iPhone 11 Pro and Apple Watch 5 review

Our thoughts after trialling the iPhone 11 Pro and Apple Watch 5.

iPhone 11 Pro in different colours and Apple Watch 5 in grey.

Every September Apple releases new phones which, rightly or wrongly, every other mobile device will be compared to.

This year it’s three phones: the 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. The iPhone 11 is essentially an update of last year’s XS. The iPhone 11 Pro has all the new tech, and the Max is a bigger version of the Pro.

We trialled the Pro, and it’s a great phone. It feels like Apple’s “catch-up phone”, bringing it up to spec with the latest big Android launches from the likes of Google, Samsung and Huawei (for example, it has three rear cameras).

Apple has also launched its new Apple Watch (the fifth watch in four years). Most of the tech improvements from the previous iteration are invisible, with the biggest changes being software-based.

Should I buy it?

Front and back view of iPhone 11 Pro.

The decision to upgrade is fairly simple: do you currently have an iPhone and need/want a new one? Then yes, get the new one.

Despite advertising claims, year-on-year improvements to iPhones (and most Android phones) are incremental. For example, there wasn’t much difference between the iPhone XS and the iPhone X. So if your phone is a few generations old, you could save money and buy a previous version rather than the latest one.

It’s the same if you’re on Android and looking to change over to iPhone. You may want to get a less expensive, earlier model. It’ll still play nice with any Apple devices you have in the home (such as Apple TV or an iPad).

The cameras

With Google’s Pixel (still not officially released in New Zealand) and some of the latest Huawei and Oppo phones already showing off amazing camera tech, there was a lot of pressure on Apple to stay ahead of the game.

While it followed the other companies and added a third camera with an ultra-wide lens and finally developed a night photography mode, Apple has, as usual, taken its own approach.

Screenshot of iPhone 11 Pro screen showing ultrawide camera mode.

When lining up a shot, the centre of the screen shows what’s in frame, with controls on either side. However, these sides are now transparent, showing you what the wider cameras can see. This helps in lining up your shot, as well as showing if it would be better to zoom out.

Night mode is when the camera takes a series of images at different exposures and then stitches them together, so even a shot in near darkness will be well lit.

Outdoor photo in night mode.
The iPhone 11 Pro's night photos were good, but not as impressive as those I’ve taken with the Huawei P30 Pro.

Unlike on some Android phones, such as Huawei’s, Apple has decided to not make it a selectable mode. Instead the phone detects the amount of light available and puts the phone into low-light, or night mode accordingly. When it does this, the screen displays a yellow icon beside the flash icon, so you can toggle the mode on or off.

In your hand the maximum exposure time is three seconds, but if the phone detects you’re using a tripod, or is otherwise completely stable, it will extend that to 30 seconds.

I used the 11 Pro at night in my backyard, both with and without a tripod. The results I got were good, but not as impressive as those I’ve taken with the Huawei P30 Pro. While the camera created a well-lit scene from a very dark one, zooming in revealed too much blurriness and a lack of detail.

The battery

I’m used to a phone that lasts all day with anywhere between 60 and 40% battery life left by 10pm. The 11 Pro, like the XS and X before it, will be at 30-20%. It got as low as 15% when I played a lot of games. If I was going out at night, I needed to top up the battery beforehand.

The lack of battery life was most notable when travelling. After a day of flying, playing games, listening to music, connecting to the Watch, and using mobile data the whole time, the Pro’s battery was almost dead by 7pm.

The colours

The Pro (and the larger Pro Max) comes in four muted colours, with gold and “midnight green” being the most exciting options.

The 11, on the other hand, comes in six much brighter colours. According to Apple, the difference is due to the materials made to make each phone, but it’s a little sad that you can’t get a nice bright colour on the more expensive models.

The Watch

Apple Watch in black.

The Apple Watch 5 is nice, but not notably different from the previous model, with just a few software tweaks.

The new always-on face is useful, and it didn’t noticeably impact the watch’s battery life. While other wearables use a generic digital face for their always-on display, Apple has created an always-on counterpart for each available watch face – often a monochrome version.

I do enjoy using the watch to pay for things through Apple Pay. Double tapping the side button brings up the card you want to use and then you can tap it on any contactless payment system.

April 2020 update: There have been two significant updates to the Apple Watch functionality: an ECG (electrocardiogram) report function (Apple Watch series 4 and 5) and irregular heart rhythm notifications (Apple Watch Series 1 or later).

The irregular heart rhythm notification analyses your heart beat in the background and will send you a notification if an irregular rhythm is identified. The notification is sent if an irregular rhythm is detected on five checks over a minimum of 65 minutes.

The ECG requires an Apple Watch Series 4 or later and works using electrodes built into the back crystal and the crown.

All recordings, the associated classifications and any noted symptoms are stored in the Health app on your iPhone. Users can share a PDF of the results with their doctor.

The phone and watch were loaned to the writer by Apple.

Member comments

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James C.
24 Nov 2019
Ecosystem matters

A review based on a few technical points does miss the value inherent in owning an iPhone. Apple is in control of both software (operating system) and hardware which to me is a big advantage. Apple also take privacy way more seriously than Google (Android) who makes all its money from using user data. That's another huge advantage to Apple. Apple also has beautiful seem-less integration across all the different devices I own and iCloud, photos, logins etc. Stuff just works without hassle and in an intuitive manner. Point is, these somewhat shallow reviews miss all this value add - and that value-add is available equally for those buying the much more affordable previous models. These key Apple advantages are what consumers care about. Not minor tech specs.

David C.
23 Nov 2019
But...what about value for money?

Given these phones run from $1600 to approaching $3000, might it be time to add in a value for money measure as well as technical performance?

Jilli A.
23 Nov 2019
No truer word said

It's never the biggest, the best, the newest the latest, the bottom line is: What am I getting for my money?

Jilli A.

Consumer staff
25 Nov 2019
Re: But...what about value for money?

Hi David,

Thanks for your feedback. I have passed this onto our testing team for future consideration.

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff