Apple iPhone XR Review
However much we want our phones to do the latest things, the one overwhelming thing is what the battery is like.
What is the Apple iPhone XR?It may be the iPhone you've been waiting for. It's the third of the three phones announced by Apple on September 12. The other two, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, are the most expensive iPhones Apple has ever produced. This one uses some cut-back components to save money. And it comes at a radically low price for Apple. It's still nowhere near a budget phone - it costs £749 - but it offers a lot of the features and benefits of the iPhone XS (£999) and iPhone XS Max (£1,099).
The iPhone XS has a 5.8in display, the Max has a 6.5in screen but this sits in the middle with a 6.1in display.
There are downsides, for sure, but it also beats the other new iPhones in one key way: it's got the biggest battery ever in an iPhone.
DesignAlthough this iPhone is significantly lower-priced than the others released this year, it looks anything but. For a start, it has the all-screen front of the iPhone XS, something lower-priced phones almost never have. And the display, as we'll see, is something of a ground-breaker.
Even the most expensive all-screen phones usually have a "chin" of non-screen area at the bottom, but not this one.
The thing that takes the eye first is the emphasis on colour. Apple has made it in a record number of shades, six, all available from day one. There are two safe choices, white and black (space grey is how Apple calls it), and four brighter options. The red is (PRODUCT)RED, that is, money is donated by Apple towards the fight against AIDS, at no extra cost to the customer.
There's a blue which is attractive but not challenging and then two much more vivid choices, yellow and coral. The yellow has a golden sunshine quality, the coral an almost citrus look to it. For my money, that's the best of the lot.
The point is that Apple has really ploughed its considerable taste and design expertise into its choice of colours, at a time when other manufacturers from Nokia to Huawei, are recognising the importance of the right colours to make a phone really stand out. After all, when the display is off, on a phone with this much screen, every phone looks like a black rectangle from the front.
The antenna band is coloured to match the rest of the phone though the band is matte. In the case of the yellow it means there is a clouded version of the colour on the phone's back on the edges.
Since the rear of the phones is glass, these are shiny phones from every angle except the matte edges. Those edges are matte because of one of the material differences between XS and XR: the antenna band is made of aluminium instead of the stainless steel on the pricier handset. This is one of the reasons the XR is cheaper and I'd say almost nobody will consider this a downgrade in style terms.
One more thing about the colour: with its obsessive attention to detail, Apple has put the matching-colour material in a place where you have to struggle to see it: inside the Lightning dock. It's there if you squint.
Much of the XS design is carried over here: both lack the headphone jack connector which some still mourn. By the way, none of the latest iPhones any longer includes the £9 adaptor in the box which lets you plug legacy cans into the phone.
Apple (and most other phone manufacturers, actually) won't bring the headphone jack back and want you to switch to Bluetooth for your listening pleasure.
The XR has a small but enjoyable improvement to the design of the iPhone XS, if you like this kind of thing. The grilles on the bottom edge of the phone are not symmetrical on the iPhone XS, thanks to an antenna band on the left. Here, they look perfectly even. If this kind of detail is important to you.
There's another design difference, though you can't see it. The iPhone XR water-resistance is not as good - it's IP67 against the XS handset's IP68. That means dust ingress is the same (6) but water ingress protection is lower (7). All of which translates into the XR being able to survive in 1 metre of water for 30 minutes, where the XS can manage the same time but twice the depth. Big deal.
The XR is thicker than its more expensive siblings, but only by just over half a millimetre - it's 8.3mm where the other two are each 7.7mm thick. So not exactly too big to handle.
DisplayUntil the iPhone X came along, and the XS and XS Max which match it, every previous iPhone had a forehead and chin of a non-screen area on the front of the phone.
The price of this phone (by the way, it's £50 less than the iPhone 8 Plus was when it launched last year) might have led you to think this phone would have a screen that was less all-covering. You're right, it does, but not because of a chin or forehead. Those are gone.
The difference is that the bezel that runs evenly around the screen is a touch wider than it is on the XS. Even so, unless you have the two phones side by side, which emphasises the difference, the XR bezel is far from wide.
As mentioned above, most phones, even pricey ones, have more of a chin than this one. That's because one edge of a display has to have a display driver attached. That's placed on the top or bottom and sometimes manufacturers plonk a brand logo to disguise that.
Apple has managed to get around the need for a driver taking up space on the iPhone X and the XS and XS Max by bending the OLED display back on itself and squirreling the driver behind that. OLED is flexible so this is possible.
But the XR is a phone with an LCD screen - another way Apple has saved money on the bill of materials with this handset - and LCD screens are glass, so not bendable.
As such, the display here is, as mentioned above, ground-breaking. Apple has precision-milled the glass to get the pixels nearer to the edge and added anti-aliasing effects to trick the eye to see it as a perfectly curved edge to the corners.
It works a treat and the result is a screen that looks great.
That's even despite the fact that the resolution is much lower than on other X or XS iPhones which have a pixel density of 458 pixels per inch (ppi). This phone has way fewer - just 326ppi. That sounds like a big drop in resolution and it is, but the proof of the pudding is in the looking. And when you look at the display, it is detailed and rich, with faithful, realistic colours.
Let's also remember that every iPhone from the iPhone 4 onwards, apart from the Plus-size iPhones, has had displays with exactly this resolution and nobody complained they looked down-at-heel.
Because this is LCD instead of OLED, black reproduction is just not as good, though this is largely something which, again, you will only notice if you have both the pricier and cheaper iPhones side by side.
