Early Impressions: Apple’s AirPods Pro Are Fantastic

The AirPods Pro are now available.

Well, my ears are now wearing Apple’s new AirPods Pro . I just took some pictures for this article, and I had a group of people surrounding me. Once again, the public is always aware when Apple puts out a new product. And I am predicting that the AirPods Pro will generate the biggest sales for Apple since the first AirPods came out three years ago.

The biggest star of the new AirPods Pro is noise cancellation. It’s shockingly good given that these earbuds are so small. The noise cancellation is on par with that on Sony’s WH-1000XM3 buds, but feels a little smoother with your eardrums feeling less pressure.

Apple's new earbuds come in a "Landscape Mode" case that is still very portable.

Apple really excels with the “Transparent Mode,” which sounds tinny and digital on every device I’ve used that has this. However, Apple’s new buds make this mode sound more natural, just like the real world sounds. And given that the new buds have silicon tips that block off your ears, you will need to use Transparent Mode when driving, walking outside, and doing other things where using noise cancellation is more of a liability than an advantage.

The AirPods Pro have excellent sound quality.

Then, there is the sound. I’m glad to report that the AirPods Pro sound noticeably better than previous versions. Not only is there more of a kick in bass, but the separation between the mids and highs has increased. My early tests indicate that they don’t sound as good as the Sony WH-1000XM3 buds, but come close enough.

I’ve made two phone calls with the new Pro buds, and both listeners said they don’t notice a huge difference between these and other AirPod models. Of course, I can hear people a lot better given that their voices don’t have to compete too much with outside noise. The AirPods Pro easily beat Sennheiser and Sony when it comes to this.

My only major gripe with the AirPods Pro is that the battery life is still rather short (4.5 hours with NC on and 5 without). That may have been great three years ago, but Sony and Jabra have made earbuds that can last more than six hours on a single charge.

I may have some other gripes too, and I promise to do a more in-depth review once the honeymoon period is over. But so far, I believe that the $249 price tag is very reasonable for Apple’s new buds. You can bet they’ll be out of stock soon.

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Hands On With Google Pixel 4 And Pixel 4 XL

Google Pixel 4 XL

I’m a little late with an article about the new Pixel 4 series. But seriously, you are not missing much. Don’t get me wrong; both devices are solid smartphones. However, they are outdone by either Samsung or Apple in almost every single aspect. Here are some of my impressions:

  • Both phones have a somewhat boring design.
  • The Pixel still feels like the “iPhone” of the Android world.
  • Double lens camera takes great pictures from what I can see. However, Google no longer stands out from the competition since the Galaxy Note 10+ camera is almost as good and the iPhone 11 Pro Max camera easily outdoes it.

The Pixel 4 screen has a 90Hz refresh rate.

  • The 90Hz refresh rate on the screen is noticeable (things move more smoothly), but it isn’t as big of a deal as I originally thought it would be.
  • The Pixel 4 and 4XL are water-resistant, not waterproof — very disappointing.
  • The stereo speakers sound great — just as good as they do on the iPhone 11 Pro Max and Galaxy Note 10.
  • The face recognition software is accurate, but not as fast (other critics disagree) as the software on new iPhones.
  • Soli motion sensing works better than motion sensing ever did on Samsung’s devices. Still, is feels more like a gimmick than something useful.
  • The screen looks good, but something is missing? Perhaps it’s the fact that the screen brightness only maxes out at 450 nits (compared to the 600-700 nits on the iPhone Pro and Galaxy Note 10+). The colors seem slightly off as well.
  • Google Assistant works perfectly on this — better than Siri works on Apple.
  • Android 10 finally has a built-in voice recorder, and you can search recordings.
  • As usual, Google made an excellent camera. Some of the darker shots in “Night Mode” look a little more fuzzy than they do on the iPhone 11 Pro.
  • 8x digital zoom works surprisingly well. Google’s image processing is fantastic.
  • I’m worried about the battery life. I used the 4XL for fifteen minutes, and it has already gone down to 88 percent. In 2017, that would have been great. Now, not so much.
I’m not sure if I’ll be receiving an actual review unit of the Pixel 4 or Pixel 4 XL. And you know what — I don’t care. It’s not that Google messed up with their new smartphone series. It’s just that they didn’t make anything that remotely stands out. Unfortunately, it’s a hard pass for me on this one. 
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2019 iPad 7 Is A Budget Tablet That Feels Anything But Cheap

2019's iPad 7

As someone who has owned the 11-inch iPad Pro for three months (it was a great tablet, but I didn’t use it much), I wasn’t too excited to try out the new budget iPad 7. However, I can’t seem to let it go from my hands. Here are some reasons that make the budget iPad, which starts off at $329 for the 32GB WiFi version, the best version of the iPad for its price.

