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Apple iPhone XR review: The iPhone for everyone else

By James Lu - 18 Dec 2018
Launch SRP: S$1299

Display, Audio & Software

Display

The iPhone XR has a 6.1-inch, IPS "Liquid Retina Display" with a 1,792 x 828 pixels resolution (326ppi). This is exactly the same pixel density as the iPhone 8, but less than the iPhone 8 Plus (401ppi), iPhone X, XS and XS Max (458ppi). 326ppi was perfectly acceptable on smaller 4.7-inch iPhones, but is a little low for a screen this big. Compared to the iPhone XS, there's a slight but noticeable drop in clarity. You won't really notice this in everyday usage (unless you routinely use a magnifying glass to inspect your screen), but a Full HD resolution equivalent display would have been nice.

The XR display also has noticeably thicker bezels around the screen compared to the XS and XS Max. This is presumably because of the extra backlight required for the LCD. Having said that, the bezels are still thinner than many other smartphones, including those with OLED displays.

The XR display also lacks Dolby Vision and HDR10 support, as well as Apple's 3D Touch feature. I know not everyone uses 3D Touch, but if you've become accustomed to it, it's quite annoying to use an iPhone without it.

Despite these drawbacks, the display itself is still remarkably good. It's bright, going up to 700nits at maximum, which makes it easy to view even under bright sunlight, and the contrast is also surprisingly good for an LCD display. Colors are vivid without looking over-saturated, and as with Apple's other iPhone displays, the display supports DCI-P3 wide color and Apple's True Tone technology that adjusts the color temperature based on ambient lighting.

 

Audio

The XR has the same improved stereo speakers you'll find on the XS and XS Max. These speakers are louder than last year, and also offer a wider stereo soundstage. Audio quality is excellent and there's no distortion even with the speaker at max volume.

Like the XS and XS Max, the iPhone XR does not come supplied with a Lightning-to-3.5mm dongle. You still get the Lightning connector EarPods, but you'll have to buy the dongle for S$15 if you want to use your own headphones.

 

Software

    

The XR runs on iOS 12 and provides exactly the same UI experience as the XS and XS Max, except for the aforementioned lack of 3D Touch. One nice touch is that the default wallpaper is color-matched to the color of your phone. If you prefer something with a little more contrast, all of the other colors are also available in the wallpaper gallery.

I suspect for many people, the XR will be their first upgrade to an X-style iPhone, so I'll give a quick rundown of what's new compared to older iPhones like the iPhone 8.

The main difference between X-style iPhones and older iPhones with Home buttons is the new swipe-based navigation system. On any screen other than the home page you'll see a white line called the Home Bar. If you swipe up from this line, you'll go back to the home page. Swiping left or right along the line will switch between apps.

To open the Control Center, you need to swipe down from the area to the right of the notch. To open the Notifications pane you swipe down from the top left. To launch the app switcher you swipe up from the bottom of the screen and then long press the screen.

To activate Reachability mode, which pulls the top of the screen down to make one-handed usage easier, you have to swipe down on the bottom edge of the display.

While this all sounds quite complicated at first, it becomes second nature fairly quickly.

For a full rundown of everything else new in iOS 12, check out my iPhone XS and XS Max review and this article.

 

Face ID

If this is your first X-style iPhone, say goodbye to TouchID and hello to FaceID. FaceID on the XR is exactly the same as FaceID on the XS and XS Max, and uses the same TrueDepth camera found in the notch. You'll use FaceID to unlock your phone, for Apple Pay, and whenever you use Apple's Animojis.

FaceID this year is even faster and safer than last year and now unlocks the phone almost instantaneously and it still works just as fast in the dark too. Like the XS and XS Max, you can also add a second person to FaceID. You can do this by selecting the "Set Up an Alternative Appearance" option in the FaceID setup menu.

For an in-depth explanation of exactly how FaceID and the TrueDepth camera system work, check out this page from last year's iPhone X review.

8.5
  • Design 8.5
  • Features 8
  • User-Friendliness 8
  • Performance 9.5
  • Value 8
The Good
Does 90% of what an iPhone XS does at 75% of the price
Six colors to choose from
Great benchmark performance
Best battery life out of all three 2018 iPhones
Loud stereo speakers
Great rear camera
The Bad
Thicker display bezels than the XS/XS Max
No 3D Touch
No HDR10/Dolby Vision support