iPhone XR long-term review: Still the best iPhone for most people
Six months ago, I reviewed the iPhone XR and called it Apple's best iPhone for most people. The reason was simple: It was Apple's most affordable iPhone among the latest trio, and despite the compromises it came with, it still offered a premium iPhone experience. Right from performance to design to its exceptional battery life, the iPhone XR ticked mostly all the right boxes.
Since the iPhone XR came out, we have seen some fantastic flagship Android phones like the Honor View 20, Galaxy S10 and Huawei P30 Pro. These are some of the best premium phones to buy right now. So, I thought it would be interesting to see how well it has aged after six months, and whether it is still relevant in today's competitive market.
Design holds up well, display not so much
The biggest visual difference between the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS is the frame. The iPhone XR doesn't get a shiny stainless steel frame that makes the XS and XS Max look really premium. It sticks to a more traditional Series 7000 aluminium, which honestly looks great and is less likely to register scratches.
My iPhone XR review unit was in black, and after six months of using the device, placing it in my pocket alongside some keys, the frame still looks good, with no visible scratches or chipping. In comparison, the iPhone X's stainless steel frame showed plenty of marks after a similar six-month period. Keep in mind that this is without using a cover or any sort of protector, which means the device should only hold up better if you do have a case on.
While the frame is scratch-free, the rear glass panel does not hold up so well without a protective cover. Apple is using a weaker glass on the back compared to the front, which is why the rear panel sees the most scratches and scuffs, especially along the edges which typically rests on a flat table. Meanwhile, the display without any protective cover still looks scratch-free.
The display is arguably the most conflicting part about the iPhone XR. Apple drew a lot of flak from consumers who criticised the company for offering an HD display with a 1792x828 resolution at a price of Rs 76,900. Six months later, the iPhone XR has gotten slightly cheaper and can be bought for as low as Rs 60,000, but the price is still not low enough to justify having a less than 1080p display.
While the resolution will not offer the sharpest picture quality while watching movies or playing games, the iPhone XR still offers a great LCD panel. One cannot fault with the deep, punch colours, vibrancy and brightness that the iPhone XR's display offers. Even today, the display looks great if you aren't directly comparing it with an AMOLED smartphone. Even the bezels - which is thicker compared to the bezels on the iPhone XS - are easy to avoid after spending a few days with the device.
Fast performance paired with a smooth software experience
Ultimately, the iPhone XR gives the same iPhone experience as the high-end iPhone XS and XS Max not because of the design, but because of its software and performance. The iPhone XR gets the same A12 Bionic chipset and runs on the same iOS software as the other two iPhones, and this combination is absolutely terrific.
I cannot stress this enough, but no other phone has come close to delivering the same level of consistency in performance as the iPhone XR. Half a year later, the iPhone XR still works as if it arrived just yesterday. Scrolling through the UI, websites and apps is still ridiculously smooth. I did not encounter any app crashes, at least none to my recollection. The performance never took a hit no matter how many apps I ran in the background.
The 7nm A12 Bionic chipset is a beast and a general user will probably never utilise its full potential. It is more than capable of handling day-to-day tasks. What's truly impressive is the buttery smooth gaming performance that makes it a delight to play games like PUBG on the XR, especially with crisp stereo speakers.
iOS 12 continues to be Apple's most stable software update in years. Since its release there have hardly been any major software issues or glitches that Apple has had to scramble to fix. I have to emphasise the importance of Grouped Notifications in my life. By automatically grouping WhatsApp messages from a group or an individual and other unread notifications, the feature has been a boon as it nicely declutters the notification feed. This way, you can simply tap on one group of messages to expand and focus on and move on to the next.
Screen Time, however, is a feature I have not used much and it hasn't really made an impact to my user behaviour even after receiving weekly reports of my app usage. On an average week, I spend a total of 6 hours on WhatsApp, 4 hours on Twitter and about 2 hours on Instagram, according to Screen Time, which I feel is adequate and not something I want to control or limit.
Mostly excellent cameras, but competition does better in low-light
Arguably the biggest change we have seen in the last one year is with regards to cameras. Companies like Google, Huawei and Samsung are offering flagships that are filled to the brim with innovative cameras, and compared to them the iPhone XR's cameras look pretty average. After checking out the Huawei P30 Pro's Periscope zoom lens and low-light photography, for example, and coming back to the iPhone XR, you do miss the versatility and the various shooting options that the competition is offering today.
Don't get me wrong, the iPhone XR still has its strengths and there are areas where it still manages to impress such as the natural colours and dynamic range the primary 12-megapixel f/1.8 sensor offers. Photos in daylight look excellent with a lot of detail, contrast and brightness. Photos produce accurate, true-to-life colours without over-saturating them. You don't miss the secondary telephoto lens that the iPhone XS offers, because the iPhone XR's Smart HDR computational photography is mostly terrific, capturing some of the most natural bokehs possible on a smartphone.
The iPhone XR is also one of the best phones to shoot videos on even now. The stabilisation offered is spectacular and you often find a very cinematic quality to the videos. I used the iPhone XR exclusively for recording videos at MWC 2019 and the quality and stability that I managed, often in cramped spaces, was great. The camera is highly reliable as well with no problem in saving photos or videos or the camera app crashing unexpectedly.
Low-light photography has reached new heights thanks to the Pixel 3 and P30 Pro and this is one area the iPhone XR suffers in comparison. Photos taken after sunset often look blurry and dark, although you won't find a lot of noise or graininess. The selfie camera, on the other hand, has improved since its launch after Apple fixed the beautifying problem so selfies look more natural now.
Fantastic battery life above all else
Even if everything you've read so far hasn't convinced you enough, the thing that really seals the deal for me is the battery life. The iPhone XR simply has one of the best batteries in a smartphone yet. It's not a monster capacity. The XR houses a 2,942mAh battery, which may seem pale among flagships with 4,000mAh capacities, which is why Apple never discloses the battery. Instead, it lets the performance do the talking, and that is pretty loud and clear.
On an average, the iPhone XR deliver 5 to 6 hours of screen-on time, which hasn't changed since its launch. On most days which involved messaging and social media browsing as Screen Time would suggest, I would be left with around 40 per cent still in the tank by bedtime. Not once during the past six months did the battery completely die on me by night.
Should you buy the iPhone XR today?
In my initial review, I said that the iPhone XR was the best iPhone for most people right, and my thoughts about it haven't changed six months later. This is still the best iPhone in the market, offering the same smooth and terrific user experience as the more expensive iPhone XS and XS Max, but with the knowledge that you're also getting the best battery life. In fact, the battery life is at par, if not better, to what the P30 Pro and the Galaxy S10+ offer and that's saying something.
The iPhone XR is the best iPhone to upgrade to if you own an iPhone 8 or older model. With its price dropping to Rs 60,000, this is probably the best time to buy the iPhone XR, whether you are an existing iPhone user or making the switch from an Android phone. With a phone that is full of compromises, the only real compromises that you will have to make is with low-light photography and a slightly lower resolution display. For everything else, the iPhone XR is as good as they come.