The Deal With The iPhone XR

That iPhone XR came out and it has almost the exact trade-offs we discussed before.

The XR is like the XS and XS Max in many ways, except It’s missing the telephoto camera system of the X, XR, and previous Plus-sized devices which can be useful for composing shots or getting superior “portrait mode” photos in daylight. I specify daylight, because the telephoto (zoom) camera system makes portrait shots almost unusable at night on the XS and XS Max. The telephoto system used for portraits on the XS and XS Max captures less light (f2.4) than the “wide-angle” (default, non-zoomed, f1.8) lens.

Ben Sandofsky has way more information about the depth system in these phones, the pros and cons of each, and specifically the upgrades he made to the Halide camera app to support taking “portrait mode” style photos on the iPhone XR of more than humans. The built-in iPhone XR camera app will currently refuse to take portrait photos of non-human objects and beings because it uses a neural network that was trained to detect people so that it can separate them from the background.

There are some other differences between the XR and XS/XS Max, they’re important, but the camera situation is probably the biggest technical difference for most people.

  • The iPhone XR screen is bigger than the XS, X, and all prior phones, but not as big as the Max,
  • The XR has better battery life than any other iPhone
  • Way more color options for the chassis you’ll never see unless you’re a rich person who doesn’t put an iPhone with a glass back and glass front in a case.
  • The LCD screen has a lower resolution and is mostly worse than the XS and XS Max’s OLED screen, but still good.
  • The XR is less water resistant than the XS and XS Max.
  • The XR has less RAM than the XS and XS Max. The XR has 3 GB vs the XS and XS Max’s 4 GB.
  • The XR has different price tiers for storage, it’s “just” $50 to bump it from 64GB to 128GB. It’s $100 to bump the XS and XS Max from 64GB to 256GB.
  • The XR has no 3D Touch, instead you can “long press” to get 3D Touch actions in situations where long-pressing didn’t do anything before. For example, on previous iPhones you could tap and hold an icon on the home screen to make them start jiggling to be able to delete or move apps and put them into folders. iPhones that have 3D Touch also let you press forcefully on icons to bring up a small menu of quick actions for that app, like jumping straight into a selfie mode with the camera. The XR can’t 3D Touch and will only switch into the jiggling icons mode, it won’t let you open up the quick action menu for each app.
  • The XS and XS Max have better cellular radios that can handle faster speeds (“Gigabit-class LTE”)
  • The XR has slightly bigger borders around the screen.
  • The glass on the back of the XR’s is less durable than the glass on the back of the XS and XS Max.

Here’s what is the same

  • Same camera array on the front with the same Face ID system that doesn’t work in landscape mode
  • Same A12 system-on-a-chip
  • Similar goofy notch at the top which either doesn’t bother you at all, stops bothering you within a few days, or will constantly haunt you because you can’t let anything go.
  • Still more expensive than the previous generation of devices were when they were released
  • Same Qi “Wireless” (contact) charging
  • Same shitty 5-watt charger in the box

Overall, I would recommend the XR to anyone who wants to save money and is coming from a non Plus-sized 6/7/8 or earlier iPhone. The situation for people who had a Plus-sized iPhone is a little bit more difficult. The iPhone 6/7/8 Plus’ have two cameras for portrait and zoom, and a higher resolution “Retina” LCD (1920×1080) than the iPhone XR’s “Liquid Retina” screen (1792×828).

Specs aren’t everything, the XR’s screen is by all accounts fine, and not everyone would choose to pay a base price of $1000 over the XR’s $750 just to get the extra camera, worse battery life, fewer color options, and a shinier chassis (the XR has an aluminum band of metal around the edges instead of steel). Joanna Stern can’t even think of many people to recommend the XS and XS Max to over the XR. I’m really, really, into photography and it’s complicated even for me because I love taking good photos at night and the XR takes better portrait photos at night.

Still, still, these new iPhones are too expensive. Nick Heer:

But there is one thing eating at me with this new iPhone lineup: the starting price for a current model year iPhone is now $50 more than last year, and $100 more than two years’ prior. It’s as though they’ve dropped the entry-level model and are starting at what was previously Plus model pricing. In Canada, the difference is even more pronounced — for the first time, you cannot get a current model year iPhone for under $1,000. The iPhone XR might be the least-expensive iPhone Apple launched this year, but it is by no means a budget device.

It might be the right business strategy for Apple to keep raising their iPhone prices but it’s bad for the people buying them.

Author: Jack Slater

A Philadelphian living in Hawaii. You can follow or contact me on Twitter where I'm @TimeDoctor, via the contact page, or via e-mail to zjs@zacharyjackslater.com. Find out more about Nuclear Monster here.

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