Excellent Screen

You would think Apple would put a cheap screen on its cheapest iPad, but that certainly isn’t the case here. The 10.2-inch 2160 x 1620 ( 264 ppi) screen isn’t “True Tone” or laminated like the other iPads, but that hardly matters. iPadOS allows you to change the contrast, color saturation, and color tone of the screen to your liking.

After adjusting the screen to my liking, I don’t see much of a difference between the display on the budget iPad and the expensive iPad Pro. And that’s great news for those who just need a device to stream Netflix, Hulu, etc.

A10 Fusion Chip Is Good Enough In Most Cases

The iPad 7 comes with Apple’s outdated A10 Fusion processor, but it still runs well enough for most tasks. If you surf the internet, write emails, stream videos, and take notes, you’ll hardly notice a difference when compared to the iPad Pro.

If you use your iPad 7 to edit 4K videos, manipulate 10MP photos, and play the most graphic-intensive games, the budget iPad isn’t for you. But many save photo and video editing for more capable machines like the MacBook Pro.

Battery Life Is Good

Apple rates the iPad 7 for 10 hours of battery life, which is accurate from my experience. Higher-end iPads may offer a little more juice, but not enough to make a huge difference. You can add extra life by keeping the screen brightness at 50 percent or lower.

Minor Quibbles

The 8MP rear camera and 1.2MP front camera are far from best-in-class, and you are much better off using your iPhone when shooting photos or videos and FaceTiming. The bezels look like something straight out of 2015. And this budget iPad works with the Apple Pencil 1 rather than the updated Pencil 2.

The iPad 7 isn't perfect, but it is perfect for its price.

Conclusion

The iPad 7 may have a budget price, but it doesn’t feel or act like a budget device. For those who are more into content consumption than content creation, the iPad 7 is a fantastic tablet that won’t eat away too much of your wallet space.

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Thoughts On New 2019 Microsoft Surface Products

The Surface Pro 7 is now available.

I am usually not late when it comes to talking about new Microsoft products. However, there hasn’t been much excitement about their Surface product lately. Don’t get me wrong; the Surface Pro, Surface Book, and even the Surface Laptop are great. But HP and Dell have caught up in the laptop/tablet hybrid category.

I have mixed feelings about the new products Microsoft has just announced for release this quarter. There are some possibly groundbreaking products Microsoft announced for the future, so I’ll get to those in another post. For now, let’s take a look at what’s available for this holiday season:

Surface Pro 7

The new Surface Pro 7 finally has a USB-C port.

I’ve been able to play with Microsoft’s updated Pro, but I can’t tell much of a difference between the 7 and last year’s Pro 6. However, Microsoft has finally added a USB-C port — something they should have done two years ago.

Microsoft has added their new 10th generation processors, and there are new updated microphones, which can be used for making and receiving calls. But I think the bezel space is still too large for a 2019 device. And while the Surface Pen is very good, it still lags behind when compared to the Apple Pencil 2

Surface Pro X

The Surface Pro X lacks the power of its (smaller) brother.

For those on the go, Microsoft’s Surface Pro X, which has a 13-inch edge-to-edge display, comes with a slot for LTE Advanced networks. The big letdown is that it runs on an ARM processor with a Qualcomm chip that may be great for smartphones and tablets but lags behind on Windows 10 devices. In a way, it’s a much larger version of the Surface Go, Microsoft’s well-reviewed on-the-go LTE tablet from 2018.

Surface Laptop 3

The Surface Laptop 3 now comes in a 15-inch model.

The Surface Laptop has never been a very groundbreaking laptop, especially because its screen resolution is low for a high-end laptop. However, for those who have always wanted a 15-inch Surface Laptop, your dreams have come true.

