A review by James Ormiston (@MacJim)
Back in January, I walked into the Glasgow Apple Store to buy the iPhone Xr. I wanted to trade in my old iPhone 7 Plus, a Black 128Gb model that I had finished paying for through Apple’s finance deal, but the purchase boiled down to what they were willing to offer me to trade it in especially as the online valuation was not looking good. Initially, the ‘offer’ to have an iPhone Xr for £499 with a trade in was for a limited time (at the time of writing it is still available) hence the slight rush to buy before that ended. I was pleasantly surprised when the lady said “it’s worth £260 Sir”. My reaction was “that’ll do nicely, thank you”.
The process was reasonably easy to do, a credit was issued as a voucher, and that was used against the purchase bringing the price down to the advertised £499. I bought the base model, a 64Gb ‘Product Red’ iPhone Xr, partly due to just liking the red colour (I was really tempted by the light blue model) and for a change from the stealthy Matt Black of the 7 Plus I had before. Some would say that’s a huge drop in capacity, from 128GB to the base 64GB of the ‘cheapest’ Xr I now own, but in practice that hasn’t been a problem especially as I’ve never ever come close to using half of the 64GB of the Xr… I’m currently sitting with 34GB available.
Set up was simplicity in itself with little to do to get up and running, so much so that I can’t remember what I did to have it working other than do the FaceID facial scan, Apple makes it so easy to do these days via my backups… it was quick and easy. In use, I do see a difference compared with the old iPhone ‘and so you should’ I hear you say… but let me explain what I mean. The biggest difference is in the size of this new phone, and while you’d expect me to say it’s a huge difference, it’s not really true. While physically it’s a smaller phone, it’s not enough in daily use to notice. Yes, in the pocket, it’s less bulky which is a great benefit, but it’s still a large phone if you compare it the the XS or even the X models, as it sits in the middle of the XS & XS Max models in size. The biggest difference, and the main reason for ‘downsizing’ is the fact that the phone is more comfortable in the hand than the 7 Plus, but due to larger screen and no home button it means I have much more screen area just like the 7 Plus gave me but without the bulk. It’s just the right compromise for everyday use.
So there must be a downside to this smaller phone? well, yes there is, it’s smaller! Okay, read on and I’ll clear that up a bit; when I say its being smaller is a downside it’s not because it smaller that’s the downside but what I’ve lost with the physical size being smaller. I lose the twin lenses that the 7 Plus has, (and the more expensive siblings to this iPhone). With that feature, I could take wide and ‘telephoto’ images without degradation compared to the images taken with the Xr as I’m down to a single lens meaning, I either have to get closer to whatever I wish to photograph, or zoom in via the digital zoom of the camera. That results in a lower quality image especially if light is low. So, compromises had to be made downsizing to his new phone. The lower price too, in comparison to the X, XS and XS Max means there are further compromises such as a lower quality display, out is the OLED screens of its more expensive companions and in is the Liquid Retina LCD. In normal use I doubt most would see the difference with this screen as the quality is good enough for most folk, but if you are coming from the Android world of OLED screens then you will definitely see that difference. It’s also noticeable to those who have downsized from the 7/7+ and 8/8+ phones as this model has what is basically a 720p screen… yes, it’s not a 1080p! In saying that, it is better than 720p, due to various technologies that Apple use to make this screen the best it can be compared to other mobile phone screens on the market, that are not 1080p, but in normal use it’s less notable than you’d expect and good enough for many.
Internally you are the winner here with the iPhone Xr getting most of what is inside the more expensive models making this phone as quick and slick as them. There is one area I have seen a real difference in daily use that has been a bit of a disappointment, that’s with the camera unit. Apple make many claims about how good their imaging technology is when it comes to photography and video. We’ve all seen images ‘taken with an iPhone’ and been impressed with what we’ve seen, and heard the claims that it’s good enough to compete with DSLRs and cameras in general, but in my experience that is a huge claim that has partially failed in my experience. Yes, I have taken images with iPhones that were truly surprising to myself, and others, that looked as if they were taken with a camera but that has always been in really good light, but that’s not always been the case and many have been deleted (with the odd exception).
With the XR, I have been less impressed with the camera and the image quality as I feel it has a tendency to over expose an image, most of the time. Now, I could simply use a photo app that has exposure control, apps such as Pro Camera, and manually underexpose (yes, the Apple camera app allows you to do that too) but that adds time to the image taking process, time that isn’t always available at that fleeting point of time: so I don’t totally rely on the iPhone Xr, and I try to have a pocket camera with me.
Am I happy with this iPhone? Well, yes… it was a good buy if truth be told even with the disadvantages mentioned above. The screen is good enough, video playback such as YouTube is good enough, the sound quality from the built-in speakers is one of the good points as the stereo is vastly better than any other mobile phone I have experienced, the best of the best… FaceID is absolutely worth the upgrade cost too. Try opening an iPhone with TouchID when your fingers are dirty or covered in paint to see what I mean! Would I have bought it at the full list price without a trade in, or with the current discount available? Probably not as there are better phones out there at a fraction of the price, especially if you’re not tied into the iOS ecosystem.
The one thing I’ll say about owning any iPhone and that is protect it! AppleCare is worth the money in my experience, just think about the cost of replacing either of the two glass screens without it.I’d also recommend you buy a case and a screen protector to lessen the chance of breaking the phone, I’ve been there with the iPhone 7 Plus and it isn’t pleasant.
I have been critical in the direction Apple has been heading over these last few years. They were always a premium product manufacturer due to their design philosophy and build quality. In my opinion, of late Apple has lost the plot, as their prices have reached a point where many can’t go now, and with bad design decisions and reliability issues continuing to plague their products (MacBook keyboards anyone?) but on this occasion it was a no brainier to upgrade/downsize to the iPhone Xr as I had the £260 trade in, and £260 given to me for my birthday and Xmas to put towards it, meaning I only needed a little under £300 to pay myself.