iPhone 11 vs. iPhone 11 Pro: why you should upgrade to iPhone 11, but skip the Pro and save $300

Jeff Chen
Jeff Chen
Nov 11, 2019 · 7 min read

If you’re eyeing the new iPhone 11 for yourself or as a gift, you should know that the phone is phenomenal and a definite upgrade over iPhone 6/6s/7/8 or older models. But are the Pro models really worth $300 more? I don’t think so. In fact, I downgraded to a regular iPhone 11 after testing side-by-side. Here’s an in-depth look through photos to help you decide for yourself.

iPhone 11’s awesome Night Mode, taken handheld. Sure, it’s not perfect but freaking amazing for a phone.

iPhone 11 is a phenomenal phone

The last time I was excited about an iPhone was for the 6s, so it’s been a while…

  • The camera is phenomenal: wide angle shots and Night Mode were not possible before. Plus, you get Portrait Mode, crisp detail, great colors, a 12MP front facing camera, and insanely crisp 4k video recordings. This is the biggest selling point of the phone.
  • Ridiculous battery life: I used to charge my phone three times a day. Once at noon, once at 5pm, and when I got home around 9pm. I’d ask for a charging cable everytime I got into an Uber. iPhone 11 easily lasts all day and all night when I go out.
  • A13 processor is incredibly fast: it’s 3.3x faster than the 6s, 2.5x faster than the 7, and 40% faster than the X. It shows as all my apps open much more quickly.
  • Face ID: is much more useful than I thought. When I open a banking app, I used to have to do thumb print verification which takes a couple seconds. Now, it’s instant with Face ID. My Apple Pay experience is also seamless now.
  • 6.1" and brighter screen: the 6.1" screen makes reading and watching shows much more enjoyable. Contrast is higher and the screen is also brighter.
  • 256GB storage: I had 128GB before, which was the max and it was full and I had to start deleting stuff. Now I have almost 130GB free.
  • Cons: the phone is a little heavier and you lose the headphone jack (I use Airpods so it’s no big deal)
  • iPhone 5/5s/6/6s/7/8: No-brainer to upgrade. If you’ve been waiting for a phone worthy of an upgrade, this is it!
  • iPhone X: Borderline. You get the wide angle lens, Night Mode, better image colors and detail, better Portrait Mode, and better battery life. But the OLED screen on iPhone X is more expensive and supposed to be higher-end. Upgrade if you take lots of photos.
  • iPhone XR: Borderline. You’re getting the wide angle lens, Portraid Mode, Night Mode. Upgrade if you take lots of portraits, photos in the dark, or outdoor photos and you want the wide angle perspective.
  • iPhone Xs: Probably not. You’re only getting the wide angle lens and Night Mode.

I can’t resist showing you some of the awesome images from the phone. (Tap to enlarge on mobile)

iPhone 11 photo examples. Left: Wide Angle. Right: Portrait Mode with blurred background (Bokeh). You can change the background blur (aperture) of portraits after taking the photo, which makes post production much more creative and fun.

iPhone 11 vs. iPhone 11 Pro: Save $300 and skip the Pro models

Feature comparison for the iPhone 11 vs. Pro 5.8" Model. The Pro doesn’t offer enough and is worse in some categories. Detailed explanations below.

Let’s compare some photos side by side, from the ‘Standard’ 1x to 2x to 4x. You can see there’s not much difference between the digital 2x zoom on the regular 11 versus the third camera ‘telephoto’ optical 2x zoom. I magnify further to 4x so we can get a close up. You see that the iPhone 11 Pro is not much sharper, if at all. (Tap to enlarge on mobile)

iPhone 11 ‘Standard’ lens (left) and iPhone 11 Pro ‘Standard’ lens (right). The photos are identical because the cameras are the same.
2x zoom. iPhone 11 uses 2x digital zoom on the ‘Standard’ lens (left) while the iPhone 11 Pro uses 2x optical zoom with the telephoto lens ie the third camera (right). Notice there’s virtually no difference and if anything the iPhone 11 is sharper.
4x zoom. iPhone 11 uses 4x digital zoom on the ‘Standard’ lens (left). iPhone 11 Pro uses 2x digital zoom on the telephoto lens (right). You can see the iPhone 11 Pro is only marginally sharper (you really have to stare at the AC units on the building) — and this is at 4x zoom, which I personally never use on a phone.

