The best phone for Apple fans looking for maximum bang for their buck
Weight: 194g Dimensions: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3 mm OS: iOS 12 Screen size: 6.1 inches Resolution: 828 x 1792 CPU: Apple A12 Bionic (7 nm) RAM: 3GB Storage: 64/128/256GB Battery: 2,942 mAh Rear camera: 12MP Front camera: 7MP
REASONS TO BUY
+Modern, bright design+Liquid Retina screen+Excellent build quality
REASONS TO AVOID
-Camera system could be better-Lacks 3D Touch
The iPhone XR comes in a variety of attractive, bright colours, features a quality 6.1-inch HDR Liquid Retina display, Apple’s latest and greatest A12 Bionic chipset, 3GB of RAM, a 2,942 mAh battery, and 64GB of storage space in the entry model (which can be taken up to 256GB with extra spend).
It is, across the board, a well-equipped and very well made phone that, straight out of the box, feels great in the hand.
When Phil Schiller introduced the iPhone XR, he said Apple wanted to bring the technology and the experience of the iPhone XS to as many customers as possible, and the iPhone XR is Apple’s solution to that. It aims to bring the design, features and much of the experience of the iPhone XS at a lower price.
For starters, the iPhone XR starts at $749, which is $250 less than the base iPhone XS. So, what do you have to give up to get that price? There’s now a lower resolution LCD, the body is thicker and heavier and made out of aluminum, and there’s only one camera on the back.
What you still get is the same general iPhone X series design, the same powerful A12 Bionic chipset from the XS, the same TrueDepth camera with the faster Face ID system and the single camera on the back is the same as the main 12MP sensor on the back of the XS.
To make things more interesting, the iPhone XR also comes in six colors, the most Apple has ever had for any iPhone.
Apple iPhone XR specs
- Body: Aluminum frame, glass back, IP67-certified, six colors
- Display: 6.1-inch, 1792 x 828 (326 PPI), IPS LCD, 1400:1, wide-color (P3)
- Rear camera: 12MP, f1.8, OIS + EIS, dual pixel PDAF, quad-LED flash, 4K60 video, wide-color
- Front camera: 7MP, f2.2, 1080p60, EIS, display flash, wide-color
- Software: iOS 12
- Chipset: Apple 12 Bionic, 2.49GHz six-core CPU (2x Vortex + 4x Tempest), quad-core Apple GPU, octa-core Neural Engine
- Memory: 3GB LPDDR4X SDRAM, 64/128/256GB NVMe storage
- Connectivity: Dual SIM (nano SIM + eSIM), LTE-A, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac with 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0, AGPS/GLONASS/Galileo/QZSS, NFC (Apple Pay only)
- Battery: 2942mAh, USB-PD fast charge support, Qi charging support, 5W supplied charger
- Misc: TrueDepth camera system with Face ID, stereo speakers
It’s a tough balancing act to get the price, features and performance right. Whether Apple managed to do it is something we have to find out but only after spending some time with the device. Apple sent us the device ahead of launch and after a full week of use, we think we know the answer.
One thing’s for sure, this is easily the most interesting iPhone to have come out this year.
The packaging is where the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS are identical. Both include the same accessories, which feature the measly 5W charger, Lightning to USB cable, and the EarPods with Lightning Connector. It’s pretty Spartan and while it avoids waste, we wish Apple at least provided a higher wattage charger, like the 12W model that comes with the iPads or the 10W model some iPhones came with in the past.
If you pass by a black or white iPhone XR at the Apple Store, you’d be forgiven to mistake it for the iPhone XS. The core design of the iPhone XR is identical to that of the iPhone XS and that’s really the key message here that Apple wants you to know: this is very much an iPhone X-series device.
We’ll talk about the colors first since that’s the aspect of the phone Apple seems to be pushing the hardest in its marketing. Yes, the iPhone XR comes in six new colors. You have your classics, which are the black and the white. The black has a matching black frame while the white has a silver or rather unpainted, raw aluminum frame.
This is where it gets a bit tricky. There are three additional colors, blue, yellow and coral. None of these colors try too hard to match the glass back to the metal frame. The blue has a deep cyan back with a light sky-blue frame. The coral is a peachy shade of orange but the side frame is a much lighter version of that color. The yellow is the most bizarre; the back is yellow as advertised, but the side frame is straight up gold.
We can’t imagine this was a mistake and Apple obviously deliberately chose the color palette. We just think it looks a bit bizarre the way the colors don’t quite match on the phone.
White • Black • Blue • Yellow • Coral • Product RED
Fortunately, that’s not the case with the Product RED version, which should be a crowd pleaser. Not only is the back the most stunning shade of blood red, the side frame also matches it perfectly, creating a cohesive, wholesome look. On top of that, Apple donates a small portion of the phone’s price to charity so it’s a win-win in our books.
