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Apple iOS 11 Review: Packed with New Features & Really Dialed All the Way to Eleven

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Sep 19
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Here’s our full review of Apple’s iOS 11 for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. This review is based on iOS 11 running on Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus smartphone.

Apple’s Software Team Has Outdone Itself with iOS 11 – On the iPad, it’s Even Better.

Disclaimer: Like my previous iOS 10 review, I will not talk about third-party apps at all since most of the software hasn’t been updated to take advantage of what iOS 11 has to offer. Also, instead of going ahead with a clean install of iOS 11 (Golden Master), I went ahead with the over the air installation route for review purposes. Why? Because that’s how most of you will install it once the OS is out for the public later today, and I wanted things to be as real as possible, for myself and for our readers. Last but not the least, this review is based on iOS 11 running on a iPhone 7 Plus.

ios-11-1-public-beta-1-for-iphone-and-ipadRelatedDownload: iOS 11.1 Public Beta 3 Now Available

Foundations from iOS 10.

Apple started laying the foundations for iOS 11 with the release of iOS 10.3. The bold text headers along with certain other elements acted as a trail of breadcrumbs for users to figure out what iOS 11 will bring to the table. During the WWDC 2017 keynote, Apple revealed the new OS for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, and excitement went through the roof.

The features that come with iOS 11 will surely impress anyone. But as we moved closer to September, things got obvious that the OS was mainly meant for a whole new phone – the iPhone X. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that Apple built this piece of software specifically with the iPhone X in mind. Remember those rounded corners from the UI lurking around in iOS 10? Well yeah, you’ll find plenty of those in the iPhone X.

But we’re not here to talk about the iPhone X. We’re here to talk about iOS 11 and how it fares on the current generation of devices and what you can expect from it when you encounter it in real life.

Design. Refined.

On the design front, iOS 11 is a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways. Rather than cramming tiny text everywhere and squeezing in unnecessary features in tight spaces, Apple loosened things up a bit by playing around with open spaces. There’s bold text everywhere and readability has definitely been well taken care of. In fact, I was surprised that just a change of font would do so much to enhance things in certain corners. It’s evident in places like Calendar, Mail, Settings, Weather and so on.

ios-11-1-beta-3-mainRelatediOS 11.1 Beta 3 is Now Available – How to Download With or Without Developer Account

What I dislike in the design change is that Apple went a little too far to outline what place or app you’re in. For example, if you launch the Messages app, you’ll see a huge title on the top left saying ‘Messages.’ As if I had no clue where I was, right Apple? Same goes for other places, like Settings, Recents section in the Phone app. Aesthetically, it does look great for the first few days, but the charm wears down dramatically.

Maybe it’s just me.

The home screen remains unchanged and you get the same layout of apps in a grid with the same limitation of not being able to place app icons anywhere you like. This remains a downside, even for me. You have the same folder system too. But, there is one change in the home screen if you can spot quickly, and it lies in the dock of icons. See it? Even if you do or don’t, I’ll just point it out here – the apps in the dock don’t have labels on them. It looks nice and clean. And it makes sense too, given that the apps in the dock are the ones you’ll be using the most so there’s no need to see their names over and over again.

Also, the Notification Center has now been merged with the lock screen. Whenever you pull it down, you basically pull down the lock screen. It doesn’t lock the phone or tablet when you bring it down either. Just swipe back up and you’ll be back to the app, game or home screen. It works flawlessly and you’ll get used to it pretty quickly.

The widgets page has been given a slight revamp too. The clock at the top is now gone and the entire page is dedicated to widgets, nothing more. But keep one thing in mind, this is only applicable if you are visiting the widgets page from the home screen by swiping right. If you bring down the lock screen and swipe right, you’ll see the clock right up there.

One aesthetic change which I’m really thankful about is the status bar. The ‘dot’ style cellular strength indicator with traditional looking bars. Other than that, the battery indicator icon has been given a little lick of paint too.

Apple even took the time to brush up the multitasking view a little. The only difference when compared to iOS 10 is that you don’t get a view of the home screen when at the far right of the multitasking window. You only get to see your background apps, nothing else.

