When Apple unveiled the iPhone XR, my first reaction was to think back to the iPhone 5C from 2013.
It was Apple’s first foray into the ‘budget’ smartphone market, having typically found success with customers willing to pay more for high-end devices. It wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but the execution didn’t quite hit the mark; the plastic body and tacky colours meant the 5C felt like an imposter.
But after using the XR for a month, it’s clear this is no repeat of the 5C. In fact, I’m convinced it’s a smarter purchase than the iPhone XS.
iPhone XR specifications
- Price: From A$1229
- Size: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm
- Weight: 194g
- OS: iOS 12
- CPU: A12 Bionic
- RAM: 3GB
- Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
- Display: 6.1-inch LCD (1792 x 828)
- Rear Camera: 12-MP (f/1.8)
- Front Camera: 7-MP (f/2.2)
- Finishes: White, Black, Red, Coral, Blue, Yellow
With a starting price of A$1229, it would be irresponsible to call this a ‘cheap’ or ‘budget’ smartphone. It may be the most affordable of Apple’s three new models, but it’ll still set you back well over a grand.
The good news is the price tag reflects that, on paper at least, the XR compares favourably to the XS (from A$1,629) and XS Max (from A$1,799). It even manages to beat out its more expensive siblings in a handful of areas.
All three phones offer dual sim support, an all-screen design, portrait mode photography, improved speakers, smart HDR image processing, a 7MP front camera, Face ID, varying levels of water resistance and an A12 chip.
Buying the XR doesn’t mean you’re losing performance or forgoing a pile of major features. There are several notable differences to be aware of, but I’m not convinced they knock the XR off its throne.
Design and display
While the XS features a 5.8-inch display with 458 ppi (pixels per inch), the XR’s 6.1-inch display only manages 326 ppi – that’s a fairly unremarkable resolution for displays of this size. It also means the XR has noticeably larger bezels than the XS, although it’s unlikely to bother most users.
When it comes to size and weight, the XR is a little chunkier than the XS, even after taking its larger display into account:
- iPhone XR: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm and 194g
- iPhone XS: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm and 177g
The size difference is bearable, but it does become a little much with a case. I’m far too clumsy to go without, and I’ve already bought a pair of pants without checking the pocket size – big mistake.
There is, however, an advantage to the LCD display: it’s far less demanding on the hardware and means the XR actually has a longer battery life than the XS. Plus, a lower resolution doesn’t mean the display isn’t impressive. Put the displays side-by-side and the XS comes out on top, but the XR’s is vibrant and more than good enough.
In terms of finish, the XR takes the cake. I’ve never been a fan of flashy finishes, but the XR’s selection of white, black, blue, yellow, coral and (PRODUCT)Red is far more tasteful than I expected – enough to make the silver, space grey and gold of the XS look a little too conservative.
The colour-matched aluminium body beautifully completes your choice of finish, complementing the design without pomp.
The most obvious difference between the two phones is the rear camera: the XR features a single 12MP camera while the XS boasts dual 12MP dual wide-angle and telephoto cameras. Both are capable of creating bokeh using portrait mode, and the XR even outperforms the XS in certain conditions.
The main disadvantage with the XR’s camera is that it doesn’t have the 2x optical zoom of the XS, and its portrait mode only works on people, not objects. Plus, because it relies entirely on computing power to recognise the subject and create blur, the results can be inconsistent.
But aside from some occasional portrait mode hiccups and the lack of optical zoom, the XR is still capable of taking excellent shots that rival any competitor. CNET has an in-depth camera comparison, which I’d recommend checking out if this is the most important feature to you.
Beyond a single rear camera, slightly bulkier size and lower resolution display, the differences are nothing to write home about. Both are water resistant: the XS has an IP68 rating (maximum depth of 2 metres for up to 30 minutes), while the XR has an IP67 rating (maximum depth of 1 metre for up to 30 minutes).
The biggest storage available with the XR is 256GB, meaning anyone who wants a 512GB iPhone will need to invest in an XS or XS Max. But the ubiquity and continual improvement of cloud storage make this of little importance to the majority of users.
It’s important not to forget that the XR is not just a stellar piece of hardware. The recent release of iOS 12 means anyone upgrading from an iPhone older than the 5S or another smartphone altogether have plenty of game-changing features to look forward to.
The XR also supports Animoji and Memoji, if you’re into it.
In a nutshell
Let’s recap. In essence, this is where the XR falls short of the XS:
- Lower resolution LCD display instead of OLED
- Slightly thicker and heavier
- Larger bezels
- No optical zoom
- No portrait mode on objects
And this is why none of those matter:
- The phone is equally as fast
- The display still rocks
- The bezels are comparable to other devices on the market
- The battery lasts longer than the XS
- The single-lens camera takes beautiful shots, even in portrait mode
- You have a greater choice of finishes
- It’ll save you hundreds of dollars
The XR is an excellent smartphone and is, without a doubt, the best iPhone for the majority of users. Those who haven’t owned any of Apple’s Plus models will find the size the hardest thing to adjust to, but give it a week and you’ll wonder how you ever coped without such a big, beautiful display.
There are a handful of disadvantages to the XR, none of which are significant enough to stop me from saying it’s the best Apple smartphone on the market. Given its price, there’s little to justify the eye-watering cost of the XS or XS Max.