My wife and I had agreed not to buy each other Christmas presents. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, we’re both stingy and budget conscious. Every time we’ve made this agreement, she’s bought me something little — a few beers I like, a coffee gizmo, a watch strap — she can’t seem to help herself.
This year, as expected, she broke the rules again and handed me a big box. I unwrapped it to find a Star Wars jigsaw puzzle, clearly second hand (she always has a jigsaw, especially a Wasgij, in the works). I opened it to check out the internals and remarked “oh, there’s another present in here.” I opened one side of that box and in one of the most surprising moments of my life, saw the word “iPhone”.
My wife, in conjunction with my parents and in laws had banded everyone together to buy me an iPhone XR. She is amazing and my family is amazing. I love them all very much.
Now I’ve been using this monolith of technology for several weeks, I feel like I have enough experience to tell you what I think. Welcome to my first ever phone review.
Disclaimer: I am not a second century Roman, so I pronounce and write the X in iPhone XR as the letter X, not the number 10.
128 GB and as black as Batman on a moonless night. I’d been craving a Red XR, because they look delicious. In retrospect, I can always throw a coloured case or skin on a black phone and make it any colour I want. And the red may be cool now, but in 3 or 4 years? Perhaps not.
The XR feels heavy compared to my old 6s. I was surprised that just 51 grams (194 g vs 143 g, ~36% heavier) was so noticeable. I’m still surprised. And I’m still not used to it. Occasionally handling other people’s iPhones 6 makes them feel feather light.
It also feels gigantic. Like a glass monolith. I can’t fit it in some of the pockets I used to squeeze my 6s into, and it fills other pockets where there used to be ample room. The size may also contribute to the sensation that it feels heavier than it is. I don’t imagine I’ll ever buy a phone bigger than the XR, and I’m interested to see if Apple starts making smaller phones again. But that’s something for 2022 or 2023, as I tend to keep by phones for 3 or 4 years.
I very much like the forward facing speakers. Watching videos is more comfortable as I no longer have to cup my hand around the bottom speaker grill to redirect sound towards my face. Although I’m still cupping my hand because old habits die hard with a vengeance.
Speaking of Die Hard, the glass on the back and front also make it incredibly slippery. I have to forget my old habit of leaving my phone on the arm of the couch, or on any surface with even a slight incline. Or even my hands, at times. It’ll happily imitate Hans Gruber falling off the Nakatomi building, but it’s survived well through the occasional drops so far. I may have to buy a case.
It’s no exaggeration to say this is the most amazing battery on an iPhone so far. If you want to charge every other day it’s no big deal, it’ll easily last. After a full day of use, I’m normally in the ~65–70 percent range before I head to bed. Leaving it overnight without plugging it in will have me in the mid-fifties when I wake up.
This is getting towards the old Nokia 3310 territory where you’d charge up once a week. And adding the recently released battery pack case, would push it close to that, although it costs a lot and adds yet more weight.
It’s surprisingly heavy, doesn’t fit in some of my pockets and feels like the monolith from 2001. But if that’s what it takes to get this battery life, I’m more than happy to accommodate it.
3D Touch and Haptic Feedback
I was a fan of 3D touch on my 6s. I liked to access quick actions on apps when they offered it, and I used it to activate the trackpad feature on the keyboard.
The new, or rather always there, feature of long pressing the spacebar to activate the trackpad mode on the keyboard isn’t as easy as “3D touch anywhere on the keyboard” was. It makes the cursor movement very up-focused, in that there’s very little space to move “down” from the bottom of the keyboard, but acres of the space (the entire screen) to move the cursor “up”. It’s unfortunate that Apple couldn’t get 3D touch into this screen, but sometimes technical hurdles are insurmountable when you’re on a tight schedule.
Also unfortunate is that iOS on the iPhone doesn’t support the iPad trick of using two fingers on the keyboard to activate the track pad mode. That would have been nice, and Apple could make it so with little effort (I imagine).
That drawback aside, the haptic feedback is delightful. The little clicks and pops when I hit buttons, long press keys and move around the operating system, make me smile every time.
Many tech enthusiasts and journalists, bless ‘em, were almost frothing at the mouth with rage that the 1792 x 828 pixel screen wouldn’t allow the viewing of a 1080p video at full resolution. That’s despite there being little point in adding more pixel density than the human eye can discern, hence “Retina”. To my 20/20 vision eyes, the screen looks crisp and vibrant and beautiful, especially with TrueTone enabled.
Sure, it doesn’t have the deep blacks of the iPhone X OLED screen, but it takes some unique viewing scenarios (viewing in the complete dark, viewing at extreme angles, etc.), for it to matter. And then you’ll only really notice the minor differences if you’re holding an XR next to an X. And why would you do that, weirdo?
The bezel around the screen is thick in comparison to the X, but I don’t really notice it. The notch, however, is something I’m still noticing. I have an awful habit of being a top reader, so I tend to position the line or paragraph I’m reading right at the top of the phone. I’m sure the notch will disappear for me eventually, and I’m looking forward to the notch properly disappearing for everyone.
FaceID is all it’s cracked up to be. I haven’t had any issues with it failing, and unlike TouchID, my hands can be wet and I can still unlock my phone. I did have a little hiccup earlier this week when I shaved a 3-month beard off, and it took a little time to recognise me. A few hours later it’d machine-learned itself back to recognising me in an instant, which is so damn convenient.
The lack of a home button means I can swipe between apps quickly and I found it easy getting used to the new navigation techniques. Switching back to my iPad Air with a home button feels almost rustic.
I was happy enough with the camera on the 6s. I’m not a portrait taker, so the computational portrait feature isn’t aimed at me, but I like that it’s there. It takes good looking photos and videos and that’s all I really care about.
I never used the headphone jack on my 6s, so Apple’s decision to get rid of it was all good with me. I was swimming in the bluetooth pool before headphone jackageddon was making headphone nerds explode in frothy rage. Once you go wireless, there’s no going back.
My BeatsX, however, rudely died a few days before Christmas, so I’m stuck with lightning earpods for the time being. I’ll be writing up my bluetooth headphone experience in a different article which I’ll link to here when it’s done.
If you’re thinking about upgrading and concerned about the XR not being the real deal, don’t be. It’s got the same internals as an XS, with luxurious externals. At the mid-range it’s also 2/3 the price.
The iPhone XR is a fantastic phone and the nicest computer I’ve ever owned. I love my family very much for buying it for me. Despite being big and heavy (relatively), it’s a huge upgrade from my 6s. The screen is outstanding, FaceID is stupidly convenient and the battery life is insane for a phone this computationally powerful.