Last year, for the first time ever, Apple unveiled three new iPhones simultaneously – the iPhone 8 (review), iPhone 8 Plus (review) and iPhone X (review). While the first two were successors to the iPhone 7 duo (review), the iPhone X was a true-blue flagship with a futuristic design that marked several firsts for Apple. Fast forward to 2018, and the company has flipped this strategy to launch two successors to the iPhone X in the form of the iPhone XS (review) and XS Max, along with the iPhone XR, which is the most affordable offering among the trio. But with the spotlight on its pricier siblings, does the iPhone XR pack in enough to stand on its own? Is there more to it than just the (relative) “affordability” factor? I try to answer these burning questions among others in this review.
PS: If you’re looking for details on what all the new iPhones bring to the table, head to our Apple iPhone XS Max review as this article focuses on stuff that is specific to the iPhone XR.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||828 x 1792 pixels|
|CPU||Dual core, 2.49 GHz + Quad core, 1.52 GHz, Apple A12 Bionic|
|Internal memory||64 GB|
|Capacity||2942 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable|
|Primary camera||12 MP|
|Secondary camera||7 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS|
|Operating system||iOS 12.0|
The impressive stuff
All those colours
If the Apple iPhone XS and XS Max come across as the more serious members of the family, the iPhone XR seems like the younger sibling that just wants to have fun. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see the multitude of bright hues the iPhone XR comes in. While my review unit was black, you can opt for coral, orange, white and yellow colourways along with the iconic (PRODUCT) RED. These colours stand out in a sea of similar-looking handsets, and can possibly find many takers in the same vein as the iPhone 5C. Furthermore, the iPhone XR continues to offer a glass-back design which looks and feels premium, though the panel attracts fingerprints and smudges. Thankfully, the aluminium sides offer a robust feel and the phone offers an IP67 rating against dust and water (the iPhone XS and XS Max offer better IP68 certification).
Doesn’t stick out from the current lineup as the odd one out
While many would consider the iPhone XR a poor sibling to the iPhone XS duo, the Cupertino-based company has made sure that’s not really the case. Unlike last year where only the iPhone X featured a notch-bearing display, this time around, all three models feature cut-outs atop their screens. This means you’ll get a high screen-to-body ratio, which is important as the XR sports a large 6.1-inch display. Unless you have small hands, you should have no problems reaching the corners of the screen. Of course, you can also use the Reachability feature to bring the working area of the screen to the lower half (in case your digits aren’t able to access the top portion).
Having said that, if you compare the Apple iPhone XR to last year’s iPhone X or the newly-launched iPhone XS and XS Max, you’ll notice that the bezels around the screen aren’t as slim. Even though this shouldn’t be a problem, it sticks out like a sore thumb, especially once you’ve noticed this.
It’s got the power
One of the biggest problems with affordable versions of flagship smartphones is that they compromise on hardware. That’s not the case with the iPhone XR, as the handset ships with the powerful 7nm Bionic A12 SoC, the same chip utilised by the XS and the XS Max. The chip is said to offer 15 percent faster CPU performance while consuming 50 percent less power, and that shows in real-life performance too. At one point in time, I had as many as 40 apps open (though so many apps aren’t kept in memory) and the device didn’t show any instance of lag. AnTuTu results also put the iPhone XR ahead of Android flagships, much like its brothers. Add to it the fact that the chip packs in the next-gen Neural Engine, and the handset opens an entire world of possibilities.
With such powerful internals and 50 percent faster GPU, gaming on the Apple iPhone XR is also an enjoyable affair. Racing in Asphalt 9 or playing Fortnite for long hours is fun, and the bigger display helps too.
The single rear-facing camera performs well
If you are wondering what differentiates the iPhone XR from the XS and XS Max, you just need to flip the handset. Instead of dual cameras on the rear, the iPhone XR ships with a single shooter at the back. However, the 12-megapixel f/1.8 snapper is the same as the primary shooter on its siblings, which ensures that image quality is still top notch. Add to it features like Smart HDR, and the phone offers impressive photos, albeit oversaturated ones (something which Samsung does a slightly better job of). In terms of videos, you get the ability to capture up to 4k videos at 60fps as well as slow-mo clips at 240fps. Along with stereo speakers, the handset can record stereo sound as well thanks to four built-in mics.