As side notes, the front bezel remains black regardless of the back color. The box of the phone shows the color of the phone inside and each phone comes with a matching stock wallpaper. If you plug the phone into iTunes, you’ll see the respective colored icon of that particular phone in iTunes.
Moving on from the colors, let’s look at the other aspects of the design.
While it may not be immediately obvious, the iPhone XR is bigger than the iPhone XS. The iPhone XS was never particularly small but it was still fairly compact and easy to hold. The iPhone XR is neither small nor particularly compact and by most people’s judgment would pass off as a big phone.
The iPhone XR is also thicker and heavier than the iPhone XS. Held side by side, the iPhone XR has a slight Plus model feel, although we don’t think many people would have an issue with that. Sure, the iPhone XS looks nicer and more premium in a side by side comparison, but there’s nothing cheap-feeling or inferior about the iPhone XR design, and it feels about as premium as any other flagship smartphone on the market.
The iPhone XR is also made out of aluminum. It doesn’t look quite as nice as the polished stainless steel on the iPhone XS but the matte aluminum on the iPhone XR is going to be a lot more durable, as the polished stainless steel on the iPhone is known to get scuff marks even with careful use.
The iPhone XR also has a different display. While the iPhone XS uses an OLED panel, the iPhone XR uses an LCD panel.
Now, it’s not easy to get an LCD all the way up to the edge of the body, as LCD panels need a backlight that takes up space along the sides (usually the bottom or the top). Apple managed to get the iPhone XR’s display closer to the bottom edge than anybody else, even phones with AMOLED panels. However, there is still some gap left and because Apple wanted a uniform bezel surrounding the display, that gap is present all around the display, even the sides where it could have definitely been thinner.
This makes the display seem smaller than it is. Also, if you have the black model like us, it has the unfortunate side effect where the bezel blends so seamlessly with the black frame on the side, it makes the bezels look even thicker. Our black iPhone XR looked like someone put a thick black case on an iPhone XS. Because of that we would recommend you not judge the bezel size of the iPhone XR based on our black review unit pictures.
The bezels on the iPhone XR are definitely noticeable if you’ve used the iPhone X but we can’t imagine most buyers will be able to notice much of a difference or even care about it. Apple also deserves credit for taking LCD technology further towards the edge than anyone else. The results may not be perfect but considering the limitations of LCD, it’s still impressive.
We will talk more about the display later but let’s come back to the design. The iPhone XR uses glass on the front and back of the phone. Apple claims the iPhone XS has the most durable front and rear glass ever in a smartphone. For the iPhone XR, the exact wording of Apple’s claims is different – they say it has the most durable front glass ever in a smartphone, so clearly, the back glass is different.
We checked with Apple on this and they confirmed that the back glass is not the same as the front. Still, the back glass is more durable than the glass used on the iPhone X, so it sits somewhere between last year’s and this year’s new glass in terms of durability.
The sides of the iPhone XR are very similar to the iPhone XS. It is aluminum, of course, but all the buttons are in the same place, as is the single SIM tray on the right. We wish Apple moved the volume buttons on the right for a more convenient placement. The volume buttons on the opposite side of the sleep/wake button also make it easy to accidentally take screenshots.
While the iPhone XS has a rogue antenna line on the bottom ruining the symmetry of the speaker and microphone ports, the iPhone XR has perfectly equal holes on either side. The iPhone XS also has another antenna strip on the top, which is also missing on the iPhone XR. This is due to the Gigabit-class LTE found on the iPhone XS and XS Max that is not available on the iPhone XR.
However, the iPhone XR has its own quirk, which is that the Lightning port is placed slightly lower than the speaker/mic grille, so the three are not perfectly aligned. We imagine Apple had to place the Lightning port lower due to the display taking up space above internally.
The back is relatively clean since there’s only one camera at the top. It does stick out significantly from the back and there’s no ramp or slope so it just feels like a button glued on the back of the phone. Below that is the quad-LED True Tone flash, which is technically under the main glass but Apple has somehow found a way to avoid refraction and not make the entire back glass glow when the flash is on.
One cool thing about recent iPhones is that they don’t have any of the serial numbers or FCC and CE logos on the back anymore. All you get is the Apple logo and the iPhone logo and that’s it.
The iPhone XR is IP67-rated for dust and water resistance. This means it’s not as water-resistant as the iPhone XS and can be suspended underwater up to 1m instead of 2m, for 30 minutes. We can’t imagine this being a deal breaker for anyone and the iPhone XR should be durable enough for most users. But keep in mind that any water resistance may not hold up well with time and that liquid damage is still not covered by the warranty.
Overall, the iPhone XR looks and feels pretty much like a flagship smartphone should in 2018. It may not be as refined or polished (literally) as the iPhone XS but it’s still a great looking and feeling phone with one of the widest ranges of color options of any phone in this price range.
