Apple is rumored to be announcing the iPhone 12 any day now. The new flagship will be a follow-up to the phone giant’s 2019 device, the iPhone 11. (Apple also released the iPhone SE 2020 in April. With that device, the company hopes to court more cost-conscious people with a $399 phone.) This close to the iPhone 12 launch, it may be worth waiting to buy a new iPhone, especially if Apple discounts the older iPhone 11 and iPhone XR as it shifts focus to its newer models.
But if you’re in the market for an older iPhone and starting your research early, keep reading. We compare the iPhone 11 , which starts at $699, with 2018’s iPhone XR , currently on sale for $450, to see which phone is the better buy today.
With dual rear cameras, Night Mode shooting and a 12-megapixel front-facing shooter, the iPhone 11 does have more tricks up its sleeves for photos and videos. But compared to the iPhone XR, which already takes fantastic pictures and video, the advantages are slight for the extra money you’ll pay. In addition, the iPhone 11 has a new U1 chip and Wi-Fi 6 and Gigabit LTE capabilities. You will see these next-gen features in future iPhones and Android devices, so if you want to have a modern phone for the next few years, the iPhone 11 is the best bet. But because Wi-Fi 6 and Gigabit LTE are not fully built-out networks yet, you won’t see any immediate advantages — another reason why we still prefer the iPhone XR. Read our Apple iPhone 11 review .
It might have an older processor and specs, but for the money you’ll be saving with the iPhone XR , we think it’s worth it. It runs iOS 13 just as smoothly as the iPhone 11 on its A12 chipset, and though it doesn’t have an ultrawide camera and the updated camera tech, the iPhone XR works just fine for posting photos on Instagram and social media, too. In general, if you’re on a tight budget, the iPhone XR is still a great value. We’d suggest either pocketing that extra cash for something else or using it to upgrade to the 128GB model. Read our Apple iPhone XR review .
How we tested
Design: Nearly identical and still as durable
The iPhone 11 and XR look nearly identical — the quickest way to identify them is by the iPhone 11’s extra camera and square bump. But besides that and the different color choices (the iPhone 11 comes in lavender, mint green and a pastel yellow, while the Phone XR comes in a canary yellow, coral and blue), there are no obvious differences. They are the same size and weigh the same, and the phones have the same 6.1-inch LCD display with the same resolution and pixel density.
We performed a series of drop tests on the iPhone 11 and XR, and both phones are quite sturdy. We dropped the iPhone 11 on its front and back on smooth concrete from 3 feet, 6 feet and 8 feet, 7 inches. On all drops, the phone’s back glass and screen didn’t crack. There was a small, cosmetic scratch above the camera lens from 8 feet, but the camera lens was completely fine.
When we dropped the iPhone XR back in 2018, we dropped it on a concrete sidewalk. At waist height (about 3 feet), the phone’s camera glass cracked, but the back glass survived. The screen also was unscathed. At eye-level (or around 5 feet), the iPhone XR survived a fall on its back with no new damage, but when we dropped it on its screen, the display ultimately cracked. Though that was unfortunate, the fact that the iPhone XR survived waist-high drops was still good.
Both phones are water-resistant, but the iPhone 11 has a higher IP rating of IP68 and can survive underwater at 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) for 30 minutes. The iPhone XR, meanwhile, is rated IP67 and can survive underwater to a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes on paper. When we took it out on dives , however, the iPhone XR kept on ticking even after 19 minutes underwater at a depth of 5 meters. In our water tests, we were unable to drown the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro , both phones surviving 30 minutes at a whopping 12 meters underwater. When it comes to water resistance, the iPhone 11 far exceeds both its own promises and the iPhone XR’s hardiness.
Camera: Latest updates give iPhone 11 the edge
Both phones have a 12-megapixel camera, but the iPhone 11 has a second, 12-megapixel ultrawide camera and a new Night Mode for low-light photography. All in all, outdoor and well-lit photos on both devices look similarly vibrant, with consistent and bright coloring on both cameras.
