26/10/2018 11:51 AM IST | Updated 13/12/2018 7:17 PM IST

Apple iPhone XR Review: The 'Affordable' iPhone Doesn't Disappoint

At Rs. 76,900, the iPhone XR is not a cheap phone, and goes toe to toe with its more expensive siblings, the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

After launching three iPhone models last —the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X—Apple followed up this year with the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and after a small gap, the iPhone XR. You can now buy it from stores and online in India for Rs. 76,900.

It may not have stolen the show at Apple's iPhone launch event last month—the Apple Watch Series 4 took that honor—but the iPhone XR is proving to be the dark horse for this year's iPhone portfolio. This is the iPhone for folks who balk at spending a lakh on the newest XS range, yet want a phone that doesn't skimp on features that matter just to lower the asking price.

As the iPhone XR goes on sale worldwide today, here's our take on some of the questions you may have about Apple's newest and most "affordable" 2018 iPhone.

What do I give up from the iPhone XS for the lower priced iPhone XR?

When the iPhone XR was announced as the "one last thing" alongside the wallet-busting iPhones XS, the lower price made one wonder if too many compromises were made to achieve the twenty-five percent cut. An LCD display instead of OLED, one rear camera instead of two, an aluminum frame instead of steel bands, and no 3D Touch—the iPhone XR at launch felt like it was hobbled so as to not overshadow the XS duo.

After a week of use, it's as plain as day that the iPhone XR is less compromised than you'd be given to think. It shares the same A12 Bionic chip as the iPhone XS, plus the main cameras with Smart HDR, the same Face ID setup, wireless charging, and all of iOS 12's gesture controls.

How does the iPhone XR feel in the hand?

It's a good in-betweener size—in comparison, the iPhone XS felt too compact, and the XS Max felt unwieldy—and it sits well in medium to large-sized hands. If you didn't know better, you'd confuse it for an iPhone X, notch and barely-there-chin and all. The bezels are thicker around the display, but you'd only notice if you place the two side-by-side.

Tushar Kanwar

The XR frame is crafted out of custom 7000 series aluminum alloy and the 2.5D-curving glass on the front and back blends in seamlessly into the frame, lending the XR a decidedly premium feel in the hand. The aluminum frame also affords the XR a range of color options, including yellow, red, blue and coral (orange) and the classic but staid-in-comparison black and white. This is not a phone you'd want to hide behind a case (and Apple doesn't even have first party cases for the iPhone XR), so it's a bit of a pity Apple chose not to kit it with the same extra durable glass as the iPhone XS. It is IP67 dust- and water-resistant (1-meter submersion for 30 minutes), though not to the same degree as the iPhone XS devices.

Is the iPhone XR screen a big step down from the iPhone XS?

Call it a Liquid Retina Display or what you will, but there's no escaping the fact that the XR's 6.1-inch LCD screen is a smidge over 326 pixels per inch on the 720p display, numbers which pale when compared to the QHD+ displays from Samsung and Google... or phones a third its price, for that matter. If you're the sort for whom a high-resolution display matters and can actually tell the difference between HD, full HD and QHD+ displays, this screen will be disappointing. But if you are trading in an iPhone 6/7/8, you won't mind this display one bit. As LCD displays go, the XR's is among the best LCD panels around – it's color accurate and balanced, offers good viewing angles and Apple's True Tone tech is pleasing to the eye.

It's no OLED panel, so blacks aren't as black, and colors aren't as punchy, but the display does its job well and only the keener eyes will notice the lack of pixels. This is a screen that's good enough for most folks, but the fact that it is merely "good enough" on a phone that is otherwise rather pretty stellar says something.

Tushar Kanwar

One other note – the XR is missing 3D Touch, Apple's pressure sensing display tech, but given how much (or how little) most folks I know use it, it's likely not to be missed... and its replacement, a somewhat limited in functionality Haptic Touch, will probably do just fine. Side note: one remnant of 3D Touch interactions does remain - if you press down on the space bar, you can turn that keyboard into a trackpad for navigating text.

Every other phone has two cameras now—so why does the iPhone XR only have one?

The single rear camera is the same optically stabilized 12-megapixel primary sensor (f/1.8) as the XS/Max as is the front-facing f/2.2 7MP TrueDepth camera. As with the XS, Apple's thrown its computational muscle at the imaging department to enable the Smart HDR mode, but the XR lacks the secondary telephoto lens and gets a software-based background blur. This is where the differences between the XS and the XR creep in – for starters, since you're not using the telephoto lens, you're much further away from the subject which gets you a wider field of view in the portrait shot. Crucially, since you're using the fast f/1.8 lens instead of the f/2.4 telephoto on the XS, you get brighter, crisper shots in lower light from the XR. Why Apple didn't give the XS these capabilities is a little surprising. The downside is that the XR's portrait mode only works when it detects human faces and simply won't engage the mode if you're pointing the camera at a pet or toy.

"There is also beautygate" - the excessive smoothening of selfies to make it look like you're wearing perfect makeup. Apple acknowledged the issue recently, and has promised a fix is coming, so this should improve soon too.

Tushar Kanwar

Pitted against the Pixel 3 XL, Samsung's Note 9, and the iPhone XS Max across a number of common shooting scenarios, the XR held its own in the imaging department. In portrait mode shots, it nailed the edge detection, both of the shirt and the hair, and was edged out by the Pixel only in terms of color accuracy... with the dual camera shooters bringing up the rear in each instance. The Pixel produced the more pleasing selfie, both in terms of colors and contrast levels, while the Note 9 exhibited the best colors and details in landscape shots despite erring towards producing warmer photos than the rest - in each case the XR followed close behind. When it came to video, the iPhones run away with it, not only producing smoother but far more detailed 4K@60fps movies than the rest.

Tushar Kanwar
photo comparison

So, how's the XR to use on an everyday basis?

If you've read about the iPhones XS, you'd know that the A12 Bionic is the first commercially available 7 nanometer system on chip, which brings gains in power efficiency and performance, and quite honestly, Apple's mobile architecture is in a league of its own right now. The XR matches its XS siblings on performance, even if it is paired with one GB less RAM – it's pushing fewer pixels on screen so apps load snappily, animations are smooth, Face ID is faster, and all the iOS 12 marquee features – live-action Portrait effects, next-level AR apps and Me-mojis – work without skipping a beat. The wide stereo speakers are a tad louder than the XS, plenty loud for a phone in any case. Battery life, courtesy the lower-res screen and a nearly 3000mAh battery, is fantastic, probably the best on a recent iPhone. It lasted the good part of a heavy workday with a number of phone calls, Slack and WhatsApp messages and emails getting pulled down every 15 mins, not to mention some serious Twitter-time and wireless streaming from Apple music.

However, we must point out that like the iPhone XS, Apple ships the iPhone XR with a glacially-slow five-watt charger, and without a headphone-jack-to-Lightning-port adapter, both of which are just plain wrong.

Quick Specs:

  • Capacity: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
  • Size and Weight: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm, 194g
  • Display: 6.1-inch LCD with IPS, 1792x828-pixel, True Tone, P3 wide color
  • Chip: A12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine
  • Camera - Rear: 12MP f/1.8 wide-angle with OIS
  • Front: 7MP f/2.2
  • Features: IP67 dust/water, Face ID facial recognition
  • Colors: Yellow, White, Coral, Black, Blue, Red
  • Price: Rs. 76,900 (64GB) onwards

Tushar Kanwar is a Bangalore-based technology columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar.

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