iPhone XR Review: The Best iPhone for the Money

I'll admit that I'm a phone snob, so I'm surprised to say that I really like the iPhone XR. No, it doesn't offer the perfect OLED display or dual rear cameras of the pricier iPhone XS and XS Max, but the iPhone XR delivers all the other top aspects of those flagships at a more accessible $749 price.

Editor's Note 11/11/2018: The holiday season is here. Make sure to check out our guide to the best iPhone XR Black Friday deals of the season.

You get the same world-beating A12 Bionic chip, the same great photo quality and the same convenient Face ID for quickly unlocking your phone. I'm also pleasantly surprised with how well Apple executed the six fun color options (especially blue) and color-matched aluminum frames.

The iPhone XR's big, 6.1-inch screen won't appeal to everyone, and the camera's portrait mode is limited for now, but based on my testing, I can say that Apple has made all the right moves with this handset. In fact, the XR beats the XS and XS Max in one important way.

Updated Oct. 30 with new features added in the iOS 12.1 upgrade.

iPhone XR Cheat Sheet: What You Need to Know

  • The iPhone XR's color options look great, especially the blue and yellow options, and the color-matched aluminum sides are a nice touch.
  • The 6.1-inch LCD is big, bright and colorful, though OLED screens offer better blacks and wider viewing angles.
  • The single rear camera offers excellent performance and impressive portraits, complete with depth control.
  • Apple's A12 Bionic chip delivers the same superfast performance as it does in the iPhone XS and XS Max.
  • The iPhone XR offers nearly 11.5 hours of battery life, which is longer than what the XS Max and Galaxy Note 9 provide.
  • The lack of 2x optical zoom is a bummer, but the digital zoom is fairly good.

iPhone XR Release Date, Price and Availability

The iPhone XR goes on sale Oct. 26. It starts at $749 for 64GB of storage, and it's available through Apple and all of the major U.S. carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. You can also buy the iPhone XR through US Cellular and Xfinity, as well as through retailers such as Best Buy and Sam's Club.

It costs an extra $50 to step up to 128GB of storage, or you can pay $899 for 256GB. Unlike the iPhone XS and XS Max, the iPhone XR doesn't have a 512GB option.

Monthly pricing varies by carrier, so be sure to check out our best iPhone XR deals to compare.

Design: Color me impressed

If you think most iPhones look too conservative, the iPhone XR will change your mind. Apple achieved a look that's fun yet elegant via a seven-layer color process.

The glass backs are available in black, white, blue, yellow, coral and red. I'm partial to the cerulean blue. All of these hues have color-matched aluminum bands, which blend together with the back seamlessly. I've also been spending some time with the yellow and coral models. The yellow isn't as bright as the photos would have you believe; it's more of a lemony yellow.

Again, as a phone snob, I can't help but notice that the bezels are slightly thicker on the iPhone XR than on the iPhone XS, but typical users won't care. The TrueDepth camera is up front, along with the notch, to help you log in via Face ID, as well as have fun with Animoji and Memoji and capture portrait selfies.

If you'll allow me to geek out for a moment, OLED screens are much easier to manipulate than LCDs, so it's a pretty impressive feat that Apple was able to deliver a near full-screen design on the LCD-based iPhone XR that curves toward the edges.

Apple pulled this off through a combination of precision milling, advanced pixel masking and subpixel anti-aliasing. That means that the very edges of the screen that look like bezels are actually part of the display and are made to look black.

iPhone XR Durability

In terms of ruggedness, the front of the iPhone XR has the same durable glass as the iPhone XS, but the back is not as tough, so you may want to get an iPhone XR case. The iPhone XR is IP67 water-resistant, which means it can withstand 1 meter of water for 30 minutes, compared to 2 meters for the same amount of time for the IP68-rated iPhone XS.

If you need to repair a cracked screen on the iPhone XR, it costs $199 if you don't have AppleCare+. It costs $29 if you do pay for AppleCare+ service, which for the iPhone XR is $149.

iPhone XR Specs

iOS 12
A12 Bionic
64GB, 128GB, 256GB
6.1-inch LCD (1792 x 828)
Rear Camera
12-MP (f/1.8)
Front Camera
7-MP (f/2.2)
White, Black, Red, Coral, Blue, Yellow
Battery Life
11 hours 26 minutes
5.9 x 3.0 x 0.3 inches
6.8 ounces

Size: Big enough or too big?

