GPU Performance

The A12 SoC in the iPhone XSs showcased some fantastic results with some extremely high scores. We expect the iPhone XR to perform just as well – the only unknown factor here is the thermal designs of the two phones.

The iPhone XR actually differs quite a lot in this regard to its XS siblings: The iPhone XS and XS Max employ a “sandwiched PCB” motherboard design, in which the SoC lies between two substrates. While I don’t have empirical data on this, I just have to assume that such a design is not helpful for actually dissipating heat away from the SoC to the body of the phone.

iPhone XS vs. iPhone XR PCBs (Images Courtesy iFixit)

The iPhone XR on the other hand employs more of a traditional single PCB design, such as found in past iPhone models. The SoC here is found inside an EM shield facing towards the screen assembly. I was always questioning this a design as well because theoretically there should be a slight air gap between it and the display backplane which could hinder heat transfer. Also because the SoC is facing towards the display, it also doesn’t make direct contact with the aluminium frame of the phone. As Apple’s SoC’s become ever more power hungry at their peak performance states, it is weird to see that Apple hasn’t been any more aggressive in their thermal dissipation solutions as say what we now commonly see from some higher-end Android counter-parts.

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Physics

Starting off with the physics subtest, which is mainly a CPU test within a (GPU) thermally constrained scenario, we see the iPhone XR perform nearly equally to the iPhone XS, showcasing some very good sustained performance near the peak levels of the SoC.

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Graphics 

The graphics subtest of 3DMark also doesn’t seem to drastically differ from the iPhone XS. This was one of the tests that caused problems for the XS variants as it would cause the phones to crash the GPU at peak performance, only able to complete the test when the phones were warmer and throttled more. I re-tested the XS and did manage to somehow complete a run at a higher peak performance state, however my iPhone XS Max still managed to crash with the same behaviour as back in October.

Moving onto the GFXBench suite, starting off with the two variants of the new Aztec sub-test, which represents a more modern 3D workloads:

GFXBench Aztec Ruins - High - Vulkan/Metal - Off-screen GFXBench Aztec Ruins - Normal - Vulkan/Metal - Off-screen

The iPhone XR performed extremely well in these two tests, however we do note that there’s a difference in the peak performance showcased by the XR and the XS variants: It seems that Apple might be running the GPU at a slightly lower frequency here. This would match the slight difference in the peak 3DMark graphics score as well, and could be the reason why the iPhone XR didn’t crash in the same way the XS did.

GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 Off-screen GFXBench T-Rex 2.7 Off-screen

In the Manhattan 3.1 and T-Rex offscreen tests we see similar behaviour: the peak performance of the XR is slightly lower than that of the XS phones, however the sustained scores are higher.

One of the reason we use off-screen scores in our benchmark suite is that it allows for an apples-to-apples workload comparison across all devices. While in most cases this is a good and representative scenario for what you might expect from the thermals in actual games, this actually doesn’t seem to apply for the iPhone XR:

Because of the relatively low screen resolution on the part of the XR’s display – a sub-FHD 1792×828 – I’ve had a lot of trouble actually getting workloads to push the A12's GPU to its peak frequencies in on-screen scenarios. This causes an interesting dilemma for the iPhone XR: It has absolutely abundant GPU performance that won’t be used any-time soon. As game developers on iOS will be targeting and tuning their workloads to run smoothly on the most demanding devices of a generation, it means that games will most likely be setting their baseline as the higher-end iPhone XS Max, which has to push over twice the pixel resolution. The net result is that for any given 60fps graphics workload, the iPhone XR will run cooler and with a longer battery life than what you would experience on the XS or XS Max.

If gaming and gaming performance (and battery efficiency) is important for you, then the iPhone XR is definitely the phone to get. Not only does it deliver class-leading performance, but it also will be quite future proof in terms of performance thanks to the lower-resolution display.

