iPhone XR review
Finally, an iPhone including a decent battery
Of the three iPhones started in 2018, the iPhone XR is the most impressive of the lot. Not because of the strength of the spec – the iPhone XS is slightly ahead in a lot of areas – but what you’re ‘saving’ by going for this model far outweighs what you’re losing. A multitude of colors, very good battery life and a lower price? If you need a new iPhone, check this one out first.
- Great battery life for an iPhone
- An attractive array of colors
- Lower price tag
- Portrait camera mode doesn’t impress
- Some apps still not fully optimized
- Lower-res screen
Apple has managed a marketing masterstroke with the iPhone XR: not only has it delayed the launch of the third of its trio of 2018 iPhones, thus creating some mystery around it, it’s also managed to make this seem like 2018’s ‘cheap’ iPhone.
Yes, it’s cheaper compared to the recently-launched iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, but we’re talking $749 (£749 / AU$1229) compared with $999 (£999 / AU$1,629), which is hardly budget. To the average price-conscious, brand-neutral buyer this is a long way from a ‘cheap iPhone’.
The iPhone XR review, To the Apple fan who wants to stick with the brand though, the iPhone XR offers a much cheaper way to get a 2018 model without having to pay the sky-high prices of the XS duo, without sacrificing too much in terms of features – and with a cheeky amount, more performance than one might expect.
While it’s impossible to know for certain what Apple is aiming to achieve with the later launch of the iPhone XR, the fact remains that it’s already enjoyed the buzz of the new iPhone XS launch, and now has a second bite of the, er, apple in terms of generating hyper around this ‘mystery’ phone.
Well, Apple has either pulled a marketing masterstroke or screwed itself by missing sales from launching late – as the XR is one of the best iPhones we’ve ever tested.
The design of the iPhone XR is both familiar and novel and for those used to the home button, its loss is going to be quite a jolt. It comes with a benefit though: the iPhone XR is all-screen on the front (bar the notch at the top) and gives you a more striking feel in the hand overall.
The rounded edges, as mentioned, are still in the same I’ve-designed vein, feeling nice to the touch, and the metal back (finished in aluminum and glass, replacing the steel of the iPhone XS pair) also feels premium.
The glass on the front of the iPhone XR is meant to be among the strongest in the industry, and it’s the same material as on the iPhone XS – although we should warn you that we managed to either scratch or put a hairline fracture (we’re not sure which, as it’s so slight) on our iPhone XS within weeks.
The rear of the phone isn’t the same strength of glass, but looking at the myriad crazy-paving iPhone screens on the train to work it appears the front of the phone bears the brunt of crashes anyway.
The iPhone XR has the same button layout as 2017’s iPhone X, with the large Siri / lock button where the power key was previously, and the volume buttons and silencer rocker on the right.
It’s brilliant being able to mute the handset with a simple click on the side, but it still easily turns itself to the ‘sound blaring’ setting when you take it out a pocket or similar, meaning you’ll get tunes blaring out, and only after a few seconds of glaring around to see who’s left their phone’s sound on will you realize it’s, well, you.
The bottom of a new iPhone is still sadly shorn of the headphone jack – and no, to answer a question posed to us the other day, there’s no chance of Apple ever bringing it back. Removing it from within the chassis offers too much space for designers to play with, so you’re stuck with the Lightning connector on the bottom for getting audio out if you prefer things wired.
What’s annoying here, however, is that Apple has decided to remove the adaptor from the box, where it was present with the iPhone X.
You basically won’t be able to use the expensive cans you already own unless you pay a bit more for a plastic dongle to convert your normal headphone jack to the Lightning connection needed.
The speakers top and bottom emit stereo sound (you can also record video in the same way) although they’re not louder like on the iPhone XS pair, so you’ll not get the same level of volume or clarity pumping out.
That said, you will be able to take it into the shower to continue the tunes, although the XR is ‘only’ IP67 rated. We say ‘only’ as the iPhone XS pair is capable of being submerged for longer, as they’re IP68, but in reality, the level of water resistance on the iPhone XR is more than good enough for most people, meaning you can wash it if things are getting dirty.
If you’re new to the all-screen design, let’s get something out of the way right now: yes, the iPhone XR has a notch at the top. It encroaches into the screen, and it’s no coincidence that Apple chose the ‘planet’ motif to advertise these phones, the black backdrop of which conveniently hides the slice taken out the top of the screen.
You will get used to this after a short while – it’s generally not that bad watching films generally, but it can chop out key information on some movies. However, the notch contains the important elements of the Face ID camera, the front-facing snapper for selfies, and all the other sensors in there which help your phone to work its magic.
The overall screen quality, as ever with an iPhone, is excellent, and the new 6.1-inch Liquid Retina LCD technology does a good job of delivering sharp lines and punchy colors.
However, compared to the iPhone XS, it’s not quite as good quality – the poorer black reproduction is an obvious difference thanks to using an LCD screen, and the sharpness isn’t there either.
Apple took great pains to tell us that the Liquid Retina display is one of the most advanced on the market, having been custom made for the brand to allow for the fully-rounded edges of the display that are uniform top and bottom of the phone.
That’s fine, but you’re not getting as many pixels packed in there, with a density of 326 pixels per inch compared to the 458 of the iPhone XS pair.
What’s slightly annoying about the way Apple is presenting the iPhone XR is that there’s this idea that the screen is ‘edge-to-edge’. It’s really not, thanks to that chunky old bezel around the sides of the phone, which really diminishes the feeling of quality when this handset is placed next to the iPhone XS.
Had Apple described the handset as ‘all-screen’ or just ‘button-less’ it would paint a fairer picture – there’s just too much space taken up around the sides to call this truly edge-to-edge, especially when you see some of the handsets from the likes of Xiaomi or Oppo in China that really push things to the limit.
The iPhone XR’s screen also doesn’t support HDR, which may not matter to most, but you won’t get the same crisp and bright images when watching movies on the go. It can support the HDR style, so things don’t look too bad, but it’s not quite got the peak performance.
You won’t notice this in isolation, as the test footage we watched still seemed clear enough to the eye, but it’s something else you’ll notice if look at this phone side by side with the XS – and it’s another area where you’re sacrificing to pay a little less.