My me-too review of the iPhone XR

Hey remember how several months ago Apple released a new variation on an established product line and everyone else already reviewed it?

Well, I just upgraded, despite having just bought an iPhone 8 last April. For Reasons.

I wasn’t really intending to, but I wanted to switch to Xfinity mobile (since I am stuck with Xfinity for my home Internet and Xfinity is way cheaper than T-Mobile for my usage levels), and they were having a $200 rebate on all new iPhones for the holiday season. And they were requiring the purchase of a new device to switch, for some reason. (They have a “bring your own device” option but when I selected it they gave me an error saying they were “limiting the number of SIMs.” I don’t get it either.)

So anyway I was already annoyed with how big the iPhone 8 is, and my choices were either the iPhone XS (which is already slightly larger and heavier than the already-too-big-and-heavy iPhone 8) or the iPhone XR, which is ludicrously large and well into the “phablet” range.

So given that, why would I go with the iPhone XR? Well, the three reasons were:

  • Better color choices (I really like (PRODUCT)RED, both because, well, red and also because of the nominal support for HIV/AIDS research)
  • The XS’s nicer screen and somewhat-better camera weren’t worth the additional $250 especially considering it gets worse battery life
  • I mean seriously, I’m not going to pay $1000 for a phone (or even $800 after the rebate)

Okay, so here’s my impressions so far:

Oh god this thing is big. Like, okay, it’s slightly more comfortable to type with using both hands now (yay) but it’s basically impossible to use one-handed (boo). But that kind of doesn’t matter most of the time?

FaceID is pretty great. I had concerns about it but it unlocks really quickly and I don’t even have to think about using it.

The lack of a home button doesn’t bug me at all; the swipe-from-bottom gesture works very well. The only downside so far is I can’t tell by touch which way I’m holding the phone as easily.

Actually the “haptic” home button on the iPhone 8 was a problem; it doesn’t really work with my capacitive-screen-friendly gloves, and trying to unlock my phone while wearing them was difficult, as was going back to the home screen. I haven’t tried the XR with those gloves yet but I suspect it’ll be a much nicer experience overall.

Oh and the gestures have a huge advantage over the button: a sigle deliberate swipe is a lot easier for me to do than a series of repeated touches or taps, what with my various hand problems. The old home button would usually work well for me but I’d often end up accidentally doing one of the various accessibility functions (which I have no idea how to trigger now, I should look into that since I had them set up for a reason obviously [okay it looks like it’s just moved to the side button, which is fine]) or tapping too many times whenever I had a thumb tremor. So to that end this device feels way more accessible to me.

The phone just feels so heavy in my hands though. I suspect I’ll get used to it at some point – whenever I pick up one of my old phones from The Beforetimes it always feels so small and lightweight and I wonder how I ever put up with that – but jeeze. I also don’t know how well this will fit in my favorite pair of jeans. Women’s pockets tend to be a lot smaller than men’s pockets (although it at least fits fine in my corduroy pants, but those also have larger-than-average pockets). I do not anticipate this fitting into my various dresses' pockets.

The camera is fine. I should do a side-by-side comparison of the 8 vs. the XR, but I tend to prefer my actual DSLR for Real Photography anyway. There are plenty of comparisons online anyway, since that seems to be the only thing people care about in phones anyway (and not, like, how big it is or whether it fits in your pockets, because of course all the tech reporters seem to be men with cargo pants or something).

One thing people have pointed out a lot is that the XR’s single-lens camera doesn’t support portrait mode as fully as the XS’s dual-lens system. I give approximately zero fucks about portrait mode, which just looks like a fugly post-process effect to me anyway (because it is).

Okay, so, Animoji! I have some Feelings about that. It’s an impressive bit of tech. It’s fun to play with. I’m glad I finally have a phone which has it and where I can play with it. I love the technology behind it. It’s fun to pull up a little lion head and have it pose along with my physical face, and it actually gives this surprising sense of presence that I wasn’t expecting.

But I have some complaints about their actual selections of characters and Memoji characteristics.

On the plus side, I like how there’s a very wide range of skin tones – both human and fantastic – and a wide swath of cultural representation in hairstyles, garb, and so on. In fact the vast majority of those attributes seem to be things for people other than White Europeans, and that’s great! I also like how there’s no overt gendering to things, and you just choose a selection of characteristics that you feel best represent you.

On the minus side, a lot of the selections felt very limiting. Like, okay, you can only do specific colors (and shades of them) rather than having a full RGB selection and there’s no way to apply skin patterns or whatever, no way to craft your own furry avatar, right. But there’s also no way to realistically portray a lot of real-life characteristics:

  • There are three nose shapes, and they’re all very “standard” and normative. There is nothing even remotely approaching the shape of my nose. None of them would do a good job of representing a lot of my friends.
  • The accessories don’t include things like eyepatches or piercings
  • The headwear is all very European or Middle-Eastern. It’s great that they have plenty of selections like that, but where are the du-rags and the kippahs and the tams?

I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad that they didn’t limit it to just a handful of Euro-centric options, but it feels like they could have gone so much further.

Hopefully in the future they’ll open it up a bit so that people can create their own custom Memoji content, because I can totally see a huge demand for that (especially with FaceTime supporting an Animoji overlay).

But jeeze, I just cannot get past how big this thing is in my hand. Maybe I should have gone with the XS instead.


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