Instead of boring you with details, here’s a look at the camera samples shot using the iPhone XR.
Offers portrait mode with a single shooter on the back
If you think the iPhone XR misses out with its single camera, think again. While the smartphone doesn’t offer 2x optical zoom, it does support Portrait mode. However, the key difference is that Apple has trained its Machine Learning algorithm to only work with people and not objects. Another factor worth noting here is that since the smartphone lacks the secondary shooter to calculate depth, you’ll need to get quite close to the person to capture a portrait photo (though the use of the secondary sensor means the end result has a crop factor, so the XR seems to capture a wider frame in portrait mode). Quality-wise, the single shooter is able to pull off the depth-of-field effect fairly well, with proper edge separation between the subject and background, although it’s not as perfect as iPhone XS Max. The good thing however, is the fact that you also get Studio Light and Contour Light (there’re no Stage Light and Stage Light modes, unlike its siblings) along with the ability to control the amount of blur post shooting. Plus, since the iPhone XR uses its f/1.8 camera to capture portrait shots, the results are less grainy in low light than those on the XS and XS Max, which use the secondary f/2.2 telephoto lens for this purpose.
Serves the needs of selfie lovers well
For selfies, the iPhone XR ships with a 7MP sensor, just like its siblings. This means, you get all the usual goodies, including portrait mode as well as the newly-introduced depth control feature. The selfies offer a high level of detail with good colour output. Of course, the front snapper also enables Face ID, which works quite well as it makes use of Apple’s Neural Engine.
iOS 12 is full of goodies
As mentioned in our iPhone XS Max review, the latest build of iOS brings several interesting capabilities. From getting better control over notifications (something that was needed on iOS for a long time) to seeing how addicted you are to the phone with the Screen Time feature, there’s a lot to like about the operating system. However, for me, the most interesting addition is Siri Shortcuts, which is similar to Macros on Microsoft Excel — letting you trigger a certain set of actions with a single command. Taking that a step further is the dedicated Shortcuts app (this needs to be downloaded from the App Store), which allows you to create your own chain of actions or choose the ones you want from the provided gallery. Every morning for example, you can set up a shortcut to get the phone to read you your appointments, and then play podcasts or a particular playlist for your morning run.
Impresses with the battery life
Even though I’m a power user, with my usage comprising calls, messaging, listening to podcasts, watching videos off YouTube and Netflix, using GPS, all while staying connected via Bluetooth to my Apple Watch Series 3 and Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones, the phone manages to offer good battery life. It might be due to its lower-res 720p screen, but I got around five hours of screen-on time, which is at par with most flagships. All said and done, you won’t need to scout around for the charger until the end of the day.
The not-so impressive stuff
Uses an LCD panel instead of OLED
A key differentiator between the iPhone XS twins and the XR is that the latter features an LCD display instead of the OLED panels found on the former. The XR’s display bears HD resolution instead of full HD. You should also know that the iPhone XR misses out on 3D Touch, but Apple has replaced this feature with a nice haptic feedback when you long press certain areas. The TrueTone display does come with support for wide colour gamut, and offers 120Hz touch sensing. While the use of an LCD screen does mean that blacks aren’t as black, the resolution shouldn’t be a cause of concern. For reference, the iPhone 8 duo also ship with the same screen resolution, and with a pixel density of 328ppi, the XR fits into Apple’s description of Retina Display, which means that human eyes can’t discern individual pixels on this phone. Dubbed as the Liquid Retina Display, the 6.1-inch panel on the iPhone XR offers crisp visuals. The screen is immensely bright, and can be used outdoors and offers good viewing angles too.
No fast charger in the box (and no 3.5mm adapter either)
While Apple’s iPhone XR offers good battery life, it doesn’t come bundled with a fast charger. This means, with the standard 1A adapter, the iPhone XR takes a long time to charge to 100 percent. The phone does support wireless charging though.
If you have a wide variety of standard earphones with a 3.5mm jack, you’re in for a disappointment with the latest iPhones. Acting as a double whammy (first one was the removal of the headphone socket), the Cupertino brand doesn’t even ship the 3.5mm adapter in the retail box.
