“It is like the iPhone 5C,” was a statement that was heard echoing in tech corridors when Apple announced the iPhone XR last month. And there seemed to be some rationale behind that conclusion – just like the iPhone 5C in 2013, the iPhone XR came in a variety of colors, had relatively modest specs, was made of slightly inferior materials as compared to the premium level iPhones (the 5C had a carbonate shell, the iPhone XR has a glass back that is not as strong as the one on the XS and Max and also has an Aluminum rather than a steel frame sandwiched between those front and back glass panels), and most of all, was priced lower than the flagship iPhone(s). Well, we have been using the iPhone XR for a few days now, and while we do not know enough for a review, we certainly do know enough to assert this:
The XR is a very different kettle of fish from the 5C.
Yes, we know that there are obvious similarities between the two devices (hey, we just outlined them), but there are differences too. And those are telling ones. And perhaps the most important of them all is that while the iPhone 5C basically was a refreshed iPhone 5 and played second fiddle to the 5S (the flagship in 2013) in hardware departments, the iPhone XR is actually not that far behind. Yes, the display of the iPhone XR is way behind in spec terms as compared to the iPhone XS and XS Max. And this is most obvious in its display – its 6.1-inch “liquid retina” display is in fact not even full HD (it is 1792 x 828 resolution) and does not support 3D Touch and also has 1400:1 contrast ratio (the XS and XS Max have exponentially higher ones at 1,000,000:1). The phone also does not sport dual cameras at the rear, unlike the XS and Max. And of course, the build quality of materials is slightly inferior – the glass on the back is not in the same class as that on the iPhone XS and XS Max, although executives were quick to stress that it was tougher than the one on the X (which was rumored to be fragile).
But here comes the killer difference – whereas the 5C was basically a redesigned iPhone 5 at its core, the XR comes with the same processor that powers the XS and XS Max, the “A12 Bionic with Neural Engine.” And that means the XR is potentially every bit as fast the XS and XS Max and is as adept at handling high definition gaming and tech-heavy lifting. The difference in displays might appear massive on paper, but when actually viewed, it looks very good indeed. Apple has also done some clever engineering to make it look curved, delivering a viewing experience that does not seem too far behind the ones on its AMOLED laden counterparts. Even the difference in cameras is not as significant as it might seem – the rear camera on the XR is a single but it is the same as the wide-angle main sensor on the XS and XS Max. All that users lose out then is the telephoto option and two of the dramatic lighting options in Portrait Lighting. Which truth be told is not that bad a deal, when you counterbalance it with what Apple claims is the best battery life of the current lot of iPhones. And well, for all the talk of slightly inferior materials, the fact is that the difference between one level of glass and another is not as stark as the one between metal and carbonate.
All of which adds up to a device that does not look as far a step down from its high-end counterparts as the 5C was from the 5S. The XR could have been compared to the 5C if it had just been the iPhone X with a dash of color, but we think that Apple has played its processor and design cards right this time, and cut corners in a manner that is far less noticeable than in the case of the 5C. The 5C was an iPhone 5 in polycarbonate and color. The XR is like nothing in the Apple line up. We expect it to be a much bigger headache for the iPhone XS and XS Max than the 5C was to the 5S. Should you be purchasing it ahead of those two? Or the slowly vanishing iPhone X? That is another story. Relax, we are writing it (as well as the iPhone XR review). Stay tuned.