Updated: Date, Year
Today, I had a chance not to be a pleb. Hold your breath. I got me hands on an iPhone 11. Now before you faint in shock, hear me out. Dedo be a simple man. Dedo likes audio jacks. Dedo likes DRM-free music. Dedo fancies himself things what be customizable. And so, Dedo uses everything but iPhone, when it comes to smartphones. He also likes to refer to himself in the third person, because, art.
But Dedo is also not ignorant - and he keeps an eye on the likes of iPhone 6S. And over the years, Dedo gets to grudgingly appreciate the support and commitment Apple has for its users, reasons notwithstanding and all that. Locked ecosystem, right, but you also get tight, precise updates for years and years. Nothing to brag about when one looks at the desktop, but definitely top of the line when it comes to mobile devices. So what happens when Dedo tries the yester-yesteryear flagship device? Let's see.
Reasons why, why not
All right. As a casual phone user, I am not too keen on spending money on devices that I won't use that frequently, or to the fullest of their potential. Case in point, the most expensive phones I got myself would be the Lumia 950 and more recently Motorola One Zoom, both in the range of about 600 dollars. I will gladly spend on desktop and laptop hardware, knowing such devices will serve me 8-10 years. With smartphones, this might not always be possible, due to the quickly changing state of the market, and the willingness of phone vendors to provide updates. Hesitation number one.
Combine that with my strong requirement to be able to copy music to and fro, to listen to said music on the cheapest possible set of random headphones, and you can see why an iPhone would not work for me. And then, there's the prohibitive price.
But then, recently, I've doing some quick maths (pronounced maffs for dramatic effect). If a typical smartphone, say Android, lasts three years with official support and costs X, then if one has an iPhone that gets updates six years down the line and costs twice as much, the overall usage value turns out to be the same, innit guv?
Now, let's see how long and well have different phones survived in me household. Some examples. Nokia E6, 10 years and going. Lumia 520, roughly four years of use, eight years of life. Lumia 950, three years. The more recent choices, I can't really say just yet, not enough time has elapsed. How long will the vendor support them? Unknown either. Now, iPhone 6S, released in 2015, still gets the latest iOS software. That's pretty neat. If the device works, you can keep using it, just fine. This gives it favorable per-annum ROI compared to the other phones, all except the old and sturdy Symbian and the 520 - but them be unsupported phones!
With Android, my longer-term experience comes down to a couple of tablets really and the Aquaris E4.5 phone, which I had converted to Android and then back to Ubuntu Touch. Here, the operating system would remain frozen at a certain version at some point, say 5.0 or 6.0 or whatnot, but the application stack would keep getting updates for quite some time. In a way, it'd be a compromise - your device might not get critical updates for some of its stack, but the applications would still be up to date. Somewhat messy.
Now, Google is aware of this problem - hence Android One, which aims to reduce the dependence on the phone vendors and their own patching cadence, thus improving the consistency as well as security of the Android ecosystem. It also guarantees a longer support period for the devices - a minimum of three years, which is something I will need to check - me Nokia 5.3 has only started its journey.
Among all this fuss and fragmentation, there was the iPhone 6S lurking somewhere in me household, which kept getting its updates regular as clockwork, no drama, nothing. Makes for a compelling usecase, but then there's more than that. The phone is not just an update machine. However, what it clarified to me was that the initial or upfront cost of an iPhone ownership isn't just a gimmick or fancy brand or whatever. Part of that price is the promise that you will have a device that works for a long time, and you should feel happy. And happy users are loyal users.
But ... I wouldn't classify myself as a happy iPhone user. Or a user at all. Just a curious techie who is trying to find the technology that gives him the greatest amount of use and the least amount of headache. This is easier said than done. Which makes today's review interesting. I want to see what the iPhone 11 can do, how well it behaves, how well it justifies its premium tag, and all the rest of it. Don't expect a miracle. Nevertheless, it ought to be interesting. This is a pleb operating an expensive piece of kit.
All right. The iPhone 11 is a beefy thing. It measures 6.1 inches across, but because it uses a somewhat different aspect ratio than most phones, it fells smaller, although its wider body could be difficult for people with small hands and/or short fingers. We will talk about the ergonomics a bit later.
