The iPhone we’ve been waiting for
THE iPhone XR is nearly here and it's definitely been worth the wait.
Apple's newest device is all about the company bringing its best new tech like FaceID and a full screen display, which debuted on the iPhone X last year, to its entire product line of new smartphones. But with the iPhone XR, Apple has packed it into a more affordable package.
The company unveiled the device alongside the more premium iPhone XS and XS Max in September but some baulked at the high price of the XS and XS Max. If that was you, the iPhone XR is probably the iPhone for you.
Many analysts believe it will ultimately prove to be the bestselling model out of the XR, XS and XS Max - and for good reason. The handset is $400 less than the XS.
Apple is notoriously protective of its margins, so to make that happen there are some trade-offs in the design but your average phone user probably isn't going to mind. And for iPhone lovers, it represents some genuine bang for your buck.
While most premium smartphones on the market these days have an OLED display, the XR has one of the best LCD screens of any smartphone out there.
Apple refers to the screen as a Liquid Retina Display alluding to the fact that your eyes can't really discern individual pixels so at a certain point it become pointless to squeeze too many in, particularly on a small screen.
Apple also uses tech which modifies the pixels around the edges of the device to ensure a smooth and vibrant display is pushed into the corners of the phone.
But when it comes to pixel density, the iPhone XR isn't a world beater. Most new Android phones, even low-end ones, feature 1920 x 1080 panels but the XR is technically inferior on that scale, packing a 1792 x 828 display. So if you really value higher PPI (pixels per inch) you may want to opt for the iPhone XS or the iPhone 8 Plus.
Nonetheless the iPhone XR still has 326 PPI display (compared to 458 for the other premium iPhones) and it still looks fantastic.
LCD panels require back lighting and can't be bent in the way that OLED ones can, making a near-bezel-free design a particular challenge for the iPhone XR.
It still manages a 6.1-inch "all screen display" but like the iPhone X, there is a black bezel that encases the display. However with the bigger screen compared to last year's iPhone X, the bezel is thicker on the LCD display. It's not exactly unattractive but it is quite noticeable when you unbox the device.
The phone comes in six bright finishes: black, white, blue, yellow, coral, and red.
It has durable glass panels on the front and back with a colour-matching aluminium band wrapping around the edges.
For those who aren't coming from an iPhone X (which is longer available for purchase from the Apple store) it will take a moment to get used to the new gestures.
Swiping down from the top right will bring up the control centre while the same movement from the top left of the screen will bring up the notification centre. To close an app you swipe up from the bottom and if you pause and hold the same gesture it will bring up all the open apps, allowing you to close them by flicking them upwards.
Quick pro tip: it's worth turning on the Reachability feature which allows you to drag the top of the screen down to the bottom of the display by sliding your thumb down where the Home button used to be - it's super useful when you're navigating your phone with a single hand. You can find it under Settings and Accessibility.
The XR is slightly less water resistant than the XS and XS Max and can withstand being dropped into a body of water up to a metre deep for half an hour, compared to a metre-and-a-half for the more expensive iPhones. But again, this is not a trade-off that is probably not going to make a huge difference to you.
One of the interesting new features to come to Apple's new smartphones is it dual SIM capability, which was announced at September's launch event. To do this, Apple relies on its e-SIM technology, allowing users to switch back and forth between two live SIM cards. Users who frequently travel between countries will be very pleased.
However the capability won't be available until a future software update and Apple wouldn't say when iPhone XR users could expect to see it go live.
The device also has faster wireless charging compared to the iPhone 8 and contains speakers that push out a wider stereo sound than previous models, marking a noticeable improvement in sound and volume when watching videos or playing games.
THE REAL HERO
The reason you might want a new iPhone is probably the A12 chip that powers Apple's new range of smartphones.
The tech giant was the first to bring a 7-nanometer chip to market with the release of its iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max and it also provides the guts of the XR.
It has few real challengers on the market at the moment (Huawei's Kirin 980 processor in the new Mate 20 Pro is one, however - and stay tuned for review). Ultimately it just means the XR is among the most powerful handsets Apple has ever released.
The so-called Neural Engine uses real-time machine learning to enhance the way you experience photos, gaming and augmented reality applications.
Apple claims it's up to 15 per cent faster when it comes to CPU performance compared to previous iPhone chips while using significantly less power. According to Apple, it can handle a mind-boggling 5 trillion operations per second compared to 600 billion for A11 Bionic chip which featured in previous generation iPhones. Overall it should boost the phone's performance by around 25 per cent - improvements that are borne out by benchmark testing.
I've only has a couple days to play around with the device but it certainly does feel fast and responsive, being able to launch, run and switch between data heavy apps with impressive speed.
And the A12 chip is to thank for some cool new camera tech and improved functionality when playing in augmented reality.
Despite lacking the dual camera system of the iPhone XS and XS Max, the camera technology won't disappoint you.
The XR has a single 12MP wide-angle camera on the back and harnesses the aforementioned powerful processor to achieve some stunning results and an improved ability to shoot in low light conditions.
Apple's AI-boosted high dynamic range, known as smart HDR, produces photos with seriously great detail.
There's also some new nifty tricks with the latest iPhone range. In portrait mode you can play around with the aperture and adjust the depth of field any time after taking a photo, which is a pretty fun feature. Again, it's the A12 that is doing the heavy lifting here and you can check out the effect below.
The camera's smart HDR extends to video filming and can shoot in a solid 30 frames per second.
The phone's 7MP TrueDepth camera on the front enables fast FaceID for unlocking apps and using Apple Pay and it also makes for improved Memoji shenanigans.
It's really quite fun to play around with the AR filters and layers you can do in messaging apps and FaceTime.
The whole augmented reality experience - a big focus for Apple in the last couple of years - has improved with the company's latest range of phones and with iOS 12 the it expects developers to drive a range of new apps and features for users, whether its shopping, education or gaming.
Below is an opening scene of an AR battle game called Knightfall which you can quickly drop onto a table at home and play. The graphics and smooth functionality are pretty amazing. A lot of the early AR apps are educational but gaming is where the tech really shines.
As mentioned, the iPhone XR is considerably cheaper than the more premium iPhone options, starting at A$1229 for the 64GB model.
Comparatively, the iPhone XS starts at A$1629 for the 64 GB version with a slightly smaller 5.8 inch display.
The device went up for preorder last Friday and is due to hit stores this Friday, on October 26.
If you're looking for a new iPhone, for your average punter it's probably hard to justify the extra spend when you've got this option available.