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Apple iPhone XR review: The iPhone for everyone else

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

Imaging, Battery Life & Conclusion


The iPhone XR has a single 12-megapixel f/1.8 rear camera with optical image stabilization and Apple's quad-LED two-tone flash. This is the same as the wide-angle camera found on the XS and XS Max. Image quality is identical to its siblings, with sharp images, lots of detail, well-controlled noise levels, good contrast and exposure, and natural color reproduction. Unlike many smartphone cameras there's no lens distortion or softness towards the edges of the frame.

Click for full-size image


Despite having only a single rear camera, the XR does actually have a Portrait Mode, and even includes the new Depth Control feature that lets you adjust the level of bokeh after you've taken the shot.

Portrait mode on the XR works a little differently than it does on the XS and XS Max and is more similar to what Google does with the Pixel 3. The camera uses photosites on the sensor to create a depth map of the subject, then uses an AI algorithm to further separate the subject from the background and apply a lens blur.

The other big difference with Portrait mode on the XR is that it shoots at a 26mm focal length since that's the only camera available. In comparison, when you shoot in Portrait mode with the XS or XS Max, you're shooting with the 52mm telephoto lens. Portrait photography generally looks more flattering with a telephoto lens as a longer lens make features look more proportional. Additionally, it is easier to frame portraits with a longer lens as you can fill the frame with your subject. If you try to do the same with a wide-angle lens you have to get really close, which creates lens distortion and exaggerates features in an unflattering way.

Here are two Portrait mode shots of our Editor-in-Chief, Vijay. The left shot was taken with the XR, while the right shot was taken with the XS:


The XR's artificially rendered bokeh looks quite realistic, and edge detection is fantastic, but the XS shot has a better composition and far more pleasing bokeh. If I get any closer with the XR there's noticeable lens distortion, which means if you want a tighter composition your only option is to crop.

Even though both shots emulate an f/2.8 aperture, the XR also has noticeably less bokeh than the XS Max. This is because Apple simulates the XR's bokeh based on what you would actually get out of a 26mm prime. While the realism is a nice touch, the creamier bokeh of the XS Max's telephoto lens looks better.

One final thing worth noting is that Portrait mode on the XR only works when the camera can detect a face. Unlike the XS and XS Max, you can't use Portrait mode to take artsy photos of objects or food, and you can't even use Portrait mode to take a portrait shot of someone from behind.


Battery Life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones has the following parameters:

  • Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

The XR has a 2,942mAh battery, which is larger than the battery on the XS but smaller than the one in the XS Max. However, as most of the XS Max's extra battery capacity goes into powering its massive 6.5-inch display, the XR actually has the best battery life out of the three new iPhones this year, despite using a less power efficient LCD display.

In our video looping benchmark, the XR lasted 13 hours and 34 minutes, just five minutes short of our current battery life champion, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

Like the XS and XS Max, the XR supports wireless charging through the Qi wireless charging standard. The phone also supports fast charging through USB Power Delivery, but not with the charger bundled with the phone.

To get fast charging, you'll need to buy both a USB-C to Lightning cable, as well as a USB-C charger that supports USB Power Delivery such as the 30W power adapter that comes with the 12-inch MacBook, or the 61W or 87W adapter that comes with the MacBook Pro. More expenses, unfortunately.



The iPhone XR is the best value iPhone this year.

That sounds a little crazy considering it starts at S$1,229, but that's still S$420 cheaper the cheapest iPhone XS. For that price, you're getting a phone that does basically 90% of what the iPhone XS does.

All the important features are the same:

  • The XR has the same software experience and unparalleled performance from the A12 Bionic processor.
  • It has the same front-facing camera, TrueDepth camera, and improved Face ID unlock system.
  • It has the same main rear camera, which is the camera you would use most of the time even if you had an XS or XS Max anyway.
  • You also get the same great stereo speakers, the same dual-SIM functionality, and the same wireless charging.
  • As an added bonus, the XR has a bigger display than the XS, and it has better battery life than both the XS and XS Max
  • Lastly, it's available in a more interesting array of colors.

As for that missing 10%, the display isn't as nice (although it's still really good), and it's missing 3D Touch. Portrait mode isn't as good, and you won't have a secondary lens for 2x optical zoom. 

The rest of the differences, like the slightly worse water resistance, the lack of 4G LTE Cat 16 support (only a slower Cat 12 support), and the slightly thicker and heavier aluminum build, aren't things that will affect your experience or enjoyment of the phone in any meaningful way.

For most people, these are all worthwhile tradeoffs to get a flagship iPhone at a much more reasonable price. If the cost of an iPhone XS or XS Max isn't a problem for you, sure, get one of those, they're both better phones, but for everyone else, the XR is a better buy.

Read Next...

  • 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