The public might have to wait a few more days, but Apple has allowed a number of hand-picked reviewers to look over the iPhone XR ahead of it going on sale. With very few surprises, the new iPhone workhorse for 2018 is here.
Let’s start with the big difference between the iPhone XR and the XS and XS Max… the price. Apple is pitching the iPhone XR as the affordable smartphone, the iPhone that can be available to more people, and the iPhone that can grow its market share. And all of this starts at an eye-wateringly high price. David Phelan looks at the financial impact for The Independent:
To be clear, the iPhone XR is phenomenal value. It’s not the cheapest iPhone you can buy, that would be the iPhone 7 which starts at £449, but for what it offers, the XR is hard to beat.
To put it another way, for the price of the iPhone XS Max with its biggest-capacity memory (512GB) you can almost buy two iPhone XR handsets. The exact price comparisons are £1,449 for the iPhone XS Max and £749 for the iPhone XR.
One of the key selling points of the iPhone XR is that it is – in effect – the same hardware as the XS and XS Max. While that’s not strictly true, the underlying specifications are the same. It should come as no surprise that this version of the ‘2018 iPhone X platform’ has the same chipset and potential, albeit with less RAM (3 GB on the XR, 4 GB in the XS and XS Max). Stuart Miles for Pocket Lint:
The XR runs on the same A12 Bionic processor as the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, which means it has plenty of power for running augmented reality apps, playing graphically demanding games, processing photographs or 4K video, or simply managing day-to-day tasks.
So this is just a cheaper iPhone XS? Essentially yes, but only Apple could get away with a starting price of $749 and getting everyone to call it ‘cheaper’. The lower price is unlikely to be down to the trillion dollar company reducing its margin, but by compromising on the bill of materials and products used.
One obvious area is the move to a single camera on the rear of the device, skipping the dual lens of the larger XS family. You lose the physical sensing of depth – the OS will rely on software algorithms to calculate bokeh on faces but not on objects – but the quality remains high, even though you are missing the second telephoto lens. Nilay Patel at The Verge:
There’s a 7-megapixel f/2.2 selfie camera on the front, and a 12-megapixel f/1.8 camera on the back, which all use Apple’s new Smart HDR system that rivals Google’s HDR+ on the Pixel 3. Apple insists that the XR’s cameras and software are exactly the same as the XS, so there shouldn’t be any differences in how they perform.
…it’s clear that Apple is chasing a very different look than Google and Samsung. Like the XS, iPhone XR photos look incredibly even and preserve highlight and shadow detail more aggressively than any camera I’ve ever used before, at the expense of contrast. It’s a conscious aesthetic decision, according to Apple.
In other words, the oft-discussed beauty mode is being automatically applied. Apple has acknowledging this to Patel and is promising an update in iOS 12.1, but once more Apple has spent a month having a decision questioned by pretty much everyone, denying it by omission, and then rolling out a quiet fix hoping nobody notices.
Every manufacturer has to decide how much processing and what direction to take its camera software. Most are honest about it. Apple has compromised the message to the public by being underhand about the choices made.
Apple has also compromised on the materials used in the handset. Everything is a little less polished, a little more last year than cutting edge, a little cheaper, a little less resilient. That’s not to say they are poor quality, but Tim Cook and his team are selling the XR as being a good iPhone, and the physicality of the new handset is pushing the envelope in the wrong way.
That means that the expected upgraders from the iPhone 6 and iPhone 7 will perceive a difference, but those coming from last year’s iPhone 8 and iPhone X may not be sold on the materials. Wired’s Lauren Goode:
The iPhone XR is made of aluminum, while the iPhone XS is made of stainless steel. On an aesthetic level, this means the frame of the iPhone XR has a matte finish that looks more like the iPhones of years past. The iPhone XS’s stainless steel not only looks fancier, it’s weightier than aluminum. However, the iPhone XR is made with 7000-series-grade aluminum, the strongest that’s commercially available, and I’ve seen no indication yet that this iPhone XR will warp or bend.
The display material used in the iPhone XR is notably different from the display on the iPhone XS, too. Apple is calling the iPhone XR’s display “Liquid Retina”. This liquid crystal display is the largest LCD to ever ship on an iPhone, and it has the same edge-to-edge (well, minus those borders) design as the iPhone XS. You can tap on it to wake the display, and the display’s color balance automatically adjusts to match the lighting environment around you.
This is not the only compromise – to get the price of the iPhone X experience into the package Apple had one more sacrifice to make… 3D Touch. Once heralded as the way forward for user interfaces on mobile phones, the pressure sensitive UI has been stripped out of the iPhone XR (and presumably out of the 2019 sequels to the XS family), replacing the innovation with the ‘long press’ already in common usage on Android. Raymond Wong for Mashable:
Haptic Touch is similar, but different to 3D Touch. Whereas 3D Touch detects how hard you press into the screen, Haptic Touch is just a long press with a vibration.
3D Touch is more versatile and works on app icons and within apps. Haptic Touch only works in some places, like when you’re long-pressing the flashlight and camera buttons on the lock screen, the shortcut buttons in Control Center, or on the space bar on the keyboard to turn it into a cursor.
Strip away the smoke and mirrors of Apple’s marketing and the role of the iPhone XR is clear. It is the ‘regular’ iPhone that we expect to see every year. Last year it was the iPhone 8, the year before it was the iPhone 7. This year it is the iPhone XR. TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino:
Instead it’s offering an ‘affordable’ option that’s similar in philosophy to the iPhone 8’s role last year but with some additional benefits in terms of uniformity. Apple gets to move more of its user base to a fully gesture-oriented interface, as well as giving them Face ID. It benefits from more of its pipeline being dedicated to devices that share a lot of components like the A12 and True Depth camera system. It’s also recognizing the overall move towards larger screens in the market.
If Apple was trying to cannibalize sales of the iPhone XS, it couldn’t have created a better roasting spit than the iPhone XR.
Yes there is a ‘more expensive’ iPhone higher up the scale, but the iPhone XR is ‘standard iPhone’ that will make up the bulk of sales. Apple has brought new technology and hardware to the device, but it is still a $749 smartphone with an LCD screen, a single camera, with materials that are at the very top end of average.
It’s very much Apple asking its dedicated fan base… ‘will this do?’
Now read the reviews of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max…
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