- The Mobiles Blog

November 08, 2018

Know Your Mobile Blog

Xiaomi's Mi 8 Pro Hits The UK, And You Won't Believe The Price

Damien McFerran 08/11/2018 - 3:50pm

The Apple of the East is shaking things up

Today, Chinese giant Xiaomi signalled its intentions to enter the UK market with a series of products at super-competitive prices.

The big news was the arrival of the Mi 8 Pro, Xiaomi's flagship handset which comes with a Snapdragon 845 chipset, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a 6.21" AMOLED FHD+ display and an in-screen fingerprint scanner – all for £499.

Xiaomi's phones are famous for being cheap and powerful, but many doubt that the company could keep its prices low outside of China. The Mi 8 Pro being less than £500 proves that it can, and we imagine it will have rivals like OnePlus feeling seriously nervous. The OnePlus 6T suddenly has a significant competitor on UK soil.

The Mi 8 Pro has been turning heads since its launch this year in China, but up until now those living outside of Xiaomi's homeland have been forced to turn to Chinese resellers and risk paying high import fees. Now, it's going to be possible to purchase the company's leading phone without having to worry about any of that – and you'll have a valid UK warranty to boot.

Xiaomi also revealed that it is releasing its Mi Band 3 fitness tracker for a bargain-basement price of £26.99, and is also bundling it with the Redmi 6A for a stunning £99, exclusively through UK network 3.

That's not all – Xiaomi is also opening its first UK store on November 18th, at Westfield White City in London.

by dmcferran at November 08, 2018 03:50 PM

Pixel 3 Owners Aren't Happy About The Phone's Display

Damien McFerran 08/11/2018 - 2:19pm

LG strikes again?

The Google Pixel 3 is out now, and we've been lucky enough to have spent some time with the handset ahead of our full review. While we'll save complete impressions until then, we can say that it's one of the most delightful devices we've seen in 2018 so far; stock Android is a joy to use and the phone's camera really is something else.

There's just one glaring issue, and it's the screen.

If you followed developments surrounding the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL last year, you'll no doubt recall that a lot of Pixel 2 XL owners had serious problems with the phone's LG-made OLED screen, such as 'colour shift' and pink hues. Some phones would have screens which had a pink gradient either at the top or bottom, while others had a pinkish tone when compared to OLEDs produced by other companies.

What brought this issue into sharp relief was that Google picked not one but two display makers for its Pixel 2 models – LG made the screen for the larger XL, while Samsung produced the screen for the smaller edition. Samsung is arguably the king of smartphone OLED panels, and while its record isn't totally perfect, it seems to have perfected the production process to a point where its screens look brilliant across most devices (it supplies Apple with OLEDs for the new iPhones).

Fast forward to the present, and you might assume that Google – having seen the number of reports from unhappy Pixel 2 XL users – would have switched solely to Samsung as its display supplier. However, that's not the case, and this year the company has swapped things around; LG now creates the display for the smaller Pixel 3 while Samsung makes the one found in the Pixel 3 XL. The end result is very much the same, however: disgruntled customers.

A quick glance online shows that a worrying number of people are reporting that their Pixel 3 phones are exhibiting pink gradients on the screen, just like last year's Pixel 3 XL.

Reddit user mikehitchco commented:

"So my Pixel 3 came today, and the bottom half of the screen has really bad pinkish tone distortion. It persists after reset and is visible at all angles, including head on.

I was REALLY hoping after the Pixel 2 XL mess (I went through a bunch to get one with a decent screen) this would be solved. But apparently Google still can't manage to make phones with good screen."

Another reddit user, Mjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj, added:

"In the photo gallery you can see my OG Pixel 1, the original Pixel 3 I received from Google in the middle and its replacement on the right. I can still see some pink in the photo on the replacement device in specific conditions but it is not as noticeable as the first one, especially in person."

Meanwhile, Jrlutz31 decided to visit a store to compare the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, and found the same issue was present:

"People reporting that the top half of the pixel 3 screen is pink. I checked them out in store and noticed the same thing too. Glad I ended up going with the XL. This would drive me insane."

Another reddit user by the name of GrayBoltWolf supplied more evidence, this time on a grey image:

Tekstical was even told by Google that this fault is 'normal':

"Well I got my pixel 3 yesterday a week ahead of time and man I was excited. Looks so much better than the pixel 2, started using it and noticed the screen is 2 different colors.

Top half is white like normal and the bottom half has a strong pink tint to it that I couldn't get over. Chatted with Google help and they repeatedly told me it was normal and it's just oled shift, totally fine.

I have an LG oled tv that's not half pink so I find that difficult to believe. Well Google wouldn't RMA it, and kept telling me it's normal. So I returned it. I'm pissed, I waited for this phone and then Google pretty much just told me I'm not seeing what I'm seeing. So they would rather lose a customer rather than send me an 800 dollar phone that's not screwed up out of the box. I hope anyone else who has to deal with this has better luck than I. They were super happy to tell me to kick rocks."

