‘You Could Always Just Use Flash’

Brian X. Chen’s review of the iPhones 11 for The New York Times is bizarre:

So here’s what I ultimately suggest: You should definitely upgrade if your current device is at least five years old. The iPhone 11 models are all a significant step up from those introduced in 2014. But for everyone else with smartphones from 2015 or later, there is no rush to buy. Instead, there is more mileage and value to be had out of the excellent smartphone you already own.

It’s a fine idea to remind people that if they’re happy with their current phone, they should just keep using it. “Is this new phone really worth an upgrade?” is perhaps the most important question a review should help the reader answer. But Chen’s premise is to tell the reader not to even look at the new iPhones. And 2015? Really? If you bought a top of the line iPhone in 2015, that’s an iPhone 6S. That’s not excellent by any measure today. If you’re still using one that’s great, but it’s severely outdated in every important regard: photography, performance, battery life. And if you bought a less-than-top of the line iPhone in 2015, it’s even worse.

I look forward to Chen telling Android users to keep using 2015 phones, too. I see people every day raving about the performance of their Galaxy S6 and Google Nexus 6.

Photos taken with the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro looked crisp and clear, and their colors were accurate. But after I finished these tests, I looked back at my archived photos taken with an iPhone X.

Those pictures, especially the ones shot with portrait mode, still looked impressive. Some of the low-light ones looked crummy in comparison with the ones taken by the iPhone 11s, but I wouldn’t recommend that you buy a new phone just to get better night photos. You could always just use flash.

This is madness. Just use flash? The New York Times’s institutional crusade against big tech has brought us to this: their personal technology columnist is advising readers to use the flash rather than buy a new phone. I don’t think I’ve shot a single photo using the flash in three or four years — flash makes for terrible-looking photos and it hurts the eyes of the subjects. As Nilay Patel quipped, Chen’s advice here boils down to “You could upgrade your phone for better photos, or you could make all of your memories look like 2008 TMZ”.

A mainstream technology columnist should be explaining to readers why they should not use flash, and how best to capture low-light photographs without it. “You could always just use flash” is technology malpractice.


All the iPhone 11 models have a new ultra-wide-angle lens in their cameras, which provides a wider field of view than traditional phone cameras. This makes them handy for shooting landscapes or large group gatherings. The iPhone X lacks the ultra-wide-angle lens, but its dual-lens camera is capable of shooting portrait-mode photos, which puts the picture’s main subject in sharp focus while softly blurring the background.

This paragraph makes it obvious that Chen started with his conclusion — that you shouldn’t upgrade unless your phone is five years old — and wrote his review backwards from that conclusion. Think about the logic of this paragraph. It’s presented as a trade-off — the iPhone X doesn’t have an ultra-wide lens, but it does have portrait mode. But he’s comparing it to the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, in what is ostensibly a review of the iPhones 11. The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro both have portrait mode too, and their portrait photos — particularly from the 11 Pro — are way better than those shot with the iPhone X. He might as well have written: The iPhone X doesn’t have an ultra-wide lens, but, on the other hand, it does have a crappier version of the telephoto lens.

For those with younger iPhones, there are ways to get more mileage out of your current device. While the newest iPhones have superb battery life — several hours longer than the last generation — a fresh battery in your existing gadget costs only $50 to $70 and will greatly extend its life.

So instead of better battery life you can spend a little money to get the same battery life as before. Again, if you can’t afford an iPhone 11, or if you just don’t care, it’s a great idea for a column to offer tips on how to get the most out of an older phone. But this is supposed to be a review of the new iPhones. The whole piece reads like Soviet propaganda, explaining why Soviet-built cars are just fine, they’re great even.

The Times is treating the tech industry the way Pravda treated the West. Big tech deserves scrutiny — including Apple. But it’s starting to come across as a mindless dogmatic crusade.