When the new iPhones were being announced, the first thing that caught my eye was the supposed improvement in low light photography. Having tested the last three generations of iPhones, where low light photography was nowhere close to its Android flagship counterparts from Google, Samsung or Huawei, I was eager to try it out. This is the first thing I tested and was quite impressed with the jump in image quality when shooting in low light. Finally, the new iPhones are putting up a stiff competition as far as low light still photography in concerned — a category Apple seemed like it had given up on since the last three generations.
The annual Apple iPhone upgrade is here in the form of the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. The three phones were easily the most leaked devices this year and nothing that was already known, was announced at Apple’s hardware event last month.
The iPhone 11 Pro series starts from Rs 99,900 onwards and here's how the phones are priced:
- iPhone 11 Pro (64 GB): Rs 99,900
- iPhone 11 Pro (256 GB): Rs 1,13,900
- iPhone 11 Pro (512 GB): Rs 1,31,900
- iPhone 11 Pro Max (64 GB): Rs 1,09,900
- iPhone 11 Pro Max (256 GB): Rs 1,23,900
- iPhone 11 Pro Max (512 GB): Rs 1,41,900
Yes, the over Rs 1 lakh pricing continues, and I don't see this trend going away any time soon — Apple's India market share be damned. The iPhone 11 Pro series brings significant improvements under the hood, such as the powerful Apple A13 Bionic chipset, a significantly higher capacity battery, and a triple camera setup on the back with features such as Night Mode and a brand new iOS 13 operating system. It's the standard upgrade one would expect from Apple. So, let's jump straight to the camera section to get this review started.
Significant improvements in low light photography
Indeed, the biggest change on the new iPhone 11 Pro Max is the triple rear camera setup on the back. While the resolution on all three cameras remains 12 MP, there is now an additional ultra-wide angle lens added to the wide and telephoto mix. This was bound to happen as Android smartphones have already democratised the ultra-wide angle lens.
Given below is a quick look at the major specs on the three rear cameras on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The additional ultra-wide camera offers a 120-degree field of view and it's easy to have your fingers show up in your image. You'll need to be very particular about how you hold your phone.
In terms of sensor sizes, the wide camera has the largest sensor at 1/2.55-inches, whereas the telephoto and ultra-wide cameras have 1/3.6-inch type sensor. The front-facing camera is a 12 MP module which has an f/2.2 aperture.
I took out the iPhone 11 Pro Max, Google Pixel 3XL and the Huawei P30 Pro for an evening of photography in South Mumbai. The Pixel 3XL (Review) and Huawei P30 Pro (Review) have performed excellently on the low light photography front. The iPhone XS Max (Review) couldn’t even hold a candle to Pixel 3XL. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has significantly improved on this front. Over the last few years, the iPhone has been on the back foot when it came to low light photography. This time around, amends have been made. You won’t regret taking iPhone 11 Pro Max on your evening out.
Right off the bat, the photographs shot in low light activate Night Mode automatically, which is seen in the form of a yellow, circular icon beside the flash icon. This activates based on the luminosity of light around you — you can’t manually activate it. However, you can turn it off if you don’t want it — but I doubt anyone would do that. The Night Mode on the iPhone 11 Pro series does exposure bracketing and captures everything in the scene in a way that if there is any movement within the scene, it is captured as a blur. This wasn’t the case with Huawei and Pixel phones, which use AI to get rid of the blurry portions to give you a well-lit, detailed scene. Apple claims to do that as well, but in my sample shots, I didn’t see that happening. Also, the phone isn't as forgiving of shaky hands as the other phones.
To check out the high resolution, uncompressed images shot from the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max head over to our Flickr Album.
One advantage the iPhone has here is that evening and night mode shots look like they were taken in low light. Phones like the Pixel and P30 Pro tend to turn night into day, which isn't usually the objective of the photographer. On a side note, I love how the images are captured in low light mode. You see them gradually take form and get brighter as the low-light timer runs down. This is much better than the Pixel's frozen image and countdown timer.