Another difference is that there's no HDR playback on this phone, unlike the XS and many other leading smartphone displays.
Finally, like the other all-screen iPhones, this one has that notch at the top of the phone where the tech that makes facial recognition possible. No problem, unless you're watching a movie or other video on your phone. And you might, it's a 6.1in display, remember.
Then you have two options: watch with black bars (remember this display is 19.5:9 so any 16:9 material will naturally have bars at each end) or zoom in a little to full-screen. Then, of course, you're immediately aware of the notch at the top of the screen, that's the left when you turn it to landscape orientation.
The truth is, it looks great in full-screen mode and, personally, I quickly forgot to notice it.
SecurityI mentioned facial recognition made possible by that notch. Face ID is brilliant, an intimate, fast way of unlocking your phone which no rival has yet been able to get anywhere near.
Like last year's Face ID on the iPhone X, this is routinely successful, even in the dark. It's only when you're looking at it from an awkward angle that it doesn't work, in my experience. This is very different from any other facial recognition on other manufacturers' handsets.
And this is, like on the XS, Face ID version 2, which is faster and even more effective.
Once you've glanced at the screen, it unlocks the lock screen. But - and this is Apple's unalterable choice - it preserves the privacy of your data by not taking you to the home screen or open app until you tell it to by swiping up on the screen.
This security also stretches to the privacy of your notifications. If someone else looks at your iPhone XR, all they'll see is that you have a text, missed call, tweet or other notification waiting. No more details will be seen until the phone spots it's you, at which point the message itself is revealed.
It's something that fits with Apple's predilection for privacy and adds to the intimacy of the experience.
CameraThis is perhaps the biggest difference between this relatively affordable phone and the more expensive ones. The front-facing camera is identical to the XS, but there's only one rear-facing camera where the other iPhones have two.
The sensor is the same as the wide-angle camera on the iPhone XS. That's a 12MP sensor, improved from last year's iPhone X sensor which was then arguably the best iPhone camera ever.
This new sensor has bigger pixels and more of what Apple calls Focus Pixels, which are used to achieve sharper autofocus, quicker.
It's a very good camera and it even comes with some of the advanced features from the XS. Such as an improved Portrait Mode which includes a depth of field slider so after taking your shot, you can adjust exactly how much of the image has a blurred or sharp background.
On most high-end phones, this effect is achieved by shooting two sensors at the same time and using software to determine which parts are subject and which background.
Not here. The single sensor means all the magic is done through software, artificial intelligence and algorithms. As such, the results are pretty impressive, though more limited. The algorithms only know to look for human faces, not animals so no cat and dog portraits, sorry.
Other depth-of-field cameras can achieve clever effects with objects, too, but not here.
Still, as far as it goes, the effect is good and the granular adjustability of the level of focus is very good indeed.
Beyond that, the sensor is fast enough to thrive even in low light and Apple's famous (infamous) image processing makes average images look better.
But while it's easily as good as many other cameraphones, it's no match for the iPhone XS or some other high-fliers like the Google Pixel 3 and Huawei P20 Pro.
Video recording is capable and fun to use, shooting 4K at up to 60 frames per second, and slo-mo at up to 240fps at 1080p resolution. Even if you can't play back material with HDR on this phone, you can shoot with HDR, and with stereo sound.
Then there's Animoji, only available on other X and XS iPhones, where animated animals, along with a skull, alien and a poo, mimic your every expression perfectly and in exact synchronisation.
These Animoji now have tongue detection, too, so you can poke your tongue out when you're recording your Animoji message.
There's also Memoji, which lets you customise your own avatar. They don't really look like you but they are all cute and fun, unlike Samsung's AR emoji which can look a bit creepy.
All these features work because of one thing, the Apple A12 Bionic chip.
For some users, it will have so much power that they won't really use it, but you never know what world-changing killer app is about to come along.
In any event, it means the performance of this iPhone is fantastic. Whatever you do, it responds instantly, loading apps from nothing to full-speed quickly, and re-launching previously used apps even more quickly.
There's not as much RAM in the XR as the other new releases from Apple but it doesn't slow things down at all.
I think it's the best I've found on an Apple smartphone. The iPhone XS and XS Max usually last a day without issue, unless you're, say, in a no-signal area and your poor handset is seeking to connect all the time.
But this is a revelation, lasting through a full day and more without a peep of complaint. If you forget to charge it overnight then, first, who are you? and second, don't worry.
It'll still have charge left in all likelihood, though you'll want to top it up pronto before you leave the house.
But you won't have worried during the day before that you were going to run out of juice.
- Cool design
- Great colour choices
- Strong value
- Speedy performance
- Best iPhone battery life
- Great operating system
- Not the best iPhone camera
- Lower display resolution
- No HDR playback
Apple iPhone XR ReviewThis is the iPhone which, for most people, is everything they'll need. The camera is the biggest casualty of the specifications cutbacks, and the lower-resolution LCD, non-HDR display instead of OLED. These are significant, but in most everyday uses, they won't be deal-breakers.
Add to that the great choice of gorgeous colours which look tremendous (until they're hidden in the inevitable protective case) and you can see why the iPhone XR has been so keenly anticipated.
You can buy cheaper iPhones. The iPhone 8 Plus is £699, though I'd say the XR is way more than £50 better than that. Actually, overall, the iPhone XR offers the perfect balance of value and power of any Apple phone.
Is it the best iPhone yet? No, but it's probably the best-value.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £749.00
Call and Signal Quality8
Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts8
App support and functionality9
Value for Money8
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