Microsoft has made some minor changes to the Surface Laptop 3, but the most important is that the laptop finally has a USB-C port. The 13-inch version runs Intel’s latest 10th generation processor, while the 15 inch runs an AMD chip.

Conclusion

Microsoft’s 2019 devices aren’t anything groundbreaking, and those who bought a Surface Pro or Surface Laptop in 2018 need not upgrade unless you’re desperate for USB-C port. However, those in the market for a new laptop or laptop/tablet hybrid should definitely look at Microsoft’s new devices.

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Nintendo Switch Lite Is Better In Some Ways Than Its Big Brother

I initially had no intentions of reviewing the Nintendo Switch Lite, a smaller version of its big brother, the Nintendo Switch, which came out in early 2017. The main attraction of the Switch was that it was a powerful portable game system (although a little large and flimsy) that could be “switched” to your television or computer monitor. People thought it wouldn’t succeed, but it has.

So, why would Nintendo want to release a smaller version of the Switch that can’t even switch to your television set? Why would they want to release a version without detachable joy cons? Yeah, it costs $100 less, but it seemed that the $100 reduction wasn’t worth it. Then, I held it in my hands.

The Switch Lite comes in a small box.

After using the Nintendo Switch Lite for the past four days, I am highly considering selling my regular Switch, which I never connect to anything. There are several reasons for this.

Nintendo Switch Lite Feel More Portable

Yes, it’s a given that the Lite feels more portable, but you won’t understand how much until you hold it in your hands. The Lite has a 8.2 x 3.6-inch design with a 5.5-inch screen. The turquoise model, which is being used for this review, is gorgeous and doesn’t slip out of your hands.

This feels like a real handheld that I can play powerful games on. Imagine being able to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Yoshi’s Crafted World on a device that actually fits in your pocket (but does stick out a little bit). I can take this places where I won’t take my regular Switch.

Nintendo Switch Lite Has Sharper Screen

The screen resolution on both the regular Switch and the Lite is 720p. However, 720p looks more sharp on a 5.5-inch screen when compared to a 6.2-inch one. The screen on the Lite is pretty incredible for a $200 device. Besides being sharp, the color saturation and contrast levels are near perfect.

Battery Life

The Switch Lite has a very good battery life.

One of the biggest issues with the regular Switch has been battery life. Nintendo just released an updated version of the Switch that adds a couple hours of juice, but most people are still stuck with making sure they have a charger wherever they go. The Switch Lite can last three to seven hours. It has usually lasted four hours for me, while the regular Switch gets a little past two.

Nintendo Switch Lite Verdict

This is a five star device! The fact that the Lite can’t output to a larger display is a bummer. But, as you’ll find out once you use the device, the Nintendo Switch Lite is meant to be played in your hands. 

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Full Review: Sony WF-1000XM3 Earbuds Are Best In Market

Sony's new earbuds come with a large charging case.

You may try to go to Best Buy, Fry’s, or any other electronics place to get the new Sony WF-1000XM3 buds. If you go, chances are that you will come back without them. Sony’s new noise cancelling earbuds are very hard to fine. And there is a good reason for that.

It’s important to note that these buds are quite big compared to other earbuds. And the case they come with feels relatively large, although it still fits in your pocket. They’re not the most comfortable earbuds, and you feel the slight annoyance of their weight after about an hour. That said, I still sleep with them every night to block out annoying noises, though they will sometimes drop out.

The WF-1000XM3s have no waterproof rating either, which is a shame since they offer just about everything else. Sony hasn’t hit the waterproof spot that Jabra has with their earbuds, but Sony”s are still far better.

Sony's new earbuds have fantastic noise cancellation.

The most noticeable thing about the WF-1000XM3 buds is the noise cancellation, which is impossibly good for a product this size. They offer about 80 percent of the isolation that the big over-the-ear WH-1000XM3 give out. For those who don’t comprehend technology, this may not be good enough. For the rest of us, this type of noise cancellation is a technological breakthrough for buds that can fit in your pocket.