Granted, these are just a handful of cases, but we noticed on our own review unit of the Pixel 3 that the same issue is present. It's difficult to see on a 'busy' display and is only barely visible on a pure white screen, but when the automatic brightness kicks in and the screen is dimmed, it becomes obvious – and, maddeningly, it's impossible to un-see once you know it's there.

Below is a shot of our review unit alongside a Galaxy S9+ sporting one of Samsung's latest AMOLED panels. Both phones are showing the exact same white JPG; night mode has been enabled and the brightness has been reduced to zero to fully show the gradient effect. You can also see how 'pink' the Pixel 3's display is compared to Samsung's.

While OLED is a trickier process to perfect than LCD and even Samsung has wobbles every now and then (a Know Your Mobile review Galaxy S7 had the same issue a few years back), it would seem that LG is really struggling to meet an acceptable standard on its displays – despite the fact that its OLED TV sets are brilliant.

According to Ars Technica:

"Samsung has been working for several years to mature its phone OLED panel technologies. LG has been working for years doing the same on TVs. LG’s display division reportedly wanted to focus on larger panels for a long time, so the company is now playing catch-up on mobile. But regardless of the manufacturer, not all OLED panels are created equal; that picture gets even clearer when comparing phones and TVs. The technology may have been around for years now, but it’s still only just maturing—especially when it comes to mobile."

The issue here is that LG is playing catch-up with phones that cost over £700 – hardly loose change in most people's eyes. Of course, a pink gradient on your screen doesn't suddenly render it unusable and many people may not even notice, even if their phone has colour shifting problems. Still, if you're fussy about these things – we know we are – then you may want to pick the Pixel 3 XL over its more pocket-sized sibling, which is a shame because the standard Pixel 3 is one of very few 'small' handsets on the market right now.

by dmcferran at November 08, 2018 02:13 PM

November 07, 2018

Know Your Mobile Blog

Best iPhone XR Cases

Damien McFerran 07/11/2018 - 10:06am

Get that shiny new iPhone some protection

Apple's shiny new handset is finally here, but there's something a little off about this release – Apple itself hasn't produced any official cases for the iPhone XR (yet, at least). Perhaps the company is keen for its fans to show off those vibrant colours when they're out on the street? Whatever the reason, it's perhaps harder than usual to pick which case you want for your new handset, so we've come to your aid and pulled together the best selection of iPhone XR cases on the market right now.

Olixar Ultra-Thin iPhone XR Case - 100% Clear

One of the cheapest options on this list, the Olixar Ultra-Thin iPhone XR Case is made from soft, bendy plastic and provides a snug and bulk-free means of protecting your investment. It's not going to stop damage from huge drops – you'll need a much more robust case for that – but it will prevent knocks and scratches from sullying the pristine surface of your brand new XR. If you want a case that barely feels like its there, it's a solid choice.

Olixar MeshTex iPhone XR Case

It's just a couple of quid more than the Ultra-Thin case but worth the additional outlay if you'd prefer something a little more solid. The snap-on MeshTex is made from solid plastic with lots of little holes inserted, so you can see the phone underneath. Again, this isn't going to offer very much protection in the event of a fall onto solid ground, but it will prevent marks, bumps and other low-level damage – and it looks great to boot.

UAG Plasma iPhone XR Protective Case

This case is perfect for those of you who worry that they're going to drop their precious new iPhone on a daily basis. UAG's reputation as a creator of rugged cases is well deserved; this case adds a lot of bulk to your phone but protects it in all the key places, meaning that it will survive drops from considerable heights. UAG's cases have a distinct appearance that arguably won't be for everyone, but if you value safety over looks then this is something of a no-brainer, especially when you consider the reasonable price point.

Ghostek Exec 3 Series iPhone XR Wallet Case

While it looks a bit odd – the 'wallet' flap on the front only covers two-thirds of the display – we actually quite like the Exec 3 Series case. The cut-out at the top allows you to see notifications as they come in without having to actually open the case, and the transparent back means that lovely Apple logo is exposed for the world to see. On top of all that, this is a pretty sturdy case which will allow your phone to survive accidental drops.

Mujjo Genuine Leather iPhone XR Case

Mujjo isn't messing around when it comes to cases; the company uses the finest quality leather to create products which look and feel utterly gorgeous – hence the rather steep price when compared to some of the other case options listed here. It's XR range includes plain cases and wallet-based options, which have a flap on the back into which you can insert two credit cards. The leather ages beautifully and provides a surprising degree of protection without bulking out the device too much. They might cost a fair bit, but Mujjo's cases come highly recommended.