System Animations. Faster & Snappier.

For some reason, I’ve always been a fan of the system animations in iOS. Sure, they take up some time and allegedly slow things down while you’re speeding through a productivity session, but it gives everything a more pleasant feel.

In iOS 11, that feel has been polished marvelously. Not only the animations are faster than before but they are more clearer too. And thankfully, Apple has ditched the ‘zoom’ like effect completely for something that’s more easier on the eyes. While there is slight zoom, but it’s not as severe as before. So hopefully it will not turn into motion sickness for some users.

Overall, the animations are great and I really can’t complain about it at all. I’m sure certain users would prefer some sort of method that allows them to disable these animations altogether, but there are some things we just can’t control.

Maybe next year?

Control Center. This One’s the Best from Apple. So far.

The Control Center was a huge addition to Apple’s mobile platform. But over the years, the excitement related to it died down and the Control Center transformed into just another iOS feature which you didn’t care much about. With iOS 11 and its brand new Control Center, Apple is holding to shuffle things up big time.

First and foremost, the Control Center takes up the entire screen rather than just a portion of it. It also breaks away from the traditional layout of toggles and introduces 3D Touch actions (press and hold on non-3D Touch devices) if you want to view more controls. For example, if you deep press on the toggle switches, you’ll see a total of six controls on the screen. And for the first time ever, you can choose to enable or disable cellular data straight from the Control Center. Thank you, Apple. And for those asking for it, a Personal Hotspot toggle has also been thrown into the mix.

Apple has added some subtle animations when you toggle the switches on or off. While you will notice them in the first few minutes of being acquainted with the Control Center, the novelty does die down quickly. But it goes on to show the level of detail Apple has gone into just to make sure everything looks as pleasing as possible.

Music controls are a breath of fresh air in the Control Center too. And since I make do with Apple Music a lot, I found this change way better implemented than the one before. There’s something way too satisfying with controls taking over the entire screen, fixing focus on what matters the most.

At this point I can easily say that the new Control Center is awesome and call it a day. I won’t. Wanna know why? Because when you go to Settings > Control Center, you’ll be greeted with a new entry called ‘Customize Controls.’ Once here, you can add or remove a handful of everyday switches and controls. There’s Accessibility Shortcuts, Do Not Disturb While Driving, Guided Access, Low Power Mode, Magnifier, Notes, Apple TV, Text Size, Voice Memos, Wallet and even a Screen Recording toggle which I will touch upon right after Control Center.

The Apple TV Remote is perhaps the most useful of all the toggles, at least for me. You are not stuck with using the full-blown Apple TV Remote app to get things done. Just swipe up to bring the Control Center, tap on the Apple TV icon and you’ll be controlling the big screen in no time. I found the implementation to be fairly decent and it worked out for me every single time.

If I was to give a score to the new Control Center, it’ll be a 4.5 out of 5. I’ve deducted the 0.5 for a very specific reason. When you tap the WiFi button to ‘turn off’ WiFi, it actually doesn’t turn off WiFi at all. It just disconnects you from the WiFi network. You can confirm this yourself. Start off by connecting to a WiFi network, then tap on the WiFi icon in the Control Center to turn it off. Now go to Settings > WiFi, and voila, WiFi is still turned on. I understand that Apple utilizes WiFi and Bluetooth for location based services, but this might be a little absurd for some users who aren’t keen about using Location Services that much.

One last thing – in case you’re wondering where the toggle switch for Night Shift went, just deep press on the brightness slider and it’ll become visible.

iOS 11 Has a Built-in Screen Recorder. It Just Works.

A feature that was reserved for Android users and the jailbreak community is now a part of stock iOS. Just add the toggle switch to Control Center as mentioned above, bring up the controls by swiping up on the display and tap the Screen Recording icon. A countdown for three seconds will show up and you’ll start recording the display instantly after that. Once you are done, just tap on the button again and video will be saved straight to the Camera Roll.

The only downside of the Screen Recording feature is that you’ll see a red bar at the top during recording sessions. If only there was a way to opt out of it. It just makes the video a little ‘staged.’ But hey, at least we got what we needed!