The iPhone XR has a single 12MP f1.8 camera on the back with OIS and quad-LED two-tone flash. The camera is capable of recording videos in up to 4K60. On the front is Apple’s TrueDepth camera system with a single 7MP f2.2 camera and 1080p60 video.
The single rear camera is one of the compromises Apple made on the iPhone XR compared to the iPhone XS. However, Apple did keep the Portrait mode on the iPhone XR, along with the new Depth Control feature introduced on iPhones this year.
Since this is the only difference between the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS camera, let’s focus on this first.
The Portrait mode on the iPhone XR works differently than it does on the iPhone XS or previous iPhones with dual cameras. The way this works is similar to the portrait mode implementation on the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 3. The camera uses the two photo sites on each sensor, which are primarily used for autofocus, to create a depth map of the subject using their different perspectives. It then uses machine learning to further separate the subject from the background and then applies a lens blur to the background.
The other difference with the Portrait mode on the iPhone XR is that it now uses the main wide-angle lens to take the Portrait mode photos since it’s the only camera available. In comparison, all other iPhones with Portrait mode use the telephoto lens for Portrait mode photos.
Lastly, the Portrait mode on the iPhone XR only works for people. The effect kicks in only when the camera detects a person in the frame or, more precisely, a face in the frame. Since it relies on human-specific AI to work out the portrait rendering, you can’t use the Portrait mode on the iPhone XR to take pictures of objects or even the back of a person like you can on the iPhone XS or even the Pixel 3.
With that out of the way, let’s see how the Portrait mode on the iPhone XR performs when compared against the iPhone XS and the Pixel 3. To make sure the same amount of the subject was in focus and to demonstrate the differences between the three cameras, we physically moved back and forth with the three phones.
iPhone XR • Pixel 3 XL • iPhone XS
We will talk about the quality of the effect later, but first, let’s focus on the perspective. Between the three, the iPhone XS clearly has the most appealing look and is the most flattering to the subject. The telephoto lens required us to be the farthest away from the subject, which reduced lens distortion. It also contained the least amount of background due to a narrower field of view, which is desirable for portrait images. Overall, the image looks closest to what you’ll see from a proper camera with a telephoto lens and is the most convincing.
The Pixel 3 XL had the second widest (or narrowest) field of view and generally the second-best look. Technically, the Pixel 3 XL also uses its single wide-angle lens to take Portrait mode images but Google applies a digital crop in Portrait mode, which gives the appearance of a telephoto lens, although not as much as that on the iPhone XS.
The iPhone XR required us to be the closest to the subject, which introduced barrel distortion that is typical of wide-angle lenses when you get close to a subject (they are meant to be used for capturing landscapes, after all). This resulted in the least flattering picture of the three cameras and the one most easily identifiable as a smartphone camera picture.
We’re not saying the wide-angle lens is completely unusable for portrait photography. You can certainly have some fun with the wider perspective and the opportunities it opens up. It also doesn’t require you to step as further back as a telephoto lens does, so in some cases, it can be more practical. Also, low light Portrait mode photos will look better on the iPhone XR since the main 12MP camera has a better sensor and wider aperture than the telephoto 12MP on the iPhone XS. But most portrait photography is done in situations similar to the one we have demonstrated above and in such cases, a dedicated telephoto lens will always give better results.
Losing the telephoto lens also means no more 2x optically zoomed images. Admittedly, the telephoto lens would become useless in less than ideal conditions and the phone won’t even use it unless you use a third-party app to force it. But when it worked, it gave much better results than digital zoom, which is what you have to use here.
Apple’s digital zoom is decent but it’s nowhere near as good as the Super Res Zoom feature on the Pixel 3. We also missed having a 2x zoom button in the camera app, and you have to pinch out on the screen to zoom, which has no markings for precisely how much you’re zooming so our 2x zoom image below is only a rough approximation. In comparison, the Pixel 3 camera app lets you do a 2x zoom just by double tapping.
iPhone XR • iPhone XR 2x • Pixel 3 XL • Pixel 3 XL 2x
iPhone XR • iPhone XR 2x • Pixel 3 XL • Pixel 3 XL 2x
In terms of general image quality, the iPhone XR has an identical main 12MP sensor and optics as the iPhone XS, and the image quality will be identical. The images we got from the iPhone XR were sharp, with plenty of detail and well-controlled noise levels. The images were well exposed and had good contrast. The somewhat flatter, more natural images are also ideal for manually editing later.
The colors were generally good, too. iPhones have one of the most recognizable colors of any smartphone camera, where skin tones, in particular, can have an orange hue, which doesn’t look especially appealing. It’s present to some extent here as well, but not as prominent as it was with the last year’s iPhones. Previous iPhones also had an aggressively warmer tone and a tendency to lean towards a green hue, which resulted in a pale-yellow color to images, but that has also been mitigated to a large extent.
