Apple’s iPhone XR is the best iPhone available for most users. Not only is the XR more affordable than the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, but the overall experience doesn’t forgo many of the headlining features that XS users will have access to.
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I’ve been using the iPhone XR as my main device for the past week. At times, I forgot I wasn’t using my iPhone XS Max, and other times I was yearning for my personal device. Here are three things I love about the iPhone XR, and one thing I’m not all that impressed by.
Apple iPhone XR: What I love
Look, we can sit here and argue how on paper the iPhone XS and XS Max OLED display is better than the iPhone XR’s LCD display. We can talk about how, technically, the iPhone XR’s screen is a lower resolution than the iPhone 8 Plus. And how all of that means that the iPhone XR’s display is inferior, and surely going to provide a worse experience.
And we’d be wrong. Technically, yes, on paper, those are the facts. But in practice, while holding the iPhone XR in your hand and looking at a photo or watching a video, this display is every bit as good as the iPhone XS.
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Not once during the past week have I looked at something on the iPhone XR and wished I had the XS Max. Even with the two phones side by side, the differences are minimal. There’s a little more clarity on the iPhone XS Max, but it’s not so much that it jumps out at you immediately. You have to look for it.
The Liquid Retina display on the iPhone XR is just fine. Great, even. And at 6.1-inches, between the XS and XS Max displays, I found the XR’s overall size to be a happy middle ground.
Perhaps it’s simply due to not having a large number of pixels to deal with on the iPhone XR’s display, but the battery life of the iPhone XR is incredible. I took the iPhone XR to New York where I attended and covered Apple’s October event, and not one time during the trip did I drop below a 20-percent charge.
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When traveling, I constantly have my iPhone in hand. I’m coordinating with coworkers, keeping tabs on my family back home, using Maps to figure out where I’m going and how to get there, and have music streaming through my AirPods. On flights, I usually watch a few shows in the Netflix app. All this happens over the course of 12- to 14-hour days and is typically hard on any phone. I carry external battery packs on trips for this very reason.
Not only did I not have to use a battery pack with the iPhone XR, at no point did I even contemplate it. The battery was able to keep up with whatever I threw at it, and it did so with ease.
The iPhone XR doesn’t have a dual camera setup as the iPhone XS does. There’s a single 12-megapixel wide-angle camera. The telephoto setup that the iPhone X and iPhone XS uses is not only for closer shots but to collect depth information for Portrait Mode photos.
The iPhone XR can still take Portrait Mode photos, which typically have a subject in focus, and the background has a distinct amount of blur. These types of photos are usually reserved for more expensive, dedicated cameras and lenses. However, over the past few years, companies such as Apple and Samsung have used a two camera set up to recreate the effect, with some help from software.
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With the iPhone XR, Apple is relying heavily on software and a single camera to recreate the same effect. It’s the same approach Google has used with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 3.
There are some limitations to the iPhone XR’s Portrait mode. For instance, you can only use Portrait Mode on humans. If the software doesn’t detect a human face, the feature simply won’t work. There are third-party apps that allow you to get around this limitation, but the example photos I’ve seen on Twitter aren’t very good.
That said, the photos I’ve captured of humans with Portrait mode have looked just as good as the iPhone XS Max.
The iPhone XR camera, for me at least, is every bit as good as the iPhone XS Max. Not once did I find myself wishing I had the telephoto lens for a specific shot — and I even used the XR to capture photos of the Apple event earlier this week.
In some ways, I appreciated the removal of yet another option and the streamlining of the decision-making process. I didn’t have to switch between cameras to see what framed the shot how I wanted. I simply launched the camera, lined up the shot, and pressed the shutter button.
Apple iPhone XR: My loudest complaint
Two weeks ago, I was convinced I didn’t use 3D Touch all that often. The feature, which turns your iPhone’s display into a pressure-sensitive pad, is used to do things like preview messages or weblink, view messages on the lock screen, and move the cursor through text.
The iPhone XR doesn’t have 3D Touch. Instead, it uses Haptic Touch. What amounts to a glorified long-press, Haptic Touch will tap your finger when it’s used, the same way 3D Touch does. Right now, Haptic Touch is only used in three places on the iPhone XR: Activate the camera and flashlight shortcuts on the lock screen, in Control Center, and on the space bar to move the cursor in a text field.
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Those three areas are where users used 3D Touch the most, and with that knowledge, Apple prioritized where it implemented Haptic Touch.
Within 10 minutes of using the iPhone XR, I realized I use 3D Touch… a lot. I use it for things like previewing links in Tweetbot, or for shortcuts to mute conversations in Facebook Messenger. But the most common place is to peek at an alert on the lock screen, and then take action on it.
For example, when I press on a Gmail alert on the lock screen of my iPhone XS Max, I get a preview of the message, and then two options just below it. I can reply or archive the message. More often than not, I preview the message and archive it. It’s a quick process: Press, read, tap Archive. On the iPhone XR, that’s not possible.
Instead, I have to swipe to the left on the alert, tap on View, and then the preview opens up with the option to reply or archive.
The lack of 3D Touch adds two extra steps to something I do countless times with countless apps every day. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s something I’ve sorely missed while using the iPhone XR.
Apple wouldn’t tell me if they have plans to add to the number of places Haptic Touch is used on the iPhone XR, but I hope this is one area that’s added — and fast.
ZDNet’s Matthew Miller recently reviewed the iPhone XR, so be sure to read through his thoughts about Apple’s mainstream iPhone.
Even with the lack of 3D Touch, I still think the iPhone XR is the reasonable choice for most iPhone users. The areas that Apple made sacrifices in the name of lowering costs don’t have a dramatic impact on the overall experience. In some ways, such as display and battery life, it’s actually bettered the experience.