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iPhone XR review

The new iPhone for old iPhone users

We can safely say that the days of an iPhone with a home button and big bezels are gone. Apple's new design philosophy is to make your phone as close to a full display as possible and thus, the iPhone XR continues down the path introduced by the iPhone X last year. 

Size-wise, the iPhone XR sits somewhere between the iPhone XS an the iPhone XS Max and we really like it. The iPhone XS is starting to feel slightly on the smaller size whereas the iPhone Xs Max can be unwieldy for many. The iPhone XR strikes a great balance between the two and is easy to hold because of the narrower width compared to the XS Max and yet has a bigger screen than the XS.

Although we love the size, the iPhone XR lacks the premium feel of the iPhone XS. Instead of the stainless steel frame, the iPhone XR features an aluminium frame which, by no means, feels cheap but is definitely not as premium to hold as the iPhone XS or a Samsung Galaxy device. It reminds us very much of an iPhone 8 or older device and which also had an aluminium frame and that's probably the market Apple is going after. 

The phone is rated at IP67 which means that it can survive a good amount of splashing though it's not as capable as the iPhone X/XS which can submerged for longer, as they're rated at IP68. In reality the level of water resistance on the iPhone XR is more than good enough for most people.

The glass on the front of the iPhone XR is meant to be among the strongest in the industry, and it’s the same material as on the iPhone XS. The rear of the phone isn't the same strength of glass, but looking at the myriad crazy-paving iPhone screens on the train to work it appears the front of the phone bears the brunt of crashes anyway.

Button placement is similar to the iPhone X with a rather large and easy to access power button on the right and the volume controls with the mute switch on the left. Apple has moved the SIM tray much lower on the iPhone XR and like the iPhone XS, it supports dual network connections through one physical SIM card and one eSIM.

At the bottom you can find the Lightning connector with a speaker grill. The iPhone XR supports stereo speakers with one bottom firing speaker and the other in the ear piece and though they're not as loud as the ones on the iPhone XS Max, they are plenty loud. For anyone hoping to see a return of 3.5mm jack, sorry, but thats just not happening.

What's annoying here, however, is that Apple has decided to remove the adaptor from the box, where it was present with the iPhone X. You basically won't be able to use your expensive cans you already own unless you pay a bit more for some metal and glass to convert your normal headphone jack to the Lightning connection needed.

That said, you will be able to take it into the shower to continue the tunes, although the XR is 'only' IP67 rated. 

Screen

If there is one area that truly separates the iPhone XR from the iPhone XS, it's the display. the iPhone XR has a different screen technology with a lower screen resolution and noticeably thicker bezels,. Let's talk about each of those.

Last year's iPhone X pushed Apple into a new design era with an edge-to-edge OLED display and a notch at top housing the 3D sensing FaceID cameras. One of the reasons Apple could create that design was OLED technology with self powering pixels that don't require a backlight and produce a better color. The iPhone XR does not use OLED and instead, uses LCD technology that has powered all iPhones before the iPhone X.

Apple has labelled the one present on the iPhone XR as "Liquid Retina LCD" and it does a good job of delivering sharp lines and punchy colour. But it's not an OLED screen and the differences are quite visible when you put it next to an iPhone X or a Samsung Galaxy S9. If you are upgrading from an iPhone 8 or lower, you will appreciate the screen but having said that, there are better screens on phones that cost less.

Besides not being an OLED screen, the iPhone XR also has a lower resolution that's not just lower than the iPhone XS/XS Max but also an iPhone 7 or 8 Plus. Interestingly, this doesn't make as much of a difference as we thought and unless you are really looking for pixels, you just won't be able to see them.

The last bit is the presence of thicker bezels around the screen and again, because of using LCD technology, Apple probably couldn't make them as narrow as the OLED based iPhone X or other phones using OLED technology. That being said, Apple probably had to get really creative bending LCD technology on the sides and around the notch.

This makes you wonder why Apple didn't just go ahead with OLED technology on the iPhone XR. Yes, OLED is expensive and even though the iPhone XR is the cheapest version of an iPhone X, it's still not a cheap phone by any means. 

While we won't really know the business decisions involved behind why Apple chose an LCD screen, our take is that the screen is fine for daily usage and is a quality display. It's not as good as an OLED display, especially the one that Apple uses for the iPhone X, you won't really have any complains around it. 


Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.