The overall image quality in low light was pleasing. On the phone, the images look fabulous and that’s good enough for most iPhone users. If you are a photography enthusiast and want to play around with the photos on your large screen monitor, then you will notice noise when working with 100 percent crops.
The ultra-wide mode on the iPhone 11 Pro Max has an aperture of f/2.4 which is almost three stops darker than the f/1.8 on the wide camera. This does not give that pleasing an output in low light mode. As there is no Night Mode feature for the ultra-wide camera, the ultra-wide shots at night are riddled with noise and just come out very, well, dark. In daylight, the ultra-wide mode lends itself well for capturing great photos, especially when it comes to architecture. Just don't attempt to take group photo with your friends filling the frame with the ultra-wide camera — if you do, then ensure everyone is framed in the centre, though even that won't help much given the amount of distortion.
The low light output of the iPhone 11 Pro Max is comparable with the Pixel 3XL on most counts. Huawei P30 Pro in AI mode gives strange colours but with the AI mode off, it gave great images. It is difficult to put a finger on which of these three is the best in low light photography as all three give a pleasing output when viewed on the smartphone display. Yes, noise does creep in but that’s unavoidable. One area where the Pixel 3 XL excels is in selfies and portrait mode shots at night. The compute magic offered by Pixel 3 XL is unmatched till date. The Huawei P30 Pro failed to give a portrait photo despite choosing that mode, although its AI mode lights up dark scenes well when you are taking a selfie. The iPhone 11 Pro Max in comparison performed poorly in both selfies and portrait mode selfies, in low light. It just does not have enough punch or clarity when it comes to low light selfies — and no, the Night Mode does not work on the front camera. If you dig selfies in low lit situations, the crown clearly belongs to the Pixel 3 XL.
Photographs shot in daylight are pleasing. There is nothing really to complain about here. All three lenses — wide, telephoto and ultra-wide — perform quite well. The dynamic range on the iPhone 11 Pro Max cameras is amazing. It exposes the bright and dark areas optimally so that you get a higher dynamic range. Even shooting against the light gives a great output. With the new sensor coming with 100 percent focus pixels, focus acquisition is fast.
In the camera settings, there is an option called ‘Capture photos outside the frame’. This mode is off by default, but what it basically does is capture a bit of the area above/below and from the sides of the frame, you may have shot. This lets you recompose the shot in post-processing, in case you have cut out a critical portion in the frame or if the horizon isn’t horizontal. This is activated by going to Edit > Crop > Auto adjust or selecting the different frames sizes and orientations prompted. Under normal circumstances, you could fix the horizon when in the crop mode, but it would also crop the image. With this 'Capture photos outside the frame' mode on, there is no cropping involved as you are literally taking your pick of the frame from a much larger canvas. This mode works particularly well with street photography, where you may sometimes not have framed an image properly and can recompose that moment in post. This is a fascinating feature, which Apple just let pass by at the keynote. It’s also executed in a typically Apple manner. So when you frame your subject, you will also see what’s outside the frame with a layer of transparency over it. Only when you select the ultra-wide camera does the surrounding frame become completely dark and only shows you the frame inside the viewfinder box.
An interesting feature with the three cameras is that no matter which camera you are using for capturing the image, the same scene data (white balance, exposure, framing) are passed on to the other cameras. This is done so that when you switch between lenses, the scene parameters are the same, and you don’t have to refocus or change the exposure in the scene. This is particularly helpful when shooting videos, where the switching between the different lenses was seamless. Yes, you do notice that slight twitch when changing between lenses, but it’s not that distracting. In other multi-cam smartphones, you notice a distinct variation in white balance and exposure between cameras.
One feature that wasn’t available during testing but is expected to come in a future update is called Deep Fusion. This is a low-light mode that kicks in before Night Mode and promises images that are much sharper and more detailed than those taken in the regular Smart HDR mode used in daylight. In Deep Fusion, the iPhone 11 series camera takes a series of four shots before you hit the shutter button, four images when the shutter is pressed, and one long exposure shot. It then combines the images that have the best exposures, giving a more detailed image. It is expected to come out with iOS 13.2.
