Last month Apple released the best phone money can buy, the iPhone XS, which also happens to be a phone that costs more than any other. Prices start at an overdraft-worrying £999 for the 64GB XS and go up to a nosebleed-inducing £1,449 for the 512GB XS Max.
In a tacit acknowledgement that a grand is, in fact, rather a lot to spend on a phone, Apple also announced the £749 iPhone XR, a “cheaper” – although by no means cheap – alternative. And, for 90 per cent of people, it’s the iPhone to buy, with the slight trade-off in specs more than offset by the sizeable savings.
Or, to come at it from another angle, at only £50 more than the £699 iPhone 8 Plus – with its smaller 5.5 inch display – spending that extra £50 is a no-brainer.
The XR is very much part of the “new generation” of Apple handsets, following all the same design cues, including the curved edges and the infamous notch, although owing to the slightly inferior display (more of that in a sec), there’s a bigger black bezel surrounding the screen. It comes in one size only: 6.1 inches, which fits neatly between the 5.8 inches of the XS and the 6.5 inches of the XS Max. It’s a nice size, big without being unwieldy, with heaps of room to sling angry birds or crush candy.
A host of colours help to coax it from the shadow of its big brother. While the flagship phones are Very Serious and come in Very Serious colours like silver and gold and grey, the XR is Super-Fun and comes in “coral”, yellow, blue and red. It feels like a welcome throwback to 2013’s iPhone 5C, another brighter, “cheaper” handset aimed at a broader, less geeky part of the phone market.
The XR is actually faster than last year’s (now defunct) flagship iPhone X, using the same A12 processor as the new flagship XS, although they’re both exceptionally fast, and if you measure your days in the fraction of a second you’ll shave off app opening times, I doubt you’re still reading this.
So where does Apple claw back that £250? Well, the XR lags behind the XS when it comes to screen quality, with a cheaper LCD display that’s some way off the rich colours and deep, inky blacks of the more expensive phone. You’ll also miss out on 3D Touch, which is hardly worth shedding a tear over.
The camera is a bit more of an issue, with photos – especially portraits – lagging behind the best phones on the market. With only a single rear-facing camera, it relies on software to achieve effects like background blur and zoom, and while the results are decent enough, it can’t touch handsets like the XS, the Samsung Galaxy S9 or the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
Is any of that a deal-breaker? Hardly. If the iPhone XS were a Bentley, the XR would be a nicely specced Audi: lovely to drive, something that will go for years without a hitch, perfectly affordable with a sensible monthly payment plan. If you want a phone that just works, to use one of Steve Jobs’ favourite phrases, this is it.