more. And yet one of the most significant camera features, Deep Fusion, is still in beta and hasn't been released publicly. It aims to improve the detail and lower the image noise in photos you take in medium and low light situations like indoors.?

(Editors' note: Product ratings are tentative, pending additional testing.)

Still starts at 64GB

The $699 iPhone 11 model gets 64GB of storage, which is probably fine for many people -- and it's a $50 price drop from last year's iPhone XR base model. 128GB for $749 probably makes more sense if you're shooting any video and 256GB for $849 should only be a consideration if you're shooting a lot of video. The Pro phones add a 512GB tier that you won't need unless you're shooting in 4K for a living. See the chart at the bottom of this review for complete pricing details, including UK and Australian prices.

Colors: iPhone 11 is the fun phone

For whatever reasons, Apple is still making the lower-priced 11 the one that can have fun with colors. There are two new colors, green and purple, that are more like mint green and lavender. These new pastel colors replace the blue and coral options from last year.

I have the green iPhone 11. Its color is pleasant, and the aluminum case color is much more seamless with the glass color. The glossy glass back feels the same as last year's XR. So does the rest of the phone -- except for the dual cameras, which are raised up from the back and placed in a frosted glass camera square.

In contrast, the iPhone 11 Pro models all have metallic shades: silver, space gray, gold, and a military-esque midnight green. The three cameras seem more industrial (maybe imposing). The back glass is matte, instead of glossy. They're made of steel instead of aluminum. And the Pro phones feel significantly denser. They pack larger batteries, and the steel adds weight.

I like that the iPhone 11 follows in the footsteps of the iPhone XR and is the middle-sized phone again with a 6.1-inch screen -- compared to the two iPhone Pro models at 5.8 inches and 6.5 inches. I've come to favor the smaller-sized iPhone 11 Pro, like the iPhone XS last year.

Cameras

Apple's been making impressive strides in camera quality, but so have many other phone makers. The camera arms race is something that hardcore photographers study closely, but I'd argue it's gone way past what most people need.

I've found iPhone photos to be really good for years, but not always as good as what a pro camera could deliver. On the other hand, iPhone video has become so excellent that it could be used as a stand-in for some professional cameras.

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The iPhone 11 can switch between a wide angle and ultrawide-angle lens. The iPhone 11 Pro can do the same, but also allows for a telephoto camera to get closer to your subject.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But in terms of those camera upgrades, this year we're talking about a new ultrawide-angle camera and a Night Mode for low-light photography being the two key upgrades in the iPhone 11. The ultrawide is an effect shot that you won't use all that often -- and if you own an older iPhone, you could always buy a snap-on ultrawide lens instead. But Night Mode is a key feature that helps Apple catch up to similar capabilities from Google, Huawei and Samsung.? And so far, Apple's version is impressive.

A shot at Brooklyn Bridge Park at night, making colors pop. More saturated colors are part of Night Mode's vibe.

Scott Stein/CNET

Night Mode, how it works and when it doesn't

Like the Google Pixel 3 last year and Samsung's Galaxy Note 10 this year, taking startling low-light photos seems to be in every phone-maker's computational wheelhouse now. Apple's version brightens photos and reduces image noise and does all of this automatically. The way it works is when you open up the default camera app, the phone determines when it's dark enough to go into Night Mode. At this time, there isn't a manual way to trigger the mode.

Night Mode uses adaptive bracketing and takes a series of photos, some with a longer shutter speed others with a shorter one. The iPhone then fuses all the photos together to reduce motion blur and brighten shadows. When I handheld Night Mode shots the sequence would take about 3-5 seconds. When I put the iPhone on a tripod I got a 10-second time and was even able to manually override that for a 28-second Night Mode shot.

I took a photo of a tree in my backyard that was in complete darkness. Below is a shot with the iPhone 11 using Night Mode and another with last year's iPhone XS.

The HDR-like feel of the photos keeps some of the night effects, but at other times the photos can end up looking like day. Night Mode can be turned off by tapping the icon and sliding the timer off, but so far it's been an improvement in nearly every instance.

It's not a perfect tool: faces can get blurred, detail can be lost. But still, I've been wowed. The Night Mode effects work the same on the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, but the Pro also gets a telephoto camera that can use it.

You can't use Night Mode on the ultrawide-angle mode, though. That camera ends up looking a lot darker, and it doesn't have optical image stabilization, either. That's true on all this year's models.

Frame the shots right, and the ultrawide-angle camera can do fun things.

Scott Stein/CNET

Ultrawide angle = drama camera

The newest camera has an ultrawide 13mm equivalent lens which is just a damn blast to use. If the wide camera is like a business suit and the "tele" lens is like a sporty blazer, then the ultrawide is the equivalent of a Hawaiian shirt. It's obviously different and really changes the way you shoot. It won't be your go-to lens in every situation, but it can be equal parts handy, like when shooting in smaller spaces, and artistic, adding drama to a mundane scene.

Apple balanced the distortion so there's a little (which you want for that ultrawide look) but it's not horrible. I immediately found angles on my subjects that made them look larger than life. Best of all you can use the ultrawide lens when shooting video. In fact, during a recording you can switch between cameras. Apple even put a cool zoom effect to transition between lenses.?

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