Then, there is the sound. Sony takes the heavy bass and high treble from the WH-1000XM3 and puts it in these small buds. You can manipulate the sound with Sony’s Headphones app, but it’s better to just let the 1000XM3s do their thing with their natural audio ouput. The sound quality equals that of the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless buds, but Sennheiser doesn’t have noise cancellation.

If you want to wear your buds in public and be able to hear everything and everybody around you, Sony’s buds offer an Ambient Mode that allows you to change the amount of sound that comes through. If you are jogging outdoors, it’s a good idea to turn it all the way up. You can also switch from Ambient Mode to Noise Cancellation Mode with just the touch of your finger on the left bud. The right bud controls playback, Google Assistant, or Siri.

You can make calls on the WH-1000XM3 earbuds.

As I noted in my ears-on impressions review of Sony’s new earbuds, the phone quality isn’t the best. But as I’ve been able to make more calls, I’ve realized the call quality is definitely adequate. Yes, people can tell I am wearing earbuds, but they can still hear me. If I’m in busy traffic and surrounded by loud noise, I do have to constantly repeat myself.

When push comes to shove, the WH-1000XM3 buds are worth the $230. If anything, you get a small noise cancellation system that fits in your pocket. The 1000XM3s aren’t the perfect earbuds that smartphone users have been asking for, but they are closer to perfection than any earbuds have come so far.

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Apple Watch Series 5 Feels More Like A Downgrade Than Upgrade

Apple Watch Series 5

I received a review unit of the Apple Watch Series 5 a couple days back, and I still think Apple makes the best consumer-friendly smartwatch — when it is actually working. The problem, right now, is that there is something that is causing the battery (on this non-LTE version) to last, at most, 7 hours instead of the 18 hours which has been quoted by Apple. And this is even after disabling the Always On feature.

I thought I might have received a defective watch, but Zac Hall of 9to5Mac recently covered the issue.

“I’ve been eager to review the new Apple Watch for the fifth consecutive year, but there’s just one problem: I can’t get through a full day without it dying. Apple Watch Series 5 introduces an always-on display so you can read the time at a glance, and Apple says battery life is unchanged from Series 4 models.”

The article adds that he is only able to get 12 hours of battery life a day. Judging from my experience, he’s one of the lucky ones. I’m going to do a hard reset soon to see if that changes things. In the mean time, my Watch isn’t a brick, but still remains in the realm of a rock.

This particular Watch spends more time on charger than on my wrist.

There are plenty of good things to say about the Apple Watch 5: the screen has slightly more contrast than the Apple Watch 4; the Watch has an Always-On feature; voice recognition has slightly improved; and health tracking seems more accurate even without claims that it has been improved. It’s a solid smartwatch when it works.

I’m assuming that a software update should fix the battery issue, but how much more juice will the average user get? For now, the Apple Watch Series 4 offers the best battery life. If you have a fourth-generation Apple Watch, there is absolutely no way you need to upgrade to the latest.

The Apple Watch Series 3 is the best buy now.

In fact, the Apple Watch Series 3, which starts at $199 (38mm version), may be a better buy right now. Even though the third-generation smartwatch has a smaller screen and the pixel density isn’t as crisp, the device still works perfectly and will last at least two days for the average user. The LTE version takes up a lot of power, but most users should be able to last at least a day with that version — if they actually use the LTE part.

Perhaps the sixth-generation Apple Watch will be a true upgrade. For now, the Apple Watch 5 feels more like a downgrade.

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Full Review: iPhone 11 Pro Max Isn’t Just A Small Upgrade

This review is based on the iPhone Pro Max (Green, 256GB) on Sprint. It costs $1249.

2019’s  iPhone 11 Pro Max may look just like 2018’s iPhone XS Max, but there are some important differences. Let’s take a look:

Build and Design

The Pro Max design looks the same as its predecessor, but you notice a difference when it’s in your hands, especially due to the matte finish on the back. The green unit, which is being used for this review, is especially gorgeous.

Then, there is the triple-lens bump on the upper-left of the iPhone’s rear side, which looks more protruding in pictures than it does in person. Both the upgraded camera and more powerful battery make the Pro Max the heaviest iPhone yet, but the extra perks are worth the slightly added weight.

