The less expensive iPhone XR delivers most iPhone X and XS features, including an excellent big screen in a comfortable body, fast performance, Face ID and wireless charging. Plus, its camera is mostly as good as the iPhone XS.
There are compromises with the XR, however. The screen and the camera take small steps back from the XS models. But the phone makes a few improvements on its more expensive siblings: Its screen is bigger than the XS' (6.1 vs. 5.8 inches), it comes a wider array of fun colors, and so far the promised extra battery life is coming through in everyday use.
At first glance, the 6.1-inch screen on the iPhone XR looks all but identical to that of the iPhone XS, except for its slightly smaller 5.8-inch size: It has a notch at the top, curved corners and and a tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio.
Put the 2018 iPhones side by side, and you'll see differences. The bezels around the display are a little bigger on the XR, lending to a slightly less "to the edge" feel. Swiping and interacting with the XR, however, feels just as responsive as on the OLED screen of the iPhone X, XS and Max.
The actual screen technology is different, too: On paper, the LCD on the iPhone XR is just as bright as OLED screen on the XS (625 nits, according to Apple). But it doesn't always seem as vibrant to the eye.
If you're directly comparing, you'll see the OLED's superiority, but in everyday use, it's barely noticeable. Colors still look excellent on the iPhone XR, and the display seems better than the iPhone 8, and as good as recent iPads.
The Google Pixel 3 has a single rear camera lens, too, but Google pushes more computational photography tricks with that phone, however, enabling crisper digital zoom and a portrait mode that works on anything, including pets. But we'll dive deeper into the camera later on in the gallery...
Technically, the iPhone XR's display is lower resolution than the XS' "Super Retina" display (the XS has a 2,436x1x125‑pixel resolution at 458 ppi, while the XR has a 1,792x828-pixel resolution at 326 ppi, the same pixel density as the iPhone 8). But with the naked eye, you can't really tell the difference.
Apple's AI demands the presence of a person. If it doesn't "see" a person, it won't engage portrait mode at all. I tried with people, mannequins, photos, people-like sculptures, animals and things like fruit and flowers.
XR lets you adjust the bokeh effect and a few other portrait-lighting effects afterward, just like on the iPhone X and XS, and a future software update will allow previews of the depth effect before shooting.
One odd camera note: Occasionally, I saw bits of blue lens flare when shooting at night near bright lights, something that also happened occasionally on the iPhone XS. It's something we're still looking at, and seeing if it continues.
The current gen of iPhones (XS, XS Max and XR) are all dual-SIM ready, but not until a software update arrives, possibly iOS 12.1. A physical SIM card plus an eSIM (set up in phone settings) will enable you to have two phone numbers on a single phone.
Per Apple's claims, the front display glass is as strong as the XS, while the rear glass is "better than the iPhone X," but not as strong as what the XS has. As an aside, the iPhone XS did superbly on CNET's drop tests.
What about those XS models? Technically, they're top-notch. They've got fantastic OLED screens, slightly more sleek steel bodies, and those dual rear cameras, which add that nice telephoto to photos. But they're luxury picks.
The Google Pixel 3 XL seems like a nearly direct comparison, since both phones have a clean-design feel, similar price and both have single rear cameras. The Pixel 3 XL's rear camera is more optimized for better low-light and digital zoom, and has an extra wide-angle front-facing camera for selfies.
All in all, the iPhone XR is the sensible car with the good gas mileage, but with a supercharged engine under the hood and an understated spoiler on the trunk -- and I love that. It's what more Apple products should shoot for. It's a good size and, very nearly, a perfect phone for its price.