Messages App. Apps Upfront.

With every new release of iOS, Apple gets even more aggressive when it comes to iMessage and its feature-set. For instance, iOS 10 added support for apps tailor-made for iMessage. But with iOS 11, Apple is taking things even further by making sure that those apps are visible as soon as you open up a conversation.

So, instead of tapping on the App Store icon in the text field to view stickers or apps, they just sit as a carousel at the bottom of the display. Personally, I found this addition amazing since it got me using iMessage apps even more, and also made me realize how much you can do with stickers during a conversation. It’s pure fun.

Other than the above changes, the Messages app remains unchanged. Sure there’s a slight change in font and the spacing has been adjusted to feel more open, but it was quite obvious that Apple knew nothing was broken in Messages and opted to keep things unchanged in key areas. For now, at least.

Quite frankly, I find Messages great the way it is. But the one feature I really want to see in there is the ability to assign a personal color to the chat bubbles on a per contact basis. Basically, it’s a feature similar to what we can do in Facebook Messenger. Come on Apple, rip it off already.

Siri. Better than Ever. But Still Doesn’t Understand Words at Times.

Starting with the interface, Siri now feels like an entity rather than just a programmed robot sitting under your phone or tablet. The method of invoking it remains the same – either say ‘Hey Siri’ if you’ve enabled the feature, or just press and hold the Home button. You’ll be greeted with a fresh new user-interface and Siri will be ready to take in your queries.

Now, the thing is, I use Siri for extremely specific tasks. Like setting up an alarm, a reminder, or just checking up on the weather. If you are someone who is well invested into the world of virtual assistants, then you’ll be blown away by what Siri is callable of doing now.

Like Google Assistant, Siri is now context aware. This means you can ask it follow-up questions and it won’t break a sweat at all. For example, you can ask “Who is the President of the United States?” Siri will answer you immediately. But then you can ask “How tall is he?” Without naming the President, you’ll get an answer for that as well.

In case you’re wondering, Donald Trump is 6-feet, 2-inches tall.

Apple also threw in machine learning for good measure. This means that Siri will be able to better understand you with the passage of time, and will sound even more natural. For me, it’s just a novelty feature. I just want Siri to understand words on the fly like how Google Assistant does. That is something I want Apple to badly work on.

Looking to translate something into another language? Siri can do that too. But this feature is currently in beta so it might be a hit or miss given your situation and the supported languages are limited too. Apple promised that the database of translation will expand over time, and I’m sure travelers will find this feature in good taste for a wide variety of reasons.

Last but not the least, Siri is now an even better expert when it comes to playing music off Apple Music. So rather than just asking it something specific what you wanna hear, you can just say ‘Play something that I like’ and Siri will use the magic of the Internet and neural networks to play exactly that fits in line with your taste in music. This algorithm is based on the type of music you listen to from Apple Music, therefore it will only get better with time. Don’t be alarmed if the first few suggestions are a little off from your taste.

Siri Gets Smarter With Time. Don’t Call it Terminator Yet.

So, you’re reading an article about a certain place or device, then you decide to jump into the Messages app. You bring up the keyboard to type something related to that article and magically the very word you were about to type is right there in suggestions. What sorcery is this? This is Siri at its finest. Over time this feature will only get better as Siri learns more about you.

I never really forced myself to use this feature, but when I do come across it, it does blow me away somewhat. I mean, sure, the feature works as intended, but many users out there would want to opt out of it for ‘privacy’ concerns. But really, given that Apple has ensured that none of this data is shared with anyone else, I’m not bothered at all. If my smartphone or tablet gets smarter with time, then damn, what a time to be alive!

Screenshots. A Far Better System than Before.

Remember how we used to take screenshots in iOS 10? Just press and hold the Home and Power buttons at the same time and you’ll see a white flash on the display. You can then see to your screenshots straight from the Camera Roll.

That’s so 2016, man.