I've been switching between the 5.8-inch iPhone XS and the 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max over the last month, so the 6.1-inch iPhone XR feels just right to me. It's big enough to deliver the immersive experience smartphone buyers want these days for Netflix bingeing, Instagramming and gaming, but it's not so big that it's unwieldy.iPhone XR (left) and iPhone 8 (right)iPhone XR (left) and iPhone 8 (right)The design will take some adjustment for those stepping up from a puny, 4.7-inch iPhone 7 but not those stepping up from an iPhone 7 Plus. That's because Apple squeezed a bigger display into a design about the same size as the iPhone 7 Plus by banishing the Home button.

As you might expect, the iPhone XR's size and weight (6.8 ounces, 5.9 x 3 x 0.3 inches) is in between that of the iPhone XS (6.2 ounces, 5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches) and that of the XS Max (7.3 ounces, 6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches). Google's Pixel 3 XL (6.5 ounces, 6.2 x 3 x 0.3 inches), with its 6.3-inch screen, is a bit lighter but noticeably taller than the iPhone XR.

Display: Excellent for an LCD

The iPhone XR's 6.1-inch Liquid Retina LCD is one of the brighter and more colorful smartphone displays out there. It's just not OLED-great. On the plus side, the 1792 x 828-pixel screen delivered excellent detail when I watched the trailer for Aquaman, as I could make out every scale in his superhero uniform. (Yes, even though this panel is not technically full HD.) And the laser beams being shot at Amber Heard were an intense blue.

This LCD fared well in our lab tests as well. It registered an excellent 589 nits of brightness, and I had no trouble reading this screen in direct sunlight. That number blows away the Pixel 3 XL's 362 nits. The iPhone XS (606 nits) and Galaxy Note 9 (604 nits) are even brighter, though.

The iPhone XR's screen registered a good 123.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is on par with the iPhone XS's result (123 percent) but is behind showings from the Pixel 3 XL (170.2 percent) and Galaxy Note 9 (224 percent). The color accuracy is great, too, as the iPhone XR turned in a Delta-E score of 0.28 (0 is perfect). That beats results from the Pixel 3 XL (0.35) and Note 9 (0.34) and is comparable to the iPhone XS' showing (0.25).

MORE: 6 Reasons to Buy the iPhone XS (and 4 Reasons to Skip It)

What you don't get on the iPhone XR's screen are the perfect blacks and ultrawide viewing angles that OLED displays offer. I noticed the difference when I put the iPhone XR and iPhone XS side by side with an aquarium screen saver. The OLED panel is just more vibrant, and blacks can look more gray on an LCD.

No 3D Touch an Issue?

The iPhone XR's display doesn't offer 3D Touch capability like the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max do, which means you can't long-press on apps on the home screen to reveal shortcuts. But the XR does support what's called Haptic Touch, which delivers haptic feedback and a lot of the same functionality.

So, instead of deep-pressing to launch the camera from the lock screen, you long-press with a soft touch. And instead of pressing hard anywhere on the keyboard to control the cursor while you're typing, you just long-press gently on the space bar. This change took some getting used to for me after I'd been using 3D Touch-capable phones, but overall, I don't think most iPhone owners will notice the difference between Haptic Touch and 3D Touch.

Audio: Boomin’

With wider stereo sound, the iPhone XR's dual speakers delivered excellent audio quality when streaming Post Malone's "Better Now." The vocals and instruments were rich and full, so good that my family told me to keep it down. More importantly, there's a true volume boost over the iPhone X, which I appreciated when getting turn-by-turn directions via Google Maps while I was driving. I could even hear the directions over my car stereo played at moderate volume.

Cameras: Mostly stellar

If you're worried that the single-lens iPhone XR won't capture photos that are as good as those from the dual-lens iPhone XS and XS Max, you can stop worrying now. This phone has the same stellar wide-angle camera sensor as its pricier siblings and the same Smart HDR functionality, which delivers better highlights in the shadows.

You can even shoot Portrait mode shots with the rear lens, complete with artistic bokeh effect, but there's a catch: For now, the back camera can snap Portraits only of people, and if you try something else, the iPhone will tell you that it's waiting for a person to enter the frame. The Pixel 3 doesn't have that limitation.

