Apple just announced its newest slate of iPhones. We now have the iPhone XS and XS Max, successors to the exorbitantly priced iPhone X. But, and perhaps more interestingly, we also have the iPhone XR, an edge-to-edge iPhone in the style of the X, but with a few modifications to make it a bit cheaper so it starts at $750 instead of $1,000 or $1,100 like the iPhone XS and XS Max.
Naturally, this leads to the question: So what am I giving up?
An OLED screen
The big fancy selling point of the iPhone X (and XS and XS Max) is its screen. No, not the fact that it’s edge-to-edge, at least not anymore. It’s the fact that it’s OLED. OLED, for Organic Light-Emitting Diode, screens are a different technology than what has traditionally been in iPhones before the X. OLED screens use a technology that allows their pixels to operate independently, which means that when they go black, the individual pixels actually go off.
This has a few advantages. First of all, it makes the colour black look truly inky, because it’s actually literally black. It also saves on battery power, because when the phone screen is showing black, your phone isn’t diverting battery to power it in those parts of the screen. That’s why phones like Samsung’s Galaxy (which has used OLED for years now) has black-and-white power-saving modes.
The iPhone XR does not have this. Instead, it has an LCD screen like iPhones have traditionally had. These screens have a layer of colour and then a backlight that lights up the whole screen underneath. As a result, blacks aren’t so black (because they have to struggle to block out light) and battery usage is the same no matter what is on screen. LCD’s also just don’t have as bright or sharp colours as OLED screens do, and as such, they can be a little tougher to see in bright sunlight. That said, don’t worry about it too much if you’ve never owned an iPhone X. You don’t know what you’re missing and it is probably better that way!
A telephoto lens (but not Portrait Mode)
The iPhone X, XS, XS Max and even the 8 Plus all have two cameras on the back, one of which is a relatively standard wide-angle lens, but the other of which is a telephoto with an optical zoom. This not only lets you zoom in up to 2x without a degradation in quality but it also forms the basis for the iPhone’s Portrait Mode.
By using two cameras at once, one with a zoom, the iPhone can fake the “bokeh” effect, that milky blurring of the background that photographers get by using certain lenses and settings on their actual cameras. The dual lens iPhones cheat their way to this same effect using a combo of hardware and software.
The iPhone XR doesn’t have a second lens and is instead stuck with a single, fixed, wide-angle. But! That doesn’t mean that you have to give up Portrait Mode. The XR will actually still have the feature, but with the blurring effect applied solely through software. The result can be slightly iffier images (some applications of this software can result in weird effects around things like hair), but Apple’s software tends to be better than the worst offenders of this sort of behaviour.
What’s more is that because the iPhone XR has the same depth-sensing cameras on the front-facing side for the purposes of Face ID, Portrait Mode there should work identically to how it did on the iPhone X and presumably how it still does on the iPhone XS and XS Max.
A few smaller matters:
Metallic colours: The iPhone XR doesn’t come in gold, space grey, or silver like the XS does. It does, however, come in yellow, coral, blue, red, white, and black, which might even be better!
Surgical-grade stainless steel: The iPhone XR has an aluminium body instead of a stainless steel one if that is the kind of thing that you find to be very important.
A choice of size: Where the XS comes in its normal (5.8-inch) and Max (6.5-inch) sizes, the XR is just a single 6.1-incher.
Other than that, nothing really!
Given that the iPhone XR has the same A12 Bionic chip and front-facing camera as its siblings, you’re not actually missing out on all that much by opting for the XR. That’s likely a very calculated move on Apple’s part, given that the $750 edge-to-edge handset with no deal-breaking downside should keep price-sensitive folks from running backwards to buy an old iPhone 8 or 8 Plus, and bring most iPhone users onto the same page when it comes to using gestures and Face ID instead of a Home Button.
Unlike the extravagant iPhone X, we saw last year, the iPhone XR actually makes a decent case for upgrading if you need a new phone. It provides all the cool bonuses of the iPhone X (ANIMOJIS!!!!) but without the exorbitant price tag. Of course, none of that changes that on the whole, phones are piling up a series of minor aesthetic and slightly useful features while failing to improve in ways that would significantly change your relationship with your phone, like longer battery life and repairability that would let you hold onto one for years.
But if you need a new phone and the XR and XS are calling out to you in unison. The XR looks to be a pretty solid choice.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics