iPhone XR Review vs iPhone XS Max: Nothing ‘Budget’ About This Phone

When Apple announced the iPhone XR alongside the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, aside from people being in disbelief about the name (Apple VP Phil Schiller says the ‘R’ stands for…nothing.), many were wondering how this so-called ‘budget’ 2018 iPhone would fit into the lineup.

We’ve been testing the iPhone XR for over a week as our daily driver, and here’s our review on how this latest phone stacks up against the iPhone XS Max. Apple launched the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max first, ahead of the iPhone XR. So would using the ‘cheaper’ iPhone XR feel like a downgrade?

After daily usage, the iPhone XR, when compared to the iPhone XS Max, didn’t feel like we were losing much, but instead almost felt the same. Let’s dive into the details, shall we?

Unboxing the iPhone XR

Unboxing the Blue iPhone XR feels like any other unboxing. Immediately after opening the box, you see the colourful phone, while inside you get the standard quick start guide, Apple stickers you’ll never use, a Lightning cable and the sad 5W AC adapter. It’s hard to believe it’s been 11 years of iPhone and the 5W AC adapter still exists in 2018, with a phone that costs over $1,000.

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Picking up the iPhone XR for the first time, it felt nice and light and is a good size for our large hands. Reaching the top right corner for Control Center was easier versus the iPhone XS Max. The aluminium sides feel slippery, but the glass back helps with grip. The aluminum and glass are seamlessly integrated, making for an impressive, simple and unoffensive design. The Blue is nice and vivid and is reminiscent of the iPhone 5C’s similar colour, but the glass really makes it pop.

The Liquid Retina Display

The new 6.1-inch Liquid Retina LCD display with 1792 x 828 resolution at 326 ppi, actually looks pretty good. When compared to the OLED iPhone XS Max display with 458 ppi side-by-side, you can notice a difference, but in quick day-to-day usage, it did not feel that inferior. Only when it came down to watching YouTube videos did we notice a difference in resolution when looking closely at the displays. Blacks are decent, but not as dark as OLED. The screen can also get very bright.

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The iPhone XR display gets True Tone and wide colour (P3) like the iPhone XS Max, but lacks 3D Touch. We did miss 3D Touch for notifications on the lock screen and the keyboard for quick edits, but after a couple days of re-training our muscle memory, it was something we were able to cope with (#firstworldproblems).

The bezels are thicker on the iPhone XR compared to the “edge-to-edge” OLED display on the iPhone XS Max. If you have your iPhone XR in a case, you honestly won’t even notice the difference. We’re only telling you this because we used the iPhone XS Max first, before the iPhone XR.

Below is a picture comparing the iPhone XS Max versus the iPhone XR and iPhone X (which looks pretty small). You can get a good sense of the bezel differences, but overall it’s nothing to lose sleep over. The thicker bezel is required to house the backlight for iPhone XR’s LCD display.

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Here are pictures of these three phones from the back—there is a sizeable camera bump for the single wide lens on the iPhone XR:

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A closer look at the camera bump:

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On the bottom of the iPhone XR, the Lightning port is not exactly centred, but if you have problems with this, you need to re-evaluate what’s important in life. Who stares at their off-axis Lightning port anyways?

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Also interesting to note, the modular SIM card tray (as per iFixit’s teardown) on iPhone XR sits along the lower third of the device, instead of the middle area like its iPhone XS Max and iPhone X siblings. iPhone XR also supports eSIM and Dual SIM, like the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. So far, only Bell supports eSIM in Canada.

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Face ID and A12 Bionic on iPhone XR

If you’ve experienced Face ID on iPhone X, then you’ll be pleased to know the experience is exactly the same on iPhone XR, if not faster, thanks to the new A12 Bionic chip—which is also the same in the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

The iPhone XR is a very snappy phone, with apps launching quickly and overall system operation running buttery smooth. We didn’t notice anything different compared to the iPhone XS Max.

Animojis on iPhone XR feel exactly the same on any other device with Face ID. You’ll have fun with these for at least a week, until everyone gets annoyed with you living in the virtual emoji world.

The iPhone XR Camera

The single camera lens with f/1.8 aperture on the iPhone XR is the same 12MP wide angle lens from the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, while the front is same 7MP as well. There’s optical image stabilization but digital zoom is only 5x. Smart HDR is available and it’s amazing, like it is on iPhone XS Max.

There are stark differences when it comes to Portrait mode on iPhone XR. Portrait mode is the camera feature which blurs the background on photos, making subjects stand out, creating a similar effect found on dSLR cameras.

The rear camera’s Portrait mode only can capture human faces, and not inanimate objects or animals, such as your pets. You can, however, bypass this by using a third party camera app like Halide. No word if Apple will ever change this in the future.

Shooting from the rear camera offers Portrait mode with Depth Control (like iPhone XS and XS Max), allowing you to control bokeh (essentially the background blur) in real-time.

For Portrait Lighting studio effects, the rear camera only has three effects (Natural, Studio, Contour), whereas the iPhone XS and XS Max also have Stage and Stage Mono. But on the front-facing camera, all five effects are available on iPhone XR, like iPhone XS and XS Max.

Portrait mode on iPhone XR is a totally different experience compared to the iPhone XS Max, because you get to use a wide angle lens, which we actually preferred. Normally, Portrait mode on iPhone XS Max requires you to get up close, but on iPhone XR, you get more of the subject, allowing a picture with a wider view. The iPhone XR is like a wider prime lens when it comes to iPhone photography.

Here are some examples to show you what we mean. Both pictures were taken at the exact same distance with iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR held side-by-side.

iPhone XR Portrait mode:

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iPhone XS Max Portrait mode:

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iPhone XR Portrait mode:

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iPhone XS Max Portrait mode:

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With wide-angle Portrait mode on iPhone XR, you finally realize how much of your photo you’re missing out on. Since the iPhone XR wide angle lens is a faster lens with a f/1.8 aperture, you’re able to shoot better low light Portrait mode shots versus the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, which uses the telephoto lens at f/2.4 aperture (simply put, it is not as fast in low light). You get the picture now, right? (#nopunintended)

Here are some pictures comparing iPhone XR versus iPhone XS Max…there aren’t many noticeable differences…

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iPhone XS Max:

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iPhone XR:

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iPhone XS Max:

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For video, iPhone XR records 4K video at 24 fps/30 fps/60 fps and 1080p video just like the iPhone XS Max. The same fps rates apply for 1080p, while extended dynamic range is also available for video up to 30 fps. Optical stabilization is also here, along with stereo recording and the same slo-mo video rates as iPhone XS Max. You’re getting essentially the same camera quality like iPhone XS Max, minus the extra rear telephoto lens.

Speakers, Wireless Charging, Water Resistance, LTE Advanced

The iPhone XR has stereo speakers, so when you’re watching videos in landscape, you get nice, loud stereo separation, like the iPhone XS Max. Speakerphone calls are also nice and loud with these new louder speakers, as are regular phone calls.

As for wireless charging, it’s becoming the norm now with Apple’s latest iPhones. We rarely use wireless charging other than during the day, but at night we still charge with our Lightning cable. We never had to charge the iPhone XR during the day (more on this later).

As for water resistance, the iPhone XR is rated at IP67, which allows for submersion at a depth of 1 metre for up to 30 minutes. iPhone XS Max is rated IP68, offering a max submersion depth of 2 metres for 30 minutes. How often do you go swimming or diving with your iPhone? You better check yourself before you wreck yourself…err, your iPhone.

As for iPhone XR, the modem only offers LTE Advanced speeds, whereas iPhone XS Max supports up to Gigabit-class LTE. Given how our wireless networks in Canada are nowhere near Gigabit speeds yet, you have nothing to worry about here (only your wallet does when it comes to Canadian data pricing).

Battery Life is Impressive

The iPhone XR has some impressive battery life, and boasts the best battery life of any iPhone to date. After unplugging our phone and using it with our daily workflow (light usage, some video, email, social media, etc), after 13 hours, we had about 58-60% battery life remaining, enough for another full day of usage (Screen Time was not setup). On our iPhone XS Max, we’re usually at about 45-55% remaining by the time we plug in our phone.

Other more extensive battery life tests on web have shown the iPhone XR battery is the best, as there are less pixels to power compared to the iPhone XS Max and its OLED display. The iPhone XR battery according to iFixit’s teardown comes in at 11.16 Wh, versus 12.08 Wh on the iPhone XS Max.

Conclusion: ‘Budget’ Phone with Luxury Features and Finish

The iPhone XR starts at $1029 CAD in Canada, while the iPhone XS starts at $1379 and iPhone XS Max at $1519. These prices are insane for smartphones in 2018. But of course, we’re getting newer technologies here (and this is Apple we’re talking about) plus the lower Canadian dollar doesn’t help alleviate any pricing pressure.

After spending a solid week or so with the iPhone XR, we found it to be a very capable phone that is nothing like the ‘budget’ or ‘cheap’ moniker you keep hearing about. It’s still an expensive phone at over a thousand dollars, but it’s not ultra expensive like the premium iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

You get a larger display, Face ID, A12 Bionic, an amazing camera, great stereo speakers, wireless charging and the best battery of any iPhone. By buying iPhone XR, you can save yourself $400-$500 compared to iPhone XS, if you don’t need dual cameras and an OLED display. Heck, money saved by choosing the iPhone XR can let you upgrade your Apple Watch while you’re at it.

For me, I’ve been spoiled with OLED since the iPhone X and now my iPhone XS Max, so ‘downgrading’ won’t be happening. But with my time spent with the iPhone XR, I enjoyed every minute of it, and wish the XS Max supported wide-angle lens Portrait mode.

If you’ve never experienced an OLED display, and you’re coming from an older model such as the iPhone 6, the iPhone XR is one heck of an upgrade, with its larger screen, camera and impressive battery life. I almost get the sense Apple downplayed the iPhone XR and right now, word of mouth is doing its job selling the new model (even though sales numbers are expected to be lower than expected). Make no mistake–the iPhone XR is an excellent phone to buy (your wallet will thank me later).

How are you liking your iPhone XR?