Hands on: Apple iPhone XR review

Apple now has a cheaper, colourful iPhone

What is a hands on review?
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For

  • Good screen
  • Range of colours
  • Impressive camera

Against

  • Missing some features
  • Thicker build

Apple has a 'cheap iPhone'. But - surprise, surprise - it's really not that cheap. Regardless, next to its loftier siblings, the iPhone XR could be a big-seller for Apple. A more affordable iPhone in a variety of colours is certainly an eye-catching option.

So is this the best iPhone for you? Apple has had to lower the spec to lower the price, so does the iPhone XR still do enough for the money? Our colleagues at Techradar got hands on at the Apple event to give us some first impressions...

iPhone XR price and release date

The iPhone XR will be available to pre-order from 19th October, with the phone arriving in stores a week later on 26th October.

The iPhone XR price starts from £749 for the 64GB version, going up to £799 for the 128GB version and £899 for the 256GB model.

Design

Yes, the iPhone XR is cheaper, but don't worry - Apple hasn't scrimped on the build and design. It’s not as svelte as the iPhone XS, with thicker bezels around the screen, and the 'old' glass black and aluminium design rather than the new stainless steel. But in isolation it looks just fine - it could easily be mistaken for the iPhone X. 

It's larger than the old iPhone X and the new iPhone XS, with a 6.1-inch display, and it feels chunkier than the two new iPhones. 

There's no headphone jack, of course, no bundled dongle, slightly surprisingly, and also no physical home button. Apple is slowly killing off features in favour of what it believes to be the future: wireless connectivity and Face ID.

The rest of the iPhone XR’s design is predictable, with the same buttons for the volume and to activate Siri on the side of the handset.

Does it look or feel like a budget iPhone? Not a bit of it.

Screen

The iPhone XR has an LCD technology screen rather than the OLED screen seen on the flagship models. Or, as Apple calls it, a Liquid Retina display.

Naturally, we don't expect video to look as good - HDR playback isn’t present here, for instance - but from our brief hands-on time, the colour reproduction and overall screen effect isn’t bad at all. Past reviews tell us, Apple knows how to deliver a good LCD screen.

The display stretches from edge to edge, which helps to make the super-size phone feel smaller and more manageable in your hand. It doesn't feel unwieldy, certainly if you're used to holding one of the many recent big phones.

Interestingly, the screen ratio on the iPhone XR is close to 18:9, which is a narrower than the usual 16:9 widescreen on older iPhones. This is really only an issue when using apps or watching movies in landscape, as that little notch (yes, it's still here) at the top (housing the cameras, speaker and sensors) will get in the way when you go full-screen.

Camera

Unsurprisingly, given the focus on the camera in the flagship iPhones, the camera on the iPhone XR is the weakest element here on paper. There's only a single sensor rather than two for portrait mode, albeit the same as the one in the XS.

This means you won’t be able to have a telephoto lens for lossless zooming, or be able to take clever portrait modes using the two sensors together. 

It’s a 12MP sensor on the rear, with the front camera packing the TrueDepth camera for facial unlocking and selfies, plus the addition of the Smart HDR feature. There's every reason this phone should take pictures as well as the iPhone 8 last year, which is really nothing to complain about.

We took a few snaps and found images were clear, colourful and sharp - just like pretty much any decent smartphone nowadays. If you just want a camera that can simply take a good-quality point-and-click picture, the iPhone XR will do you just fine.

Battery

The iPhone XR could have better battery life than expected. Apple’s likely put a little less RAM in here alongside the new A12 Bionic chip, combining less power with a more efficient engine. 

The screen should be less power-hungry, too, and that chunkier casing might house a bigger battery. We live in hope but will have to wait for a full review to put it through its paces.

Early verdict

Apple has gone big on its cheaper iPhone. The smaller, more affordable iPhone SE seems a distant memory and instead the iPhone XR delivers a lower price tag with a super-size screen and many of the flagship features.

And it you're not desperate for the very latest camera technology and a stainless steel design, the XR could make a lot of sense. The head-turning colour finishes should help appeal to a wider audience, too. Could the iPhone XR be the surprise success for Apple over the next 12 months? We wouldn't bet against it.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.