Let us start with a thought that you might want to chew on for a bit—how important is the display panel type, when you are considering buying a phone? As in, are your eyes perfectly tuned to figure out the difference between an LCD and an OLED screen, or maybe even the fine differences between different types of OLED screens? If your answer is on the lines of “yes, very important”, then you can safely move on to reading another article on this website. However, if you are leaning towards “not too important as long as it gets the job done”, you might want to stick around for a bit longer.
What we have on the agenda today is the new Apple iPhone XR. This is the return of the colourful iPhones after many years (yes, the iPhone 5c was a long time ago). This was also expected to be the truly affordable iPhone this year, which would in many ways run a calming hand over the fevered brow of those who otherwise find the iPhones too expensive. The complication however is that unlike the iPhone X last year, and the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max this year and so on, you simply knew you were getting an upgrade—across all considerations you may have. With the iPhone XR, it isn’t that simple. This is an iPhone that makes you wait, and look at it, and deliberate—and that is not just because of its beautiful colour options.
The first thing you need to consider is the price. The iPhone XR is priced at Rs76,900 (64GB), Rs81,900 (128GB) and Rs91,900 (256GB). This is what many expected, correctly or wrongly, would be an “affordable” iPhone. The price at which the iPhone XR lands in India does have to factor in the fairly volatile currency at the moment, as well as local taxes and what not, which means it isn’t what many hoped it would be.
The exciting colours that the iPhone XR is available in, make it tough to choose a favorite. There is the sophisticated blue, a subtle white, a comfortable black, a chirpy yellow, a cheerful coral and the gorgeous (PRODUCT)Red to choose from. The colours will make this iPhone stand out in a crowd from other iPhones, and any other phone for that matter. The design language is the same as the iPhone XS, which means it is up to date on the design front.
The iPhone XR doesn’t compromise on the build quality, and instead, the combination of glass and metal that you will hold in your hand clearly has the same Apple-esque precision that we have come to expect. The attention to detail is best explained by the fact that the inside of the Lightning port on the phone also adorns the colour of the iPhone XR. The slight shine that the glass layer adds to the back, makes colours such as Coral sparkle very nicely. Incidentally, the glass used on the iPhone XR certainly doesn’t catch as many fingerprints as last year’s iPhone X. Apple doesn't exactly say who makes the glass, but the changes this time around have worked well. That said, the moment you pick up the iPhone XR, it feels a tad heavier than you expect. Some of it has to do with the display technology, some of it has to do with the materials being used—but the extra weight is noticeable initially. To put numbers in perspective, it is 17 grams heavier than the iPhone XS and 16 grams lighter than the larger iPhone XS Max.
Apple has downgraded the water and dust resistance rating on the iPhone XR. It is IP 67, as compared to IP 68 on the iPhone XS and XS Max to IP 67. This means that the iPhone XR will be able to take a dip in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes and come away unscathed, as against 2 meters of water for 30 minutes which the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max can survive.
It is hard to miss the thicker black bezel running around the display notice that the bezel around the screen is ever so slightly thicker than the iPhone XS devices, but a lot of that also has to do with the LCD display backlighting as compared with the OLED screens. Apple calls the iPhone XR’s LCD display as Liquid Retina. It would perhaps be unfair to compare this with an OLED screen on the iPhone XS. Yes, while this has a lower pixel density and resolution than the OLED iPhones, it is still touching 326 pixels per inch. This is the same as all iPhones apart from the iPhone X, the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max. Anyone upgrading from any other iPhone apart from these three, should not notice any difference at all as they use the iPhone XR for the regular daily usage. As far as the brightness, colour vibrancy and sharpness are concerned, this Liquid Retina display does the job. It is rich to look at, text looks great, photo editing is immersive and there are very minimal reflections only. However, look at the display at an angle, and the colour shift is quite perceptible, something that wasn't the case with earlier LCD displays on previous generation iPhones.
Incidentally, this Liquid Retina display does not support 3D Touch—could this be the first indication of the beginning of the end for this feature? Hard to say, but the iPhone XR could be indicating the future.
It is quite positive that the iPhone XR isn’t compromising at all in terms of the power. It shares the same innards as the more expensive iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. The powerful Apple A12 Bionic, which is the first 7-nanometer chip in a smartphone, is the heart and soul of the iPhone XR too. That means it'll have the same level of computing prowess when it comes to the artificial intelligence algorithms—including for Portrait photos, AR apps and Animojis. The iPhone XR also has the same TrueDepth Module too.
The sameness ends when we flip the iPhone XR around—the rear camera. The single 12-megapixel camera with the f/1.8 aperture and Smart HDR. It has the same image processing algorithms as the iPhone XS, which means most photos should retain the same brilliance and level of detailing. However, the big change is this is one single optical hardware, instead of the dual cameras that the other two iPhones have. Smart HDR is a great tool to have, and the way Apple have optimized it, we notice that it retains much more detail in the shadows for instance, while the rest of the frame doesn’t get blown out. There is no secondary telephoto lens, and you’ll probably miss it of you are used to taking a lot of photos on zoom—for someone who has been spoilt with the 2x optical zoom on the iPhone X and beyond, this takes some getting used to.
The bigger limitations are experienced with the portrait mode. While the iPhone XS and XS Max combine the data captured by the wide-angle lens and the telephoto lens, the iPhone XR’s rear-camera Portrait Mode relies heavily on software. As things are, this only works if it can detect a human face in the frame. No, it won’t get conned by pets or soft toys or statues or bobbleheads (at least in our experience). If you want to take a portrait photo of an object or a thing, that won’t happen. The camera app will tell you “No person detected”. While the iPhones with dual cameras have five Portrait photography and editing modes, the iPhone XR has only three. Which means, from Natural Light, Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light, and Stage Light Mono, the iPhone XR eliminates Stage Light and Stage Light Mono, since there is no secondary optical hardware to provide additional photography data for these to work. However, you do get complete depth control which can be edited using the slider—the same as the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. There are times when the software struggles a bit to do consistent mapping of the subject and edge detection struggles a bit.
Whether you buy the iPhone XR or not does not depend on the display or whether this offers a performance compromise. Instead, it will totally hinge on whether you need the secondary rear camera for portrait and zoom photos. If you are okay with the limited Portrait mode, and really like the Yellow, Blue, (PRODUCT)Red or Coral colours, the iPhone XR is absolutely worth the experience. But there is still the iPhone X to consider. And whether you really see value in an iPhone XR over even last year’s iPhone X (dual camera and very powerful A11 Bionic chip). To say that the iPhone X is still an excellent iPhone is surely a massive understatement.