NOTHING CHEAP ABOUT THE IPHONE XR
As somebody who recently upgraded to the iPhone XS (I’m a real sucker for better cameras), I didn’t think the XR would be enough for my needs as a power user, but boy was I wrong.
Despite being larger than my iPhone XS, the iPhone XR is still a good size — it’s a barely larger than my XS with a case so there wasn’t much of an adjustment pocketing it — and the bigger screen is really nice even if it’s not an OLED. The longer battery life lasts longer, and the premium construction, best-in-class performance, robust app ecosystem, and excellent cameras mean you’re not really missing out much.
THE MOST POWERFUL BRAIN IN ANY PHONE
In the Android world, a more expensive phone is expected to come with the most powerful system-on-chip (SoC) available at its time of release, and less expensive phones often called a “midrange” device, usually comes with a less powerful chipset.
There are exceptions like the OnePlus phones, which typically use the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon chips as phones that cost hundreds more, but the rule generally sticks with: pay more to get more and pay less and get less.
Apple doesn’t follow this rule for the iPhone — at least it hasn’t in the last two years. Though the iPhone XR lacks some of the more advanced features from the iPhone XS, the silicon, or brain of the phone, is the exact same A12 Bionic chip as on its $999+ siblings.
In our iPhone XS and XS Max review, I detailed the tremendous power Apple’s custom A12 Bionic chip is capable of. It has processing power that’s up to 15 percent faster and graphics performance that’s up to 50 percent faster than in the iPhone X.
While it’s sometimes the case that phone makers throttle or intentionally slow down a processor in its more affordable devices to prevent overheating, I saw no significant performance difference between the iPhone XR and iPhone XS/XS Max.
CAMERAS THAT NAIL THE SHOT
We all want our smartphone’s camera to be amazing, getting good, sharper photos in all kinds of situations and conditions — even low light. The iPhone XR has the same front- and rear-facing cameras as on the iPhone XS models, minus the secondary 2x telephoto lens on the rear, of course.
I lamented the loss of that lens at first but then stepped back to count the number of times I’ve ever used the 2x telephoto lens and actually share the shot. For me, it wasn’t many. While the 2x optical zoom is useful to sharpen shots from afar, I can’t say I’ve used it more than portrait mode, the other major ability the secondary lens bestows.
Up until the iPhone XR, portrait mode from the back camera required the second lens to create a depth map, which provides the data that tells the phone what’s in the foreground and what’s in the background before blurring out the latter.
Apple introduced portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus and didn’t really improve it until the iPhone X. It then stepped things up again for the iPhone XS and XS Max. But as Google demonstrated with its Pixel 2, you don’t need a secondary camera for portrait-style shots if you can train AI with machine learning to analyze a photo and figure out which objects are in the foreground. Once you’ve done that, it’s (relatively) trivial to isolate them from the background and process them however you want (usually by enhancing the bokeh effect).
The iPhone XR’s 12-megapixel camera has an f/1.8 aperture — identical to the iPhone XS’s main camera. But whereas the iPhone XS uses the telephoto lens to create portrait shots, the iPhone XR
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TOO PRETTY TO BE COVERED WITH A CASE
I have always been a picky person. It’s this obsessiveness over details that sometimes make it hard for my friends and family to tolerate me.
Whenever I get a new phone (and I get a lot them because I review so many in a year) and excitedly show it to my friends, they always ask me what’s so special about it? What’s new that makes it worth upgrading to? Why should they care?
I usually end up waxing poetic about things like slimmer bezels, and thinness, and materials, and cameras. And every time I know I’ve lost them almost immediately after geeking out.
The simple truth is: Most people don’t give a hoot about these things. While I’m crying over the size of a notch, they don’t care. While I’m nitpicking about phones having a “chin” or “forehead” bezel, they only care if the screen is bigger. While I’m like, “oh this phone is a whole millimeter thicker than another phone,” they’re like, “I’m gonna put an Otterbox on it to protect it.”
The iPhone XR is similar but different. With this release, Apple has brought back an array of attractive colors (blue, red, coral, yellow, black, and white) as well as a new letter — this time an R instead of an S or C. It’s officially pronounced “iPhone ten-are,” but most people will certainly end up calling it the “iPhone ecks-are” since that’s how it reads.
So what does the R stand for? In a briefing on the XR, Apple told me it doesn’t stand for anything. Apple went with a letter it’s never used before so people would have a different expectation for the device compared to, perhaps, the “S” iPhones.
A more satisfying, but not entirely definitive answer, is that some sports cars use “R” and “S” in their model names. Sports cars are fast, and the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max are the fastest phones you can get, according to Apple. So tacking on the letter R to “iPhone X” is a good analogy for representing speed and sleekness.
The iPhone XR is the iPhone for everyone.”
After setting up Mashable’s review unit as my main phone, I worried whether I’d become annoyed by the iPhone XR’s extra girth in my pocket. I wondered if the thicker bezels would distract from the screen.
Mostly, though, I was curious about the camera. I wondered if I could make do without have the versatility of a secondary telephoto lens. I wanted to see if the blurred-focus portrait mode effects, which Apple popularized on smartphones with its dual-camera systems, were as good with a single lens. And I was curious just how effective it was when compared to the other big phones of the moment.
To really put the iPhone XR camera through its paces and show how effective it can be, we decided to give it a serious challenge: We used it to shoot all the product shots and video footage in this review. Typically we use either a DSLR or mirrorless camera to do product shots, so it ended up being an effective test to see how the iPhone XR fared in a “pro” level challenge. And given how far smartphone cameras have come, we think that’s fair — some professionals are even using smartphones to shoot magazine covers, after all.