It's really easy to look past the new iPhone XR. It represents yet another attempt by Apple to create a budget-friendly phone like the iPhone 5C and SE and what you see when looking in is an overpriced version of an otherwise even more expensive line of phones with outdated specifications. This is the perception though. As the cheapest version of the current line-up, which obviously stands to be replaced come September, it is still interesting enough to dive deeper into and it's easy for us to recommend.
Let's start with the display because this is where Apple has decided to sacrifice quality the most. The iPhone XR has a so-called "liquid retina display", but what it really is is a 6.1-inch LCD panel instead of a superior OLED panel, and we will say that you won't get the same deep blacks or even the same level of colour saturation as you would have with an OLED display. It is, however, hard to argue with the fact that Apple's display technology is among the best on the market. Of course, you don't get the glory of 90Hz you would get with a OnePlus phone, but in terms of colour rendering - the light at 589 NITS and readability in sunlight, for example - this display is still great. Sure, 1792x828 pixels and a PPI of 326 is not very impressive, but you still get a display that works great for all content and we didn't run into a single scenario during our time spent on the XR where its technical limitations became clear. This fact is a testament to how far you can stretch quality with accurate calibration and Apple knows exactly how to use this to its advantage.
With that said though, we can't really forgive the thick "bezel" or "screen edge". There's an all-black line around the entire screen and, as far as we can see at least, there's no need for it except the fact that Apple clearly wants the XR to appear inferior to the XS and XS MAX. Removing the screen edge would have clearly been preferred.
The other big sacrifice made for the smaller price tag is the camera. It's funny to see a phone in 2019 at such a high price having only one camera lens as most companies choose to put three if not four separate lenses on one device in order to offer a varied camera experience. However, the "camera king" of phones, the Google Pixel 3, only has one central lens and makes up for it with various image types via software. It's the telephoto lens you sacrifice here and even though you can still take portraits with a smart bokeh effect there are still issues; should you try to take a photo of a building, for example, the camera will tell you it's waiting for someone to enter the frame. You still get ultra-wide, Smart HDR, Depth Control and 4K video up to 60fps - all from the 12-megapixel ƒ / 1.8 lens on the back.
So are you sacrificing something by choosing to get the cheaper device in the latest Apple lineup? Sure, but it's not as noticeable as you'd think. The images still turn out great and that's both thanks to Apple's software but also the overall quality of the camera the tech giant has designed. Moreover, there's no glass behind it, but aluminium, but that just allows Apple to launch the XR in a number of cool colours, which is something we've praised in the past. The fact that phones nowadays typically come in gold or black is a bit boring so the fact that you can get your XR in yellow, blue or red is a big plus. It's also heavier and thicker but it feels like a conscious decision rather than an oversight. It rests steadily in the hand as a result of the substantial weight.
Thanks to the LCD panel and the A12 Bionic chip that is actually designed for an OLE panel, the battery life is actually much more impressive than that of the other two models. In fact, the XR can hold its battery for over a full day of use, which is something we can't say for the XS MAX. You get no 3D Touch, however, but that's not a feature we'll miss.
So what's the verdict here? Apple's iPhones are still too expensive considering what features they offer and this has been a fact for a while. At the same time, however, many want to stay within the iPhone ecosystem and the XR is actually an excellent alternative to the XS MAX. For a heap less money and with very few sacrifices made to its quality, this is actually the iPhone we'd recommend even though it is inferior. If the phone drops in price after the introduction of the next-generation iPhone, it'll be an even smarter investment.
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