iPhone XR vs. iPhone 11
Let's start with the obvious difference between the latest iPhone and the last-generation XR: the XR has a single, standard wide-angle camera. The new iPhone 11, on the other hand, has a dual camera system – one standard wide and one ultra-wide. The 11 gets an updated front-facing camera too: a 12MP sensor compared to the XR's 7MP, and 4K/60p video versus HD video. And of course, it's capable of the infamous 'slofie.'
How much of a difference that extra camera makes depends on what you like to take pictures of. In our experience, having that ultra-wide lens as an option is very handy.
All images are courtesy Apple
The iPhone 11's additional rear-facing camera also provides an advantage when shooting in Portrait Mode. It uses the slightly different perspectives of the ultra-wide and wide lenses to help create a more accurate depth map than the XR is capable of with its single camera, which only uses depth data generated from its dual pixel sensor combined with machine-learning assisted image segmentation. This should translate to better Portrait Mode images, with improved separation between subjects and their backgrounds.
Plus, the iPhone 11 is better suited for pet Portrait Mode photos like the one above, and who can resist those eyes?
Other camera features
There's a lot more to a smartphone camera than just hardware these days, and that's especially true of the camera in the iPhone 11. Apple has included a new Night Mode which is automatically enabled in low light levels, combining data from multiple image captures to produce a brighter more detailed image – very similar to Google's Night Sight. The 11's Smart HDR mode has also been improved – it's able to identify human and pet subjects, and render them appropriately while applying different processing to the rest of the image.
And later this fall, Apple will add a Deep Fusion mode via software update. While it also uses data from multiple frames, the end result is a larger 24MP file. That's quite useful if you'd like to make larger prints from phone images. We'll reserve judgement until we're able to test this feature of course, but it's potentially a big step forward for Apple's camera system and we're glad to see it in this sub-$1000 device in addition to the flagship Pro models.
These added features are powered by a new A13 Bionic processor, one of the key hardware advantages that the 11 offers over the A12-powered XR.
The XR and 11 are identical in size and both offer a 6.1" 'Liquid Retina HD' display, which is Apple-speak for 'LCD.' Stepping up to the 11 Pro will of course get you a nicer OLED display with better contrast and brightness, but that's not a differentiating factor between the XR and iPhone 11. Interestingly, you'll need to step up to the 5.8" 11 Pro if you want a smaller phone.
The XR is rated IP67 and the 11 is IP68, meaning both are fully protected against dust, but the iPhone 11 offers better protection against moisture. Apple states that the phone can withstand up to 30 minutes in depths of up to 2 meters; the XR can safely be submerged for the same amount time in depths up to 1 meter.
If you plan on taking your phone into the pool that extra waterproofing could make a difference depending on how deep you swim. But if you're more worried about everyday scenarios like, say, a tumble to the bottom of the toilet, then it's safe to say both phones would survive just fine.
The iPhone 11 offers slightly better battery life. According to Apple, it will deliver one hour of extra performance compared to the XR – up to 17 hours of non-streaming video playback vs. 16 hours, for example. If you're a power user who watches a lot of video on your phone that hour might make a difference, but if you're just looking for a phone that will get you through a typical day then either will likely suffice.
So who should buy the iPhone 11, and who should save the extra cash and get the XR? If photo-taking is any kind of priority, then we think the 11 is worth the extra money. Its use of more sophisticated photo processing will make a noticeable difference to photo quality, especially in low light, and an additional ultra-wide angle lens could prove a huge benefit when shooting landscapes or group photos, or in tight quarters.
The iPhone XR is still a perfectly capable camera though, with color rendering that we prefer over the Google Pixel 3. If you aren't one to push the limits with its capabilities in low light, and you don't need the ultra-wide lens of the 11, the XR will serve you quite well.