The good news is that the iPhone XR's people portraits look pretty convincing. Plus, the iOS 12.1 update lets you tweak the depth control in your portraits in real-time preview as you shoot, not just after the fact.

Take this shot of my colleague Sherri. The street scene to her left is artfully blurred, and yet the edges of her jacket look crisp. The iPhone XR's camera delivered good results in uneven sunlight, though the left side of Sherri's face could be brighter. Just keep in mind that because the iPhone XR doesn't have a telephoto lens like the iPhone XS has, your results will look more zoomed out than they would on Apple's dual-camera phones.

How about food? The iPhone XR took a more appetizing shot of this dessert than the Pixel 3 did. The raspberry on top is much brighter on the iPhone's photo, and the chocolate topper is more in focus.

When shooting pink flowers, the iPhone XR's camera delivered less of a gradient in the color than the Galaxy Note 9 did, so I actually preferred the results from Samsung's phone.

The Pixel 3 outperformed the iPhone XR on this shot of a lion in bright sunlight. There's more contrast in the Pixel 3's shot, and the shadows don't get lost. There's also a bit of lens flare in the iPhone XR's photo.

Because the iPhone XR lacks the 2x optical zoom of the iPhone XS Max, I took this shot of the facade of the New York Public Library with the XR's digital zoom. As it turns out, the iPhone XR's image looks pretty sharp, though the text on the iPhone XS Max's photo is more defined and has better contrast when you zoom in further. Same thing goes for the stone figures to the left.

To test low-light performance we took the iPhone XR and Pixel 3 XL into our video studio and shut off all the lights, leaving just a bit of light coming in from the hallway. The iPhone XR captured a brighter shot, making the Cappy hat, Unicorn Meat tin and white water bottle more visible. The Pixel 3 XL’s image was dimmer with more noise.

The 7-MP front camera did an excellent job taking selfies. There's good detail in my blue-and-red checkered shirt, as well as in my hair, and the lamp post and street in the background are artfully blurred. Just as with the iPhone XS, you can tweak the depth effect and change lighting effects, although the Contour Light option made me look like I was wearing makeup.

MORE: Pixel 3 vs. iPhone XS Camera Face-Off: Why Google Wins

Apple is also issuing a bug fix in iOS 12. 1 that can result in selfies with a so-called skin smoothing effect. According to The Verge, this was because the iPhone XR's and iPhone XS' Smart HDR feature was selecting the wrong base frame for the shot.

Performance: The fastest around

No surprise here: The A12 Bionic processor in the iPhone XR is just as fast as those in the iPhone XS and XS Max, which means you're getting a phone that beats the best Android flagships for hundreds of dollars less. I enjoyed silky-smooth performance when playing the augmented reality puzzle game AR Blast, which has you shoot colored blocks in front of you. Plus, other people can join in on the AR action for multiplayer fun, something you can't do on Android (at least not yet).

On Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance, the iPhone XR scored 11,312, which is comparable to the scores from the iPhone XS Max (11,515) and iPhone XS (11,420). That beats scores from the Galaxy Note 9 (8,876) and OnePlus 6 (9,088) and blows past the Pixel 3 XL's result (7,684).

The iPhone XR also excelled in our video-editing test, taking just 40 seconds to convert a 4K clip to 1080p. That's only a second behind the iPhone XS and way faster than the Pixel 3 XL (2:42), Galaxy S9+ (2:32) and OnePlus 6 (3:45).

On 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme Unlimited test, which evaluates graphics performance, the iPhone XR notched 4,416. The Pixel 3 XL was just a bit behind, at 4,396, but the Galaxy Note 9 reached a higher 4,639.

The iPhone XR pulled ahead in everyday tasks like opening apps, too. For example, it took the phone 12.3 seconds to open the Tekken fighting game, compared to 21 seconds for the PIxel 3 XL. The gap was a lot narrower on the Asphalt 9 racing game, with the iPhone taking 4.98 seconds to the Pixel 3 XL's 6.4 seconds.

