It’s just one phone that tries to accommodate all iPhone users looking to upgrade this year, to something that’s not so mercilessly bank-breaking like Apple’s higher-tier line. This is the iPhone XR – a $750 product that promises to deliver almost everything the iPhone XS has to offer, at a considerably lower price point.
There must be a catch, right? Of course there is, but that doesn’t mean the iPhone XR isn’t a good phone in itself. In fact, it’s a great phone that will probably sell like hot cakes. Here is why…
We find the biggest giveaways that this is a cheaper product in a few other visible areas. First, the XR is a bit thicker than the XS, and then there’s also the wider bezel around the screen. The bezel is… OK. After a few hours of usage, we stopped noticing it, just like with the notch. And the phone itself looks very good – Apple has made sure to get those perfectly rounded screen corners corresponding to the actual rounded corners of the device. No one has ever achieved this with an LCD display before – if you look closely at other phones with LCD screens attempting the rounded screen corner thing, they all have some sort of imperfection in the curves.
So, Apple managed to get this just right, which is great; however, a small imperfection eventually made its way to the iPhone XR’s design, and that is the slightly offset Lightning port on the bottom. If you look closely at it, you’ll notice that it’s ever so slightly offset in relation to the speaker and microphone holes, which are perfectly centered, as usual. This is the first iPhone where we see such a compromise, and it feels bad. This may sound like nitpicking, but it’s a significant compromise considering Apple’s high standards for design and build quality, and we hope that’s the last time we see this on an Apple phone.
As this is the first ever LCD screen that we see properly integrated into a bezel-less design with rounded corners, Apple saw it fitting to give it a new name – Liquid Retina Display. It sounds cool, but more importantly – it looks cool, too! Despite reservations about the 828 x 1792 px resolution, the screen is great. Not only is there enough resolution, but color accuracy is on point too.
The iPhone XR is a big phone with a big screen. If you’re coming from an older iPhone, like a 6, 6s, or 7, either regular- or Plus-sized, the XR’s design and display will be huge upgrades. If you are a current iPhone 8 or 8 Plus owner, well, that’s some tough luck you got there, as your phone is still plenty powerful, but stuck with a considerably older-looking design. However, it’s also true that if you just don’t want to use such a large handset, there’s currently no substitute for the compact iPhone 8. The iPhone XR is very large, and we expect Apple might want to fill that gap next year, with a smaller version of the XR.
Interface and Functionality
The appeal of the iPhone XR is found in that it has all the features of the iPhone XS. From the TrueDepth front camera with Face ID, to portrait mode, to the incredible A12 Bionic chipset. It supports every software feature that you can have on the more expensive iPhone XS and XS Max.
Notable mentions here are the new Memojis – virtual avatars of yourself which can be created within the Messages application. You can customize your Memoji to look like you, or in some other, completely different way – it’s up to you! There’s also Screen Time – a wellness feature designed to give you insights into how you use your phone, as well as help you limit your screen-on time. No idea who wants that sort of thing, but it’s there if you need it.
The same improvements we saw in the XS are also found here, such as the faster Face ID, image search and other Neural Engine-enhanced procedures.
The iPhone XR can do all that the XS does thanks to having the same powerful chipset inside, the A12 Bionic. This chip improves performance over the previous generation by up to 15% for processing power, and up to 50% for graphics power. It’s a screamer, delivering outstanding performance throughout the system and in games.
There’s nothing surprising when it comes to the storage situation. The base configuration will get you 64 GB of internal memory, but should you need more, there are also 128 GB and 256 GB variants available. Unlike with the XS and XS Max, there is no 512 GB option with the XR.
The 12 MP camera on the Apple iPhone XR is interesting, as it’s just a single camera, but it can do fancy stuff like Smart HDR and Portrait Mode photography. This is basically the same camera from the XS and XS Max, but it’s not complemented by a second, telephoto camera, and thus you cannot do 2x optical zoom.
