New iPhone reviews are in, and the iPhone Xs isn’t worth the extra $250

The iPhone XR is $250 cheaper than the XS, and reviewers didn’t particularly miss the premium features it lacks.
The iPhone XR is $250 cheaper than the XS, and reviewers didn’t particularly miss the premium features it lacks.
Image: REUTERS/Stephen Lam
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In September, Apple unveiled its new line of phones—the iPhone Xr, Xs, and Xs Max—and the reviews are trickling in. While the Xs (starting at $999) has more premium features than the XR ($749 starting price), it also comes with a much heftier price tag, and the reports say the extra money isn’t worth it. If you’re looking to make a choice, we’ve rounded up the main takeaways about the Xr vs. the Xs.

The Xr camera is good enough

In its review, Mashable used the Xr to take all product photos, a job it usually leaves to a DSLR or mirrorless camera. The results look fantastic. The Xr and Xs have the same main wide-angle lens and video features, which the Verge writes “makes the iPhone X look downright bad,” so either way, you’ll be getting a big upgrade.

However, the Xs has two of those lenses on the back, while the Xr has just one. Without two lenses, the Xr isn’t capable of true portrait mode, where the subject is in focus while the background is blurred. To get around that, the Xr just digitally inserts a background blur of subjects to emulate the portrait-style focus created by dual camera phones. The algorithm for the Xr’s portrait mode only recognizes people, which, as BuzzFeed’s Nicole Nguyen notes, is “a real bummer if you want to take epic pictures of dogs.”

It also means worse zoom photos, so if you want to capture, say, “the evil squirrel who has been eating through the pumpkins on my front stoop,” as Wall Street Journal reviewer Joanna Stern did (paywall), the Xs will do a better job. Still, most reviewers didn’t miss it.

The Xr has superior battery life

According to Apple’s specs, the Xr’s battery should give you 15 hours of internet browsing, compared with 12 hours for the Xs; MacRumors reports that the Xs battery is about 10% larger than that of the Xs.  Either phone’s battery should get you through a full day out and about sans recharging, but if you’re a heavy phone user, the Xr’s battery should last longer.

The Xr is slightly bigger than the Xs, but not noticeably so

The Xr is just a tiny bit larger than the Xs: the Xr screen is 6.1 inches, versus the Xs’s 5.8 inches. It’s also half a millimeter thicker. The result, writes Mashable’s Raymond Wong, is not terribly noticeable; the Xr is “barely larger than my Xs with a case, so there wasn’t much of an adjustment in pocketing it.”

Still, if you’re making the leap from an earlier iPhone, the Xr is significantly larger. Gizmodo’s Alex Cranz was initially “put off” by the Xr’s larger size but got used to it after a few days. Cranz notes an Apple feature that might help people with small hands use the larger screen:

Apple has included a feature, deep in the Accessibility settings, that lets you drag the top of the phone down towards the middle of the display so you can access the absolutely vital systems drop down. It takes a little getting used to, and you’ll screw up activating it the first few times, but by the end of the weekend, I found myself to be something of a pro with the feature.

The expanded color options are fun

While the Xs comes in the Apple-standard black, silver, and gold, the Xr has a wider range, à la the iPhone 5c; it comes in black, but also white, blue, yellow, coral, gold, and red. WSJ’s Stern says the red, in particular, is “one of the coolest-looking Apple products I’ve used in years.” Unlike the cheap, plastic-y look of the 5c, these candy-colored phones are glass, giving them a sleeker look.

There are many people believed to be clinging to older iPhone models like the 6, 6s and 7 because the improvements in the 8 were too incremental and the X was too expensive. The Xr might be the phone to offer a far superior camera and battery at a palatable price to get them to upgrade.