Screen

The 6.5-inch 2436 x 1135 (458 PPI) pixel resolution screen is arguably just as good as the 6.8-inch screen is on the Galaxy Note 10+, which some may find a little too large for a smartphone. Apple has made a slight improvement to the contrast ratio, which was already just about perfect in the first place.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max screen is perfect for watching videos.

Apple has also improved the maximum brightness level, which is 800 nits. You’ll barely need to turn the brightness all the way up unless you are in direct sunlight. In my tests, the 11 Pro Max screen performed better in direct sunlight than any smartphone I have ever tested.

Performance

Now this is one area where you can tell Apple definitely upgraded their new flagship device. The new A13 Bionic chip, used along with iOS 13.1, moves things along rapidly, although — as usual — I’ve had some issues with the screen turning to the proper orientation.

You can see the difference in power the most when you use processor-heavy applications such as Photoshop Express and various video applications. Games also run smoother with Apple’s new chip.

There is either 4GB or 6GB of RAM, depending on which source you believe. Apple doesn’t disclose the exact RAM, and some may scuff at the iPhone having much less than the 12GB of RAM that the Note 10+ has. However, it’s a poor comparison because iOS uses RAM a lot more efficiently than Android does. What’s important is that the 11 Pro Max can run any app very well, even if there are several others open in the background.

Camera

This is the star of the iPhone Max Pro, and it is even better in person than reading about it online. The triple-lens camera on back includes a 12MP telephoto lens, a 12MP wide lens, and a new 12MP ultra-wide lens. This allows for fantastic pictures during the day or at night.

Speaking of night, it’s the Night Mode on the iPhone 11 Pro camera that earns all the “wows.” This picture of a stuffed Nintendo Koopa Troopa was taken in pitch black, where my eyes could barely make out the famous Nintendo character.

This picture was taken in pitch black.

Here is another picture that shows off the 11 Pro Max’s camera:

Santa Clarita, CA Skyline

I haven’t taken a lot of videos with the iPhone 11 Pro Max yet, but I do notice that the video camera lights up dark scenes and stabilizes videos better. Then, there is the stereo sound, which works well but doesn’t sound as wide as videos taken with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10+.

Phone

It’s almost difficult to remember that the original purpose of smartphones is to make phone calls. I didn’t notice any difference between the call quality on the 11 Pro Max when compared to the previous generation iPhone. And that’s not a bad thing. The mic quality in both speaker mode and regular mode is great, even though your mouth needs to be positioned as close to the mic as possible to ensure you are heard well.

Battery

The 11 Pro Max’s (nearly) 4,000mAh battery might make the iPhone a little heavier but provides battery life like no other smartphone has ever done before. Yesterday, I used Google Maps for an hour while streaming podcasts from Spotify. A couple hours later, I played a couple shows on Hulu. Then, I used FaceTime to talk to a friend for a half hour. In between all of this, I checked my mail and did some web surfing. And I still had 15 percent left at the end of the night.

I haven’t done exact battery tests yet, but some studies show that the iPhone 11 Pro Max can last through 10 hours of screen time at high brightness. Since most people don’t spend the whole day on their iPhone, this means that most can easily get two days of use without having to charge the phone.

An 18W USB-C charger that comes with a Lightning to USB-C cable is included with the Pro 11 Max, and it charges the phone almost instantly. I have gone from 11 percent to 62 percent in just a half hour. It almost sounds too good to be true.

Conclusion

If you have an iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, there may not be a lot of reasons to upgrade to the new iPhone Pro 11 Max. However, if you have some extra cash lying around (the cheapest version with 64GB costs $1099), you’ll definitely notice the improvements. For people who have the 2017 iPhone or earlier, the iPhone 11 Pro Max will feel like a smartphone user’s dream come true.

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iPhone 11 Pro Max: First Impressions

iPhone 11 Pro Max comes in a stylish box.

iPhone 11 week continues, and my hands have been on the new iPhone 11 Pro Max for the past day. Even though I’m not ready for a full review, I can give my first impressions, most which are positive. Here we go…

  • I have the green one, which is really cool. The new matte finish feels great in your hands.
  • The 6.5-inch screen is beautiful, but it needs some adjusting to look as good as the Samsung Galaxy S10+’s 6.5-inch screen.
  • The 11 Pro feels slightly heavier than 2018′s XS Max. It’s not a bad thing, especially since the battery that’s fit in offers significantly more life.
  • The Night Mode works very well. Here’s one picture I took in a relatively dark room.

