Apple's iPhone XR: The Reasonable choice

I think I figured out what the "R" really stands for.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer

Apple announced the trio of new iPhones in September, and since then I've been asked by several readers and close friends "Which iPhone do I get?" Or "Is the iPhone XS really worth $250 more than the iPhone XR?"

After some deliberation, and using both iPhone XS models, I've decided the iPhone XR is the most reasonable answer. Let me explain.

Looking through Apple's device comparison site, it's easily apparent these two devices are nearly identical. The iPhone XR and iPhone XS use the same processor, the A12 Bionic, feature the same Neural Engine, and use Face ID for unlocking the phone and purchases.

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The XR has a water resistance rating of IP67, with an IP68 rating for the iPhone XS. That translates into a difference of surviving being submerged at a depth of 1 meter for the XR versus 2 meters for the XS.

James Martin/CNET

Forgoing the most noticeable difference being available colors, with six options for the iPhone XR and just three for the iPhone XS, the most notable difference between the two phones is the display.

The iPhone XS has an OLED screen that measures 5.8-inches, and the iPhone XR has an LCD screen that measures 6.1-inches. On paper, and objectively, the iPhone XS has a better display than the iPhone XR.

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The differences between OLED and LCD displays are rather technical, but it basically distills down to OLED displays offering better overall colors, deeper blacks, and power efficiency.

For years, iPhones have used LCD displays. In fact, prior to this year's iPhone lineup, only the iPhone X used an OLED display. So, if you have a variant of the iPhone 8, iPhone 7, iPhone 6, etc., you're currently using a phone with an LCD display.

In other words, upgrading to the iPhone XR from an iPhone 8 Plus isn't going to be a straightforward downgrade when it comes to the display quality. The iPhone XR does have a lower overall display resolution than the iPhone 8 Plus at 1920 x 1080 compared to 1792 x 828, respectively. And if you're comparing the two displays side by side, you might see a slight difference, but I don't see it being enough to be a deal breaker.

The rear camera setup is another area where the two devices diverge. The iPhone XS uses Apple's two camera approach to capture portrait mode photos with adjustable bokeh or blur.

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Both devices have the same wide-angle camera setup, with a f/1.9 aperture, optical image stabilization, true tone flash, and can take smart HDR photos.

Despite having a single camera the iPhone XR can still capture Portrait mode photos, and through software, users will still have the ability to adjust the amount of bokeh after the photo is captured, just like the iPhone XS.

Apple isn't the first company to offer a software feature for a single lens camera to create a depth of field; Samsung and Google smartphones offer the same feature.

There's no reason to think Apple can't implement a software-based solution for Portrait mode that doesn't look as good as what the iPhone XS can achieve.

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When you take the differences between the two devices and add in the fact that the iPhone XR starts at $749 whereas the iPhone XS starts at $999, it's hard for me to justify telling someone to buy the iPhone XS over the iPhone XR. There just isn't a big enough difference -- outside of display quality that most people I've talked with can care less about -- to warrant paying nearly $50 a month for the iPhone XS, compared to $37 for the iPhone XR.

If I wasn't a tech writer, but instead found myself with a job that didn't require me to keep up on the latest and greatest tech advances, I would, without a doubt, purchase the iPhone XR when it launches next month.

From a financial standpoint, the iPhone XR is the Responsible choice. From an everyday user standpoint, it's easily the most Reasonable choice.

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