A woman takes a photo with an iPhone XR.
Photo: Tercius Bufete

The iPhone XR is a really good phone, especially when you consider the price. The latest offering from Apple, which hit stores earlier this month, starts at $750 for a 64GB model. By comparison, you’re going to pay $1,000 for an iPhone XS or $1,100 for a XS Max.

But in return for those savings, you should be prepared to make some concessions. Instead of a premium OLED display, the XR has a high-quality LCD version. And while Apple’s other two 2018 phones boast the best dual-rear camera system Consumer Reports’ testers have ever seen, the XR sports a single-rear camera that’s boosted with software.

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As a result, the XR did not surpass its pricier siblings in our ratings. Its scores also fell below those of Samsung’s top-tier phones. But the model did crack the Top 10, earning a firm recommendation from our testers.

The question is: How much does all that really matter to you? Are you willing to accept slightly less luminous hardware and performance in return for that substantially lower sticker price? Given how incredibly expensive the best smartphones have gotten in recent years, the answer for many people is probably yes.

Here’s a closer look at how the XR did in our testing and how it stacks up against those other flagship models. 

The iPhone XS, XR, and XS Max sitting side by side
The iPhone XR (middle) is larger than the XS (left) but smaller than the XS Max.
Photo: Tercius Bufete

Apple tried to have a little fun with the design of this model, which comes in six colors, conjuring up memories of the now ancient iPhone 5C. Options include the typical white and black, along with blue, yellow, coral, and red.

Because it's not as tall as the XS Max, the XR is easier to use one-handed. You don’t have to stretch as much to reach the top of the display, which measures 6.1 inches diagonally—making it a bit bigger than the one on the iPhone XS (5.8 inches) but smaller than that on the XS Max (6.5 inches).

The bezels and the black border surrounding the display are also noticeably bigger, the latter to make room for the LCD's backlight.

The LCD Display

Claudio Ciacci, head of CR's TV testing program, evaluating the LCD screen on the iPhone XR.
Claudio Ciacci, head of CR's TV testing program, evaluates the LCD screen on the iPhone XR.
Photo: Tercius Bufete

In recent years, OLED displays have become the go-to choice for premium TVs and smartphones. The technology gives you blacker blacks and almost unlimited viewing angles.

You simply can't get the same effect with an LCD, no matter how well it's made.

But don't for a moment think the XR's display is subpar. Until very recently, almost every smartphone owner was content to view pictures and videos on an LCD screen.

And as Richard Fisco, CR’s head of smartphone testing, notes, Apple has long had a reputation for great LCD screens.

The one on the XR is no exception.

“Most people aren’t going to notice the difference unless they look at the screens on the XR and the XS side by side," he says.

At 326 pixels per inch, the XR also has a lower screen resolution than the XS and XS Max, which both offer 458. But even that distinction will be hard for the average person to discern, Fisco adds.

The Cameras

Photos: Tercius Bufete

Eliminating one rear camera may help reduce the phone's price, but it also makes some popular smartphone photo techniques a little harder to achieve.

Today's premium phones generally create Portrait Mode photos by using a close-up and wide-angle camera in unison. This lets the subject remain in focus while the background gets blurred. You may have heard photographers describe this effect as bokeh.

The rear cameras on the iPhone XS and XS Max do this very well. So do the ones on high-end Android models such as the Samsung Galaxy Note9.

Phones like the XR and Google's Pixel models use software instead to achieve the same effect with just one camera. They're also completely reliant on software to zoom in on subjects, which can reduce image quality compared with the close-up lens employed on two-camera models.

For those reasons, smartphones with single-camera setups have tended to underperform those with two rear cameras. And, true to form, the XR's camera setup didn’t do as well as those on the XS and XS Max, but it did manage to outscore those of Samsung’s top-rated phones by just a little. So, here again, the trade-off is less significant than one might think.

The XR's front-facing selfie camera did very well in our testing, too.

We found the phone's Portrait Mode feature easy to use and, just like with the XS and XS Max, you can adjust the amount of blurriness in the background after the photo has been taken. (To see for yourself the difference in images snapped with the XR’s Portrait Mode, move the slider in the photo above to the left or right.)

But, just a heads-up, the rear camera's software is widely reported to be trained specifically to detect human faces, so you may not be able to use the XR to the same effect when snapping pictures of your dog or the centerpiece on a Thanksgiving table.

The XR’s Portrait Mode also requires you to get much closer to your subject than the XS and the XS Max, so pictures taken from the same spot with the various models get different results.

As with the XS’ dual-cameras, the XR’s software was largely able to pick out a photo’s human subject and clearly place it against a blurred background, though, like the other phones, it did have some issues with defining edges and fuzzy hair.

Battery Life and Durability

In our testing, the XR's battery lasted 25 hours on a charge; about 30 minutes more than the XS, but 1 hour less than the XS Max. So the phone should have no trouble getting you through an average day.

Better yet, it survived our tumble test—clearly distinguishing itself from the XS and XS Max, which both got dinged in our ratings for durability.

The tumbler is a rotating chamber that repeatedly drops a phone from a height of about 2.5 feet. The phone is checked for damage after 50 drops and then again after 100. The goal of all that repetition is to expose it to impacts from a wide variety of angles.

In the case of the iPhone XS, two of the three sample phones we took for a spin were noticeably damaged after 50 drops.

The front glass of the first phone was broken but the display worked. The second phone’s rear camera was damaged. After 100 drops, it didn’t work at all. But the display survived intact.

The iPhone XS Max was a little more successful. One model made it through all 100 drops without breaking. Another made it through 50 but emerged after 100 with the back glass broken.

The display on the third phone was damaged after 50 drops.

By comparison, the three XR models we tested made it through with just minor scratches and scuffs. That said, you should still spring for a case, just to protect your investment.  

So, in light of all of that, is the XR worth buying?

As with most new tech products, the answer depends a lot on your needs.

Admittedly, the XR lacks the "wow" factor that Apple’s other recent phones have. We suspect that, for many people, that's totally fine. They'll see it as a fair trade-off for saving at least $250.

Keep in mind, though, that the XR currently costs just $50 more than last year's iPhone 8 Plus. That phone, which does have dual-rear cameras, lacks the XR's Face ID camera, so it still retains the Home Button. As a result, it's bulkier than the XR and has a considerably smaller 5.5-inch display.  

If you’re a photo buff who wants top-of-the-line bokeh and zoom options, you might still prefer to shell out the extra bucks for an XS. The same goes for anyone who wants the best display possible for viewing photos and videos.

But if you want a high-quality iPhone outfitted with most of today's technology—minus the four-digit price—you might find that the XR is exactly what you’re looking for.

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