MORE: iPhone XS and XS Max Benchmarked: World's Fastest Phones (Again)

While the iPhone XR doesn't support the fastest Gigabit LTE network standard that the iPhone XS and XS Max do, it delivered excellent data rates in our testing. On the Speedtet.net app, the iPhone XR averaged 58.4-Mbps downloads, compared to 58.2-Mbps down for the iPhone XS. However, the iPhone XS offered about double the upload speeds, at 25.4 Mbps versus 12.87 Mbps for the XR.

Battery Life: Awesome

One of the best reasons to choose the iPhone XR over the iPhone XS Max and XS is longer battery life. On the Tom's Guide Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of screen brightness, the iPhone XR lasted 11 hours and 26 minutes. That beats the times from the iPhone XS Max (10:38) and iPhone XS (9:41) by a significant margin.

The Pixel 3 XL lasted only 9:30, while the Galaxy Note 9 also endured for 11:26.

In everyday use the iPhone XR's endurance also impressed. After unplugging at 100 percent at 7 a.m., I used the phone intermittently to play games, check Facebook and email, and stream Spotify and capture photos and videos, and I still have 24 percent battery left at 9 p.m.

Unfortunately, Apple once again doesn’t offer fast USB-C charging on this phone. You’ll have to pay about $50 for a USB-C charger and USB-C to Lightning adapter if you want to get to 50 percent in 30 minutes. The iPhone XR does support wireless charging.

iOS 12.1: Group FaceTime, Dual SIM and more

The iPhone XR is getting new features as part of the iOS 12.1 upgrade. This includes Group FaceTime, which allows you to conduct video calls with up to 32 people. Another highlight is Depth Control in real-time preview, which lets you adjust the bokeh effect in portraits as you're shooting. Dual SIM support is a welcome upgrade for travelers, professionals or anyone who wants to use two phone numbers on the same iPhone. Last but not least, 70 new emoji are making their way to the iPhone via iOS 12.1

iPhone XR vs iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max

While the iPhone XR is a great value at $749, there are reasons to consider the $999 iPhone XS and $1,099 iPhone XS Max. For one, Apple's pricier flagships offer OLED displays, which offer better viewing angles and better black levels, as well as more vibrant colors. The iPhone XS and XS Max also benefit from dual rear cameras, which give you 2x optical zoom.

On the other hand, the iPhone XR offers longer battery life than the iPhone XS and and XS Max, a more affordable price, and the same great photo quality and A12 processor. Be sure to check out our in-depth comparison between the iPhone XR and iPhone XS and XS Max.

Bottom Line

The iPhone XR has shockingly few trade-offs compared to the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max given that it costs $250 to $350 less. In fact, many may prefer the iPhone XR over Apple's pricier flagships for two reasons beyond the cheaper price: more color options and longer battery life.

If you prefer a smaller display than the one on the 6.1-inch iPhone XR, the $799 Pixel 3 is a great alternative, boasting an even better camera. The Galaxy S9 ($719) and S9+ ($839) are also great options, but they lack the ease of Face ID and are slower than the iPhone XR. Overall, if you prefer iOS and want the best iPhone for the money, the iPhone XR is it.

Credit: Tom's Guide

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  • dgw222
    Great review! Mine (in blue) comes Friday!
  • Mark Spoonauer
    Anonymous said:
    Great review! Mine (in blue) comes Friday!
    Thanks @dgw222. Let us know how you like it!
  • sheltem
    Since the XR only has a 2x2 antenna design, have you noticed any differences in reception between the XS and XR?
  • Mark Spoonauer
    Anonymous said:
    Since the XR only has a 2x2 antenna design, have you noticed any differences in reception between the XS and XR?
  • Mark Spoonauer
    Anonymous said:
    Since the XR only has a 2x2 antenna design, have you noticed any differences in reception between the XS and XR?
    @sheltem Not in terms of LTE performance but open to feedback on other testing.
  • mepoquette
    Just made a comment and it didn't post. Very disappointing.

    It was in response to the comment about the 2x2 antenna design being a negative factor. As Tom and others know by now PC Mag.com just recently wrote a VERY critical article about this antenna situation and concluded that it was a black mark against the XR. The author Sascha Segan all but pounded a stake through the heart of the XR. I am hoping that someone will address this serious criticism and debunk it, if possible. I just bought a new XR ONE week ago and this will be in the back of my mind now.

    This reviews is really amazing and so thorough. My compliments to Mark for his detail. Perhaps in the near future he will read Sascha's damning article and offer some rebuttal.