Best video camera on a mobile phone, period!
Ever since the iPhone 8/8 Plus generation, iPhones have been delivering a fabulous video recording experience on mobile. With the iPhone 11 Pro Max, it takes things a notch higher. Now you can shoot in 4K at 60 fps not just on the rear cameras but also the front camera. On the front camera, you can also shoot slow-motion selfies, something which Apple is calling Slofies — which looks like a novelty that will die the death of Memojis.
Speaking of the rear cameras, 4K videos shot at 60 fps with OIS on the wide and telephoto camera come out really well. The stabilisation is class-leading and no Android flagship comes close to the output you get on the iPhone 11 Pro Max when shooting in daylight or around sunset. Just like the iPhone X and the iPhone XS series before it, I see myself using the iPhone 11 Pro Max as my primary video camera when shooting events and doing video reports. No Android phone till date, has given me that confidence when it comes to shooting video on mobile phones for professional use. My video coverage of Google I/O 2019 and IFA 2018 shot on the trusty iPhone X. For mobile journalists, the video camera on the iPhones has been a boon.
At night, the video does tend to look soft, but it is still way better than from any Android phone. The on-board microphones of the iPhone 11 Pro Max are also quite superior and even on an evening outdoors, it was able to capture audio well. I think I’ll just stop talking and let you see the video output for yourself.
One feature that Apple has added with the iPhone 11 series is called QuickTake. This basically lets you press and hold the shutter button when taking a still photo to shoot a video. If you want to continue taking the video, you can just hold and swipe right to lock it in video mode. If you intend to take a burst shot, then press and hold the shutter button and swipe left.
One of the most valuable features that has been added with the iPhone 11 series is the presence of an editing tab for videos as well. So in case you want to do minor cropping, adding filters, rotation, etc., you can do that in the editing console without having to jump into iMovie or some other app. This is great for a quick touch up before transferring footage to a more powerful editor like Premiere Pro.
The only design change is courtesy of the triple camera setup on the back
Apple does not mess around much with the design of its iPhones and you will certainly not see a random surprise year on year. The current design of the iPhone 11 Pro Max harks back to the design language of the iPhone X which heralded Apple’s foray into full screen OLED displays with that massive notch for the Face ID thingamajigs. From the front, the iPhone 11 Pro Max looks exactly like the iPhone XS Max — 6.5-inch OLED display surrounded by a thin bezel. The glossy frame still surrounds the iPhone on the side and it still manages to pick up fingerprint smudges. In a week of using the hard case cover on the iPhone 11 Pro Max, I already spotted some minor scratch marks around the power/standby button. Steel or not, if you regularly pull your phone covers on and off, be prepared for scratches. Coming from a two-year-old iPhone X, I can vouch for that.
The power/standby button, SIM card tray are present on the right hand side and the silent mode switch and volume rocker buttons are present on the left hand side (slightly lower than on the XS Max). While the top surface is clean except for the antenna cutout, the base has the Lightning port surrounded by speaker grilles on either side. There’s a bit of asymmetry here as there are seven grille holes on the right hand side and just four on the left hand side along with the antenna cutout.
The rear side is where the changes are seen and what distinguishes this generation of Pro devices from the older ones. The rear side is made of a single slab of glass which has a matte finish and just an Apple logo in the centre. The single slab of glass is milled in such a way that it has a matte finish throughout except for the glossy glass surface on the top left hand corner where it houses the triple camera module. Each of the cameras has a glossy metallic ring around it, a dual tone flash unit sits on top of the third camera and there’s a magnetic opening for the microphone below. This triple camera module design has been the subject of countless memes since the day it was announced. This section does protrude things out ever so slightly, and that means the camera will not lie flat on a surface if the phone is placed on its back (unless, of course, you put a cover on it).
