Does the iPhone purchasing scene seem intimidating? There is a simple fix. The iPhone XR is a wonderful iPhone that won’t set you back more than $1000. This is the iPhone. This is the one you’re looking for. (I advised against getting the iPhone XS when I reviewed it in September. I’m pleased I did.)
Through a macro lens, the blue iPhone XR is fantastic.
Apple has produced the iPhone XR, which offers 95% of the high-end iPhone XS experience for 75% less money. Sure, there are compromises: Together with a few other feature tweaks, the screen and camera regress slightly from the XS models. The telephoto lens on the back camera was the only feature I genuinely missed while switching from the XS to the XR.
But compared to its more expensive siblings, the iPhone XR really makes a few advances. Its screen is bigger than the XS’ (6.1 against 5.8 inches), it comes in a wider choice of colorful colors and — critically — it offers the best battery life of any current iPhone you can buy.
I still wish Apple had released a phone that was even more affordable. Even while the entry-level iPhone XR costs $749 (£749, AU$1,229), it is still significantly less expensive than the iPhone XS, which starts at $999 and goes up.
Therefore get the $799 128GB variant. Instead of going directly from the $749 64GB (great, but not quite enough) to the $899 256GB, Apple finally added a medium storage option (more than most people need, unless they shoot a ton of video). The extra $50 will be worthwhile because you won’t be able to upgrade your storage in the future.
Size: A good fit
I admire Apple’s plus-sized iPhones, but I’ve never felt comfortable using one. My hand hurts from the width. They are difficult to use with one hand. That’s what made the iPhone X great: That large screen was compressed into a more compact enclosure.
The XR is not the same size as the iPhone XS or XS Max. The medium size, which is exactly in the middle, is considerably more pleasant to handle than the broader XS Max. By somewhat shrinking, it feels more one-hand-able than the Plus and Max phones. The XR is larger than other large-screen luxury smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Google Pixel 3 XL, but if you prefer smaller phones, it will be too big for you.
Display: LCD is good
The iPhone XR’s 6.1-inch screen appears to be nearly identical to the iPhone XS’s 5.8-inch screen at first glance. It has a notch at the top, rounded corners, and a tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Yet when you compare the phones side by side, you will see discrepancies. A little less “to the edge” feeling is created by the display’s larger bezels. Yet, swiping and engaging with the XR feels exactly as responsive as using the OLED screen of the iPhone X, XS, and Max.
Indeed, the technology behind the screens themselves has changed. According to Apple, the LCD on the iPhone XR is 625 nits brighter than the OLED screen on the XS. But it doesn’t always seem as vibrant to the eye. When compared to an OLED display, the XR seems slightly darker, with less white and less black contrast. Although I hardly noticed, the OLED is clearly superior if you compare them side by side. The display appears to be on par with current iPads and better than the iPhone 8.
Theoretically, the display has a lower resolution than the “Super Retina” display on the XS. (The XS has a 2,436×1,125‑pixel resolution at 458 ppi, while the XR has a 1,792×828-pixel resolution at 326 ppi, the same pixel density as the iPhone 8.) The missing pixels are invisible to my eye. All of the apps I downloaded, from games to news apps to video and camera apps, looked fantastic on the larger screen.
Additional observations regarding the display: The absence of HDR results in some detail being lost. I compared the iPhone XS and XR screens while watching Blade Runner 2049, and the difference was obvious: the cheaper phone lacked detail in darker regions of the rooms or the folds of Harrison Ford’s jacket. Videos with a lot of contrast won’t look as good on the XR.
Split view app support for the iPhone Plus and XS Max is now available. Turn the XR on its side, and you’ll get the iPad-style split-pane mode that’s available on some larger iPhones, but not the higher-end iPhone XS. The problem is that not many apps—Mail, Notes, and a few others—use additional panes for multitasking. Yet when it’s present, it’s appreciated.