In iOS 11, things have been revised a little. While the button combinations remain the same (except on the iPhone X) but as soon as you snap a screenshot you’re presented first with a mini thumbnail that floats on the display of the screenshot you’ve taken. Tap on it and you’ll get a full screen view of the screenshot along with tools that allow you to draw over or just annotate it if you so wish. Once you’re done, either you can share it there and then, or just save it to the Camera Roll. Interestingly, I found this implementation really, really useful because it allows me to get my point across without having to jump into several apps in order to do the same.

Things go up and beyond when you realize that you can work on several screenshots at once. This is convenience at its finest and a screenshot system put in place that really adds some productivity stars to the overall workflow.

HEVC & HEIF. Half the Size. Same Quality. Portrait Mode Improved.

Apple introduced two new file formats for the Camera with the introduction of iOS 11. One is HEIF that replaces JPEG, while the other one is HEVC (H265) that replaces H264. Both these formats offer the same quality as their older counterparts, but at (almost) half the size. This is a pretty big deal for users that have devices with smaller storage space. This also means that you can shoot those 4K videos without having to worry about space that much.

During my testing of iOS 11, I was extremely content with what Apple has done here. It is very, very seamless to use and saves a ton of space at the same time. Why seamless? Because, if you decide to share HEIF photos or HEVC videos with others, first the content is converted to JPEG or H264, then sent off to the other user. There are no incompatibility issues here at all. It just works.

As a real-world example, I’ve constantly sent off photos and videos to different iMessage contacts and they were not able to tell whether any sort of conversion took place or even saw a decrease in image quality. For them it was completely normal. And for me (and hopefully everyone else) that’s a huge win.

But there’s a downside to this feature. Not really a deal breaker, but HEIF and HEVC is not available on every device. If you have an iPhone 6 or iPhone 5s, then you’re out of luck using it. You have to stick with JPEG and H264. Same goes for older iPads too.

Last but not the least, if you love taking Portrait Mode shots, then you’ll be pleased to learn that the feature works better in low-light conditions. Keep in mind that this feature is exclusive to the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X.

Camera. New Filters Page. Better Live Photos.

I’ll openly admit that Apple has never done a good job when it comes to implementing filters in its Camera app. I’ll leave this part for Instagram to handle better. Thankfully, iOS 11 makes everything worthwhile with a new UI and a set of filters.

There are nine filters to choose from which you can select by tapping the filters button in the top right hand corner of the Camera app then swiping on the viewfinder to go through your selection. Some of them are great, such as Noir or Silvertone, while others offer a great vintage like feel to your photos.

Once a filtered photo is taken you can simply change the filter later on straight from the Photos app using the Edit option. Everything is handled really well by iOS and you can rest assured photography enthusiasts will love this one.

Next up is Live Photos. They’re just Live Photos. But they’re better in iOS 11. Once you’ve shot a Live Photo, head over to the Photos app, select the live image you’ve shot and swipe up on it. You’ll be presented with new Live Photo effects. These include the regular Live option along with Loop, Bounce and Long Exposure.

Loop, as the name explains for itself loops the Live Photo, creating a wonderful, never-ending video of your wonderful photo you snapped. Bounce on the other hand is the perfect effect if you want to give your Live Photo the to and fro effect. Last but not the least, Long Exposure detects the moving bits in the Live Photo and gives them the long exposure like effect. It’s dreamy and can be useful to really show off your photography skills without having expensive equipment at hand.

Apple even threw in the ability to edit Live Photos even further. You can mute the audio or even trim the video part. So you’re not just limited to turning the Live Photo bit on or off.

App Store. Discovering Apps & Games Becomes Meaningful.

For the good part of 2017, I stopped downloading new apps and games. I would blame the poor app highlighting feature of the App Store for this, nothing else. Now though, the App Store is getting its edge back with a revamp that was badly needed for a number of years now. In fact, after going through the new App Store lately, it’s safe to say that Apple’s app hub now feels like a ‘magazine’ for discovering new and worthy apps.

Apps and games are highlighted in such a way that you are motivated to try out new stuff. This is coming from a person who had pretty much given up on the App Store lately, and I only turned to it whenever I needed to reinstall my most-used apps, nothing more.

There are five sections in total – Today, Games, Apps, Updates and Search. While four of them are pretty self-explanatory, but the Today section is the place you’ll mostly find yourself in. New apps and games are highlighted on a daily basis along with beautiful text, photos and videos that will surely leave you asking for even more.