Krusell Broby iPhone XR Leather Case

If shiny leather isn't your thing, then this genuine suede leather case might fit the bill. Krusell has used leather which has been "sourced and treated adhering to the highest social and environmental certifications" apparently, and it shows; the Broby looks fantastic and feels great in the hand, although it's worth noting that suede ages in a different manner to shiny leather.

Tech21 Evo Luxe Liberty London iPhone XR Case

All of the cases we've featured thus far have been on the understated side, so here's one that really pushes the boat out. Designed by Liberty London, it comes in an eye-catching (that means bright, we think) Azelia red finish, and can withstand drops of up to 10 feet, despite being thin and light. Sure, that colour isn't going to be to everyone's tastes, but you can't say this case doesn't make an impression.

Otterbox Pursuit Series iPhone XR Tough Case

Otterbox is famous for its seriously tough cases, and this example is sure to follow the same tradition. It boasts certified 'Drop+' protection and a dual material construction, both of which offer incredible security when it comes to clumsiness. The shell is scratch-resistant and despite all of the protection on offer, it's still thin and pocket-friendly. All of this comes with a hefty price tag, but Otterbox fans will know that quality doesn't come cheaply.

Nodus Shell Case II + Micro Dock

Can you tell we love leather cases? Nodus is another company which specialises in producing this kind of product and its XR case is handcrafted from full grain veg tanned Italian leather, is Qi Wireless compatible and even features magnetic shielding. The soft microfibre lining protects your phone when the case is fitted, while the poly-carbonate core prevents damage from accidental drops. It even comes with a magnetic 'micro dock' which allows you to clip the phone onto pretty much any surface. It's on the pricey side, but this is a quality case.

Thanks to Mobile Fun for supplying the iPhone XR cases used in this review.

by dmcferran at November 07, 2018 10:01 AM

November 06, 2018

Know Your Mobile Blog

Grab Yourself A Xiaomi-Flavoured Bargain Thanks To GearBest

Damien McFerran 06/11/2018 - 1:26pm

Pick Up The Xiaomi Mi A2 Lite For Just £113

Xiaomi's making a big push in Europe this year, after years of being largely exclusive to its native China. In case you didn't know, Xiaomi is one of the most successful smartphone companies in the world and is often called "The Apple of the East". Unlike its North America rival however, Xiaomi prides itself on selling phones at rock-bottom prices and instead generating revenue via its range of supporting services.

While Xiaomi is looking to expand in the UK soon, there's no reason to wait if you want to bag yourself a bargain. Chinese online reseller GearBest has just kicked off its 11.11 promotion which includes some notable Xiaomi handsets, and the even better news is that the retailer ships direct to the UK.

GearBest sells global versions of Xiaomi's phones which means you'll get full English language support and Google apps pre-installed – something that a lot of other Chinese retailers don't provide.

As part of the 11.11 offer, you can pick up the superb Xiaomi Mi A2 Lite, which runs Android One and is therefore assured a long stream of software updates direct from Google itself. GearBest is selling this particular phone – which boasts dual cameras and a fingerprint scanner – for just £113. Yes, you read that correctly.

The Mi A2 Lite has a 5.84 inch, 2280 x 1080 LCD screen and is rocking a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 Octa Core chipset, along with 3GB of RAM. There's 32GB of storage and you can expand that amount with cheap MicroSD cards – or you can use that second slot to insert another Nano SIM. It's also got a massive 4000mAh battery for impressive stamina, making it a solid all-round option if you want a quality smartphone that doesn't cost the earth.

When you look at what companies like Motorola and Huawei are charging for their budget devices in the UK, asking just over £100 for this handset is a bit of a steal – and GearBest has other offers coming over the next few days, so it's worth keeping your eyes on the site.

by dmcferran at November 06, 2018 01:21 PM

November 05, 2018

Know Your Mobile Blog

Camera Shoot-Out: iPhone XR Vs. Google Pixel 3 Vs. Samsung Galaxy S9+

Damien McFerran 05/11/2018 - 4:01pm

The king of the snappers, 2018 edition

More so than ever before, the quality of your smartphone camera has become a real sticking point for many buyers. A few years ago people were willing to put up with slow focus time and muddy images purely because their phone having a camera was a convenience rather than an expected necessity. Today, the situation is rather different; phones have cameras which are rivalling the kind of quality you'd normally associate with a DSLR, and thanks to rapidly-improving AI tricks they can produce stunning 'bokeh' effects which look just like the real thing.

But which phone is best if you want to get the finest possible shots from a smartphone? We decided to test three of 2018's flagship devices to see which comes out on top: the recently-released iPhone XR, the Google Pixel 3 and the Samsung Galaxy S9+. We took a series of shots using all three phones (auto mode with no tinkering) to see how each one performs. The results are below.

This bookshelf was our first subject. Both the Pixel 3 and iPhone XR took really colourful snaps – check out the brightness of the yellows – while the Galaxy S9+ looked ever-so-slightly washed-out in comparison. The red colours in the XR shot look a little muted, however.