The reason the third camera on the iPhone 11 Pro is not much sharper is because it uses a smaller and inferior camera sensor. Apple doesn’t tell you that the sensor on the telephoto lens is smaller and therefore not as good as the sensor on the ‘regular’ lens. (Though I couldn’t find specs on exactly how much smaller)

The second biggest feature advertised on the Pro models is the OLED screen, which should have better contrast. But overall I found the ‘better’ OLED screens dimmer than the LCD screens and you can only see the contrast differences if you use max brightness and stare at the phones side-by-side.

Max brightness on iPhone 11 (left) and iPhone 11 Pro (right). You can see slightly better contrast on the iPhone 11 Pro if you stare at it — look at the seamless icon in the third row. Though the iPhone 11 Pro is overall less bright.
Screens at 70% max brightness, which is more what I use typically. You can see the contrast advantage is largely neutralized yet the ‘regular’ iPhone 11 screen is still brighter (left), which I prefer, than the Pro model (right).

iPhone 11’s text layout is smaller (due to how the pixel densities and screen sizes work out). This makes the 6.1" screen seem a lot bigger than the Pro’s 5.8" screen when reading text, which I really like! You get a good 20% more text even though the screen is just a few tenths of an inch bigger. (below)

The iPhone 11’s 6.1" screen (left) gets a lot more text than the Pro model’s 5.8" screen (right)

The 2-camera system looks much better than the tarantula-looking 3-camera system. And there are many more colors available for the regular iPhone 11, like my red one here.

Design comparison between iPhone 11 (left) and the Pro model (right). The 2-camera system looks way better and there are more colors to choose from for iPhone 11.

Ostensibly the Pro model uses stainless steel, while the regular 11 uses aluminum. Either way you have to keep your phone in a case because otherwise it will crack the first time you drop it, so it doesn’t really matter.

There are only two good reasons I can think of to get the Pro model. If you really need 512GB of storage or want the 6.5" screen, then you have no choice but to get the Pro model.

iPhone 11 vs. iPhone 11 Pro vs. iPhone 6s vs. Nexus 6P

Overall, the iPhone 11 is a ridiculous upgrade from the 6s or Nexus 6P. It was impossible to do wide angle, Night Mode, Portrait mode, 256GB storage, and Face ID before. But even the main camera has improved due to a bigger sensor, faster lens, and better processing.

Phone line up, from left to right, Nexus 6P, iPhone 6s, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11

The new iPhone 11 cameras are both sharper and have better color rendering than 6s and Nexus. You can read the text on the Tapatio bottle much more clearly on the new phones (bottom) on the set of comparison photos below. (Tap to enlarge on mobile)

Comparison of the four cameras. Nexus 6P (top left), iPhone 6s (top right), iPhone 11 (bottom left), iPhone 11 Pro (bottom right). The new cameras are much sharper and render color better.

Go get the iPhone 11

There you have it. I love my new phone. It’s very reasonably priced at $699 for 64GB and $749 for $128GB, which is cheaper than the 64GB Pixel 4 at $799. Just be prepared to spend hours playing with your iPhone 11 once you get it.

Lincoln Memorial at night (left), Portrait Mode during the NYC Halloween Parade (middle), post processing to black and white in Photos App (right).

Need more convincing? Here are some more articles looking at Night Mode and the new cameras.

Thank you to my friends Jay Shek, Dara Chen, and Sue Tam for reading drafts of this.

Mission.org

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

Jeff Chen

Written by

Jeff Chen

AI engineer and company builder. Founded Joyride (acquired by Google). Current projects: thisisjeffchen.com

Mission.org

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

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