I always thought Apple had reached its peak potential when it came to the App Store. But with iOS 11, the company has outdone itself. I’ll even go as far as saying that the App Store is the best part of iOS 11.

With apps and games now living in separate tabs of their own, there’s no way you’ll end up losing yourself in the vast sea of software. Navigation is extremely easy, and you get the added advantage of being greeted with a brand new aesthetic in almost around every corner.

If only the above mentioned changes propagated to the iTunes app too. This is the only section in iOS 11 that looks extremely outdated in so many ways. Maybe there’s a possibility that Apple will eventually give the iTunes app in iOS the App Store treatment, but it’s not a part of iOS 11.0 at least.

Notes App. Small Upgrades in the Necessary Places.

Remember the time when Evernote used to be a big deal on iOS? Well, those days are long gone, thanks to Apple throwing in its resources in order to improve the native Notes app.

Over time we saw the addition of lists, the ability to add photos, contacts and whatnot. But now, we’ve come to a point where I would take the Notes app over anything else out there in the App Store.

Every single toggle and control is now front and center. Whether you’re adding a table, photo, a list, it’s right there. But the story gets better on the iPad if you have an Apple Pencil at hand. Just tap the Apple Pencil on the lock screen and start writing. Everything will be saved to the Notes app for viewing later, or share it if you so wish.

Impressive stuff if you’re asking me.

Apple Music. Cupertino Tries to go Social Again.

Apple Music remains the same as before but now includes a little social element to it. Now you have the ability to see what your friends are listening to or you can share your playlists and playbacks with them from the For You section. Of course, both should have an active Apple Music membership in order to make use of this feature.

While that sounds great and all, but I have to admit at this point that Apple isn’t that great when it comes to fiddling with social media. Remember how Ping turned out? This is more or less the same idea but dialed up a little for the modern world. I really wish Apple succeeds in this arena since they’re pushing this as one of the flagship features on its website.

None of my contacts were using the feature even until the time I started writing this review, and I don’t expect anyone would in the days to come either.

I hope I’m proved wrong.

Quick Type Keyboard. One-Handed Mode Makes Things Easier.

I jumped onboard the iPhone ‘Plus’ bandwagon due to the larger display. But typing on a ginormous screen is not an easy feat at all. There are very few people I know of that manage to do it comfortably. Sadly, I’m not one of them.

There’s a solution to this one-handed typing problem. Just go to the App Store, download a third-party keyboard and sacrifice the usefulness of the built-in Quick Type keyboard all for the sake of your comfort.

Not any more.

See that globe button on the keyboard which you use to access the emoji keyboard? Tap and hold on it and you’ll see three new options. They allow you to squeeze in the keyboard either to the left or right hand side of the display. Or you can just bring it back to how it usually is.

I tried the new one-handed keyboard a few times and it gets the work done. But remember one thing, you really have to train your hand to get used to it. The keyboard gets crammed to one side of the display which means you have less space between the keys, forcing you to be more accurate with your thumb. While autocorrect does make up for your typing mistakes, but sometimes it can prove to be a failure too. Nonetheless, it’s a smart little addition to the Quick Type keyboard.

Will I use it? Well, let me train myself completely for it first, then we’ll talk more.

Apple Maps. Keeps You on Course.

Chances are high that you make use of Google Maps a lot. I do.

Apple wants users to jump onboard its home-baked Maps app with the introduction of two new features. One is indoor maps, which is limited to very, very few locations around the world. The other one is ‘Lane Guidance.’ This is a navigation-only feature that tells you which lane you should be in if a turn is coming up.

Keep in mind that Lane Guidance is only available in countries where Apple Maps works flawlessly, that too with navigation features enabled. But sadly, I couldn’t get to test it due to certain limitations. The feature does look promising.

Dark Mode. Of Sorts.

iOS 11 has a built-in dark mode. But it’s not really a feature which Apple is talking about openly. That’s because it’s meant as an accessibility aid. Navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Invert Colors and turn the Smart Invert feature on. It will turn the UI of iOS dark while keeping everything else the way it should be.