Next up was a pair of trees. Interestingly, both the S9+ and XR produced brighter images in this shot, with the Pixel 3 making the tree on the left appear a lot darker. The sky is also a lighter hue in the photos taken by Apple and Samsung's devices, while we detect a little more detail on the leaves of the right-hand tree in the Pixel 3 shot. We'd also argue that the sky has more range in terms of colour on Google's phone.

There's no a massive amount of difference between the three phones with this close-up shot of a flower. If pushed, we'd have to say that the XR produces the best snap – check out the more pronounced colour gradiant between the pink and the white on the petals.

This dark, indoor shot shows how much effort Samsung and Google have put into improving low-light photography on their phones. The S9+'s variable aperture means that more light enters the sensor and we get a brighter snap – albeit one which loses a bit of fine detail. The Pixel 3 isn't quite as bright but boasts sharp detail – impressive stuff when you consider this was taken in very dark conditions. The XR comes in last place here; the image is fuzzy and very dark.

Now for a portrait-mode selfie. All three phones cope well as far as edge detection is concerned; remember, the S9+ is the only device in this shoot-out which comes with a secondary snapper for depth information – both the Pixel 3 and XR are using software to create the same effect. The Pixel 3 and S9+ snaps are of similar quality, while the iPhone snap appears to feature the controversial 'beauty' effect – notice how the skin is smoothed and the cheeks are ever-so-slightly rosy? You may prefer this; to be honest, it does result in a more appealing image. We also like the way in which the XR shot gradually fades out of focus over the hairline.

This close shot of some flowers comes out well on all three phones. The Pixel 3 'sees' the blue flowers in a slightly darker shade, but that's about it.

This long-shot is interesting. The Pixel 3 image is darker, but arguably has a lot more detail. Both the S9+ and XR images are 'softer' with lighter colours. Compare the trunk of the tree on the left in the Samsung and Apple shots with the Pixel 3 one – it looks a lot darker in Google's image.

The Verdict?

As expected, it's a close call. All three of these phones are engineered to take amazing shots, but the way in which they go about that is slightly different in each case. Google uses AI to improve its images and boost low-light snaps, whereas Samsung has come up with a mechanical solution – a variable aperture – to achieve better images in darkened environments. Based on our findings, Google's approach is the superior one.

However, there were points during our test where it became clear that the Pixel 3 was producing much darker and less colourful images than its rivals – not in every situation, it should be noted, but it was apparent. This was, in all honesty, a more accurate representation of the real-world environment (all of these outdoor snaps were taken on a rather dull and overcast day) but the fact that both the iPhone and Galaxy S9+ could pick out more colour suggests that they're the ones to go for if you like punchy images with plenty of 'zing'.

It's important to point out that the Galaxy S9+ has a second telephoto camera which we didn't test here – largely because the Pixel 3 and XR lack this feature. This is helpful for close-up shots, and it's worth noting that the XR's bigger brother, the XS, has one of these also. Google opts for a digital zoom solution which is impressive, but not quite as good.

So which should you go for? To be brutally honest, it's hard to really say; we wouldn't want to recommend a single one of these phones purely based on its camera, as there are a lot more things to consider.

They're all excellent and all have strengths and weaknesses; the Pixel 3 is amazing in low light (and will get even better once Google turns on its enhanced night mode shooting feature) but occasionally took rather dull images during our test. The XR struggles in low light but is capable of producing some really colourful shots. The S9+ is somewhere in the middle; it likes to make each image bright and breezy and can take good images in the dark, but those pictures are often subject to poor detail.

Our advice? Have a read of our reviews of each phone and see what you make of the full package, and if you can't choose between them, have a look at the images above and pick the phone which produces the ones you like the most.

Thanks to Mobile Fun for supplying the iPhone XR, Google Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S9+ used in this feature.

by dmcferran at November 05, 2018 03:39 PM

12.9in and 11in iPad Pro Review Roundup

Michael Grothaus 05/11/2018 - 12:05pm

Probably the best tablet ever–and maybe a true laptop replacement.

Apple last week unveiled the new iPad Pros–and they featured the biggest redesigns in the product’s history. Following in the footsteps of the iPhone X, Apple decided to ditch the Home button on the iPad Pro, replacing it with Face ID.

That also means that Apple could stretch the screen size of the Pros edge-to-edge. In other words, you’re getting a Pro with a larger screen, but not in a larger body compared to the last generation.

The new Pros also include the A12X Bionic chip, which Apple says is faster than the chips found in most PC laptops. The iPad Pros have also done away with the headphone jack and the Lightning port, replacing it with a USB-C port. The new Pros don't come out until Wednesday, but some publications have gotten their hands on review units. Here’s what they're saying about Apple’s latest tablet:

The Verge

“It’s also impossible to look at the iPad Pro and not be struck by its design. This is the first truly new Apple mobile hardware design in a long while, and it has a deeper connection to the MacBook Pro than the iPhone or previous iPads. Instead of rounded corners and soft shapes, the iPad Pro is all hard corners and flat sides, with massive, asymmetrical antenna lines on the back and a huge camera bump. Most people I showed our space gray review unit to thought it looked cool, but I think it’s kind of brutal looking — almost like a reference design.

