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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  • eastcoast_pete - Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - link

    Interesting point. I don't know enough about the details of Apple's OLED displays on the XS and the Max, but, if you're right, it also means that Apple's claimed pixel density is slightly dishonest, or at least in need of a footnote. Now, regardless of density, the XS and Max have a very good looking and crisp display, as they should at those prices.
  • mkozakewich - Thursday, February 7, 2019 - link

    That's a good assessment. I find I like the pentile arrangement more, but only if it's got the same base density as an rgb stripe. The crops of the XS and XR show how similar they are except for the subpixel layout.
  • Ananke - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    When I compare my iPhone8 display to my Galaxy 8 or 9 displays - the difference is huge. iPhone XR has the same 720p display. It is not bad, but definitely less sharp and less colorful then Samsungs, and definitely not worth $750. The XR would've been a perfect buy around $400, or free-$100 per line after contract, but indeed I agree with the previous comment - Apple created it just to have something that doesn't jeopardize its XS sales. Apple simply wants average sale price to be above the $1000 mark, and that's it. Simple. We all saw how it worked for them on Wall Street though :) :)
  • uhuznaa - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    Absolutely, yes. Apple could have used a higher resolution display and made the battery a bit smaller to arrive at the same or even less thickness as the XS (-0.6 mm), but then fewer people would buy the more expensive iPhones with a better margin for Apple. They're fully in the zero-sum mindset now, which is a natural consequence of trying to maximize profits instead of market share.
  • jakoh - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    Maximizing profits can sometime start to bite you.
    Apple phones are so expensive.
    I understand that Samsung phones are expensive too. But often you can get a note 9 for $750-799. When can you say that about iPhone Xs or Xs max?
  • mrochester - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    Probably in a couple of years time.
  • cha0z_ - Monday, February 11, 2019 - link

    I got my note 9 on contract from my carrier for half the price that I would had given for iphone xs max from the carrier too. I literally could had taken 2 note 9 phones instead of one iphone. No carrier sub for iphones and this creates insane price differences, then I would have to buy a new charger as the one in the box is insanely slow and headphone adapter. Even if we agree that the xs max is a better phone (tho this can be debated as some things that the note 9 can do, the iphone can't) - it's not that much better to spend twice the money on it, but each on it's own for that one.
  • lightsout565 - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    "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 and 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."

    It's only a downgrade when compared to the 8 Plus. The XR and the 8 have the same PPI so this wording is a little misleading.

    Also, when comparing the 100% crop of the XS and XR, the main noticeable difference as you say was the clock icon numbers. This text is at a point size that no-one would realistically be reading in practice. I'd be more interested in 100% crops of the the icon label text, the text in a message/email, etc. I'm curious how the sharpness holds up on larger system fonts at a point size you'd realistically be reading.
  • tipoo - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    I have a 7 at the same 326PPI and I easily see some graininess around text at any size fwiw. Same with the curves on icons and notification dots.
  • jell0king - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    After owning an XR and returning it to get a year old X I have to agree with your assessment of the design of the phone: It's just to thick.

    The thickness of the phone is immediately noticeable and i hadn't even put a case on it yet. The X/XS/XS Max are infinitely more comfortable to hold for extended periods of time. Why I haven't seen this mentioned in other reviews is mind boggling but for me the phone was very uncomfortable to hold.

    I could live with the low res screen and thick bezels, loved the battery life and I enjoy the 'fun' colors...but that thickness was just a deal-breaker.

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