It is 8.1 mm thick and weighs in at 226 grams. Yes, that’s hefty, but given the fact that it now houses a larger capacity battery, this was expected. Apple has also done away with 3D Touch so the display portion of the phone is much thinner. The iPhone 11 Pro Max comes with IP68 splash, water and dust resistance. In fact, its water resistance rating is now for a depth of 4 metres and up to 30 mins. Despite going for a matte glass finish on the back, the iPhone 11 Pro Max continues to be slippery to hold. I, for one, used the phone for the duration of the review in an iPhone 11 Pro Max Clear Case, and given the price of the phone, and repairs, I don’t mind some added thickness for some peace of mind.
Overall, it’s a familiar design and you get used to the triple camera module in no time, just like you got adjusted to the notch design on the iPhone X/XS series.
Apple has added a new Midnight Green colour variant that looks gorgeous.
Super Retina XDR OLED Display: Best mobile phone display around
The iPhone 11 Pro Max comes with a 6.5-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display. The 2688x1242 pixel resolution gives it a pixel density of 458 PPI, which offers excellent sharpness. This is the same pixel density seen on the iPhone 11 Pro as well. Apple has done away with the 3D Touch on the 11 Pro Max and instead you just have to long press to activate functions similar to 3D Touch. This is something Android phones have been doing as a means to ape Apple, and now Apple is copying that.
If there is one thing that Apple has been delivering on consistently, it has to be the display. Be it iPhone, iMac, MacBook or the Watch, the calibrated displays on Apple devices are class leading. With the iPhone 11 Pro Max, Apple has made the device brighter than ever before with a typical brightness setting of 800 nits. Apple claims that this can hit 1,200 nits if you are viewing high dynamic range content. The auto-brightness feature of the iPhone 11 Pro Max works as seamlessly as we have come to expect from iPhones. I tested the phone with the True Tone display turned on. This is a feature which adjusts the white point of the iPhone display based on the colour temperature of the ambient lighting. With True Tone turned off in places where you have a lot of white light (such as in office), the iPhone 11 Pro Max display tends to veer towards the cool side of the colour spectrum.
With iOS 13, you also get a system-wide Dark Mode, so Apple has put in a lot of thought to ensure that the dark mode looks attractive. In the Display settings, you can either force the iPhone to be in Dark mode all the time, or you can schedule it after sunset. Other features such as Night Sight, raise to wake, etc., are present in the settings as well.
Viewing HDR10 and Dolby Vision content from streaming services is a treat on this display. Thanks to the Super Retina XDR display, scenes involving a high dynamic range (very bright portions and dark shadows) look quite rich on this new display. XDR stands for eXtreme Dynamic Range — basically Apple’s marketing speak for higher levels of HDR. The 1,200-nit peak brightness kicks in in scenes with extreme bright and dark portions, but it smartly only enhances the brighter portions while keeping the rest of the scene at the typical brightness, according to Apple. For some reason, I wasn't able to see the HDR tag on the HDR videos on YouTube, which was visible on iPhone X and iPhone XS. I have reached out to Apple for some clarity on this. This had happened with the iPhone X and XS at launch as well and it's likely that support will be added in subsequent updates.
To test the XDR claim, I rewatched the German thriller Dark on the iPhone 11 Pro Max as it has a lot of scenes shot in, dark environments such as caves, bunkers and so on, with some involving a bright object acting as a light source guiding the characters. In scenes where the shadow regions would easily clip on my television and other flagship Android devices I have tested the scenes on, the iPhone 11 Pro Max performed fabulously. The same was the case with Stranger Things where the dark scenes were richer in detail and didn’t lead to clipping of shadows. The colour richness is quite evident when watching Our Planet. It’s hands down, the best smartphone display out there.
The spatial sound on the iPhone 11 Pro speakers further enhances the video viewing experience. Dark also has a lot of low frequency sounds in the background score which were rendered nicely on the iPhone 11 Pro Max speakers. I did binge on other Netflix and Amazon Prime shows during the duration of the review, and it was a great experience overall. The 458 PPI pixel density lent itself well for long reading sessions on the iPhone 11 Pro Max as well. Apple claims to have double the contrast ratio on the iPhone 11 Pro Max as compared to the XS series, and while the contrast is great, it is difficult to tell in a side-by-side comparison unless the scene involves extremes of lighting situations. Despite it being a glossy display, the reflectivity was well controlled. I didn’t have any issue watching videos even in direct sunlight — the auto-brightness feature works seamlessly and you'll never even realise that it's active.
