iPhone XR review

The iPhone XR has decent battery life and a lower price tag

The bottom half of an iPhone XR, resting on some wood

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While iOS 12 was the new kid on the block when the iPhone XR launched in 2018, it has since been replaced with iOS 13 and now iOS 14, which means in terms of on-screen looks it's the same as the newest iPhone 12 handsets.

With iOS 14 (and iOS 14.5), the iPhone XR has had a significant overhaul, with the likes of an App Library being added, along with home screen widgets, and various other tweaks, changes and improvements.

The iOS 13 update meanwhile landed on the XR during September 2019, packing a whole host of features like Dark Mode and performance increases.

The two features which came with the XR at launch were augmented reality (AR) being baked in even further, and becoming a big part of the mix for a few elements of the iPhone itself, and Memoji.

We’re still not convinced by the former, with many AR games proving too rough around the edges to be truly must-have titles.

A photo of a bicycle

We tried the game Elements (on the iPhone XS – and we couldn’t bring ourselves to try again) and it just didn’t really work well, with very little tuition. Then we paid for a game so we could let a child play a title where you had to move around the room to drop blocks in the right way, but the perspective kept moving and it didn’t entrance them at all.

Apple’s also trying to push the new file format for AR in the shopping experience, with a few sites now letting you place their wares in the real world. We pulled a bike out of thin air and were able to walk around it in real time… but we weren’t really sure what we were getting from the experience.

It'll lock in real-size to start with, but we still felt like it was just a cool way to look at a slightly-cartoonish bike. It's possibly a good idea in theory – if it could be used to remodel a room with furniture or decorations, for example – but it’s very much a novelty right now.

That said, we're not dismissing it out of hand. If you're wondering about whether something is worth having in your house and you can't go to look at it before ordering online, this could be a very nice way to do things in the future, when it's more widely adopted.

It would be great, for example, if you could scan a secondhand item and upload it, so prospective buyers could inspect it properly – but we feel such an implementation is probably many years in the future.

Memoji is more fun, and you can spend a lot of time crafting each individual element of the face. The new A12 Bionic chip inside allows you to map a video onto your face during a call, with the neural engine able to work out where you features are in real time and place the Memoji on top.

Screenshots showing Memoji on the iPhone XR

The iPhone XR has also been updated to iOS 12.1.3 since launch, with the likes of new emoji and Group FaceTime being added in the process. It's also sure to get a big update to iOS 13 when that launches later in 2019.

Going back to how it is currently, the iPhone XR does whip along under the finger, although we can’t say it did anything out of the ordinary in terms of speed.

That’s not a criticism, by the way, as Apple phones always run smoothly at the start of their life (and, to be fair, generally continue to do so). We did encounter a few bugs though, with things like notifications on the home screen hanging a little too long to be just processing, and other apps taking a moment to come out of suspended animation when flipping between them.

According to Geekbench, the iPhone XR is equally as capable as the iPhone XS in terms of daily, easier tasks, but struggles a little with the heavier stuff – which is something we noted and could be part of the issue above.

A screenshot showing a search for a location on iPhone XR

That performance could well be due to the fact we’ve got 3GB of RAM inside this handset, rather than the 4GB in the iPhone XS – so if you’re after a handset with real power you might want to think about upgrading to the iPhone XS.

When it comes to the media experience on the iPhone, it’s never been easy to fault it (even if you really wanted to). The speakers not being louder isn’t that much of an issue, as people don’t always want to hear what you’re watching or listening to, and while the headphone jack issue is a real one, there are ways around it.

Siri still doesn’t get us all the time – especially when we're driving and we want to play a certain playlist. There are only so many times you can ask for the same thing in an ever-clearer voice before you never want to ask again – and that drops to just the one time if you’ve got friends around laughing at you.

The top half of an iPhone XR

The movie-watching experience isn’t diminished by the lack of HDR or an OLED display – you’ll even get more natural-looking scenes if that’s your thing. And with 64GB, 128GB or 256GB storage options on offer there’s very little chance you’ll fill this phone up with content if you go for one of the latter two storage sizes.

An iPhone XR playing music

Apple still hasn’t added any dedicated game modes like its competitors have, and the AR titles it keeps pushing aren’t something we can really see anyone being inclined to play with friends (although it would be cool if it caught on).

That said, the raw grunt this smartphone packs, combined with the raft of titles available on the App Store, ensure that it will offer something for any kind of smartphone gamer.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.