Glass front, aluminum back, single SIM, water resistance up to 30 minutes, 828x1792px IPS screen with 326ppi density. From what I was able to decipher, the phone originally shipped with iOS 13, which is of course fully upgradeable to iOS 14 - more on this soonish. You get the A13 chipset, which includes a hexa-core processor, with two 2.65GHz Lightning and four 1.8GHz Thunder units. Graphics wise, it's Apple GPU, with four cores. The phone boats a solid 4GB RAM, which sounds like plenty, given how typically modest and yet adequate past iPhone specs have always been, memory wise. This specific device came with 128 GB internal storage. The camera features dual-lens 12MP optics, with lots of neat little extras.
The other sensors include dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC, Lightning connector for data transfer and charging, although you can also use Wireless charging. You also get Apple Face ID. The non-removable battery pack has a capacity of 3110 mAh, which is about 25% less than what I've seen on several Motorola and Nokia models I tested earlier, but whether this makes any practical usage difference, we shall see.
This was a very simple and even pleasant affair. You power on your new iPhone, and then it asks you if you want to setup manually - or migrate data from an existing device. Well, I had the old iPhone 6S at hand, so I thought, let's see. A very interesting usecase I've not tried ever before.
The process was quick - and flawless, all done over Bluetooth. I had to authenticate, of course, but after that, five minutes later, the iPhone 11 was ready for use. The migration was 99% perfect. The home screen, the apps, everything was just right. Even the notes and Safari tabs were properly ported.
Only two things were not correctly done - a custom IMAP email configuration and a somewhat random application from the App Store. Other than that, apart from actual different in physical size, the iPhone 11 was virtually identical to the old phone. This is one of the perks of a locked, tightly integrated ecosystem.
Well, yes and no. Because my usage patterns are completely different from an ordinary person. Moreover, with no intention to spend money in the store, and with no easy way to load up the phone with my own media, I'm limited in me arsenal of cultural enjoyment that I have here. That said, the iPhone 11 behaved exactly as I expected. You get the same predictable experience as before, for better or worse.
The phone ergonomics are surprisingly decent. I expected a giant brick, but because of the slightly different aspect ratio, iPhone 11 is quite pleasant to hold. It's also chunky, and despite its smooth metal case, it's not slippery - feels much more robust than the older, smaller iPhones. Very nice.
I was also able to charge the phone using an old iPhone cable - not from a standard laptop USB port, though. For some reason, perhaps the USB ports didn't have sufficient current to allow charging. On the other hand, using the box-provided Lighting-to-USB-C on my Slimbook Pro, the electronic juice resupply process worked fine. However, that's the only laptop I have with that kind of connectivity.
That said, once I plugged the old iPhone cable into a 15W charger, things worked fine - and fast. I tried any one of the chargers you get with the other smartphones, and there were no problems. In fact, over the years, I've never had any issues charging an iPhone with its cable + any which wall thingie.
Most of you won't care, but Linux compatibility was good, too. I tried different operating systems, different desktop environments, and in all cases, the experience was seamless. I didn't have to do any manual changes or tweaks like in the past. So a definite improvement there.
Some annoyance after all
There were a few things that got me anger glands working. One, gestures. Much like my recent experience with Android gestures, this was a bad, frustrating ordeal. The thing is, iPhone 11 no longer has a physical home button, which is a shame. Nothing beats hardware keys. But, unlike Android, you can't change the silly gestures line to a proper navigation bar. And so you are forced to forfeit the many thousands of years of human evolution, dispense with the use of your digits in a semi-precise manner, and go for smudgy thumb swipes.
Speaking of smudges, the screen gets quite smudgy - partly because of the constant swiping - and the grime can make it difficult to see the actual content. Before you say, wash your hands, no such problem on the various other devices I use.
I did find a virtual home button under the Accessibility options, but it's far from ideal. One, it moves around too much (the difference between tap and drag-to-reposition is a bit murky). Two, you can't have it perma-fixed at the bottom of the screen. Here, there's another problem - the home bar or whatever it's called, the gray rectangle that holds four "favorite" icons. No way to get rid of that - unless you want to try semi-hacky swipe left tap touch pray ideas floating around the net. Thus, you are pretty much forced to use the gestures if you want a somewhat consistent and visually clean experience. And gestures are awful, because they are not precise. Ah well, this is what the common mouth breather wants, so there.