System Performance Display Measurement
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  • soliloquist - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    From the charts, you are talking about 0.6 mm. Seems hard for me to believe that translates to "infinitely" more comfortable.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    As I mention in the review, it's not about absolute mm's, it's about the % difference. Take into account that what actually matters for in-hand feel is the edge thickness as well as the distance from edge to edge over the back. There is a very big difference in feel from the X/XS/XSM to the XR.
  • eastcoast_pete - Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - link

    While this is beyond the review of the phone itself, somebody else here pointed out that many buyers of such expensive phones will add a case to protect their investment. I certainly have a slim case around my (Android) phone. In that regard: Andrei, could you comment on drop resistance and likely damage? To be clear, I wouldn't expect you to actually try it out - not at those prices.
  • peterfares - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    0.6mm of extra thickness makes it too thick? I'm not sure I'd even be able to notice that.
  • colinstu - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    Man if I could get the XS Max with the XR's screen & price tag I'd be happy.
  • sing_electric - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    I still think that your initial guess - that the XR would be the best-selling model - will turn out to be true. Although launch dates/quarters of iPhones certainly bring a sales bump, the VAST majority of users out there just walk into a store when they've paid off their old phone, or it's starting to die, or they just feel like it's time, not caring whether the model launched a day ago or 6 months ago.

    Those people will buy the phone that looks like an iPhone and suits their budget - and that's going to be the XR. Moreover, by putting the XR in the MIDDLE size-wise, people who prefer bigger phones (which, based on people I've seen, includes a lot of older people with so-so vision, who wouldn't care about resolution), customers who walk in with say, an iPhone 7 Plus will look at the XR and not feel that it's a "step down" in terms of size, meaning that the XR is likely going to be an upgrade path for both budget-conscious owners of 4.7" iPhones AND the larger 5.5" Plus models.
  • howieb2001 - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    My wife has my XS Max as I prefer the XR. Couldn't care less about bezels, benchmarks and the like. This phone does everything very smoothly and has fantastic battery life. You can hammer it mercilessly for an 18 hour day and you won't get anywhere near to draining it. The camera is close to Pixel 3 standards. Great phone.
  • rrinker - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    I'm still using a 5S (go ahead, laugh, but it works perfectly fine, battery still lasts me all day, nothing wrong with it). All this talk of display and bezels - really? Panning a slight bezel is the whole reason we're in these stupid crazy phone wars in the first place. I'm an engineer, not a designer - I don't give a hoot as long as it works. In fact, the wider bezels just makes it easier to hold the phone without accidentally touching the screen and making pages flip or something else happen that you don't want. The screen density on the XR is exactly the same as my 5S. Close up - without magnification, I can't see the pixels. It's PLENTY sharp enough. A special zoom camera? My 5S already gets better photos at concerts than my GF's Samsung, which is also a WAY too huge a phone to hold to boot. The XR is probably still too big but there's not a lot of options these days. I have a tablet for reading, I don;t need my phone to be tablet size to make a damn phone call and occasionally web browse or read emails while on the go. The real question is, why WOULDN'T I get the XR as an upgrade, over the others. The others don't really do anything better for the extra money, and frankly I've never been a big fan of OLED displays. 4 year life span? See my first sentence. I keep using things until they break beyond economical repair. I'd still be on my old iPad if I hadn;t fallen asleep while reading on the patio last Summer and dropped it, it was the first one that had a lightning connector, still worked fine and did what I need a tablet to do, no reason for an upgrade just for the sake up upgrading. XR seems to be my best choice to upgrade if I bother - really can;t see a compelling reason to stop using the 5S yet though.
  • ZeroPointEF - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    I agree. I was in the market for a new phone, and picked up an XR for US$375. It is one of the best decisions I have made. I get 3 to 4 days out of a single battery charge, the screen is fantastic, and it is comfortable to hold. For someone that had nothing but disdain for iPhone, the changes that they made for the X series were just right for me to embrace the device. Android was always a sad comparison to my Windows Phone devices, but now I am firmly entrenched in the iOS and iPhone camp. If the XR still had a home button and didn't have the notch, I am not sure that the experience would have been as wonderful as it has been.
  • cha0z_ - Monday, February 11, 2019 - link

    375$ for that phone is more than a great price.

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