Apple iPhone XR review: Lower cost comes with camera, reception compromises

  • Editors' rating
    8.4 Excellent
  • $749.00

Pros

  • Excellent photo quality
  • Cool color options
  • Long battery life
  • Loud stereo speakers
  • Wireless charging support

Cons

  • Poor cellular reception in weak signal areas
  • Portrait mode limited to people

Last year I bought my Apple iPhone X using the T-Mobile Jump On Demand program so upgrading to a new phone this year was a simple option with a small price to pay. I jumped to the iPhone XS Max, but returned it within the two week evaluation period.

The new iPhone XR arrived on October 26th after I decided to try a slightly smaller iPhone with a $10/month lower monthly fee. The iPhone XR may turn out to be the best-selling iPhone in 2018 with compromises made in subtle ways at a price $250 less than the iPhone XS and $350 less than the XS Max.

Also: iPhone XS Max review: The iPhone's future is big and bright

The Apple iPhone XR is the least expensive iPhone released this fall, but it is not the smallest. The iPhone XS has a 5.8 inch display and the iPhone XS Max has a 6.5 inch display. The iPhone XR falls in between with a 6.1 inch display. Compromises made by Apple to get the iPhone XR to be the lowest priced option include LCD instead of OLED, IP67 instead of IP68, haptic touch vs 3D Touch, aluminum vs stainless steel frame, CAT 12 vs CAT 16 LTE support, one rear camera instead of two rear cameras, and 3GB of RAM instead of 4GB.

The iPhone XR has Face ID, the loud stereo speakers, support for Apple's advanced camera software enhancements (Smart HDR, portrait mode with limits) even with just a single rear camera, dual SIM support, and an Apple A12 Bionic chipset. The iPhone XR also has longer rated battery life than the iPhone XS and XS Max.

Specifications

  • Processor: Apple A12 Bionic six-core CPU, rour-core GPU, M12 motion coprocessor
  • Display: 6.1 inch 1792x828 pixels resolution IPS LCD (326 ppi)
  • Operating system: Apple iOS 12
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 64, 128, and 256 GB internal options
  • Cameras: 12 megapixel f/1.8 aperture, OIS, Quad-LED True Tone flash. 7 megapixel front facing camera with f/2.2 aperture.
  • Wireless technology: LTE Advanced, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS/GLONASS/Galileo
  • Dust and water resistance: IP67
  • Battery: 2,942 mAh battery rated at up to 25 hours of talk time, 65 hours of audio playback, and 16 hours of video. Wireless charging and fast charging (with charger sold separately)
  • Dimensions: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3 mm and 194 grams
  • Colors: Black, White, Blue, Yellow, Coral, and PRODUCT Red

The iPhone XR is the only one of the new generation iPhones with the 128GB storage option and it may be the sweet spot in 2018 with a premium over the 64GB one of just $50. It's the capacity I bought and given that I made it a year with a 64GB iPhone X, should be plenty to satisfy me.

Hardware

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Given that I ordered the Coral color iPhone XR, the first thing I did was remove the phone from the package and flip it over to see what Coral really meant. Orange is one of my favorite colors and the images online appeared to show this was the closest match to orange.

The back panel is salmon color and more of a pink than orange in most lighting conditions. It appears orange-ish in some environmental conditions and it is good enough for me. If you are not sure, I recommend heading to a retail store to see these new colors in person before making your decision. The aluminum edges are a different shade and look more orange or copper in color. It's different and considering I can add a case or skin I don't think I'm returning it just for the color.

I also like the color yellow so may have to stop by a T-Mobile or Apple store to check out that color option as well. The good thing this year with the iPhone XR is that you have six color options to choose from and with T-Mobile Jump On Demand I can switch color/storage options in the future too.

When you first hold an iPhone X/XS/XS Max in your hand the first thing that strikes you is the way the display takes up most of everything you see in your hand. The viewable display extends out to the very edge of all four sides, while most Android phones tend to have noticeable top and bottom bezels. The iPhone XR has a similar full display look, but with bezels more reminiscient of the iPhone 8 due to the space requirements for the LCD technology.

The black bezels around the display are noticeable, but they are consistent around all four edges so that the display still extends to the top and bottom further than most Android phones. Holding the iPhone X next to the iPhone XR, we see there are still black edges around the iPhone X so it isn't as dramatic as you might think on the iPhone XR.

The iPhone XR also uses LCD technology instead of OLED, but in typical fashion that we have seen from Apple for years it still looks fantastic. With my aging eyes, I don't see any real difference in resolution and so far the brightness, color, and clarity is perfectly fine.

Also: iPhone XS review: Everything Apple has to offer, but in a smaller package

The ringer switch and volume buttons are on the upper left, the side button is on the upper right, the SIM card slot is on the lower right, and the Lightning port is on the bottom. The single camera lens sits out prominently on the upper left corner of the back with the LED flash below it.

The stereo speakers sound great, the phone is extremely responsive, and so far my experiences mirror what I have seen on the iPhone X and XS Max in terms of performance and audio quality.

