Apple gave everyone a glimpse at the future of the iPhone with last year’s iPhone X , positioning it at the top of its lineup. With a “notch” and Face ID, the iPhone X was the iPhone of the future, and it came with a price tag that required you to pay EMIs well into the future.
The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus were meant to be the more accessible offerings, continuing Apple’s “business as usual” model of delivering solid, incremental updates at prices that were only marginally higher than their predecessors.
With 2018, however, it seems the future is here, as Apple has gone all-in with the iPhone X (Review) design language across the entire lineup. For the second year in a row, we get not two but three new iPhone models, but this time, they all look pretty much the same — like the iPhone X, but at different sizes.
Physically, the iPhone XR sits between the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. It’s priced in iPhone 8 Plus territory, which means Apple has eliminated the iPhone 8 (Review) price band altogether. This makes this year’s most affordable new iPhone nearly Rs. 13,000 more expensive than last year’s point of entry, which seems to be in line with Apple’s push to increase prices across all its product categories.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, as the iPhone XR is available in a variety of colours, to make you forget the hole that buying one is likely to leave in your pocket. While the “most affordable” new iPhone of the year offers more colour options than its more expensive brethren, Apple has removed certain features from the iPhone XR in a bid to keep its cost low.
Does this make the iPhone XR a compromised device? That’s what we aim to find out in our review.
iPhone XR design and display
The last time Apple brought colours to the iPhone lineup in any sort of meaningful way was with the poorly received iPhone 5c. Launched alongside the iPhone 5s , the iPhone 5c (Review) — just like the iPhone XR — was the most affordable new iPhone on offer. However, its price tag wasn’t as low as everyone expected hoped it would be), and the fact that it shipped with older technology obviously didn’t help.
Apple has managed to avoid the same trap with the iPhone XR by making sure it ticks the same boxes as its two more expensive siblings, at least as far as the most important specifications are concerned. All three phones are powered by the same SoC, have the same primary rear camera, and come with other modern technologies including Face ID (the iPhone 5c famously missed out on Touch ID, introduced with the iPhone 5s).
That’s not to say the iPhone XR is just like the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max in every respect. Its frame is made out of “aerospace-grade aluminium” compared to steel on the more expensive iPhone models, though it feels nearly as premium.
Both the front and the back of the iPhone XR are all glass, though Apple notes that only the front packs “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone”, so the back has to make do with something less expensive, like the second-most durable glass ever in a smartphone, perhaps. Both the fronts and the backs of the iPhone XS are iPhone XS Max have the aforementioned “most durable glass ever”. The iPhone XR is IP67 rated, just like the iPhone X, while the other two 2018 iPhone models are IP68 rated.
The other way in which Apple has cut costs is by eliminating 3D Touch. Some people probably won’t even notice it’s missing given that it wasn’t always easy to discover its presence in older iPhone models to begin with. Some popular 3D Touch features such as the keyboard’s trackpad mode and the ability to preview notifications have been implemented without 3D Touch, for those who did come to love those little touches.
The iPhone XR is available in yellow, white, coral, black, blue, and (Product) Red, which is a welcome change compared to the usual options available from Apple and other manufacturers. While we really appreciated the understated finish of our black review unit, we also quite liked the yellow and blue options in the brief time we spent with them at the global launch event.
iPhone XR performance, software, and battery life
The iPhone XR is powered by the same Apple A12 Bionic chip inside the iPhone XS duo, so it’s no surprise that its performance is pretty similar. It handled everything that we threw at it with aplomb, something we’ve come to expect from a new iPhone, and indeed other smartphones in this price bracket.
PUBG Mobile defaults to the ‘High’ frame rate and ‘HD’ graphics settings, but we bumped them to ‘Ultra’ and ‘HDR’ respectively, and playing the game was still a pretty smooth experience. Extended sessions of games such as Asphalt 9: Legends were not a problem either, and we didn’t run into any heating issues.
Benchmarks show that the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max both have 4GB of RAM, while the iPhone XR has to make do with 3GB of RAM, the same as the iPhone X. While this didn’t really prove to be a problem in our experience, it’s something to bear in mind if you like your devices to be “future proof”, as would be the case with the more expensive iPhone XS duo.
iPhone XR cameras
The iPhone used to be the best camera phone in business, but that probably hasn’t been the case since the days of the iPhone 6 Plus. It started with companies like Samsung taking a lead in low-light camera performance, and since then we’ve seen the likes of Huawei and Google surpass Apple when it comes to building a phone that’s a solid overall performer when it comes to still photography.
Google has been somewhat of a flag bearer in this department with its Pixel range of flagships. While all three generations of Pixel phones might have been plagued by a host of reliability issues, there’s been no denying their photography chops.
Even as other manufactures have relied on two, three, and even four sensors in a bid to deliver better image quality often with mixed results Google has stuck to a single sensor, while doubling down on machine learning algorithms to enhance the resulting images.
Given Google’s success with this approach, it’s no surprise to see Apple and others go down the same path, even if it seems that Cupertino is merely dipping its toes instead of going all-in. While the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max continue to feature dual rear cameras, the iPhone XR packs only one sensor at the back.
This, pardon the pun, serves dual purposes. First, it obviously reduces the cost of the more “affordable” iPhone XR, but more importantly, it gives Apple a device with which it can experiment a bit with its machine learning approach to photography.
As we noted in our iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max review, the more expensive duo also rely on machine learning in the form of Smart HDR to deliver great images, but the iPhone XR takes this a step further. Similar to the Google Pixel 3 and a bunch of other phones, the iPhone XR uses machine learning to offer Portrait Mode with the rear camera, which was earlier limited to iPhone models with dual rear cameras.
Even with a single rear camera, the iPhone XR does a good job when it comes to edge detection and the Bokeh effect in portrait mode, but it’s not as good as the results we saw with the iPhone XS. We also noticed that some portraits taken with the iPhone XR had less detail compared to similar shots taken by the iPhone XS.
Let’s go back to the question that we started with: is the iPhone XR a compromised device? It isn’t; not in ways that would matter to most users. While we are not fans of its display, it does its job without being particularly great. In other areas such as performance and camera quality, the iPhone XR more than holds its own, and is a match for the more expensive iPhone models as well as other flagship phones.
That brings us to its price. We’ve made it abundantly clear that we are not fans of the upward trend that we’ve seen across the entire range of Apple products. As we noted in our iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max review, even with the promise of regular software updates and better resale value, it’s getting increasingly difficult to justify the price tags that Apple’s phones command.
With a starting price of Rs, the iPhone XR isn’t exactly a bargain, but it’s better value for money than the iPhone XS, and certainly the iPhone XS Max. Heck, even the speaker grille at the bottom is symmetrical, so it shows no one was napping at the wheels while designing this one.