Dissecting the Apple iPhone XR: what you gain vs what you lose

Yesterday, Apple announced three new iPhones. While the stars of the keynote were definitely the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max, it's really the cheaper iPhone XR that caught my eye.

Posted 8 months ago in Other.

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Yesterday, Apple announced three new iPhones. While the stars of the keynote were definitely the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max, it's really the cheaper iPhone XR that caught my eye.

There are a number of reasons for this. There is, of course, the lower price but also the fact that on the surface it doesn't seem as if you are losing out on a lot. And then there are the colors, which are rare to see on iPhones, not since the ill-fated iPhone 5c.

Of course, there's more going on here than that and it's worth dissecting to see if what you're really getting with this model and what is it that you are missing out on.

First, there's the price. The iPhone XR starts at $749 for 64GB, with the 128GB model costing $799 and the 256GB at $899. Now, the price is still quite high but it is still significantly cheaper than the starting price of the cheapest iPhone XS at $999.

The design is one of the key differences between the XR and the XS models, or even the older X. The XS uses a more expensive stainless steel finish for the frame while the XR uses aluminum. Aluminum is far from being cheap but it is just cheap enough to reduce the cost of manufacturing. Besides, Apple uses a lot of aluminum in its manufacturing while very few of its products use steel (the only other product being the Apple Watch), so there's that.

A downside to aluminum is that because it's a soft metal, it dents easily when dropped. On the other hand, the highly polished steel on the more expensive model picks up micro-scratches even with everyday use.

Both products use glass on the front and back. Apple claims the glass on the XS, both front and back, is the most durable glass ever in a smartphone. However, and this is very easy to miss, Apple makes that claim only for the front glass on the XR. I'm not sure what the durability of the glass on the back is like for the XR; perhaps they just use the glass from the iPhone 8 or X, which is inferior to the glass they introduced this year.

Another important distinction is that while the XS models are IP68 certified, the XR is IP67 certified. The IP68 certification brings additional peace of mind but unless you frequently go swimming with your phone, the IP67 rating on the XR should be enough. It does allow Apple to reduce the cost as the sealing doesn't need to be as tight as on the XS.

The real standout feature of the XR are the colors. It comes in six colors, while the XS only in three. Some shades such as the Yellow and Coral are a bit out there, but it's always good to have choice and there will be a color here for everyone. It's definitely a big win for the XR over the more premium models.

White • Black • Blue • Yellow • Coral • (PRODUCT)RED

After the design, the display is the second biggest difference from the XS. The XS has a 5.8-inch, 2436x1125px OLED display, the XS Max has a 6.5-inch, 2688x1242px OLED displayand the XR a 6.1-inch, 1792x828px LCD.

Now, there's a bunch of stuff different here. The XR uses LCD and the lowest pixel density of the X models. It does support wide color and True Tone but does not have HDR. Lastly, and curiously, there is no 3D Touch support, something the now defunct iPhone 6s also had, not to mention the iPhone 7 and 8 models, which are cheaper than the XR.

Although Apple does have phenomenal color accuracy and viewing angles on its LCDs, the switch away from OLED will definitely result in a lower contrast ratio as the blacks are not going to be nearly as impressive. The use of LCD also means the bezels are thicker and the screen doesn't quite get as close to the edge as it does on the OLED models. But, for what it's worth, Apple has managed to have the smallest bezels for an LCD phone and there is still no chin.

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