The speakers sound fantastic as well. Compared to earlier iPhone models, the twin front-facing speakers are louder and produce distortion-free, clear music.
Farewell, 3D Touch
Unlike the iPhones 6S, 7, 8, X, and XS series, the iPhone XR lacks the pressure-sensitive 3D Touch feature that enables you to preview links, messages, and files before opening them.
For the lock screen camera and flashlight icons, the iPhone XR substitutes tiny vibration feedback pulses known as “haptics.” Holding a finger on them will open them rather than pressing down. The deeper controls in the Control Center are the same. It has a similar texture to 3D Touch. The excellent iPhone haptics add that satisfying “tap” of physical feedback.
In the end, I still long for the 3D Touch press-to-peek preview choices. But, as 3D Touch never really felt like it was used to its full potential on the iPhone, its absence here isn’t a great loss; if you really must have it, you should upgrade to the iPhone XS or XS Max.
The spacebar may be depressed in iOS 12 to effectively convert the keyboard into a touchpad, which is a decent 3D Touch carryover. It greatly simplifies text editing.
Also, the size and feel of the onscreen keyboard on this tweener 6.1-inch display are excellent. For my hands, at least, I prefer it to other iPhone sizes.
Excellent performance and battery life
The iPhone XR and iPhone XS share the same A12 Bionic processor, which results in modest performance improvements over last year’s phones in day-to-day use and more stunning graphical improvements — early benchmarks show the 50% rise Apple predicted. The majority of the camera effects mentioned above and other AI-driven functionalities are expected to see far higher speed benefits in this year’s iPhones, although it will be difficult to notice these improvements in the majority of regular apps and games.
Launch an augmented reality app like Ikea Place if you want to observe side-by-side improvements; it will appear much smoother than with iPhones from a year ago.
Some noteworthy iPhone XR features
Colors are lovely. My evaluation unit was white, but the multicolored iPhones—lighter blue, coral, red, and brilliant yellow—look joyful and well-made. It’s a throwback to the candy-colored iPhone 5C and iPod Mini and a welcome change from silver, black, and gold.
It is water-resistant, yes. According to Apple, the XR can survive up to 30 minutes in a depth of up to 1 meter (3.3 feet) of water, just like the iPhone 7 and after. Testing for full immersion will soon begin. Up to 2 meters of water resistance is slightly better on the iPhone XS. In any case, be aware that the phone should withstand being submerged in water, but avoid swimming with it. Apple also advises drying the phone for five hours before using Lightning charging.
Sturdy glass, although not quite as tough as the iPhone XS. Again, according to Apple’s promises, the front display glass is just as durable as the XS, while the rear glass is “better than the iPhone X” but not quite as durable. The iPhone XS performed admirably in CNET’s drop testing. The XR did well — it survived the first three drops, but cracked on the fourth. Moreover, its aluminum is more likely to sustain damage than the stainless steel body of the XS. The standard advice is to get a case. Also, keep in mind that good clear ones (which let your beautiful colors show through) may be purchased for less than $20.
Similar to the iPhone 8, cellular data should be available. While the iPhone XR “only” features LTE Advanced and 2×2 MIMO, the iPhone XS boasts Gigabit LTE and 4×4 MIMO Wi-Fi. Hence, compared to the XR, the XS is technically slightly superior for wireless. Yet, in normal situations throughout New Jersey and New York, the XR didn’t feel noticeably “slower” or otherwise impaired from a wireless perspective. At home, Verizon wireless with a test SIM operated at 230 megabits per second, which is much quicker than my home broadband. (Seeking out 5G? You’re a little early.)
Support for two SIM cards. The latest generation of iPhones (XS, XS Max, and XR) are dual-SIM capability as of iOS 12.1. You can have two phone numbers on one phone by using a physical SIM card and an eSIM (set up in phone settings) for work and home, international and domestic, superhero and secret identity. However, your phone must be unlocked to use cross-carrier setup, and the three major US carriers aren’t yet ready for compatibility.