There is no 3D Touch on the iPhone XR, but that personally doesn't bother me as I never remembered to use it on my iPhone X anyway. There is a haptic touch functionality that Apple will be adding, but it is currently only available in the Apple Control Center. This press and hold haptic capability is similar to what we see on Android phones.

Battery life has been excellent for me with five to six hours of screen on time experienced on a daily basis. My non-scientific daily usage patterns indicate the iPhone XR has been outlasting what I saw on the iPhone X. Wireless charging helps considerably since I can just plop it down on a charger while doing other things and picking it up to head out on the go.

One difference between the iPhone XR and XS/XS Max that can be significant and is likely to be overlooked by the masses is the CAT 12 vs CAT 16 LTE support. Qualcomm has an excellent tutorial on this that is applicable even to the Intel modems found in these new iPhones. Most people may focus on the theoretical 600 Mbps CAT 12 vs 1 Gbps CAT 16 speeds. Speed differences are present, but that's not really the main concern here. CAT 12 devices have two antennas while CAT 16 devices have four; 2x2 MIMO vs 4x4 MIMO. In weak signal areas, this can be critical.

My commuter train spends most of its time on the fringes of towns along the way to Seattle and T-Mobile signal is weak most of the way. In my testing, the iPhone XR averages about 4-5 dBm less than the iPhone XS Max and a stunning 10 dBm less than the Note 9. Given the logarithmic scale for this measure that equates to the Note 9 have a signal three times as powerful as the iPhone XR. The iPhone XR is performing even worse than the Essential Phone, which is terrible in weak signal areas.

Software

The iPhone XR runs the same iOS 12.0.1 seen on all other modern iPhones. Even though I bought this iPhone XR from T-Mobile there is not a single piece of bloatware installed, as expected from Apple iPhones where Apple controls the experience and doesn't let carriers contaminate it like we see on Android phones.

Take a look at this ZDNet gallery for some of the more compelling features of iOS 12.

I personally enjoy checking out the Screen Time setting to check on my productivity, using the enhanced notifications that are grouped together, and seeing autofill for password managers right on the phone itself.

I'm not a fan of Apple Mail application so use Gmail for my ZDNet work and Outlook for my engineering job. Siri continues to improve and I thoroughly enjoy using Messages with my family. I used to think that rear fingerprint scanners were the best, but have to say that Face Unlock is brilliant and I love having my phone unlock as I lift it up into position with no effort on my part.

Price and availability

The Apple iPhone XR is available now in six colors starting at $749 for 64GB. The 128GB model is $799 and the 256GB model is $899. You can buy it through Apple and pay in full or join the Apple Upgrade Program. US carriers have various offers to finance the purchase, including the Jump On Demand option I exercised on T-Mobile.

Daily usage and conclusions

I loved using the iPhone X over the past year and it iss a rare thing for me to keep an iPhone for an entire year. However, with the T-Mobile JOD program, I'm jumping to one of the new devices. After finding the XS Max to be too big, I figured I would give the iPhone XR a try with the cool color options and monthly savings.

Rather than return the iPhone XR, like I did the XS Max, I'm going to keep the iPhone XR for the initial 30 days required before I can switch again. After about a week with the phone, I am enjoying it for the most part, but there are some compromises that I am not satisfied with. These include the inability to take any kind of bokeh effect photo unless a person is in the picture and the sub-par cellular reception in weak signal areas.

I like capturing bokeh effect photos of pets, flowers, and other objects, but with the single rear camera you are limited to photos with people. I understand there are third party software options that attempt to perform this function, but the results cannot compare to what you see in a Google Pixel 3.

My daily train commute is primarily in weak signal areas and I often sit back and like to enjoy some Netflix content. Every single time I tried watching shows on the iPhone XR, Netflix would just sit there frozen on a scene for one to three train stops. I can watch video flawlessly on my Galaxy Note 9.

The Coral color is different and I'm good with it. I've been testing out various cases so that color isn't critical either.

The iPhone XR is a great Apple iPhone that is priced $250 and $350 less than the flagship XS models. However, cellular signal strength is important to me and I am likely going to jump to the iPhone XS at the end of November to get back to the form factor I fell in love with earlier this year.

Specifications

Cellular
Service Provider AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint
Intelligent Assistant Siri
Details
Form Factor Touch
Miscellaneous
Sensors digital compass
Included Accessories Power adapter, Apple EarPods with Lightning Connector, Lightning to USB cable
Communications
Data Transmission FDD-LTE, TDD-LTE
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 5.0
Display
Display Languages Hindi, US English
Manufacturer Warranty
Service & Support Limited warranty - 1 year
Technical support - consulting - 90 days
Features
Sensors digital compass
Phone Functions call timer, flight mode
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AC-3, Audible AAX, EAC3, MP3
Supported Digital Video Standards HEVC, M-JPEG
Service & Support Details
Service Included consulting
Full Contract Period 1 year
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty

Where To Buy

Price
$749.00

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Where To Buy

Apple iPhone XR (64GB, black)

Part Number: MRYR2LL/A
Price
$749.00