Apple iPhone XR First Impressions

Launched alongside the iPhone XS, the iPhone XR is a more affordable and colorful take on Apple’s latest smartphone design.

But if you’re feeling a sense of déjà vu, you’re not alone: The iPhone XR is eerily reminiscent of the iPhone 5C, which Apple launched in 2013 alongside the flagship iPhone 5S.

As you may recall, that year marked the first time that Apple tried to sell two new iPhones side-by-side; previously, it had only kept older phones in market at reduced prices. But the iPhone 5C was a failure for Apple, never to be repeated. But the iPhone XR doesn’t repeat the mistakes of its spiritual predecessor. Apple, very clearly, has learned its lesson.

See, the iPhone 5C had problems. It had the same innards and of its predecessor, the then year-old iPhone 5, so it seemed out of date from the get-go. The iPhone 5S, meanwhile, shipped with a superior next-generation 64-bit processor architecture. Likewise, the iPhone 5C’s design, while colorful, seemed cheap. The iPhone 5S shipped with a premium aluminum design.

Flash forward to 2018, and Apple is moving entirely to the new iPhone design that was instituted by the iPhone X. So this year, the firm is offering two iPhone flagships, the iPhone XS and XS Max, which share internals, camera systems, and virtually everything else other than display sizes. But they’re both very, very expensive: The iPhone XS starts at $1000, while XS Max pricing begins at $1100.

Enter the iPhone XR, Apple’s take on a cost-reduced second-generation iPhone X. I previously described this handset as the sweet spot of the 2018 iPhones. And now that I have one in hand, I feel even better about that assessment.

Unlike the iPhone 5C, the iPhone XR does not make do with previous-generation internals; if that were going to be the case, Apple could have simply skipped out on this model altogether and simply kept the 2017 iPhone X in market. So it has the same A12 Bionic processor, the same Face ID technology and sensors, the same wireless charging capabilities, and the same basic design.

It also has the same notch

Like the iPhone 5C, the iPhone XR is much more colorful than its flagship siblings. It arrives in six often vibrant colors—blue, white, black, yellow, coral, and red, which is the version I purchased—as opposed to just three—silver, space gray, and gold—for the XS and XS Max. To achieve this, Apple had to cut some corners and utilize aluminum instead of stainless steel. And … who cares? The phone is gorgeous to look at—especially the deep red version I have—and feels premium to the touch. No loss there.

Apple also saved money on the display. Instead of the OLED of the XS—which I feel is perhaps the best display I’ve ever experienced—Apple’s less expensive iPhone XR utilizes a more cost-effective LCD panel that arrives in a lower resolution and pixel density. In real-world terms, the only issue here is that the display requires backlighting, which required Apple to surround it by a noticeably bigger bezel than seen on the iPhone XS. But it’s a beautiful, rich, and colorful display. And while I’m sure viewing an XS and XR side-by-side would highlight these issues nicely, in just using the XR, I’ve not felt like Apple cheaped out here. This is the right kind of compromise.

You can really see the bezel size when you watch a full-screen video

Speaking of compromises, Apple also saved money on the camera: Where the XS and XS Max feature an excellent dual-lens camera system, the XR features an old-school (for Apple) single lens, 12 MP camera that, externally, resembles the cameras from the iPhone 7 and 8. However, it is identical to one of the lenses in the iPhone XS, and will almost certainly deliver high-quality shots. I will be paying a lot of attention to this in my testing, of course. But the point here is that, like the display, this is a compromise that won’t likely bother too many customers.

There are other minor differences. The iPhone XR is water resistance rated to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes, whereas its big brothers can go to 2 meters for the same time frame. The available storage capacities are different, too, but here I think the XR comes out ahead: You can choose between 64, 128, and 256 GB, whereas the XS/Max offers a weirder and more expensive range of 64, 256, and 512 GB. The RAM is allegedly less here, too, at 3 GB vs. 4, but I think the lower-resolution display negates any advantages for the XS.

