Sometimes, you have to find the middle ground.
With a trio of new iPhones on the market, many people have been asking me which one is the best for the average user, those who just need a reliable, long-lasting smartphone.
I'm talking about friends and family, Twitter users, editors, random people at Caribou coffee shop, and the delivery driver who just stopped at my house. They don't want the best phone ever made, but they do want a really good phone.
I've tested the new iPhone XS (a 5.8-inch screen) and XS Max (a 6.5-inch screen) extensively, and last week started testing the new iPhone XR (a 6.1-inch screen), which falls right in between those two in terms of screen size (but is the lowest priced of the three at $799. The XS is $999 and the XS Max is $1,099).
I've also extensively tested the new Google Pixel 3, which is lighter and has a better camera. A few other makes and models are out there, and if you're a Samsung loyalist, you probably won't even bother reading much further.
Yet, the iPhone XR has a few interesting pros and cons. Once you really dive into the specs, and understand the differences in plain sight, you might land on a reasonable decision to purchase the phone that is a hair smaller than the Max and not nearly as visually appealing as the iPhone XS (or the iPhone X for that matter). Here's what you need to know.
First off, the iPhone XR screen is not as colorful or sharp. I used the phone all weekend, watching Netflix movies and checking my Slack boards like crazy. It's hard to quantify exactly how it looks different other than to say it doesn't pop as much. I remember looking at the OLED screen of the iPhone X back when I first started using it, glancing from the side as it sat on a table, and thinking--that looks like a super-sharp printed brochure.
With the iPhone XR, it's not like movies lack color or crispness on the old-school LCD screen (which they call Liquid Retina), but you don't get the same jaw-dropping brilliance as the iPhone XS or Max. So that's the downside to a phone that's $250 cheaper.
On the plus side, the XR actually has a slightly bigger battery and tends to last a bit longer--officially, about 1.5 hours longer than the iPhone 8 Plus. In my tests, I noticed about a 20% charge left at the end of the day when the iPhone X I've used for months would have been almost dead. That's a nice perk for a phone that actually costs $250 less than the XS.
Another plus is that you can pick from several more colors including a new coral color that sticks out from the pack. (Note to people who choose phones based on color: You should wrap that fresh coat of paint in a case, so it doesn't really matter too much.)
It's also worth noting that the iPhone XR does not use a dual camera system, so some effects won't work as well. Only true photographers will notice.
Other than the colors and the battery life as pros, and the screen tech and camera that don't match the two flagship phones as cons, the other "benefit" to picking the XR is that it's not really that different in other ways. Feel free to pour over the specs, but screen resolution, camera, and battery life stand out on the list while almost everything else--fast wireless charging, the swipe interface, the operating system, the facial recognition--matches up fine to the flagship phones.
Need a little more convincing? Here's the kicker for me. If you're on the fence because of the screen technology, note that the 6.1-inch size is actually a little better for one-handed typing. On the iPhone XS, the screen is a tad small for movies. The Max is a tad big for typing. Like I said, you're picking the middle ground.
If you don't care that much about the absolute best screen and want to save $250, the iPhone XR is your best bet.