DisplayMate has evaluated the display in its laboratories a lot more thoroughly and if you are on the nerdier side here are their results. The TL;DR version is that the display is the best there is in the market.
Apple A13 Bionic is the new system on chip with this generation of iPhones. Built on the 7 nm+ process, the A13 Bionic houses around 8.5 billion transistors. Since the Apple A10 SoC, we have been seeing Apple iPhones top performance charts and every year since we have been seeing significant improvements in performance. With the A13 Bionic, that trend continues. The architecture on the A13 SoC is a lot more modular than before. It houses 2x high-performance 'Lightning' cores running at 2.66 GHz, 4x efficiency 'Thunder' cores clocked at 1.8 GHz, 8x neural engine cores, and 4x Metal-optimised GPU cores. In addition to this, there is an LTE modem, and an image processor designed by Apple.
Long story short, this is the fastest performing phone out there. One look at the benchmark scores shows you that the A13 Bionic is way ahead of the Snapdragon 855+ as well as the Exynos 9825. We still have to test the Kirin 990 SoC. In real life scenarios, it translates into a stutter-free experience. Stuff like app freezes, stuttering animations are rarely seen on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The only time I found the phone to be heating up was when I was setting up the iPhone 11 Pro Max and transferring data from my older iPhone or if I was transferring content while the phone was charging. Otherwise, unless I shot 4K videos continuously, I didn’t face any heating issues with the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
In terms of gaming, the phone plays everything you throw at it. Asphalt 9, PUBG Mobile, Modern Combat 5, and many more high end games offered excellent frame rates on the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
The performance jump does not come at the cost of battery life, however. In fact, Apple claimed that along with the performance, the efficiency of the SoC has also increased. With the larger battery capacity, this has resulted in a longer-lasting iPhone 11 Pro Max. I'll elaborate more on this in the battery section.
Almost two-day battery life
This is easily the most significant improvement on the new iPhones. Apple has gotten rid of the 3D Touch hardware and used the free space to include a larger battery, and it is showing the results. The 3,969 mAh battery is a massive upgrade from the one in the XS Max.
My regular usage on a daily basis includes two emails on sync, constantly buzzing Slack, Telegram and WhatsApp, 20-30 photos and a few videos, an hour of YouTube/Netflix streaming, a couple of hours of podcasts, 30 mins of gaming and regular app updates over Wi-Fi. With this pattern, I could easily get around more than a day and a half of usage. I could even stretch it to two days over the weekend when my usage is less intense.
And finally, Apple has bundled in an 18 W fast charger in the box, so the charging time is under 90 mins. Better late than never. Over the years, it’s been a matter of frustration to have to deal with a measly 5 W charger in the box. The 18 W charger is fast, as expected, and finally, the charging times are at par with Android flagships. It's good to see Apple adopting some good practices from the Android ecosystem, such as bundling fast chargers and finally bringing the swipe mechanism on its keyboards.
iOS 13 brings improvements but also has its fair share of bugs
The iPhone 11 series comes bundled with Apple’s latest iOS 13 operating system. Unlike iOS 12, whose main focus was to present iPhone and iPad users with a stable operating system, iOS 13 has quite a few tricks up its sleeves. I will not get into the nitty gritties of the features offered by iOS 13, as Anirudh has already done a great job of explaining those. You can read it here.
Dark mode is obviously the most talked about feature and it does look beautiful. With the iPhone 11 Pro series, thanks to the OLED display, the dark portions look pitch black. Apple has given the dark mode treatment to some if its system apps such as the App Store, Reminder, Notes apps, with Reminders being built from scratch. Some Apple wallpapers also have a dark mode variant. More mainstream apps such as Twitter, Instagram and Gmail have also got the dark mode treatment from their development teams and it looks great.