It works, but it looks somewhat odd. This is something I would encourage people to try out for themselves. I really did not find it using it that much ever since I jumped to iOS 11.

Augmented Reality.

I badly wanted to test this feature out, but I couldn’t for obvious reasons. There aren’t any augmented reality apps available right away in the App Store. But I will update this section as soon as they’re live.

Everything Else.

Apple has thrown in a new AirPlay protocol in iOS 11 called AirPlay 2. While it might not melt your brain but it will appease the inner geek in you. It allows you to AirPlay content to several sources at once, and you have complete control over each one’s volume.

There’s also a revamped News app in iOS 11 that looks and feels bolder. It focuses a lot on images and video content rather than just text. Did it get me to read more news? Compared to before, it did. Just make sure you select your sources carefully before going ahead with News. If you get it wrong, you’ll end up hating it for a considerably long period of time.

Apple has implemented a ton of new iPad-centric features in iOS 11 such as a new Dock and whatnot. But sadly, I didn’t have an iPad at hand to test them out.

Battery Life & Performance.

During my testing period, iOS 11 proved to be a mixed bag when it comes to battery life. For me, iOS 11 offered the same battery life which I was getting with iOS 10.3.3. That’s a big deal, given that this is the first public release of a brand new operating system from Apple. Usually things are the opposite and battery life is fixed with point updates to the OS.

I have an Apple Watch connected with my iPhone 7 Plus at all times so that takes a slight toll on the battery too, so your mileage will vary compared to mine. Also, I do not use Low Power Mode at all to get me through the day. My phone usually dies at around 9PM after which I have to plug it to a charger.

It’s tough to give you concrete numbers at this time, but I’m certain that you’ll get iOS 10.3.3 like battery performance at least. This aspect will heavily vary given the features you use and which apps you have installed too.

On the performance end, iOS 11 proved to be very interesting. On my iPhone 7 Plus I saw stutters while using 3D Touch while the rest of the OS was blistering fast as it should be. However, I managed to try out iOS 11 on an iPhone 7 and things were very, very different on it. I’ll just go ahead and say that the iPhone 7 is currently the best phone from Apple that makes great use of iOS 11 and its performance capabilities.

I’m certain the little judders and lags can be fixed with a clean install, but I’ll wait for Apple to fix it through an over the air update instead.

Conclusion.

Every update to iOS is designed in such a way that it feels fresh even if it doesn’t bring much to the table. But iOS 11 is a big update in a lot of ways. For iPad users, the update is huge as it differentiates the tablet lineup from the smartphone one on the software front even more.

But of course, like any new software or a piece of hardware, iOS 11 has its downsides too. The 3D Touch stuttering issues can be taken as a good example. Despite Apple having an ample amount of time to fix this during the beta time period, it did not do it. But gladly, other features really make up for it in a radical way.

Do I recommend updating to iOS 11 right away? Well, if you’re bored of what iOS 10 was offering you, then iOS 11 is a huge breath of fresh air. But if you value performance more than having new features, then stay back from the update for a short while. Let iOS 11 go in two to three point updates into its lifecycle and Apple will have fixed majority of the bugs that would be plaguing users at the time of writing.

Probably the biggest downside of iOS 11 is that it looks the same on the home screen front. Sure, Apple might believe that the app grid layout just works, but I think it’s high time for the company to sway a little to the right and bring something fresh to the table on this front.

If you are ready for the upgrade, check out the links below.

9.5

iOS 11 is Apple's flagship mobile OS that will power its devices in the year to come. It's mainly tailored for the iPhone X but works just as well on other devices from Apple. It's a huge leap on the iPad in many different ways.

Performance8
Value9
Design & Aesthetics8.5
Features9

Pros

  • Feels fresh compared to iOS 10 and is packed with features that makes any iOS device feel brand new. A must-have if you're bored of the same old feature-set from past year.

Cons

  • Early build of the software that might see performance issues for some users. Broken app compatibility, which is to be expected this early on. Wait till iOS 11.0.2 if you are looking for the near-perfect experience.
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