“Those squared off edges and smaller bezels change the screen-to-body ratio in positive ways: the 11-inch model fits a larger screen in the same size body as the old 10.5-inch model, and the 12.9-inch model shrinks the body down to fit the screen, making it much less clumsy to use than the outgoing model.”


“This tablet is excellent, and easily the best Apple has ever made - but you'll need to know how to use it to get the best out of it. Designed, as the name suggests, for the professional, those in key industries will love the power, precision and overall quality on offer here. If you're a 'standard' user, then you'll be buying this iPad Pro as a luxury device, a media powerhouse - but get ready to pay out for the privilege.”


“By every measure I can think of, these are the best, most powerful, most capable iPads I’ve ever used. They put other tablets to shame.

“But Apple has begged the question: Can an 11-inch ($799) or 13-inch ($999) iPad Pro replace your need for a MacBook or Windows PC at work? It’s possible, but you’ll need the right kind of occupation, and a lot of patience and determination.

“No laptop can emulate the drawing capabilities of the Apple Pencil, or feel as natural to hold and use with touch. It’s not even close. The iPad Pro has a clear lead over PCs there.”


“The iPad's a beautifully designed thing, now -- practically perfected, from a pure hardware perspective. The whole screen ratio to body size is just right, and the thickness, and everything else. Now it needs the accessories, the keyboards and trackpads, and the inputs, and maybe a more advanced OS that shows more on screen at once.

“But without the apps that show off what it can do, and push it into new territories -- USB-C camera tethering, multi-display app workflows, ways to maybe eventually add a mouse or trackpad or other inputs beyond a keyboard -- it feels hindered.”


“The new iPad Pro inspired me to want to do more, to make more, to “Think Different” just like the original Mac did when I sat down in front of its all-in-one design, boxy mouse, and drew in MacPaint for the very first time.

“But if you’re just planning to use the iPad Pro to watch videos, browse social media, or play light games like Candy Crush, its potential will be wasted, and any older or cheaper iPad or cheaper brand of tablet will do. 

“You should only get a new iPad Pro if you’re gonna be pushing its power. Otherwise it’s like getting a sports car and never driving faster than 35 mph — people will ooh and ahh at your shiny new thing, but you’ll return home feeling empty every time.”

by michaelg at November 05, 2018 12:03 PM

Here's The Biggest Problem With The iPhone XS and XR

Damien McFerran 05/11/2018 - 9:05am

...and it's nothing to do with the handset, either

Apple's 2018 iPhones make for an impressive trio. The iPhone XS and XS Max boast stunning OLED screens and solid designs, and the cheaper XR – while sporting an LCD panel – is no less impressive from a technical standpoint; all three devices are powered by Apple's A12 Bionic chipset and are among the most powerful smartphones on the planet right now. Even the occasionally irksome Face ID can't take away from the fact that Apple's latest blowers are pretty fantastic.

But there's one massive problem with these phones, and it has nothing to do with the hardware and everything to do with Apple's business practices.

As we all know, Apple charges a premium for its phones – the infamous 'Apple Tax', according to the company's critics. Compared to similarly-specced Android phones on the market, Apple's handsets cost slightly more; an understandable increase when you consider that the firm arguably goes that extra mile to ensure its phones have that additional spit and polish right out of the box. Having that logo on the back of your handset costs you, but for most fans, it's worth the investment.

Despite asking you for over the odds for its products, Apple seems to relish short-changing its customers at every available opportunity. The 2018 iPhones are a shining example of this; all of them support fast-charging but none come with a charger capable of supplying the correct amount of power for this feature.

To Apple diehards, this might not seem like a big deal; after all, they're used to this practice. But to anyone else, it's almost criminal. We can't think of a single Android phone we've owned (or had in for review) that supports fast charging and doesn't come with the required charger in the box; it's a core feature, and as such, most Android phone makers realise that their customers want to use it on day one, rather than having to shell out more cash to access it. What good is advertising that your phone has fast charging when you have to pay extra for the privilege?

Apple's approach is to bundle the same charging block it has been using for years with its new iPhones – one that doesn't support fast charging – and then expect its fans to shell out the additional £70 (£20 for the USB Type-C cable and £50 for the 29W Apple fast charging block) to access this feature. Granted, Apple says you can use other charging blocks that support fast charging, but if you've only ever owned Apple devices you're unlikely to have one lying around the house – so you're going to have to spend some cash.

