I tried Apple's new iPhone 11 for a few hours to see if it's dramatically different from its predecessor - here's what I found

iPhone 11Tony Avelar/AP

  • Apple's iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro offer enhanced cameras that can take photos with a much wider field of view, a more durable design, and longer battery life among other improvements.
  • It's yet another sign that smartphones have already become so advanced that companies like Apple are focusing more on further developing core features, like the camera and display quality, than integrating new technologies every year.
  • After spending a few hours with Apple's new smartphones, I came away with a few first impressions about the camera and design.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Apple's iPhone launches have become something of a cultural phenomenon since the first model launched in 2007.

They've become synonymous with winding lines that wrap around the company's retail stores all over the world- some of which include customers that have been waiting all night to be among the first to get their hands on Apple's latest smartphones.

Yes, it's true that the new iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro offer important improvements over their predecessors. At their most basic level, the new iPhones will be better at taking photos in various conditions, are built of more durable glass that should give owners more peace of mind when using the devices without a case, and are expected to last longer on a single charge compared to last year's phones.

But they're just that - new phones. While they bring welcome improvements like a camera that's more skilled at seeing in the dark that can also take shots from a much wider perspective, you shouldn't expect the experience to be wildly different and revolutionary. What you can expect are improvements to the core features that matter most in a smartphone, like the camera, display, and battery life.

The iPhone 11 starts at $700, while the iPhone 11 Pro begins at $1,000 and the base price for larger iPhone 11 Pro Max is $1,100. Both phones are available for preorder and will be launching in stores on September 20.

Read more: The iPhone 11 proves Apple learned an important lesson after last year's iPhone launch - most people don't want to pay $1,000 for a new smartphone

After spending a few hours with Apple's new iPhones, here are the first impressions I came away with. A full review with deeper detail on camera performance, battery life, and other features will be coming shortly.

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The ultra-wide camera will give iPhone photographers a new perspective — but Apple is also playing catch-up.

The ultra-wide camera will give iPhone photographers a new perspective — but Apple is also playing catch-up.

All of Apple's new iPhones come with an ultra-wide-angle lens with a 120-degree field of view, making it possible to take shots that capture much more of the scene than what was previously possible.

That means you won't have to squeeze together as tightly for group shots or take as many steps back when trying to capture a broad landscape. It's a perk that makes the iPhone all the more useful as a general purpose camera — and it's a must-have feature for Apple's smartphone that arrived earlier on competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S10.

Take a look at the photos below to see how the iPhone 11 Pro's ultra-wide-angle camera compares to the regular wide-angle camera on the iPhone XS Max.

iPhone 11 Pro

iPhone 11 Pro

iPhone XS Max

iPhone XS Max

The iPhone 11 Pro is heavy, although that doesn't make me like it any less.

The iPhone 11 Pro is heavy, although that doesn't make me like it any less.

At 188 grams, the iPhone 11 Pro is noticeably heavier than some other phones like the 157-gram Galaxy S10. But that's not necessarily a negative.

The iPhone's heftier glass and stainless steel body, which features a matte back panel, gives the phone a distinct aesthetic that makes it feel like you're holding a gadget worth $1,000. It also more prominently distinguishes the 11 and 11 Pro from last year's lineup, although most people will find that alone is hardly worth the higher price.

The color of the midnight green version of the iPhone 11 Pro also seems to slightly change depending on the lighting. I found that it looked noticeably lighter in bright outdoor scenarios, for example.

The $700 iPhone 11, which I imagine will be the right choice for most people, has a more familiar glossy-looking back panel that feels similar to the iPhone XR.

The screen is crisp and bright, but the notch doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

The screen is crisp and bright, but the notch doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro offer a higher contrast ratio than Apple's previous-generation smartphones, and that change has been moderately noticeable in the few hours I've spent using the new phones.

When viewing a high-resolution photo of a night sky overlooking a lake on both the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone XS Max side-by-side, the light from the stars looked a bit brighter against the dark sky on Apple's newer iPhone, for instance.

I also felt that the True Tone adjustments — which modifies the color and intensity of the display based on the surrounding ambient light — looked more prominent on the iPhone 11 Pro's display compared to that of the XS Max.

But the notch-shaped cutout near the top of the display that houses the iPhone's front-facing camera sensors hasn't changed much, if at all. Other smartphone makers like Samsung have done more to make the camera cutouts blend more seamlessly into their smartphone's display, allowing the company to extend the screen size even further without making the display larger.

The iPhone 11 is all about its cameras, and that says a lot about the state of the smartphone industry in general.

The iPhone 11 is all about its cameras, and that says a lot about the state of the smartphone industry in general.

The camera is the most obvious and prominent upgrade on Apple's latest crop of iPhones, and for an important reason. Smartphones have become so advanced in recent years that cameras are one of the few areas in which companies like Apple can make noticeable improvements.

Our phones are already powerful enough to handle the tasks that most people would want to use them for — such as checking email, browsing the web, gaming, and casual photo editing. Their screens are already sharp enough and bright enough to watch movies and view photos enjoyably.

But smartphone cameras have always lagged behind dedicated DSLR cameras, especially when it comes to overall image quality, their ability to zoom, and how well they can shoot in the dark. Those are all areas in which Apple and other smartphone makers have added improvements in recent years.

Choosing between the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 11 Pro

Choosing between the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 11 Pro

If you're trying to decide between the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, it's worth considering your priorities and your budget.

The iPhone 11 is still capable of taking ultra-wide-angle shots just like the 11 Pro. But the Pro model's telephoto lens enables it to offer a closer zoom and more flexibility when it comes to shooting in Portrait mode, since it can use either the telephoto lens or ultra-wide-angle lens for those shots.

For this reason — and other perks like the option for more storage space than the iPhone 11 offers and a screen with higher contrast — it might be the better choice for professional photographers.

The average user that's just looking for an improved camera, long battery life, and solid performance will probably be satisfied with the less expensive iPhone 11. We'll have more insight on the iPhone's battery life, additional camera features, and other characteristics in our full review.

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