I don’t think I’m alone in admitting that I never buy the latest iPhone unless something catastrophic happens to the model I own. For example, I somehow was able to stretch using an iPhone 6S until just a few months ago, when my food photos and DJ practice videos succumbed to the dreaded Error 14, which prevented my iPhone from booting at all. I had two choices: Buy a new iPhone or pay a data specialist in Northern California $1,000 to get my videos back.
So I opted for a new iPhone 12 mini for my small hands. But if I wanted a larger phone, I might have considered grabbing an iPhone XR instead. Available for $499 (versus $729 for the mini), the model received high marks when it was released, and it’s still pretty great three years later. As we wrote at the time, “When you take everything into consideration—price, design, storage, camera, battery life, and performance—the iPhone XR might be the best iPhone Apple has ever made, even if it’s not technically the most advanced.” Of course, the XR is no longer Apple’s best phone—and in fact, has a slightly slower processor than the $399 iPhone SE—but it’s plenty capable.
iPhone 12 mini
5.94 x 2.98 x 0.33 inches
5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29 inches
5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches
6.1-inch Liquid Retina HD LCD
5.4-inch Super Retina XDR OLED
4.7-inch widescreen LCD
Dual 12MP Ultra Wide and Wide
12MP Wide camera
Up to 16 hours (video playback)
Up to 15 hours (video playback)
Up to 13 hours (video playback)
Black, White, Red, Yellow, Coral, Blue
Black, White, Red, Green, Blue, Purple
Black, White, Red
The biggest difference between the XR and the SE is the screen. While both phones have LCD screens rather than the newer OLED tech, the iPhone SE’s display is just 4.7 inches while the XR’s display is the same size as the iPhone 12 at 6.1 inches. Both the SE and the XR have single 12MP rear cameras so you’ll want to jump up to the iPhone 11 or 12 for dual cameras or night mode, but you still get features like portrait mode, portrait lighting, and Smart HDR.
My best friend doesn’t have a budget for the latest technology and, like me, never buys the newest iPhone model. She recently upgraded from the iPhone 7 to an iPhone XR and for her minimal uses, there haven’t been any cons. “One of the reasons I upgraded to the XR from the iPhone 7 was for the bigger screen and I really like it,” she explained. “Although it seems huge compared to my old iPhone, it’s not so big that I feel like I’m lugging around an iPad Mini. It still fits in my jacket pocket and purse without a problem.”
Compared to the iPhone 7, she also likes that the XR charges quickly (50 percent charge in a half-hour with 20W adapter) and has a better battery life (up to 16 hours of video playback versus 13 hours on the iPhone 7). She’s also getting advanced features such as Face ID and the A12 Bionic processor that supports all of iOS 15’s features. For her purposes, the iPhone SE is too small and that’s basically why the XR exists: to fill that gap.
Good for some
I’m the opposite of my friend when it comes to what we look for in a phone. While we both like bargains, she gravitated toward the larger display and I chose the iPhone 12 mini instead of the iPhone 12 for its petite frame, which is very similar in size to the 6S.
I can’t imagine ever owning one of the larger models, and for that reason alone, the XR wouldn’t have been the right purchase for me. But if it was smaller, I would have considered it. Even as someone who essentially puts new iPhone purchases on layaway and then keeps it until the wheels fall off, an iPhone XR mini would have kept me happy for years to come, and I’m sure my friend will still love hers when the iPhone 15 is on shelves.
While I’m happy that I bought the more powerful phone now, the iPhone XR could be a sound purchase for someone who will never veer anywhere near spending $1,000 for an iPhone. However, there are definite sacrifices. The XR’s thick bezels, an LCD screen that always needs backlighting, and a single camera can be off-putting when buying a phone in 2021. There’s also the fact that the iPhone 13 will arrive in just about a month. Based on history, the iPhone 11 will more than likely take the place of the iPhone XR at the $499 tier, so that’s a huge consideration.
But even taking all that into account, for a three-year-old phone in 2021, the iPhone XR is still a surprisingly good value at $499.