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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  • 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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