The bad news doesn't end there if you're an Apple fan. While the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR all come with a pair of Lightning-compatible wired headphones, the phone doesn't come with a dongle that allows you to use a pair of 3.5mm cans. "So what?" the Apple faithful will no doubt say. "At least there's a pair of headphones in there, right?" That's true, but compare this what Google offers with its shiny new Pixel 3 – you not only get the wired USB Type-C headphones, but also a 3.5mm dongle in case you want to use your own pair (and yes, the Pixel 3's charger supports fast charging, too).

Google clearly understands that giving the consumer choice is the key to a successful shopping experience; so why isn't Google – and companies like Google – utterly smoking Apple in the smartphone arena? Why, if Apple is such a shoddy firm when it comes to ripping off its consumers, does everyone seem to own an iPhone? Simple – Apple removes the choice but makes the consumer think it's a positive.

Think back to when Apple dropped the 3.5mm headphone socket on the iPhone 7; Apple's company line was that it "took courage" to make the change; like it was doing something painful to benefit the end user. Of course, it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the company also owns Beats by Dre, a headphone firm which makes loads of wireless cans – or that Apple was releasing its own brand of super-expensive wireless AirPod headphones – honest! Apple removed choice in a way which was totally anti-consumer, yet your average Apple fan is so tanked-up on iPhone Kool-Aid that they barely batted an eyelid; they just picked up some AirPods (a snip at £160!) and forgot about the 3.5mm connection.

Where Apple goes, the industry follows, and now there are loads of Android phones on the market that have also ditched the headphone socket. However, Apple is the enabler here; any other firm would never have gotten away with this and certainly wouldn't get away with advertising its phone as supporting fast charging but then neglecting to include the correct charger in the box – with a phone that costs over £1000.

However, Apple's almost fanatical fanbase will endure almost any wrongdoing in order to stay loyal to the brand, which is why the company continues to pull stunts like this. Why include a fast charger in the box when you know leaving it out will make zero difference to your average iPhone buyer? That's an extra £70 Apple can potentially make per iPhone sale (even more if you include the 3.5mm dongle into the equation). You can hardly blame the company in this regard; this is extra, valuable revenue. In fact, it feels to me like your average Apple fan actually likes having to offer up additional money to its technological God; like this is some kind of penance that somehow improves their standing in the eyes of The Church of Cupertino.

Will this situation ever change? I can't see it happening, simply because unlike any other firm on the face of this spinning globe, Apple is almost bulletproof in the eyes of its supporters. It's easy to see why this is the case, too; I use a MacBook Air as my primary work computer and I love it – it's elegant, easy to use and welcoming – all things that my last Windows-based laptop was not. While I'm an Android user first and foremost, I've owned several iPhones in the past and the user experience is almost always superior (the Pixel 3 is perhaps the first Android phone I've used which seriously challenges this). And even if Google made a phone which 'out-iPhoned the iPhone', it would still be lacking the almost impenetrable walled garden that is the Apple ecosystem; a series of products and services which, when used together, make for a seamless and hassle-free experience.

This is what people pay for when they buy Apple products, and this is why they will seemingly put up with all manner of shady business practices to ensure they get a device with that famous logo on the back. Blind devotion? Not always. Worrying? Yes, because until consumers make a stand and demand better treatment, Apple is never, ever going to change.

Thanks to Mobile Fun for supplying the iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max used in this feature.

by dmcferran at November 05, 2018 09:01 AM

November 02, 2018

Know Your Mobile Blog

iPhone XR Review: The iPhone You Should Buy In 2018

Damien McFerran 02/11/2018 - 6:14pm

Apple's budget iPhone is arguably a better choice than the XS and XS Max


While Apple perhaps wants people to focus on the more expensive iPhone XS and XS Max, the staggered launch of the iPhone XR – billed as the 'budget' option by many – suggests that this third model could offer something special. Just like the iPhone 5C all those years ago, this cut-price offering sits alongside 2018's flagship iPhones as a more accessible alternative, despite the fact that it uses the exact same A12 Bionic processor and comes with Face ID as standard.

There are some other things to consider, however; the XR lacks the OLED screen seen on the XS and XS Max, there's no 3D Touch and the resolution is lower, too. You also lose the second telephoto camera on the back of the phone, so optical zoom isn't an option. Are these concessions really worth the saving of around £250, or should you opt for the full-fat XS version? Read on to find out.

iPhone XR Review: Design

Available in a range of nice, eye-catching colours, the iPhone XR is designed to look a little more vibrant and appealing than the stately XS. It has the same basic design – a metal frame with rounded edges, backed by easily-breakable glass – but there are some subtle differences to note. Perhaps the most obvious is the lack of a dual camera array on the back; instead, there's a single lens which protrudes rather alarmingly, which means it's impossible to lay the phone down on a flat surface without it wobbling. This is, perhaps, the only genuine grumble you can have about the XR from a pure design perspective.

