Apple announced three new iPhones at its September event comprising the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and the iPhone XR, but it is this third device that appears to be the iPhone for everyone.
The iPhone XR makes a couple of compromises - an aluminium core rather than stainless steel and an LCD display rather than OLED - but it still promises to deliver all the power and might of the iPhone X range on a budget.
Will the iPhone XR be good enough for the majority of us who might not want to part with £999 for the iPhone XS? Here are our first impressions.
Apple iPhone XR design
- All glass and aluminium design
- Single lens camera on rear
- Six colour options
- IP67 rated
Bright and colourful, the Apple iPhone XR is a playful device in comparison to the more serious iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max models. Available in six new finishes including white, black, blue, yellow, coral and (PRODUCT)RED, it's the blue and yellow that stand out as the most desirable. The coral meanwhile, is very hit and miss; it's neither orange or salmon.
The iPhone XR features the same design language as its more expensive, more premium siblings though, with an all-glass back and a notched screen dominating the front, just as the 2017 iPhone X introduced. It delivers this with an 8.3mm aluminium frame, making it slightly thicker than the XS models, and it has a slightly lower IP rating too at IP67 over IP68.
There is a single lens camera on the rear - more on that in a bit - and hidden beneath the glass cover is wireless charging, as we saw on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, as well as the iPhone X. Like its predecessors, the iPhone XR is compatible with Qi wireless chargers, though there is still the Lightning port on board for conventional charging.
In the hand, the iPhone XR is bigger than the original iPhone X and new iPhone XS, measuring 150.9 x 75.7mm, but it's not hugely noticeably - we're talking about 5mm in width and height. Those extra 5mm give you an extra 0.3-inches of screen size though, putting it in between the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max in terms of display size.
Apple iPhone XR display
- 6.1-inch, Liquid Retina, LCD display
- 1792 x 828 pixel resolution, 326ppi
- True Tone, Haptic Touch
- No HDR
The Apple iPhone XR has a Liquid Retina display, or an LCD display if you step away from Apple language. It therefore doesn't offer the Super Retina - OLED display - that you'll find on the likes of the 2017 iPhone X and new XS models, but that won't make a difference for most.
The Liquid Retina panel is a stunning display with strong blacks and good colour vibrancy and for those looking to upgrade from the iPhone 6, 7, or 8 ranges, LCD is what you've been used to and the pixel density is the same as the iPhone 6, 7 and 8 too.
The iPhone XR also includes the P3 wide colour gamut, as well as True Tone technology, the latter of which is present on the iPhone 8 but not the iPhone 7 and uses sensors to change the screen colour according to the ambient light in the room.
The iPhone XR does lose 3D Touch however, marking one of the few areas Apple has compromised to drive costs down. The technology was introduced on the iPhone 6S as Apple's answer to a pressure sensitive display, allowing for various features depending on the force with which you press. On the iPhone XR, 3D Touch has been replaced with a technology Apple calls Haptic Touch.
Haptic Touch works in the same way as the trackpad on the Apple MacBooks making you think you are moving something even though you aren't. It doesn't offer the same functionality as 3D Touch - you can't press down hard on an app and be presented with shortcuts for example - but given 3D Touch struggled to completely catch on, we're not sure many will miss it. It certainly isn't a deal breaker.
Mobile HDR is another element missing from the iPhone XR. The iPhone XS and XS Max both offer Dolby Vision and HDR10 support but the iPhone XR misses these off its spec list. It does offer gestures like tap to wake though, a feature we love on the 2017 iPhone X.
Apple iPhone XR performance
- A12 Bionic processor
- Same power as iPhone XS and XS Max
- 64GB, 128GB and 256GB models
The Apple iPhone XR might compromise on a couple of areas but power and performance is most definitely not one of them. The XR runs on the same A12 Bionic 7nm processor as the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, which means it has plenty of power for running Augmented Reality apps, playing graphically demanding games, processing photographs or 4K video, or simply managing day-to-day tasks.
