iPhone 11, Pro and Max hands-on: Apple focuses big on the camera for new phones

iPhone 11, Pro and Max hands-on: Apple focuses big on the camera for new phones

Our first impressions are in for Apple’s three new iPhones. Plus, every feature you should care about.

Apple refreshed its line of iPhones for 2019 at an event on Tuesday, announcing the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. The phones start at $699, $999 and $1,099, respectively — perhaps a surprising price in a world where we’re used to paying $1,000 for an iPhone. These new iPhones pick up a fresh palette of colors, longer battery life and a A13 Bionic processor inside that promises faster performance. But more than any other feature, it’s the camera hardware and software that take the headlining role. There are three cameras on the back of the Pro phones and two on the back of the iPhone 11. See below for our early hands-on impressions.

This new crop of iPhones may wear different colors, but in terms of the overall design, they look strikingly like last year’s iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR — notch and all. 

Those three cameras on the back of the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max are Apple’s biggest risks in a series that plays it safe this year. For many people, the iPhone represents the gold standard for smartphone design and cutting-edge features like Face ID unlocking, which Apple says is now faster than before. But despite bread-and-butter features, like support for Wi-Fi 6, the iPhone 11 trio fails to push the envelope, relying instead on the big camera change and smaller refinements to keep up the momentum. 

There’s no 5G carrier support (we expect that to come in 2020), and none of the reverse wireless charging that was rumored to charge the Apple AirPods, Apple Watch and other phones of the back of the iPhone 11 — as you can with the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 phones. 

Apple also held back on rumored features like making the new iPhone 11s compatible with the Apple Pencil, and a USB-C port that was whispered to replace the Lightning connection.

Without a strong suite of new features to tantalize buyers, Apple has its work cut out for it as it heads into the hyper-competitive holiday season and 2020. Phone sales are down. Competitors like Samsung, Google and Huawei are pulling ahead on-camera tools and features. And then there’s the question of 5G — iPhone users will have to wait a full year unless Apple surprises us all with a special event before September 2020.

We tried the iPhone 11 phones and here’s what we think

The colors and finishes look and feel more refined — and a lot less like fingerprint magnets — than last year’s phones, especially compared to the iPhone XR, which is equivalent to this year’s iPhone 11.

What stood out most were the cameras, and the telephoto lens especially because that feels like the main difference between the iPhone 11 and the far pricier 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. All three phones share most of the other features, at least so far as we could tell during our brief hands-on time with the phone. 

The new slow-mo video mode for the front-facing camera is fun, but not a must-have feature by any means. Still, we wouldn’t be surprised if other phone-makers cribbed this one.

Rear cameras: Wide, ultrawide, telephoto

The iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max are all about the camera. Competing brands are no stranger to the three-camera system (or even four!), but this marks Apple’s first time pairing a wide-angle lens with both telephoto and ultra-wide-angle sensors. 

We’re working up a camera deep dive for you soon, but what you really need to know is that Apple wants to make it as easy for you to switch from the main 12-megapixel camera lens to the 13-megapixel ultrawide-angle lens to the 12-megapixel telephoto sensor, which you do from the main camera screen. 

Having used this type of system on other phones, like the Huawei P30 Pro and Galaxy Note 10 for example, it really can make photos more atmospheric or striking  — especially landscape shots — when taken with the ultrawide lens. Apple says it will fit in four times the amount of scenery compared to the main camera.

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