I intend to keep one new iPhone, and the iPhone XR would certainly be the more affordable option. Configured as purchased, this iPhone XR—with 128 GB of storage—cost about $800 before taxes and fees. A comparable iPhone XS—with 256 GB of storage, since 128 is not an option—would cost $1150, fully $350 more. Assuming you’re not bothered by any of the XR’s “shortcomings”—and so far I am not—that difference makes it a no-brainer.

So we’ll see. But so far, I feel great about the iPhone XR. It is such a rarity to describe any Apple product as a good value. But in this case, I think it applies.


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Conversation 33 comments

  • Matt Kelly

    30 October, 2018 - 4:59 pm

    <p>I purchased a XR Red 128Gb on it's launch day, upgraded from a 6S. I couldn't see the value in the jump to the mid storage level XS. Excellent phone so far, display looks great from a standalone point of view. Similar tech to the new iPad Pro screen apparently.</p>

  • Jeffery Commaroto

    30 October, 2018 - 4:59 pm

    <p>The $329 iPad (often on sale for less) is Apple's other "good value" IMHO.</p>

    • Polycrastinator

      31 October, 2018 - 8:58 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#358281">In reply to Jeffery_Commaroto:</a></em></blockquote><p>I keep thinking about buying one of those, but my issue is finding a keyboard to go with it. If there were something comparible to the iPad Pro keyboard for the standard iPad, I'd be right there.</p>

      • roland

        04 November, 2018 - 9:18 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#358560">In reply to Polycrastinator:</a></em></blockquote><p><br></p><p>Logitech has some nice bluetooth keyboard options for the non-pro ipads.</p><p><br></p>

  • Pbike908

    30 October, 2018 - 5:06 pm

    <p>If I were to jump back to IOS, The XR would be my choice. It's still expensive compared to a sale price S9, however, there are things I prefer with IOS versus Android. </p>

  • PeterC

    30 October, 2018 - 5:19 pm

    <p>I'm looking forward to your review(s) and findings. Ive got my eye squarely on one of these. Mind you that new ipad pro is also winking at me from across the room too ……</p>

  • rosyna

    30 October, 2018 - 5:46 pm

    <p>“<em style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">You can really see the bezel size when you watch a full-screen video”</em></p><p><br></p><p>What’s in the photo is not “full-screen”, it’s “zoomed” because the top, bottom are cut off.</p>

  • glenn8878

    30 October, 2018 - 6:19 pm

    <p>XR has lower screen resolution than the iPhone 8. It still looks good, but I will wait until I really need it. </p>

    • jrickel96

      30 October, 2018 - 8:44 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#358299">In reply to glenn8878:</a></em></blockquote><p>It has the same PPI as the iPhone 8 and all modern iPhones without OLEDs. So in reality it has the same resolution as anything not named the iPhone X, XS, or XS Max. </p>

      • glenn8878

        30 October, 2018 - 10:12 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#358364">In reply to jrickel96:</a></em></blockquote><p>XR is 326 ppi. 8 is 326 ppi, but 8 Plus is 401 ppi. Since XR is slightly larger than 8 and a little smaller than 8 Plus, 326 ppi just isn’t good enough. </p>

        • jprestig

          31 October, 2018 - 6:53 am

          <blockquote><em><a href="#358381">In reply to glenn8878:</a></em></blockquote><p>I thought that would be the case too, but I can't detect individual pixels on the screen. I'm very picky about screen quality and pixel count, and this screen is fantastic.</p>

    • David Berk

      01 November, 2018 - 1:45 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#358299">In reply to glenn8878:</a></em></blockquote><blockquote>actually, it’s higher than the 8.</blockquote><blockquote>the 8+ is a different story, but that’s not what you posted</blockquote><p><br></p>

  • pwrof3

    30 October, 2018 - 7:03 pm

    <p>All I know is that I got a used iPhone X with 256gb for $650 on eBay. </p>

    • Chris_Kez

      Premium Member
      30 October, 2018 - 9:54 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#358316">In reply to pwrof3:</a></em></blockquote><p>Yeah, I think the "pre-owned iPhone X" route is under-appreciated as an option. My wife will soon be replacing her iPhone 7 and she's going to decide between a used X and a new XR; the latter might feel just a little bit too big coming from the 7, and a new XS isn't worth a $300+ premium to her.</p>

