Is the iPhone XR the Everyman’s iPhone?

The colourful array of colours are part of the iPhone XR's appeal.
The colourful array of colours are part of the iPhone XR's appeal.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 — The tale of the iPhone XR is the success story that should have been. Instead it became overshadowed by the tale of an iPhone past — the iPhone 5c, an iPhone that should have been forgotten but unfortunately keeps being used as a cautionary tale.

The iPhone XR is nothing like the 5c, a product that was a little rushed and perhaps too reactionary. 

If the current iPhones were cars, you could say the XR is the Honda Civic to the iPhone XS/XS Max’s Acura NSX. The latter may have all the shiny bells and whistles but like cars, not everyone needs or wants the top-of-the-line models.

That’s the problem, now, isn’t it? Apple’s iPhone branding has always been about showcasing the bells, the whistles, the “ooh shiny.” No one liked that notch on the iPhone X when it came out but now there are few top-end Android phones without one.

It’s a shame though because when push comes to shove the iPhone XR is a solid iPhone, serving you the best of the iOS world with a price tag that is reasonable for an iPhone.

A mix of old and new

The iPhone XR doesn’t have the heft of the XS range’s glass and steel, opting instead for the familiar aluminium seen on older models. 

What it does bring to the table chassis-wise is more colour, with the phone coming in blue, yellow, coral and red in addition to black and white.

There’s also a 6.1-inch IPS LCD panel that, while not the OLED screen on XS models, is still a very nice Liquid Retina HD display. 

Colour reproduction is top notch thanks to the P3 colour gamut and a high resolution, think 1792x828 pixels at 326 ppi and a 625 cd/m² brightness. In non-tech speak, it’s very bright, very colourful and very sharp.

Like its more upmarket brethren, it also supports a True Tone display that means the display will adjust itself to suit surrounding ambient light, giving you a different experience outside in bright sunlight compared to indoors under fluorescent light.

Holding the phone feels like getting reacquainted with an old friend, hearkening back to the iPhone 7 and 8 range but you’re getting a lot more internal power. On paper, besides the chassis and camera, the iPhone XR does not skimp on power.

You get the same Apple A12 Bionic processor — Apple’s fastest processor ever though you get less RAM (3GB to the iPhone XS range’s 4GB). Honestly you won’t really feel the difference.

Camera joy

A strange set of circumstances saw my getting to test the phone in various locations: In a concert arena and later a rooftop bar in Bangkok, during Halloween in New York’s Times Square and then the final week of autumn in Virginia. 

In comparison with the iPhone XS phones, the iPhone XR is just as good minus one feature: A telephoto lens. It’s a pity, though, as competing high-end Android phones pack on a lot of optical zoom. The Mate 20 Pro, for instance, stuffs a 5x optical zoom while the XR only has 5x digital zoom.

The absence of optical zoom aside, there’s still a lot to impress people with on the camera. Wide-angle shots as well as that pretty portrait mode with the blurry background is lovely in enough light. 

Portrait mode has been improved to create a more pleasing background blurring effect.
Portrait mode has been improved to create a more pleasing background blurring effect.

Apple still produces skin tones that are more natural and has improved its portrait mode, allowing easy tweaking of background blurring.

Video is particularly impressive, with support for 4K video recording and OIS for less shaky video, allowing for crisp, vibrant footage.

The 12MP wide-angle camera is the same as on the XS phones, just missing the other telephoto camera. But to be honest, you won’t miss it unless you are the type to take photos from far away. 

For the selfie-loving set, the 7MP front TrueDepth camera brings the joy of Apple’s quirkiest camera feature: The Animoji. You can now create talking personalised animoji with the Memoji as well.

What it also brings its support for Face ID. It’s just as fast on the iPhone XR so there’s no trade-off there.

Day-to-day use

The iPhone XR has the best battery life of all the new models; on average it managed to last the whole day despite heavy use on Wi-Fi, taking pictures and playing lots of video to entertain my YouTube-loving toddler niece.

While it’s not as waterproof as the iPhone XS, it is water-resistant enough to not have to worry about being caught in the rain or slipping into the tub. Just remember to dry off the phone immediately — don’t go swimming without it being in a waterproof case.

Overall, it’s a great iPhone for a not-terrible price. It’s the phone realistically most people should get if they’re into iPhones in the first place, so why aren’t they?

The problem really is the perception that the XR is a phone to “settle for” if the iPhone XS is too expensive or flashy. 

It’s a solid iPhone in every way but in a price-conscious market, it can’t be denied that for the same price as an XR you’d get a flagship Android with optical zoom and a bigger battery.

If you’ve been holding on to your 5S or 6 for a while, the iPhone XR is a nice move up without breaking the bank (much). The iPhone XS and XS Max are nice but hardly essential and for the most part, the iPhone XR is a solid phone with very little compromise.


The iPhone XR is already available on the Apple Store online from RM3,599 onwards.

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