However, the iPhone 11 did take notably sharper photos with finer details, especially when pictures were viewed at full resolution. It also did a better job brightening up night time and dim photos with its new mode. The second ultrawide camera is useful when you want to fit more content into each frame or you want to capture more expansive scenes too. Its flash is a tad brighter as well, though we rarely use the feature. Lastly, we like that we can now take portrait photos of pets on the iPhone 11 (the iPhone XR does not recognize nonhuman faces for portraits, which is a drag). The iPhone 11 also makes use of a feature called Deep Fusion , which further improves detail and reduces image noise in photos.
As for video, footage on the Phone 11 has a tad better dynamic range, so lighting and exposure looks more even and natural. Video stabilization is a bit steadier as well on the standard 12-megapixel camera. But the wide-angle camera does not have optical image stabilization, and during 4K video recording you can only switch between cameras when you’re filming in 30fps (though both cameras can record 60fps).
On the front, the iPhone 11 has a 12-megapixel camera while the iPhone XR has a 7-megapixel camera. While we do welcome the extra resolution of the iPhone 11, we never really had many gripes with the iPhone XR’s front-facing camera, and if you’re a casual selfie-taker, the iPhone XR is definitely satisfactory. The iPhone 11’s front camera can also pull out for a wider point of view, record 4K video at 60fps and take slow-mo videos. But since we mostly use the front-facing camera for selfies, we didn’t really find ourselves using those last two features often.
iPhone 11 is faster
The iPhone 11 features Apple’s newest A13 Bionic processor, while the iPhone XR has 2018’s A12 chipset. For the most part, the iPhone 11 and XR both run iOS 13 as smooth and fast as the other. When it comes to day-to-day tasks like browsing the web, firing up the camera or opening apps, we couldn’t discern any speed differences. But on paper, the iPhone 11 is unquestionably the faster phone. As you can see by the benchmark results below, the newer iPhone far surpassed the iPhone XR and scored much higher on all the tests we ran.
While we’re currently in the middle of changing our battery test methodology for phones, we did test both the iPhone 11 and the iPhone XR with a new streaming video test. Here’s what we wrote in our iPhone 11 review: After conducting our formal battery tests and living with the iPhone 11 for over a month, we found the battery life is about the same as the iPhone XR. In our streaming video tests, the iPhone 11 lasted 13 hours and 52 minutes compared with the iPhone XR’s time of 12 hours and 7 minutes in the same test. In daily use, the iPhone 11 has been lasting about a day and a half.
iPhone 11 is more future-proof, but benefits come later
The iPhone 11 has a U1 chip for “spatial awareness,” according to Apple, and it helps iPhones find other iPhones more precisely when they’re in close proximity. The chip also lets you “point your iPhone toward someone else’s, and AirDrop will prioritize that device so you can share files faster.” Many believe that the U1 chip is actually laying the groundwork for a long-rumored Apple tile tracker.
The iPhone 11 has Wi-Fi 6 , which is the next generation of wireless networking. As CNET Senior Editor Ry Crist puts it , “Wi-Fi 6 supports faster top transfer speeds; lets devices send more information with each individual transmission; lets routers and other access points service more devices at once; helps sensors and other wireless gadgets conserve battery power by scheduling transmissions; and facilitates better, faster performance in dense, crowded environments like airports and stadiums.” But you likely won’t see any perks in your iPhone 11 now. Wi-Fi 6 was only recently certified in September , and Wi-Fi 6 routers are expensive.
The iPhone 11 has Gigabit LTE , an advanced version of 4G LTE. Gigabit LTE is really fast and can reach peak speeds of 1 gigabit per second, which is about the same speed as a landline internet connection. Apple introduced Gigabit LTE to its iPhone XS and XS Max in 2017, but the iPhone XR was oddly left out of the update. But the iPhone 11 has it, and while you likely won’t reach those speeds all the time, your overall speed is going to be faster than an older phone, and you have a lot more clearance when it comes to potential speed.
The iPhone 11 comes in a 256GB model . At $849 (£879, AU$1,449) it’s more expensive, but if you take a lot of photos and shoot a lot of videos, the extra onboard storage will come in handy — especially if you don’t really use cloud storage. Currently, Apple only sells 64GB and 128GB models of the iPhone XR.
Originally published Oct 10, 2019.
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