Photo albums look a whole lot better now with daily, monthly and yearly views. I did face some issue with the yearly view though, as the cover images from 2018, 2017 and 2016 were not changing on a daily basis. I even tried looking at a random photo from different months this year, just to see if the Yearly view was changing, and it wasn't the case. Maybe it’s some bug that needs fixing.
The image editing options look a lot more user-friendly and require less number of clicks to get things done. The editing options have been added to videos as well.
The way you share things has also undergone a revamp to some extent. In addition to the quick share buttons, you have a laundry list of things you can do with a file or a photo and it changes with context. For instance, with images I found that image sharing apps were showing up below quick sharing buttons, with PDFs I was getting the option to print or save to Files and so on.
The 'Sign-in with Apple' feature hasn’t been activated for some of the popular apps I use, and I don’t think it is present on many apps other than the ones Apple showed off at WWDC 2019. In theory, this way of signing in would be a dream. But let’s see how many players get on board with this.
The mobile Safari browser now supports a download manager as well and you can see the downloaded files in the Files app. The Files app experience is a lot more like an actual file manager and you can make your own folders, use gestures to copy-paste files and more. The full webpage screenshot feature has finally been added in Safari. After taking a screenshot in Safari, you just tap on the preview and click on the Full Page tab. A lot of these features have already been on Android phones for a while, and it's good to see Apple play some catch up.
Verdict: Expensive, but does any Apple buyer even care?
I’ll repeat what I had said during the iPhone XS Max review last year, as I feel it still applies to the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Is this the best iPhone money can buy? Absolutely.
Does it make sense to spend so much on a phone, even if it's an iPhone? Absolutely not.
If I am on iPhone XS/XS Max, should I upgrade? Not really, these phones are powerful too and it would be much better off to wait for the 2020 iPhone which is expected to come with significant upgrades for those on last year’s iPhone.
Yes, the camera and battery life are better than on the XS series, but then that would be expected right? If that is compelling enough a reason for you to upgrade and if you are getting a great resale value for your XS series devices, by all means, go for the iPhone 11 Pro series.
If I am on iPhone X/8/8 Plus looking for an upgrade, should I consider iPhone 11 Pro series? Well, you should definitely consider the iPhone 11 Pro series. If you are coming from an iPhone X, the iPhone 11 Pro series is the right upgrade path as the LCD display on the iPhone 11 will immediately stand out and the pitch blacks of the OLED will be missed. The iPhone 11 is a powerhouse phone as well and with dual cameras, it is a compelling offering. But the iPhone 11 Pro series takes things many notches higher for an iPhone X user. Camera, battery life, performance — all parameters will see a massive jump from the iPhone X.
Those on iPhone 7 or iPhone 6 series, if you don’t want to spend over a lakh on the iPhone 11 Pro series, the iPhone XR or the iPhone 11 make for compelling upgrades. Don’t make a face because I suggested iPhone XR — this is still a power-packed offering.
Is it worth the Rs 1.5 lakh price? Well, iPhone pricing has become a moot point by now really. Of course, these devices are exorbitantly priced. The only consolation is that the launch prices have remained the same at which the last generation iPhones were launched. Even the Android vs iOS debate is moot by now, both operating systems come with their set of advantages and disadvantages. When it comes to privacy, OS upgrades, and battery optimisations, the iPhone 11 Pro series excels for sure. But in areas such as assistants, cloud storage, tweakability of apps, Android is far ahead.
The camera performance in low light has seen a significant improvement on the iPhone 11 series. Although the generation-old Google Pixel 3XL still aces most low light tests, it's good to see Apple at least managing comparable photos in that light — which hasn’t been the case for almost three generations now.
The expectations from the upcoming Google Pixel 4 series will also be sky-high, especially in the camera department. One area where no one can touch the iPhone 11 Pro / 11 Pro Max in is video performance, which is class-leading. iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max are great workhorses with enough horsepower to last almost two days — you won’t regret getting one.
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