The lack of a physical button also makes accidental screen taps more likely - you can turn this off. However, even with Tap to Wake disabled, the phone would still occasionally light up. This mostly happens if you place the phone in a bag, a pocket, and it rubs against other things. I've found a lot of random, short photos and videos taken this way - the touch screen responds to all manner of friction.
One more thing I thought would be worth exploring - Firefox for iOS. But this is nothing like Firefox for Android, plus you get no extensions, so no adblocking, even with strict/enhanced protection. Makes the browser not really useful - in fact, any browser without the ability to sanitize nonsense is useless. Especially when it comes to video, I'm not in the mood to watch ad after ad like it's 1977 and I've just discovered cable TV. If my content is interrupted by low-IQ stuff, then I'm not going to bother. I'd rather go without. This isn't iPhone specific, but at least on Android, you get Firefox, and you can install uBlock Origin.
Quite good. True colors. I did a quick (default settings) comparison to One Zoom, which would be the most capable camera phone I've got in me arsenal. I didn't check the iPhone in low light conditions, but I did test low contrast, and it copes here extremely well. If you look at the three side-by-side shots below, iPhone 11 on the left, you can see it has really good and precise light-shadow handling - which gives photos more depth. Combined with the color spectrum, you get pretty nice and decent results.
TL;DR: I think the iPhone does more realistic and/or accurate photos, while the Zoom does off-center detail better (probably due to having more camera lenses). It's a question of what kind of photos you prefer. That said, I've never really had any complaints about iPhone optics. Finally, the iOS camera app is superior to pretty much anything else out there. Far less annoying, far simpler, far more effective.
Also very good. With average daily usage of about 40 minutes, the phone depleted to 46% after 3.5 days, amounting to about two hours of usage. This translates into about a week of light utilization, comparable to what I've been able to achieve on my various Android phones, even though you have a smaller battery. Very neat. Significantly better than the old iPhone 6S, I must say.
Well, not much else to say. The peasant in me has no great virtues to extol, because the peasant in me doesn't use phones the way an ordinary person would. So I can't really talk about any special use cases, or any grand features, but then, this is the case regardless of what phone and mobile operating system I pick. Just the simple, practical reality.
There you have, a non-review review from someone who isn't the target audience for iPhone. It's a somewhat funny paradox what I have. On one hand, I don't like tweaking - for instance, I'd never chip a car or do any custom modifications. With software, I do it only when necessary. Which sort of makes this an ideal device for me, because it's designed to be tweak-free. But then, I find the lack of philosophical freedom limiting. Well, it comes down to a few small but cardinal differences - stuff like music and browsing sans modern nonsense.
So what should I tell you? OK, the goodies first. Excellent, robust, high-quality hardware, tightly integrated ecosystem that works well and accurately, painless phone migration, great performance, camera and battery life, not too much headache or privacy noise setting things up. Now, the baddies. Restricted ability to make changes, tightly integrated ecosystem that makes you to do things a certain way, lack of physical home button and associated touch screen annoyances. That's how I see it. Comparing to iPhone 6S, this is a good, broad improvement across various categories - except size. And that's what you should focus on, because if you are using the iPhone, there's a reason for that. And vice versa.
Indeed, if I look at the wider phone market, it really makes me sad that I'm sort of forced to compromise, no matter which way I look at it. Android comes with its perks, its update chaos, the infinite number of setup and privacy permutations, and freedom to install whatever you like. The iPhone is "boring" in comparison, but it's a very specially designed boredom, and if you're not comfy with its essence, tough luck.
And so, the mindblowing conclusion. I won't be using the iPhone as my main phone, because I do need a few small things, as limited as my phone usage is, and for me, those aren't to be had in the Apple's ecosystem. But my level of appreciation for what this device represents - on the hardware level and spiritually - has increased somewhat in the past five years. Perhaps one day, I'll get to the point where I no longer have any desire to tinker with software, and perhaps that day I may consider a product of this nature. Until then, I'll be a peasant who tweaks and tweaks and pretends to have freedom.