If you’re set on owning an iOS device, this is the cheapest way to get a current model. However, there are better performing Android phones in this price bracket, especially for photographers.
- More affordable than iPhone XS
- 4K video at 60fps
- Portrait Mode
- Single camera
- High price
- LCD screen
What is the iPhone XR?
Apple announced the iPhone XR at the same time as its flagship new model, the iPhone XS. It took a little longer for the XR to come to market, but its main point of appeal is its lower price when compared to the XS.
Naturally, there are some sacrifices to be made in order to get the cost down. For those who are interested in smartphones from a photography perspective, the biggest two cutbacks of interest are to the camera and the screen.
The iPhone XR uses just a single lens, rather than the dual-camera set up of the iPhone XS. It’s also got a lower resolution (1792 x 828 pixels) LCD screen, compared with the higher resolution OLED (2436 x 1125) of its more advanced sibling – the XR’s screen is slightly larger, though, at 6.1-inches (compared to 5.8-inches).
Available at prices starting from £749, the XR represents a more affordable into the iPhone than the XS which will set you back at least £999. But is it worth saving a little more and going for the XS, or will the XR suffice?
Build and Handling
The iPhone XR is available in a range of fun colours, such as the vivid blue version we’ve been using for the review. Although this phone is the “budget” model (in terms of iPhones, at least), it still feels like a premium smartphone on the outside at least.
Using an LCD screen to keep costs down leaves you with a lower resolution display than if you were to plump for the iPhone XS. However, unless you’re looking at the two screens side by side, it’s fairly hard to spot the difference and is still detailed enough for most ordinary situations.
You can open the XR’s native camera app directly from the lock screen with a firm press of the camera icon. If you’ve used an iPhone before, you should be familiar with the XR’s native camera app.
Like all other iPhones before it, the native app is basic. On the plus side this makes it straightforward to use, but from a photographer’s point of view, you’re afford very little control over your images.
By default, the app launches in Photo mode, but there are a few other modes that can be accessed by swiping across the screen. These include Video modes, as well as Square and Pano. All of the modes are fairly self-explanatory, but if you’d like to take more control over shooting settings you’ll need to download one of the many third-party apps available for iOS.
Despite the fact the iPhone XR has just one lens, it retains the Portrait mode as seen in other iPhones, which allows you to create shallow depth-of-field effects. The big difference here however is that it only works when shooting human subjects, and is entirely an effect. That’s bad news if you want to shoot blurred background shots of your pets, in other words.
The iPhone XR allows you to shoot video in a number of resolutions and frame rates up to 4K at 60fps. In order to choose between the different options available, you need to exit the camera app and head to the phone’s main settings. It’s a little bit of a faff – and you may also find you want to shoot in lower resolutions to save space on your device.
Speaking of space, it’s not possible to expand storage with the iPhone XR, so it’s worth investing in the largest memory size you can if you’re intending to take a lot of photos and videos.
The iPhone XR produces its best images in good light, as is common for smartphone photography. Where there is a good amount of light, colours are well reproduced, with landscape shots in particular showing a good degree of dynamic range and pleasingly saturated colours. Details are also well produced, especially when viewing images at relatively small sizes, such as A4 or below.
Having only a single lens means you’re restricted to shooting at just one focal length. Although this is something we all got used to with smartphones, with the invention of recent devices which use at least one additional lens, it feels more like a sacrifice than it perhaps would have at one time. There’s the option to use the phone’s digital zoom, but that’s best avoided thanks to a very obvious reduction in quality.
In low light, the phone performs reasonably well – but is certainly nothing special. There’s a loss of detail that can be seen in some areas of the image, and there are no Night Modes which you can take advantage of, either.
Despite only having one lens to work with, the iPhone XR’s Portrait Mode puts in a pretty good performance, especially if your (human) subject is standing in front of a relatively uncomplicated background.
Below is a selection iPhone XR sample photos shot during our review of the camera…
As pretty much everyone knows, being a devotee of Apple is an expensive business, especially if you want to make sure you always have a new phone.
With the iPhone XR, you’ve got an opportunity to have one of the company’s latest models, without forking out the astronomically high price required to get hold of the flagship XS.
That said, at least £749 is still quite a lot of money to pay for a smartphone which is being labelled as a “budget” option, and sees you having to make a fair amount of sacrifices to get the reduction in price.
While the XR can produce good images in good light, the camera performance is nothing overly special in a modern age of extremely well featured smartphones. Bearing in mind you can pick something like the Huawei P20 Pro, the current king of smartphones, for around the same price – suddenly the “value” starts to look even less impressive.
It’s hard to recommend the XR to anyone but those who are wedded to the idea of an iOS device, but don’t want to spend big on the iPhone XS. We think it’s worth saving up a little longer to get the XS, if you can, but if you’re less loyal to the brand, an Android phone makes much more sense.