Apple iPhone XR Review: An iPhone for the ‘R’est of Us?
Let’s face facts – most folks, including those hanging on to their four-year-old iPhones, don’t want to spend upwards of Rs 1 lakh on a new phone, even if it is the shiniest new iPhone in town. Few do, really.
Apple gets that too, ergo the “affordable” iPhone XR, which we had advised to wait for when we reviewed the XS Max earlier. So, now that the XR is here and in stores, was it worth the wait?
- Uncompromised performance with A12 Bionic
- Good build quality and gorgeous colors
- Sweet-spot size
- Better battery life than XS duo
- Portrait mode
- Good LCD panel
- Higher-resolution display would have been ideal
- Compares unfavorably to Android competition
- Misses the reach of the second telephoto lens
Straight off the bat, the iPhone XR represents a good compromise ‘just right’ size (6.1-inch) between the handier, but smaller screen XS (5.8-inch) and the supersized and somewhat ungainly XS Max (6.5-inch). In the hand, the XR doesn’t feel like a large phone, but the extra screen real estate is discernible.
There is a slight shift in the design language in terms of materials – the jewelry-like stainless steel on the XS makes way for anodised aluminum, which is coloured to match the new yellow, blue, coral or red rear panels – of course, there’s the staid black and white too, but the colors are a big draw for the XR and I’d imagine most would make a beeline for one of them.
About that screen, though – the cause of much controversy. Apple uses a new LCD “Liquid Retina” display on the XR, not the OLED screen we’ve loved on the XS models, and one that doesn’t push out that many pixels – 1792 x 828, to be precise. To some, these specs will be abysmally low for the price range, more so when compared to the QHD+ displays on the Samsung and Google flagships.
On its own, the LCD screen on the XR is a good panel with rich colors and ample brightness for outdoor use and Apple’s True Tone tech for comfortable use in artificial lighting.
At launch, the big news about the XR was that despite it’s somewhat lower pricing, it is, under the hood, powered by the same stellar A12 Bionic chipset from its pricier siblings, albeit with 3GB of memory (instead of 4 on the XS).
Face ID is fast, apps load snappily and all the big-ticket iOS 12 features – live-action Portrait effects and Me-mojis, among others – work without skipping a beat. The lower amount of memory didn’t impact any day-to-day use.
The interesting bit was that battery life exceeded even the XS Max’s all-day longevity, which I put down to the phone simply pushing less pixels on the screen and benefiting greatly in terms of battery life.
Now, one would naturally assume that the single camera setup on the XR would be somewhat crippled as compared to the XS duo, but if the Pixel has taught us anything, it is to never write-off single-lens cameras!
Except for the rare shots where you need the additional telephoto reach of the XS, the XR performs admirably on the camera front.
The rear camera is the same as the one on the XS, so you get all the benefits of 4K 60fps video, smart HDR shooting and a wide f/1.8 aperture. As with the Pixel 3, Apple’s used the Neural Engine on the A12 Bionic chip to apply the background blur in software.
The interesting bit is that since the XR uses its sole brighter f/1.8 lens and larger primary image sensor, both of which are much better in low light than the telephoto camera the XS uses for portrait shots, portrait shots are not only better in quality but also capture a wider field of view.
One thing to note – the AI algorithms for Portrait mode on the XR have been trained to work using only images of people, so it doesn’t work on objects or pets as the depth sensing setup on the XS does, but since it is implemented completely in software, one can hope Apple adds this in over time.
I’d even go so far as to say it goes toe-to-toe with the Pixel 3 in terms of portrait mode shots, although the Pixel 3 edges ahead in the camera department across shooting scenarios.
The screen – it’s not an OLED, resolution is poor for screen nerds and it lacks Apple’s 3D Touch technology, which has been replaced by a similar, but not quite as good Haptic Touch feature. Most folks I know never really got around to using 3D Touch a lot, so the impact is limited.
As with the XS, no fast charger or Lightning-to-headphone jack adapter in the box.
Worth Buying It?
I don’t buy Apple’s assertion that this is an “affordable” iPhone. Sure, when compared to the XS, but not when you place it against the competition.
This is still unequivocally an expensive phone, it’s just that the pricing goal post has shifted so much that a Rs 76,900 iPhone with many flagship grade components and few compromises almost feels like a good deal.
For the most of us, particularly anyone upgrading from an iPhone 6,7 or 8, the XR is a good step up. It may lack OLED and the dual lens of the XS, but the comparisons are only obvious when you compare them directly next to each other.
(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He tweets @2shar.)