We had a brief play on Blades, a new game from Bethesda. Dripping with lighting effects and textures as you kill your way past spiders and warriors, the iPhone XR was more than capable. We will of course test the performance in more depth when we review the handset in full but firing up the camera, loading apps and whizzing around the iOS interface were all instantaneous.
Apple claims the iPhone XR will last 1.5 hours longer than the iPhone 8 Plus in terms of battery life, which should give you more than enough charge to last a day, but as with the performance, we will test this fully in our complete review. Storage models for the iPhone XR come in the form of 64GB, 128GB and 256GB so you miss out on the 512GB of the iPhone XS models but you gain the 128GB option.
Apple iPhone XR camera
- 12-megapixel f/1.8 aperture wide-angle lens
- Smart HDR and Portrait Mode with Depth Control
- 7-megapixel front facing Face ID camera
The Apple iPhone XR features a single lens camera sensor on the rear, like the iPhone 8. This means that while it takes on the iPhone X design model, it doesn't bring the rear dual-lens camera offering. Don't let that put you off just yet though because the iPhone XR still offers plenty in the camera department.
The 12-megapixel, f/1.8 single lens sensor is the same wide-angle sensor as the XS models, offering optical image stabilisation, wide colour capture for photos and Live Photos and 1.4µm pixels. The difference compared to the XS models however, is you don't get the extra 12-megapixel telephoto lens, meaning the XR is only capable of digital zoom not optical and it is slightly restricted with some of the camera features.
When we say slightly restricted though, we mean slightly. The iPhone XR still offers Smart HDR, Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting, albeit the latter with three effects rather than the five available on the XS models. Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting were two features only available on dual camera iPhones previously however so it's great to see them on the XR despite its single lens, while Smart HDR is a new feature for all the 2018 iPhones.
The Portrait Mode feature allows users to deliver bokeh effect images, and the iPhone XR adds to this with a Depth Control function within Portrait Mode. The Depth Control function, also offered by the XS models, allows users to play around with the bokeh effect after they've taken the shot. The results we saw in the Apple event demo area are incredibly promising so we're looking forward to testing the capabilities of the camera in the real world.
In terms of the front camera, the iPhone XR has the same 7-megapixel TrueDepth front-facing camera as found on the iPhone XS models, with FaceID. You'll also be able to apply Portrait mode, depth of field, and Smart HDR to pictures taken with the front camera, all of which we will test in our full review.
Apple iPhone XR iOS 12 software
- iOS 12
Apple's iOS 12 is at the core of the new iPhone XR. We've been playing with iOS 12 since the launch of the Public Beta earlier in the summer and there are several improvements we've been particularly fond of.
Screen Time is especially handy for helping us understand how much time we spend on our phone on a day-to-day basis, while the improved intelligent search within photos allows you to conveniently search using descriptions like "beach" or "animals".
There's still plenty we've got to explore and we are looking forward to playing with ARKit 2 in more depth, as well as try Group FaceTime for ourselves - so far we've only seen it in a demo.
The new features should allow for multiple device support, while Siri Shortcuts could be a game changer in allowing you to create rules and scripts for a range of tasks. Saying things like "Hey Siri, I'm home" could result in your phone doing a number of tasks for you in a sequence for example.
You can see what we think of iOS 12 in greater detail so far in our first look review.
The Apple iPhone XR is a lovely device, especially for its price point. It's the iPhone for those that wanted to embrace the buttonless iPhone form from last year but just couldn't justify the iPhone X's high price tag.
Embrace it now they should though. From what we've seen so far, the iPhone XR is a cracking device that only makes a couple of minor compromises compared to the top-of-the-range XS models. Unlike the iPhone SE that always felt a little stifled, Apple's decision to pack this out with the A12 Bionic chip means the iPhone XR is more than capable.
For those that want Apple's latest design without spending a fortune, this is the iPhone for you. For once, you don't have to be a power user or break the bank to get most of the good stuff.
The iPhone XR is available for pre-order from 19 October and available to buy from 26 October.