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Apple iPhone XR Review: A Cheaper Phone Suited to Most of Us


Tech Fix

In an era of skyrocketing smartphone prices, it’s a relief that Apple’s $750 iPhone is just as powerful and nearly as capable as its $1,000 counterparts, our reviewer found.

Brian X. Chen
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The iPhone XR, priced at about $750, comes in six colors: white, black, blue, yellow, coral and red.CreditNoah Berger/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Good news, Apple loyalists: You won’t have to burn $1,000 on your next iPhone. That’s because for about $750, you can have the iPhone XR, which is just as fast and nearly as capable as its more expensive counterparts.

The cheaper iPhone, which becomes available this Friday, is the model that most people should buy. This year’s other iPhones — namely the XS and XS Max devices, which cost about $1,000 and $1,100 and are already in stores — are luxury devices better suited for enthusiasts willing to spend a premium for superior cameras or a jumbo screen.

For everyone else, the XR is perfectly adequate and has few downsides. Its 6.1-inch screen, which is based on LCD, an older display technology, looks ever so slightly inferior to the OLED screens on the XS phones — but you would need to be a movie buff to notice the difference.

The XR’s single-lens camera is also less capable than the dual-lens cameras on the XS models. Yet the XR can still produce very satisfying photos of people using portrait mode, also known as the bokeh effect, which puts the picture’s main subject in sharp focus while gently blurring the background.

The XR is slightly less durable than its more expensive cousins. Its glass back is not as tough as the one on the XS. Its casing, or chassis, is composed of aluminum instead of the more robust stainless steel on the costlier phones. Yet these differences are negligible. (I recommend that people use a case to protect those parts of the phone anyway; carrying a phone without a case is a bit like driving a car without bumpers.)

All of these minor negatives add up to a win for price-conscious consumers, especially as smartphone prices keep climbing — iPhones a few years ago started at about $650, while prices for Android phones from Google and Samsung have also shot up to between $700 and $1,000.

After I tested an XR for four days, here are the highlights.

Apple developed a new kind of LCD to improve color accuracy and squeeze the XR’s screen into the corners of the phone. The result is what Apple calls a Liquid Retina display, which looks better — brighter and more vibrant — than past iPhone LCD screens.

I confess that I struggled to see a difference between the Liquid Retina screen and the OLED on an iPhone XS. The distinction is most evident in blacks: If you look at a photo taken in the dark, you will notice that the blacks on the XR’s screen have a faint blue glow, which is coming from the backlight used to illuminate the screen, while the blacks on the XS look darker and more realistic because the OLED technology turns off individual pixels to make them black.

In portrait mode, the iPhone XR is limited to taking photos of people. The camera software will not detect animals or objects.CreditBrian X. Chen/The New York Times

In contrast, Google’s $800 Pixel 3 also has a single lens and, with the help of machine learning, did a fantastic job in my tests producing portrait mode photos featuring dogs, food and people.

Apple said that for the XR’s portrait mode, the company wanted to focus on getting photos of people to look just right.

That said, people who are less dog crazy and more interested in shooting photos of, well, people probably won’t mind this limitation on the XR. In my tests, the XR was excellent at taking portrait photos of my partner, properly sharpening details of her head, including her hair strands, while blurring the background.

Let’s speed through what else you need to know about the XR:

As is often the case for new gadgets, good things come to those who wait. If you resisted splurging on the XS to wait for the XR, you will be rewarded with a great phone — and some extra cash lying around.





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