Update: Apple has rounded up some of its favorite iPhone XR reviews here.
The iPhone XR launches this Friday from $749, in six beautiful colors: black, white, blue, red, coral and yellow. Now, the press reviews are dropping … and firmly position the XR as the mainstream iPhone for this generation.
The XR features the same A12 chip, the same wide angle camera as the XS, and approximates the iPhone X design with aluminium sides, an LCD display and slightly thicker bezels. It even surpasses all iPhones to date in the battery life department. The main drawbacks the reviewers highlighted was the loss of some 3D Touch shortcuts and several Portrait mode limitations. Here’s our roundup of the iPhone XR impressions …
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Engadget calls the iPhone XR the ‘iPhone most people should buy’. They achieved seven hours of screen-on active usage in a day, eclipsing the iPhone XS Max. Whilst the wide angle camera on the XR is identical to the one found in the XS, the Portrait mode is limited.
When using the rear camera for Portrait, iPhone XR does not support Stage Light or Stage Light Mono lighting modes and will not even attempt to take a Portrait shot if it cannot detect a face. Quoting Engadget:
The most important thing to keep in mind is that portrait mode doesn’t work at all unless you’re pointing the main camera at a person. Which I guess makes sense — this is portrait mode we’re talking about. But you can forget about getting bokeh-filled images of your pets or your dinner. Feel free to try: If you do, the phone will actually tell you it can’t detect a person’s face.
Earlier versions of Portrait mode were marketed as meant for taking photos of people, but the Camera would attempt to perform blur effects on any subject indiscriminately. The XR doesn’t let you try without a face in view, a consequence of the lack of a second rear camera to build a real depth map. The XR does support Depth Control though, so you can adjust the amount of bokeh blur. In iOS 12.1, you can adjust Depth Control live in the viewfinder before you take a photo.
Daring Fireball’s John Gruber raised the point that Portrait Mode on iPhone XR can actually be better than the XS in low-light situations. The XS uses the telephoto lens to take Portrait photos; the XR doesn’t have a telephoto zoom lens so it relies on the wide angle camera to take the shots. But, the wide angle camera is better than the telephoto lens in many ways; larger sensor, faster shutter speed.
The XR screen represents a significant back-step in pixels-per-inch compared to an iPhone XS, iPhone X or iPhone 8 Plus. On the other hands, the PPI is the same as the iPhone 8 which no one complained about last year as being too pixellated.
The Verge was more critical of the XR’s display than other publications, but not because of screen resolution. The Verge noticed that off-axis viewing angles are not as good on the XR, when compared to previous iPhone LCD panels. Off-axis, they observed significant drop in brightness and a pinkish hue washed over the screen.
It is more difficult to shape LCD panels than OLED displays. The Verge put a microscope to the XR to show how Apple cleverly masks pixels at the edges to form a smooth curve that can accurately trace the curved body of the phone.
The 3D Touch substitute, Haptic Touch, is not a complete replacement for all 3D Touch features. What Apple really means by the Haptic Touch name is that the XR features a Taptic engine; the actual gestures are a simple combination of long press and haptic vibration. This means that the lock screen torch requires a longer hold to activate, based on time rather than pressure.
Features like Home Screen Quick Actions and Peek and Pop are simply not available on the iPhone XR. Keyboard cursor trackpad mode is possible by long-pressing on the space bar, inline with how iOS 12 brought the feature to every model.
Interestingly, The Verge says Apple told them that they will bring more 3D Touch features to Haptic Touch over time. There have been rumors that Apple is planning to drop 3D Touch entirely with the 2019 phones, so perhaps this is a hint at that. Regardless, Peek and Pop and Quick Actions are rarely used power-user features and will not be missed by the majority of XR buyers.
The Verge also notes the dumbfounding lack of Apple cases and accessories:
The XR screen has the same improved glass Apple uses on both sides of the iPhone XS, which the company claims is “the most durable ever,” but the glass back is the older formulation used on the iPhone X. So… it’s slightly less durable than the front, by definition. You might want a case, but be aware that Apple doesn’t have any of its own cases yet. There will be third-party XR cases in Apple stores at launch, but it’s a little strange for the company to miss out on such an easy moneymaker.
The iMore review disagrees that the back glass is the same formulation as the iPhone X. iMore says that the XR’s back glass is not as durable as the front, but it still exceeds the iPhone X or the iPhone 8 series.
Wired was ‘seriously impressed’ by the iPhone XR’s battery life. They lasted almost an entire weekend on a single charge. They admit their phone usage is more casual on weekends but nevertheless, that is impressive longevity. Mirroring other reviewers’ experiences and Apple’s own stats, they saw the XR beat the XS Max in battery life. It also praised the rear camera performance, again noting the loss of functionality due to lack of dual camera.
But, if you’re comparing the XR with the XS, the camera capabilities on the iPhone XR are nearly the same as those on the XS, both when it comes to capturing still images and recording video. It has that wide-angle 12-megapixel rear camera, a 7-megapixel front camera with 3-D sensors, and dynamic range that has been improved from the HDR in last year’s phones. Overall, it’s an excellent camera.
iMore’s Rene Ritchie has posted a video review covering his hands-on time with the iPhone XR.
The Pocket-lint verdict summarized a lot of the feelings mirrored in all of these reviews: the XR will be very successful. There are noticeable areas where it is worse compared to the XS but the price point is tough to beat. Upgraders from iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone 7 era phones will be very happy with the improvements brought about in the XR.
Sure, the iPhone XR doesn’t offer a screen or camera setup that’s as good as the top-of-the-range, but that’s the play in having a more affordable handset. Besides, many will be perfectly happy with what’s on offer, especially as there’s no compromise in power.
As an upgrade option over, say, the iPhone 7, the XR’s larger display, bright colour finishes and considerable power will appeal. Yes, we’ve missed not being able to take a picture of our dog in Portrait Mode, but we think we can live without this feature for the most part.
Are you ordering an iPhone XR? Let us know in the comments.