iPhone isn’t just the most successful consumer electronics product of all time, today, as witnessed in the new iPhone XS, it’s a medley of fashion, design, artificial intelligence and vast computational capabilities packaged in to one device. But while the iPhone XS is Apple’s zenith, this year’s new iPhone XR is its secret weapon.
In other words, if the iPhone XS is the ultra-luxury product, then the iPhone XR is the more mainstream offering that will reach a wider audience. It also brings with it a new design and form factor, very few compromises and a more affordable price tag to the table which makes this the best iPhone Apple has released this year. This also makes the iPhone XR best mainstream flagship smartphone — more so than the iPhone XS, the Google Pixel 3 and the Samsung Galaxy S9. And here’s why.
The gorgeous tank
From the front, it will be very easy to mistake the iPhone XR for the iPhone XS. After all you’re essentially getting an identical notch-based screen and no chin. So if you’re looking for flaunt value of the iPhone, then the iPhone XR is totally bringing it.
But it does more — it has a chunkier frame than that of the iPhone XS which is made out of space-grade aluminium and a glass back made out of a colourful palette — including white, black, product red, coral, yellow and blue. I managed to get the white unit, but to me, the yellow and red editions were the ones that stood apart. The white one too is a really milky white, something you will experience in the makrana marble of Rajasthan. It looks superb and the fit and finish of the phone is sublime. The colours too, give it a hot-rod sports car-like vibe, which is a more subjective feel, I think, but I liked it a lot.
But the big change on the back comes from the fact that there isn’t the vertical dual camera array, but a single camera, which has a big fat bulge. The overall size of the phone is also a good deal bigger than the iPhone XS but it remains smaller than the iPhone XS Max.
And there is more. You still get IP67 water and dust resistance and a glass and metal sandwich design that allows for wireless charging. Glass and metal has now become the de facto industry standard — which means you’re getting a grade A design. And it’s not that Apple has compromised here on ergonomics — the rounded corners make it a very compact 6.1-inch.
Get over the resolution
On the front, there is a 6.1-inch screen which is essentially very different from the one on the iPhone XS, but in use, it is pretty similar. Apple is using an LCD panel instead of an OLED one. Apple calls this a Liquid Retina display which has a lower-than-full HD resolution. However, Apple has done a lot of legwork on the backend to make this one of the nicest LCD displays I’ve ever tested.
The Liquid Retina display features Apple’s True Tone technology which makes the colours reflect like they reflect of paper. Similarly, it is a DCI-P3 compliant panel and general colour, contrast and brightness levels on the screen are exceptional. Most people will not be able to figure out a difference between the iPhone XS and the iPhone XR — trust me I showed it to a sample audience of 20 people (sorry Apple!). And this means, it’s a stunningly good display to watch videos, create content or just do basic phone stuff on. IGNORE, the spec-sheet junkies, there is more to the iPhone XR display than the resolution.
Sure, if you’re a space cadet like me and obsess over displays, then yes, the iPhone XR is slightly inferior to the iPhone XS. It isn’t as contrasty, and at the same time the bezels are bigger than the iPhone XS. That being said, does anyone know how hard it is to warp a LCD the way Apple has done?
Very. And that’s why the iPhone XR is the only phone which does this. Yep, Apple does obsess over crazy stuff.
Also, it does lack 3D Touch which is there on the iPhone XS, but then again, 3D Touch is one of Apple’s most talked about failures in the recent past. Nearly no-one uses it. Instead on the iPhone XR, there is a stern haptic touch which is similar to haptic feedback on all Android phones. You’re really not missing out on anything here.
A Google Pixel-like single camera system that can do it all
The single camera on the iPhone XR is the same 12-megapixel sensor primary camera as the iPhone XS which means its capabilities are more or less the same. So, you’re talking about the second best camera phone in the world for still photography and the best mobile camcorder in the world. That’s how this good camera is! Only the new Google Pixel 3 takes better photos, according to me, than the iPhone XR. This is not a compromised camera experience. Yes, with the omission of the telephoto lens, you do miss out on the 2x optical zoom and some portrait mode studio modes, but that’s about it.
You do get a portrait mode which does good edge detection for people, but it now misses out on detection for objects. But then again, the portrait mode is used mostly on people so you’re not really missing out on much functionally. The bigger deal here is — because you’re using the primary camera which has a bigger sensor and wider aperture, portrait mode works way better than the iPhone XS in low light. It is still not as good as the Pixel 3, but it is a step above the iPhone XS.
You also get the new, much talked about, smart HDR processing as well as the new video capabilities that support high dynamic range and stereo audio recording.
The image quality is also pretty similar to the iPhone XS. This means great low light performance, stellar performance and dynamic range in daylight. It’s just that to my eyes, the Pixel has better edge detection and low light performance for portraits, and its colours are colder which I prefer to the warmer tonality of the iPhone.
Video though is a different story as the iPhone XR retains the same capabilities of the iPhone XS which makes it a better mobile camcorder than the new Pixel 3. It takes stunningly good video even at 4k 60 frames per second and it can capture clear audio in the loudest of the nightclubs.
For selfies again, we are talking about the same 7-megapixel front camera that’s coupled with a flood illuminator, dot projector and a bevy of other sensors. This means superb selfies, and no they aren’t over processed portrait selfies (check you Samsungs and Oppos okay!).
You even get the sublime iPhone stereo speakers which sound stunningly loud and clear while also having great network quality and dual SIM support with inbound e-SIM support.
In essence, Apple has retained everything great from the iPhone XS camera and removed all the potential gimmicks. Don’t worry about the single camera at the back, the iPhone XR does it all.
A Ferrari in the guise of a Mustang
If the iPhone XS was a pure Ferrari, then the iPhone XR has the guts of the Ferrari but it’s one disguised as a Ford Mustang. That’s because it’s chunky and tank-like, like a Mustang, but internally it has the same A12 Bionic chip at its heart with its game-changing NPU that can do 5 trillion operations in a second for AI computations.
It’s also using the same GPU that’s displaying PUBG in almost PS3-like fidelity on your phone without getting toasty or crummy in use.
It is also worth noting that the lower resolution of the iPhone XR screen is a boon to performance and battery life. That’s why you may even feel at times this phone feels faster than the iPhone XS, not that there is much room for improvement though.
Long story short, the performance is the same as the iPhone XS. Even after testing the Pixel 3, I can say that the performance of the iPhone XR is a leap beyond what’s there on Android. Be it pure multitasking, fluidity of the user interface, quality and optimisation of apps and security.
You’re getting the best specs in the industry here and the price is slightly more than Google’s small-sized Pixel 3 and cheaper than the Pixel 3 XL.
Think about it — this phone has unmatched AR capabilities, its on-device machine learning capabilities are class leading and in general performance and polish it’s offering you is the best. Just because it’s cheaper than the iPhone XS, it is not inferior. To top this all, you’re also getting a device that can offer wireless charging.
And in all this, the battery life itself is quite superb. The iPhone XS Max was offering me about a day, day and a half worth of battery, but the XR goes a little beyond it which is even more encouraging. What’s not cool is the fact that you get small slow charger even though Apple supports fast charging for the device.
Should you buy it?
Long story short — the iPhone XR is the best iPhone Apple has released this year. It looks the part and performs the same as the iPhone XS but for the cost of a Google Pixel. Yes, that gulf is worth almost a OnePlus 6. But seriously, you’re getting a truly superb phone which does everything with a considerable degree of expertness. Pound for pound, this makes it the best mainstream flagship phone in the market. Yep, even for the 64GB model.