No optical zoom capability
While I really commend Apple for offering a portrait mode with a single shooter, the fact that dual cameras are now available on the most basic of phones makes it difficult to digest the fact that you can’t get optical zoom on the iPhone XR. Don’t get me wrong, the camera on the newest member in the iPhone family is quite capable, but optical zoom is definitely a handy feature to have. Add to it the fact that Google is able to offer optical zoom-like capability (via the Super Res Zoom feature) with just a single rear camera on the new Pixel 3 duo, it makes one question why Apple can’t use its Neural Network and imaging prowess to offer something similar.
Poor thermal management
It’s been a while since I came across a smartphone that heats up after intensive use. That’s not the case with the iPhone XR however, as it gets quite warm even when used for shooting images or doing multiple tasks for longer sessions. Needless to say, the device also heats up when used for 30 minute gaming sessions. While it shouldn’t be an issue if you’re using the phone in an airconditioned environment indoors, it might be a cause of concern when you’re out and about.
Apple iPhone XR vs the competition
The iPhone XR is a peculiar smartphone. While its pricier siblings offer coveted features like dual cameras, the XR doesn’t and yet, its starting price of Rs 76,990 puts it in the same territory as other Android flagships. This means that the handset is up against some solid rivals.
vs Apple iPhone X
There’s a reason why Apple discontinued the iPhone X in the US… and that’s evident when you see that the device betters the iPhone XR in several aspects. But in India, the iPhone X is still available to buy, and when you take into account the various festive offers, then you should be able to snag one for as little as Rs 60,000, making it a steal deal in comparison to the iPhone XR. While the iPhone XR does ship with a newer processor, the iPhone X offers dual cameras with optical zoom and a better display. Moreover, the iPhone X looks about the same as the new XS, so if you like to flaunt, you could fool others into thinking you have the latest one.
With top-end specs, a gorgeous display, stunning design, a beefy 4,000mAh battery and of course, the S Pen, the Chaebol’s high-end offering is the phone to beat. The Note9 (review) is also priced lower than the iPhone XR, making it a better all-round package, especially for power users.
The smaller sibling of the third-gen Pixel duo is also priced lower than the iPhone XR. If you’re looking for a compact smartphone, the Pixel 3 (review) is a good candidate and is easily the best camera phone available on the market. Along with its powerful internals and slew of software goodies, the device promises a clean software experience.
Considering you can get many capable flagships in Android territory in the same price segment as the iPhone XR, it’d be wrong to look at Apple’s offering with the same lens. However, if you consider the current lineup of iPhones, the base model of the XR costs almost 25 percent less than the iPhone XR – and therein lies the charm. Choosing between the iPhone XR and one of the flagship Android phones is mostly about making a choice of platform, so that’s totally up to you. If you already own other Apple devices or want to get into the “walled garden”, and are wondering if the iPhone XR is the ‘R’ight choice for you, here’s what I recommend:
- If you’re looking to get an entry into the Apple ecosystem, the iPhone XR is the most affordable ticket for the same, at least among the latest lot of iPhones.
- If you own an iPhone 7 or older, and want to upgrade to the latest iPhone without selling both your kidneys, the XR is the one to go for.
- If you’re confused between last year’s iPhone X and the new iPhone XR (assuming the higher price of the XR isn’t a concern), ask yourself which is more important – dual cameras or the latest internals. Do note that optical zoom capability aside, the XR actually shoots better photos than the iPhone X in general… not to mention the better performance and battery life.
- If you find the screen size of the iPhone X / XS rather small, and the XS Max’ display too big, the iPhone XR is the perfect, mid-sized iPhone.
All said and done, apart from the difference in camera capabilities, Apple’s iPhone XR is perhaps the best iPhone launched this year. The best part is that Apple hasn’t treated the XR as a third wheel, and you get the same SoC and all the new features, including dual-SIM capabilities. This makes me believe that the smartphone will sell like hot cakes. Do pick one of the funky colour options though, if you’re swiping your plastic…
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Available in bright colours
- Offers a high screen-to-body ratio
- Flawless performance
- Impressive cameras
- Great battery backup
- No optical zoom capabilities
- Doesn’t ship with a fast charger or Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter
- Heats up with extended use
Photos by Raj Rout