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iPhone XR review

The new iPhone for old iPhone users

iOS 12 is the new kid on the block in terms of the operating system on the iPhone, and it’s got a few neat flicks and tricks that play well on the new iPhone XR.

The two main ones are augmented reality (AR) being baked in even further, and becoming a big part of the mix for a few elements of the iPhone itself, and Memoji.

We’re still not convinced by the former, with many AR games proving to be too rough around the edges to be truly must-have titles.

We tried the game Elements (on the iPhone XS, but couldn’t bring ourselves to try again) and it just didn’t really work well, with very little tuition. Then we paid for a game so we would let a child play a title where you had to move around the room to drop blocks in the right way, and the perspective kept moving and it didn’t entrance them at all.

Apple’s also trying to push the new file format for AR in the shopping experience, where a few sites now let you place their wares in the real world. We pulled a bike out of thin air and had the chance to walk around it in real time… but we weren’t sure what we were getting from the experience.

It'll lock in real-size to start with, but we still felt like it was just a cool way to look at a slightly-cartoonish bike. Possibly a good idea in theory, if it could be used to remodel a room with furniture or decorations, but it’s thoroughly a novelty right now.

That said, we're very much not dismissing it. If you're wondering about whether something is worth having in your house and you can't go to look at it before ordering online, this could be a very nice way to do things in the future when more people adopt it.

It would be mega if you could scan a second hand item and upload it, so the buyer could inspect it properly - but we feel that's probably many years in the future.

Memoji is more fun, and you can spend a lot of time crafting each individual element of the face. The new A12 Bionic chip inside allows you to map a video onto your face during a call, with the neural engine able to work out where you feature are in real time and place the Memoji on top.

Talking of that A12 Bionic chip, the iPhone XR does whip along under the finger, although we can’t say it did anything out of the ordinary in terms of speed.

That’s not a criticism, by the way, as Apple phones always run smoothly at the start of their life (and, to be fair, generally continue to do so throughout). We did encounter a few bugs though, with things like notifications on the home screen hanging a little too long to be just processing and other apps taking a moment to come out of suspended animation when flipping between them.

According to Geekbench, the iPhone XR is equally as capable as the iPhone XS in terms of daily, easier tasks, but struggles a little with the heavier stuff - which is something we noted and could be part of the issue above.

That performance could well be due to the fact we’ve got 3GB of RAM inside this handset, rather than the 4GB in the iPhone XS - if you’re someone after a handset with real power, you might want to think about the upgrade to the iPhone XS.

In terms of the media experience on the iPhone, it’s never been easy to fault it (even if you really wanted to). The speakers not being louder isn’t that much of an issue, as people don’t always want to hear what you’re watching or listening to, and while the headphone jack issue is a real one, there are ways around it.

Siri still doesn’t get us all the time - especially when driving and you want to play a certain playlist. There’s only so many times you can ask for the same thing in an ever-clearer voice before you never want to do it again - and that drops to a single instance if you’ve got friends around laughing at you.

The movie-watching experience isn’t diminished by the lack of HDR or OLED display - you’ll even get more natural-looking scenes if that’s your thing. With 64GB, 128GB or 256GB storage options on offer, there’s very little chance you’ll fill this phone up with content if you go for the latter two storage sizes.

Apple still hasn’t put in any dedicated game modes like its competitors have and the AR titles it keeps pushing aren’t something we can see anyone really inclined to play with friends (although it would be cool if it caught on).

That said, the raw grunt this smartphone packs, combined with the raft of titles available on the App Store, it will offer something for any kind of smartphone gamer.

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.