Display Measurement

The display of the iPhone XR is likely its most discussed hardware feature, simply because Apple chose to diverge from the OLED screens on the XS models and instead use a more traditional LCD screen. While that in itself shouldn’t have caused too much talk, Apple also made the interesting choice to go with a relatively low-resolution 1792 x 828 panel. This represents a lower pixel density than what we would expect out of a sizable 6.1” (diagonal) display.

The following pictures are some close-up shots of the iPhone XR next to the iPhone XS – unaltered at the full resolution of my DLSR. The pictures are best compared when you open up the full resolution images.

Cropping 1:1 areas with the same icons on both phones, we have almost the same feature sizes so it allows for a good direct comparison.

When you have both phones side-by-side, it very quickly becomes evident that the iPhone XR isn’t able to compete with the sharpness of the XS models. While the LCD panel does allows for better defined right-angle edges, its definition on anything else is clearly lower than that of the iPhone XS. The most evident difference of this is on text such as the clock icon’s numbers (the icon labels aren’t a good comparison because of different font sizes); here the XS panel is just very much ahead in practical spatial resolution.

In every-day use-cases where you would browse your phone at an arm-length away, these differences are hard to notice, and it should not cause any issues for the majority of users. Though if you do like to hold your phone close to your face – as I like to do late at night in bed – then you might find it hard to get used to the less defined and blurrier text of the iPhone XR. I think the main issue I have with the iPhone XR’s display is that it’s actually somewhat of a downgrade from the iPhone 8 Plus in terms of resolution – while I understand that Apple wanted to use a more affordable panel, I do think it would have prudent to at least match the 401ppi pixel density of an iPhone 8 Plus.

While the resolution of the iPhone XR screen is a debatable topic and is something that should be decided by users by experiencing it themselves, the other aspects of the LCD panel are things that Apple definitely got right: The screen offers absolutely excellent viewing angles, even when viewed from off-axis. This is a simple characteristic that many vendors often get wrong when choosing an LCD display panel, yet Apple always manages to be on-point in this regard.

We move on to the display calibration and fundamental display measurements of the XR screen. As always, we thank X-Rite and SpecraCal, as our measurements are performed with an X-Rite i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer, with the exception of black levels which are measured with an i1Display Pro colorimeter. Data is collected and examined using SpectraCal's CalMAN software.

SpectraCal CalMAN

SpectraCal CalMAN

At our standard 200 nits measurement point, the iPhone XR is absolutely spot-on in terms of greyscale accuracy, even though it’s just ever so slightly above a D65 white target. The colour temperature seems to vary with brightness, as at peak brightness the phone goes down to a 6500K average CCT. It’s to be noted at these levels the display has weak greens – I personally can’t perceive this just looking at the phone, but holding it side-by-side next to the XS makes it more apparent. Nevertheless, it’s not an issue in my view.

Peak brightness goes up to 694 nits on my unit – about 40 nits higher than what I’ve been able to measure on the XS and XS Max. The greyscale calibration here only seems to slightly miss one aspect: the gamma is just a bit too high, with an average of 2.28, and this seems to be skewed at higher brightness levels, where it can have a gamma of up to 2.4. We can see this in the greyscale comparison image, as we see some of the tones being slightly darker than the reference target.

SpectraCal CalMAN

Apple has full support for colour management and the display as well as the OS is able to concurrently display sRGB content alongside wider gamut Display P3 D65 images. Saturation level accuracy in both gamuts is fantastic, coming in at DeltaE2000 of 1.24 and 1.17 for sRGB and P3 targets respectively. While the results are not quite as industry-leading as on the XS, they are both great results and you’d be very hard to perceive the differences.

SpectraCal CalMAN

SpectraCal CalMAN

The Gretag MacBeth collection of commonly found color tones again showcases some good results, with a dE2000 of 1.47. The comparison image only shows a slight difference in the luminance of the tones, something that can be attributed to the higher gamma of the screen.

Overall, the iPhone XR display is a very high quality screen when it comes to its fundamentals such as brightness, contrast (for an LCD) as well as excellent viewing angles. Apple’s colour calibration, while not quite matching that of its XS siblings, is still beyond what we usually find in other smartphones and should represent absolutely no issue. And the slightly higher gamma should not be something that it perceivable in every-day use-cases.

The resolution of the screen is actually my only real gripe about the display, and I do think that Apple was a bit too conservative in this regard. I use my phones a lot at night in bed where I have the screen closer to me – and this is one case where I would prefer a higher resolution. Again this is a subjective view on the topic and you’d best evaluate it yourself in person – but even though all other aspects of the XR’s screen are excellent, it does feel like a compromise for the phone.

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  • shabby - Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - link

    Typical iPhone user, you give them an identical phone but in a different color and they'll say it's faster, smoother and lighter.
  • Byte - Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - link

    My friend finally upgraded from his original 6 to an XR after his camera died. He says the 6 feels faster. Go figure.
  • 808Hilo - Thursday, February 7, 2019 - link

    The same new phone now newer. Waiting will cost you.
    Cook really has no new ideas but that's not what the church of apple is all about. Tithe one tenth of your income for the promise of salvation.

    @shabby you summed it up. Its a psychiatrical condition.
  • Azethoth - Tuesday, February 12, 2019 - link

    Typical Android user. Just admit that Apple has the faster CPU and GPU on a smartphone and move on. Just don't lecture us about how superior you are because 5 or 6 hundred of you "customize" your phones.
  • cha0z_ - Monday, February 11, 2019 - link

    More likely it has to do with the screen itself (the panels are different after all, albeit both designed around the same tech and pixels density).
  • Samus - Saturday, February 9, 2019 - link

    The huge advantage of keeping this phone with an LCD (particularly one lacking 3D Touch) is the repair/replacement cost is a fraction of the OLED screens. There are no decent 3rd party OLED screens from any phone vendors in my experience so your either stuck with new OEM screens (which Apple doesn’t sell to end users) or harvested screens from used phones.

    At last glance Apple charges $300 for an Xs and $350 for an Xs Max screen. That’s double that of the 8 series and nearly double that of the Xr.

    And that’s from Apple. Considering the simplicity in manufacturing and repairing LCD screens, especially those without 3D Touch, you can find quality screens from 3rd parties for under $100 and do it yourself in 30 minutes with a screwdriver and a hair dryer.

    Since 50% of smartphone users have reported breaking their phone screens AT LEAST ONCE at some point, this is a huge boon to the Xr’s long term investment cost.
  • zodiacfml - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    But plenty people like to show off that they have an expensive phone, hence, the value of the iPhone X despite the existence of the new XR.
  • shouterreview - Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - link

    I am XR user too, I love iPhone 7. But I have some display issue. How to solve it?
  • Lolimaster - Thursday, February 7, 2019 - link

    The resolution is just craptastic vs a 5.8" S9 where you can have TRUE 1080p RGB AMOLED when going 1080p in the options down from 1440 pentile mode.
  • star-affinity - Thursday, February 7, 2019 - link

    I have trouble seeing why a ”TRUE 1080p” display is so important on such a small device as an Iphone XR. I think the resolution is just fine. Black levels are more of a concern to me since the backlight of the LCD makes black slightly greyish compared to an OLED display.

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