So how can the iPhone XR take those fancy portrait mode photos with nice background blur effects? Well, all the new hardware and powerful software processing have allowed Apple to achieve a pretty satisfying bokeh effect using just a single camera. The big difference versus Apple’s dual-camera phones is that you don’t get the narrower, more focused field of view of the second camera. Instead, portrait mode photos from the iPhone XR are normally wide, but still feature this pleasant separation between subject and background through the use of custom-modelled bokeh effects.
The XR also gets the new Depth Control slider, allowing you to tweak the intensity of the background blur effect after the photo has been taken. (you need to open the photo and tap on Edit).
The XR’s camera excels at setting the right contrast and exposure so that subjects are properly illuminated. Sometimes, a tap on the subject is needed to help the camera know what you’re going for, but more often than not, the experience is pretty much ‘point and shoot’ — the phone takes care of the rest.
However, if you do end up with with a somewhat messed up photo, it’s good to know that the built-in Photos app has some really powerful editing features that will easily let you tweak the color balance or the exposure.
You can go all the way up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second when recording video, and while shooting considerable amounts of video at such resolution will mercilessly fill up your storage space, the result is probably the most terrific footage you can capture with a smartphone. Details are plentiful, colors and exposure are representative of the real thing, and there are absolutely no issues with things like the stabilization or wobbly rolling shutter. On top of that, there are helpful features like Cinematic Video Stabilization which make the footage very nice and smooth.
The earpiece speaker of the iPhone XR is remarkable. As you know, Apple uses it as the left speaker when you listen to stereo audio. It sounds really good and powerful and these qualities translate to phone calls. If the network conditions are favorable, you can enjoy loud and clear phone calls, and while calls through the cellular network can never really impress with any particular depth or realism, it feels like the iPhone XR’s earpiece is making caller voices sound as good as they can.The same thing is true for the bottom speaker. When you’re listening to YouTube videos or music using the speakers, you get that really strong stereo effect, which is really cool. More importantly, the speakers themselves are incredibly powerful and full-sounding (for phone speakers). It’s not like you’ll be enjoying actual quality audio from phone speakers anytime soon, but it’s good to see that Apple continues to make progress in this space with each new iPhone generation.
With its sizable battery of 2942 mAh and reasonable screen resolution, as well as the efficient A12 processor, the iPhone XR is one of those phones that can easily last up to two days if your foot isn’t too heavy on the gas.
To get the technical lingo out of the way: unlike the X, XS or XS Max, which have those fancy L-shaped batteries, the iPhone XR has a good old rectangular juicer. That hasn’t meant a compromise on battery capacity, because the phone is big and not particularly slender, allowing Apple to load up a large enough unit.
On the flip side, Apple is again bundling a weak, 5W charger in the box, which takes quite a while to charge the iPhone XR. If it’s possible, we recommend that you invest in something like the 12W iPad charger that can be found on Amazon for $15 – it’ll be way faster to charge the XR.
The iPhone XR is a very interesting new iPhone. That it is a terrific smartphone is certain: it has a great display, best-in-industry performance and camera – almost everything in it is no-compromise.
Is it a great iPhone, though? This has been the question on my mind ever since I started working on this review. I now think I have the answer: yes! It’s just too good to ignore. It’s definitely not as nice as the X, XS or XS Max – if you have any of these and the XR to compare side-by-side, the XR will immediately hit you as the more “budget” offering. Be it for the thicker bezel around the screen, the matte aluminum frame, the juvenile colors or the slightly offset charging port — or maybe the combination of it all — that gives away its somewhat more affordable nature.
Then again, it’s just too good to ignore. While Apple did have to make a tiny compromise here and there, the fact remains the iPhone XR is almost universally outstanding, be it in the design, performance, or camera department. There are also a ton of extra quality-of-life features supported, such as wireless charging, Face ID, Portrait camera mode, portrait selfie mode, True Tone display with wide color gamut… the list goes on and on.
With smartphone prices (not just iPhone prices) consistently going up, it’s good to know that there’s still a reasonably priced iPhone we can turn to. Not exactly cheap, the $750 Apple is asking for the iPhone XR is still in expensive territory, but when you consider the rest of the landscape, and the fact that the XR is so full-featured, it’s hard to say no.