Here's a perfect Night Mode shot.

  • And here’s another that was taken in pitch outdoors black. 
  • Watching movies on the Pro Max is great, but that notch is still intruding. I like the “hole punch” front cameras on the Galaxy S10+ more. 
  • However, the front camera takes great selfies.
  • I had trouble connecting the iPhone 11 Pro Max to the Samsung Galaxy Watch. I will work on this more. 
  • I’m getting a lot of looks when using this at Starbucks.
  • Using iOS after using Android for so many months is confusing. 
  • It’s so disappointing that this doesn’t have Apple Pencil support. 
  • I love the new Safari app in iOS 13. It’s the desktop browser that iPhone and iPad users have always asked for. 
  • This thing begs for a screen protector and a protective case even though it’s nice to hold it naked.
  • This thing runs fast! Switching apps is really smooth.
  • I wish Apple would forget the lighting port and replace it with a USB-C port.
  • This new iPhone charges very fast — even faster than the Galaxy S10+ and Galaxy Note 10+.
  • Using Siri after Google Assistant for so many months is a painful reminder of how much Apple has fallen behind.
  • Apple Maps still sucks. It’s better to download Google Maps; your life will be easier.
  • Apple’s EarPods are outdated. The minute you use these makes you want the AirPods instead. Well done, Apple…well done.
  • Video recording on this is fantastic. I need to do more tests, especially in low-lit situations.
I will have a full review of the iPhone 11 Max within the next week. For now, I will say that even though I love Apple’s new iPhone, it’s not a must-upgrade for those who already have 2018′s XS Max. But for others, it just may be the ultimate smartphone. 

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iPhone 11 Pro And iPhone 11 Pro Max Cameras Are Sensational

There will be a full review of the new iPhones soon. They are fantastic, but I’m not entirely sure you need to upgrade if you have an iPhone or Android phone from 2018 or 2019. Still, as many reviews have suggested, the camera really is the biggest camera upgrade in years for the iPhone.

The specs, at least on paper, don’t seem like a huge upgrade from last year’s flagship models. The main lens and telephoto lenses have the same 12 megapixels, but Apple adds an extra 12-megapixel ultra-wide angle lens that appears to work perfectly. You can check out some of the ultra-wide angle pictures taken on CNET. Even though the angles on the pictures are large, you can still see the details.

However, the biggest difference between previous iPhones (and most competing phones) is Night Mode. Tom’s Guide says the iPhone 11 Pro models set the new standard for night shots, and they’re not lying. The iPhone lens takes things your eyes can barely see and lights them up. This video shows just how well Night Mode works.

Press click to play.

Samsung has produced their own Night Mode on the Galaxy Note 10 models, and the software has recently been transferred to the Galaxy S10 models. However, the pictures aren’t quite as clear as they are with the iPhone 11 Pro’s Night Mode; Samsung’s pictures have more noise and look somewhat digitally distorted.

As 9To5Mac notes, filmmaker Mateo Bertoli took his iPhone 11 Pro to Sequoia National Park to test out his new camera. He noted that not only were the still photos stellar, but there was an improvement in capturing videos when compared to previous iPhones.

“In terms of videos I noticed a slight improvement in terms of noise (on the wide and telephoto lens) and mainly bug fixes from previous model. For example the extended dynamic range was working very bad for me on the iPhone X/XR/Xs; the skin tones used to look very weird and when I was filming sunset/sunrise there was something off in the way the iPhone was managing the highlights.”

Click to play Mateo Bertoli's video in YouTube.

Bertoli also noticed an improvement in the stabilization of the videos he took, noting that even though he brought his tripod along, it was unnecessary. It’s important to note that the 11 Pro’s ultra-wide camera has software based (rather than optical) image stabilization.

There are some who think of a smartphone camera as something “extra” on a device that can do just about everything. However, many people want to be able to use their smartphone camera as their main shooting device without having to lug around a digital camera. It looks like the iPhone 11 Pro models have granted their wishes.

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