iPhone 11 vs iPhone XR: What's the difference (and should you upgrade)?

iPhone 11
iPhone 11 (Image credit: iMore)

The colorful iPhone that has previously been marketed as the low-cost entry level iPhone is now being positioned as the standard iPhone, and with good reason. It has a dual-lens camera with nearly all the same computational photography features as the iPhone Pro line, but starts at just $699. The iPhone XR, however, is still part of Apple's line-up, and is now just $599 to start. So which one should you get (or should you upgrade)? Let's find out.

Differences vs similarities: let's break it down

With the major improvements to the camera system on the iPhone 11, you might think the choice is clear, but not everyone needs the advanced camera for the $100 price increase. To see what's the same and what's different between the two, let's break down the specs.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 iPhone 11iPhone XR
Starting price$699$599 (and dropping)
Battery performance- Video playback: Up to 17 hours- Video playback (streamed): Up to 10 hours- Audio playback: Up to 65 hours- Internet use: Up to 15 hours- Video playback (wireless): Up to 16 hours- Audio playback (wireless): Up to 65 hours
Display- Liquid Retina HD display- 1792‑by‑828‑pixel resolution at 326 ppi- 1400:1 contrast ratio (typical)- Liquid Retina HD display- 1792‑by‑828‑pixel resolution at 326 ppi- 1400:1 contrast ratio (typical)
ProcessorA13 BionicA12 Bionic
Camera featuresDual 12MPUltra Wide and Wide cameras12MPwide-angle camera
Night modeYesNo
Slo-mo front cameraYesNo
Zoom options2x optical zoom out; digital zoom up to 5xDigital zoom up to 5x
TrueDepth Camera features- 12MP- Animoji and Memoji- 4K video- 7MP- Animoji and Memoji- 1080p video
Portrait Lighting effectsNaturalStudioContourStageStage MonoHigh-Key MonoNaturalStudioContourStageStage Mono
Water resistanceIP68: 2 meters/30 minutesIP67: 1 meter/30 minutes

Camera 1 vs Camera 2

The most notable changes from the iPhone XR to iPhone 11 is in the camera system. The XR sports a single 7MP wide-angle lens with an ƒ/1.8 aperture and support for digital zoom up to 5x. It's a good camera if you're not too picky — if you don't take a whole lot of photos, but like to have something on you to capture those unforgettable moments.

The iPhone 11 is outfitted with what can best be described as the same specs as the iPhone XS ... sort of. What I mean by that is: the iPhone 11 has a 12MP dual-lens camera with an ultra-wide lens and a wide-angle lens. The iPhone XS has a 12MP dual-lens with a telephoto lens and a wide-angle lens. The former zooms out while the latter zooms in.

Why, you may ask, did Apple choose ultra-wide over telephoto for the iPhone 11? Now that they have the technology to do so, wide-angle is much more useful than telephoto. You can always edit a zoom in after the fact. You can't add more to a photo than you've already taken. Ultra-wide is more useful, even if you like to zoom in more than you zoom out.

Video recording on the iPhone 11 and iPhone XR are fairly similar, with the former having the added benefit of 2x zoom out, audio zoom, and the new "QuickTake" video support.

The TrueDepth camera on the iPhone 11 is also improved over the XR. It's even better than the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone XS. It's actually exactly as good as the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone 11 Pro, which is one of the reasons I argue that this isn't a replacement for the XR, but the next-generation XS in the body of the XR (and the display material of the XR).

The iPhone 11 also supports the same new computational photography coming to the iPhone 11 Pro, including Night mode and "Slo-fie" mode.

The camera features of the iPhone 11 make it the better of the two if you're contemplating one over the other. You've got more flexibility, more options, and many of the same features as the iPhone 11 Pro, just without the triple-lens system.

The colorful choice

If color is your biggest concern, you now have eight different colors and 12 different hues. Even the white and black options on the iPhone XR and iPhone 11 are different enough to count as individual options.

Do you prefer the bright, eye-catching colors of last year's iPhone XR? Coral? Blue? Then you'd better stick with the iPhone XR.

The iPhone 11 lineup, on the other hand, is more muted, pastel even. This year's colors have a frosted glass look to them. Still colorful, but with an updated spring look.

Price over features

Of course, if your pocketbook has the final say in all of this, the iPhone XR at $100 less is a mighty appealing starting price. A lot of people would be perfectly happy with what the XR has to offer. In fact, it was Apple's most popular seller last year. And that was at $749 a-pop. You can pick one up today for only $599.

The upgraded camera features makes the iPhone 11 absolutely worth the additional $100, however. So if you're trying to decide whether to pony up the money, go for it.

Think of it this way: The iPhone 11 is more like an upgrade from the iPhone XS, in terms of the camera features, and at $300 less than the iPhone XS was.

Should you buy the iPhone 11 or iPhone XR?

If cost isn't a factor for you, the iPhone 11 is absolutely the right choice. The updated camera and TrueDepth camera are huge improvements, by comparison. If you aren't too keen on the pastel color choices this year, black or white are classic choices that you can't go wrong with.

If, however, your wallet is tight, the iPhone XR is a fantastic option and at $150 less than it was before the iPhone 11 was announced. You can't beat that price.

Should you upgrade from the iPhone XR to the iPhone 11?

If you're currently holding the iPhone XR in your hand and are considering upgrading to the iPhone 11, my first question is, Are you on the iPhone Upgrade Program? If so, upgrade this year. The price of the iPhone 11 is incredible considering it has the same camera features as the iPhone XS and the exact same TrueDepth camera as the iPhone 11 Pro (including Night Mode and the slo-mo camera). This is a marked improvement over the iPhone XR and well worth the upgrade for less than last year's model.

If, however, you bought your iPhone XR outright, don't feel compelled to upgrade just because of the camera and the price. Next year's iPhone 12 will be better than the iPhone 11 and you can feel good about your choice for the iPhone XR, knowing that it was Apple's most popular iPhone last year.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).