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iPhone XR review

The new iPhone for old iPhone users

If you’re any kind of seasoned iPhone user, you probably won’t be that impressed by the iPhone XR’s camera. That’s not to say it’s not decent - it’s powerful at times, and often just takes a good snap without much work - but it’s not really improved the iPhone’s camera story that much.

Shorn of the secondary sensor, the iPhone XR’s camera doesn’t quite hit the heady heights of the XS duo. They really offer some stunning snaps at times, with incredible detail and brightness, and while the XR isn’t that far behind it’s not got the same wow factor.

Again, there’s nothing really to criticize it for, but we never found a photo that we truly were impressed by and wanted to share with friends. Perhaps that’s the curse of the LCD screen as well though - even when taking a photo that technically wasn’t different to the iPhone XS, the more saturated, vibrant color was instantly more appealing.

Where the iPhone XR struggles the most is in portrait mode - where the XS has hardware to do the job, the XR is just using a software algorithm to discern where the human ends and the background begins, so it knows where to blur.

This is generally quite effective, but side-by-side with the iPhone XS it’s a poor cousin. There is still fringing around sections of the subject, especially on body parts, and the level of blurring wasn’t as strong.

You can alter this in the settings afterwards, but it’s a little tiring to do so.

The Smart HDR mode still is working well - it’s not a lot different to previous HDR modes that Apple has offered, but does improve the quality of photos on a regular basis.

The iPhone shutter speed is still adept at catching moving water well.

The iPhone shutter speed is still adept at catching moving water well.

If you’re ever shooting anything with a touch of sky or cloud, the difference is marked - and the little flicker of Live Video, which just uses the raw video footage shot from the sensor, shows just how much things are improved when the moving image jumps into the final still and all the processing tricks that are in use.

In low light, things are pretty impressive - the processing doesn’t seem to massively ruin the quality of the shots when viewed close up and it really brings out the brightness of the scene - even offering more light than the human eye can see.

Overall, the camera quality on the iPhone XR is just fine, and will go toe-to-toe with a multitude of other handsets on the market. The Smart HDR capabilities of the iPhone XS are present, if not entirely as incredible as the more expensive model, and the low light performance continues to be on the right side of impressive.

The big loss here is the second sensor - yes, if you’re upgrading from one of the plus models you might still see a discernible improvement in image quality, as you might expect, but compared to the iPhone XS, this handset doesn’t have the same capability of background-blurred shots.

The front-facing camera is more impressive though, and you can take a good selfie with a blurred background here. Even with low, soft light it’s possible to get a decent background blur (especially if you crank the aperture after the shot is taken) and the lighting effects can make a real difference.

As seen last year on the iPhone X, the crop of the body is a little too harsh and means you probably won’t be using the Stage Light or Stage light mono settings too often (where they cut out the background) but overall we think the iPhone XR is one of the better selfie cameras around, if for nothing else but ease of use.


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.