The bottom of the phone is home to the Lightning port (making perhaps its final appearance – Apple has shifted to USB Type-C on its new iPad models), one of the speakers (the other is at the top, in the earpiece) and the in-call mic. On the right-hand side there's the Nano SIM tray (the XR, unlike its Android rivals, doesn't allow for two SIMs to be inserted at once) and power button; the left-hand side features the two volume keys and the traditional 'mute' switch. It's an incredibly clean phone overall, something which is of course helped by the fact that Apple has once again decided that a fingerprint scanner isn't required when you have Face ID. We're not entirely sure that's the case, but more on that later.

It's worth noting that the XR is slightly larger than the standard XS, and slightly smaller than the XS Max – it's a neat middle ground between the two. Apple's phones have traditionally been a little daintier than their Android rivals, and the wisdom of making the XR larger than the standard model seems off; however, in reality, the XR is on par with pretty much any typical Android device these days. It has the same footprint as the BlackBerry Key2 LE that we reviewed recently - which we felt that was quite a compact device – and is much smaller than the Honor 8X. Even though the XR might sound bigger than you'd like on paper, it's actually perfectly pocket-sized if you're used to Android phones. The problem is when you're upgrading from the iPhone SE or iPhone 7 – it might take some getting used to.

The XR is water and dust proof, with a rating of IP67 – that's lower than the XS and XS, which have a rating of IP68. The difference? Well, the XR can withstand half an hour of immersion in depths of up to a metre, while the XS and XS Max can handle half an hour in depths greater than a metre.

iPhone XR Review: Display

Outside of the camera, the single biggest difference between the XR and its stablemates is the screen. It uses a 6.1-inch Liquid Retina LCD display which Apple is calling the most advanced of its type – and we're inclined to believe them. While it can't quite match an OLED panel for colour vibrancy and deep, dark blacks, it's easily the best LCD screen we've ever laid eyes on. It's bright, colourful and has great contrast; the only fly in the ointment is that there seems to be some slight 'ghosting' when scrolling through certain apps (white backgrounds with black text are when this is most noticeable).

With a resolution of just 1792×828 pixels, the screen offers a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch. Compare that to any modern flagship phone and it sounds awful, but we've long argued that cramming all of those pixels into a mobile display is ultimately pointless; after a while, it becomes impossible to see the benefit and all it does is add more pressure on the phone's processor. While it's possible to pick out individual pixels on the XR's screen if you really squint, it's still perfectly serviceable. We'd even argue that the average person wouldn't be able to tell that this display is pushing less pixels than the one on the XS – our anecdotal tests seem to back up this viewpoint.

The notch is still there, of course; it has become a fashion statement rather than a functional feature now, and we'd imagine that will prolong its lifespan for many years to come yet. It's a shame that Apple couldn't reduce the size of the notch in some way, like OnePlus has done on the 6T, but it houses some pretty complex tech, so we can't complain too much.

The only other thing to note is that the bezel around the screen is slightly bigger than the one seen on the XS and XS Max, presumably because LCD tech has been used. It's not a deal-breaker, but it's worth noting. There's also no 3D Touch, but even the most hardcore Apple fan will admit that the omission of this feature isn't worth crying over.

iPhone XR Review: Software & Performance

Because it's launching a few weeks after the arrival of the XS and XS Max, the XR benefits from the first bug-fixing update to iOS 12, 12.1. After the mess that was iOS 11 last year, iOS 12 feels totally different; it's smoother, faster and more intuitive. Features like Screen Time offer tangible advantages, in this case helping you to take control of how many hours you spend staring at your handset's display. It might sound like an odd feature to include – something that makes you use your phone less – but it's refreshing to see hardware makers recognise that sometimes, we take things a little too far when it comes to smartphones.

As previously noted, there's no fingerprint scanner on the iPhone XR, so you're totally reliant on Face ID – again. While this system is massively improved over the one that launched with the iPhone X, it's still far from perfect. There were multiple times during our review period when it failed to work properly, and even more times when it did work, eventually, but nowhere near as rapidly as a finger on a scanner.

FaceID is an amazing piece of tech – there's no doubt about that – but it should never, ever have been positioned as a replacement for the fingerprint scanner, and we're not sure it will ever rival that option when it comes to speed and accuracy. We remain eternally hopeful that next year, Apple will adopt an in-screen fingerprint scanner and give us both options, but it feels like the company is throwing its weight behind Face ID in the hope that we'll all eventually forget that it's not as elegant and precise as Touch ID was (even the 2018 iPad Pro uses it).

Because it's rocking the same A12 Bionic chipset that's seen in the XS and XS Max, the iPhone XR is one of the most powerful phones on the planet right now. Apple's tech is way ahead of what Qualcomm comes up with traditionally, because Apple knows its chips will only go into a handful of devices – devices which it designs from the ground up. Therefore, it can extract every bit of power from the chip in a reliable manner, whereas Qualcomm's Snapdragon range has to cope with the Android sector's dizzying number of different hardware variants.