Overall, the color performance this year is really good, and the iPhones are still the only smartphones with wide-color support, so if you have a computer with a DCI-P3 capable display and OS, then you can see the images in all their glory with truly outstanding color range, especially in the red region.
iPhone XR samples
The main point of improvement this year has been in dynamic range. Like Google, Apple now does extensive image stacking work, capturing multiple frames for every shot with separate low and high exposure intermediate frames. The result is an astounding coverage of both highlight and shadow areas. The new Smart HDR feature, as it is called, is a lot more active than HDR on previous iPhones and fires for practically every shot. Even if images have a small area of bright highlights, the HDR will kick in and recover those details.
iPhone XR samples
We did notice some funny business with some neon lighting in some shots. It wasn’t the lighting itself but rather the reflection of that lighting as you can see in these shots, where the reflected light patterns are clipping with a blotchy appearance. Perhaps something Apple could fix in a future update.
Color issue with neon lighting
Apple iPhone XR low-light photos
Coming back to the Portrait mode images, the iPhone XR has the Depth Control feature from the iPhone XS. This lets you adjust the intensity of the background blur on Portrait mode images after they are taken. This is similar to the feature seen on phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note9 but instead of applying a Gaussian blur like Samsung, Apple applies a lens blur, which more closely mimics the effect of aperture and natural lens blur. The control dial also has f-stops so you can recreate the look of a lens with a particular aperture.
By default, all Portrait mode images are saved at f2.8, but you can adjust it from f1.4 to f16. Below, we have samples from f1.4, f2.8, f5.6 and f16. We chose f5.6 because it seemed like a good value where you still get some background blur but it’s not as aggressive as the default f2.8, which can look more artificial and also shows the shortcomings of the software blur more easily.
f1.4 • f2.8 • f5.6 • f16
The overall effect works well despite using just one camera. Like Google, Apple is clearly using machine learning to do the heavy lifting here and the results can be really good at time, if a bit imperfect. Had it not been for the different look and 2x optical zoom capability of the telephoto lens on the iPhone XS, we would have genuinely questioned the need to have a second camera.
Comparison to this year’s Pixel 3 is inevitable, so here it is. In our testing, we found very little to separate the two. Generally, the image quality by both phones is practically identical to the point we felt like we were splitting hairs.
Where the two differ is in dynamic range handling and colors. The Pixel 3 tends to underexpose every shot, which results in better highlight detail at the cost of some shadow detail. The contrast is also on the higher side. The Pixel also tends to prefer cooler white balance with a slight magenta hue. The iPhone camera, on the other hand, tends to expose a bit brighter with a slightly lower contrast. Its white balance is also on the warmer side with a slight green hue. This results in the Pixel images often appearing punchier out of the camera next to the iPhone images, although you can very easily edit either to look like the other.
iPhone XR • Pixel 3 XL • iPhone XR • Pixel 3 XL • iPhone XR • Pixel 3 XL
The level of detail is similar but the Pixel tends to sharpen its images more aggressively, which further contributes to the sharp, punchy look of Pixel images. Bottom line is, while both take similar pictures, the iPhone goes for a more natural look while the Pixel pushes for a more appealing image.
iPhone XR • Pixel 3 XL • iPhone XR • Pixel 3 XL • iPhone XR • Pixel 3 XL
Having said that, the differences are definitely minimal and the preference boils down to personal taste. We could genuinely mix up shots from both phones and even die-hard fans of both devices would be hard-pressed to tell them apart. The point is, both phones take excellent photos and are at the very top of their game.
iPhone XR • Pixel 3 XL • iPhone XR • Pixel 3 XL • iPhone XR • Pixel 3 XL
The selfie camera is the same 7MP f/2.2 camera you get on the iPhone XS so at least in this respect the phones are identical camera-wise.
The image quality is the same too. In low-light, the camera can use the so-called Retina flash, where your screen lights your face up in particular color to provide more pleasing skin tones depending on the color of the available light.
Apple iPhone XR low-light selfies: No flash • Retina flash ON
In good light there is plenty of resolved detail, though not the best we’ve seen. The contrast and colors are very good, while the exposure is always based on the human subject, while the Smart HDR takes care of the background.
The new A12 chip enables smart portraits on the selfie camera, too. The quality is quite alright, subject separation is excellent and you can adjust the blur after shooting them.
In terms of video, the iPhone XR clearly leads the pack with 4K60 video recording. Optionally, you can shoot at 4K30, which has a wider dynamic range as the phone is still shooting 60 frames per second internally but every second frame is exposed differently and composited to create a 30fps video with wider dynamic range. 30fps videos also have EIS for an even more stable look.