      • pwrof3

        31 October, 2018 - 12:20 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#358411">In reply to pwrof3:</a></em></blockquote><p>Plus, you get the better camera on the X and an LED screen. </p>

        • Skolvikings

          31 October, 2018 - 10:05 am

          <blockquote><em><a href="#358411">In reply to pwrof3:</a></em></blockquote><p>But you also have one year of wear on the battery.</p>

          • pwrof3

            06 November, 2018 - 7:13 pm

            <blockquote><a href="#358585"><em>In reply to Skolvikings: </em></a></blockquote><blockquote><em>True. When I received the phone, the battery life was estimated at 97%. I'll probably replace it in the next two years anyways, so it's not a huge deal. </em></blockquote><p><br></p>

    • PeterC

      31 October, 2018 - 4:06 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#358316">In reply to pwrof3:</a></em></blockquote><p>Good point, second user price in uk for the X is £800 ish, trade in old iPhone too and that’s even sweeter. I’d do it for the screen.</p>

  • Travis

    30 October, 2018 - 9:24 pm

    <p>I got the blue 64 gb and feel like I have a flagship phone. No regrets at all. I got the clear ringke air case to go with it so I can show off the color. One thing that has really jumped out to me is the battery life is outstanding, better than any smartphone I've ever had. The other thing is that the portrait photos do really well with a single lens and I love being able to adjust the depth after the shot.</p><p><br></p><p>Paul this is the device you need to make your daily driver. As much as I would love for it to, Android just doesn't compare. I've used both many times over the years. Plus you can then get an apple watch!</p>

  • jprestig

    30 October, 2018 - 9:58 pm

    <p>I bought the Xr for my daughter. When I opened the box and fired it up, I was blown away by just how good it is. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the screen, but it’s great. Even better than that of my previous 8 Plus. Build quality feels very premium. Makes me think I should have waited and gotten one for myself instead of the Xs Max. I do love the Max, but the cost savings would have been nice.</p>

  • super star

    31 October, 2018 - 1:09 am

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  • dontbe evil

    31 October, 2018 - 4:17 am


  • LT1 Z51

    Premium Member
    31 October, 2018 - 8:33 am

    <p>I wish they offered an XR in the smaller screen size. This is the replacement for the 8 Plus, the 8 has no replacement. It's funny that Apple requires you to go "bigger" if you want a cheaper phone. Looks like I'm hanging onto my iPhone 8 indefinitely.</p>

  • Skolvikings

    31 October, 2018 - 10:07 am

    <p>After I got my wife a new iPhone XS, I told her about the iPhone XR. When I mentioned the price, she asked why she didn't get that one instead? I told her how big it was and her immediate response was "never mind."</p>

  • EZAB

    31 October, 2018 - 1:25 pm

    <p>What's the size of this phone? Larger or smaller than the 8+? What's the going price for the 8+ today? (Same configuration).</p>

  • jim.mcintosh

    31 October, 2018 - 2:15 pm

    <p>yabut, what's your take on the new Higgins?</p>

  • jjonas51

    31 October, 2018 - 3:29 pm

    <p>Not having a phone with a notch, do videos really play with the notch cut out like that? That has to be annoying. </p>

    • Travis

      31 October, 2018 - 6:14 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#358900">In reply to jjonas51:</a></em></blockquote><p>No video plays like that by default. Not even when selecting full screen. You have to zoom in for that to happen.</p>

  • mike.thompson

    31 October, 2018 - 4:56 pm

    <p>I am curious what type of battery sacrifice there is between the 2 the difference between the 2 screens would definitely impact battery.</p>

  • Jorge Garcia

    31 October, 2018 - 11:32 pm

    <p>Every reviewer completely misses or just breezes by the elephant in the room (at least for me). For years, Apple delivered to the masses the yearly "iPhone", packed with new upgrades, for about $750. Now, through a clever (and cynical) bifurcation of their product line, they have successfully convinced people that they should accept a compromised, inferior model at that price point. If they had not established this phony-baloney $1000 phone tier, it would still be the yearly iPhone and the Note at about $750-800, and everything else somewhere below that.</p>

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