Because the XR is pushing less pixels than the XS and XS Max, this power is even more obvious; less pixels to push means the processor can go that extra yard, and performance is never anything less than exceptional. Every single activity or function on the XR feels buttery-smooth and moving between apps is instantaneous. Apple fans often boast that in terms of the UI experience, the iPhone is king – and it's hard to argue after spending a few days with the XR; it's an absolute pleasure to use. While it has 3GB of memory compared to the 4GB found in the XS and XS Max, we can't say we noticed any dips in performance.

In terms of benchmark scores, the XR scored 362243 in Antutu's test. In Geekbench 4, it clocked up a single-core score of 4792 and a multi-core score of 11156.

iPhone XR Review: Battery & Memory

While it lacks an OLED screen so all of those black pixels are lit rather than turned off, the iPhone XR comprehensively beats the XS and XS Max when it comes to stamina – and we think that lower-resolution display is the reason.

In normal day-to-day use – where we used the phone as our main handset and browsed the web, replied to emails, listened to music, took photos and video and played some 3D games – the XR was still full of juice by the time the sun went down. In fact, we were able to forgo charging the phone in the evening and still had some power left the next day – something that rarely happens with modern smartphones, and certainly hasn't happened before with any iPhone we've owned.

Of course, the caveat here is that your personal usage will impact the XR's battery life. If you decide to set the screen to maximum brightness and watch two or three films in a single day, then the battery is obviously going to take a battering. Recording 4K video also sucks power at an alarming rate, but this is the same across all phones.

The phone supports both fast charging and wireless charging – we tested the latter on our Samsung Galaxy charging dock – but sadly the bundled wall charger doesn't quick-charge the phone. You'll need to buy another (expensive) charger from Apple to do this, which is quite a cheek when you consider that pretty much every other smartphone maker on the planet includes a fast charger in the box.

In terms of storage, the XR is available in three flavours: 64GB, 128GB and 256GB. 64GB is pretty much the entry level for a 2018 smartphone these days, and will be enough for a typical user, but the fact that you can't add in more memory means you need to pick the right capacity on day one.

iPhone XR Review: Camera

The headline news here is that the XR drops the secondary telephoto camera and opts for a single 12-megapixel wide angle snapper. This means the fancy 'Portrait' shots are done entirely with software, and you can't zoom in quickly on objects, either.

Outside of that, it's hard to be disappointed with the quality of the photos and video produced by the XR. The camera is basically the same as the main sensor on the XS and XS Max, so you can expect the same kind of quality – in short, photos look sharp, colourful and showcase good levels of contrast and dynamic range. Apple's new HDR system works brilliantly too, taking multiple shots to really bring out the detail in each scene. Portrait shots are also great, despite the lack of a second sensor to judge depth.

It's worth noting also how quick the XR's camera is to focus and shoot; this has been a hallmark of Apple's hardware for years, and it's pleasing to see this maintained even on 'cheaper' hardware. While Android phones like the Galaxy S9 and Pixel 3 are catching up – and even surpassing – Apple in this regard, the vast majority of Android handsets come a poor second to Apple's devices when it comes to focus-and-shoot speed.

The lack of a proper optical zoom is a shame, and we did miss it when we were messing about the XR's camera. Digital zoom isn't as bad as you might assume on this model, but it's not as easy to use. Meanwhile, the selfie cam is fine, and video recording is very good indeed.

iPhone XR Review: Conclusion

Listing the things that the iPhone XR lacks when compared to the XS and XS Max makes it seem like you're losing a lot just to shave £250 off the asking price: no OLED screen, no telephoto camera, weaker water and dust protection, no 3D Touch, 1GB less of RAM.

However, these things mean little when it comes to the day-to-day performance of the phone, which is utterly superb. By selecting a lower-resolution display Apple has given the XR a real boost in terms of performance, and the great thing is, most people won't even notice that there are less pixels moving around. An OLED panel would have been nice, but Apple's fancy new Liquid Retina technology is seriously striking, so it's not a massive loss.

There are annoyances here and there – no fast charger in the box, Face ID isn't as good as Touch ID, and then there's the yearly merry-go-round of finding which dongle you need for simple things like plugging in a pair of wired headphones – a standard situation for Apple fans these days. Ultimately, though, this is perhaps the best iPhone option of 2018. While it's not cheap when compared to what the Android market has to offer, if you're a diehard Apple fan then the notion of switching sides means this will seem reasonably-priced when compared to the company's other iPhones this year – yet it never feels like you're missing out by choosing the XR.

If you absolutely have to own the very best iPhone then the XS remains the better choice, but for everyone else, this is the one to go for.

Thanks to Mobile Fun for supplying the iPhone XR used in this review.

by dmcferran at November 02, 2018 12:42 PM