At the end of every iPhone event Apple ever holds, they usually throw up a quick graphic showing the entire iPhone lineup they currently sell. When they announced the iPhone 12 models and the iPhone 12 Pro models this fall, and it came time to throw up the graphic, I was surprised to see one iPhone in particular on the list — the iPhone XR.
With an impressive seven models of iPhone currently available, there's never been a better time to shop for any iPhone if you have a certain budget in mind. The options for best cheap iPhone are looking pretty good these days, and even though the iPhone XR only starts at $499, I'm not sure it's really worth the money anymore.
The iPhone SE is cheaper and faster
The iPhone XR came out in 2018, and by no means is it a bad phone. We reviewed the iPhone XR and loved it — however, the iPhone SE changed the game.
The second-generation iPhone SE came out earlier this year, and it delivered on everything it promised it would. It's small, powerful, and in the context of iPhones, cheap. It starts at $399 and is the cheapest brand new iPhone you can buy, but more importantly, it delivers incredible value.
At its core, Apple's A13 Bionic chip powers the small yet mighty iPhone SE, which was Apple's best mobile processor at its launch. It's more powerful and faster than the A12 Bionic chip that sits at the heart of the iPhone XR, which means you're going to get more out of it. If you pitted the iPhone XR against the iPhone SE right now to a speed test, the average person might not see much of a difference, but the iPhone SE will age better over time.
Many budget-conscious iPhone users don't buy a new iPhone every year — like the tech-obsessed people might — but would rather wait perhaps 3-5 years before replacing their phone. If that sounds like you, the iPhone SE should be right up your alley. If you look long term, the iPhone SE will receive updates longer and perform better with age.
The iPhone SE offers other improvements as well
It's not just the chip that makes the iPhone SE a better buy; there are some improvements the iPhone SE has over the iPhone XR that may not be apparent right away. Take a closer look, and you'll see a few small ways that the iPhone SE beats out the iPhone XR.
If storage space is ever a concern for you, the iPhone SE offers more of it. The iPhone XR only comes with either 64GB or 128GB, there's no other option. However, the iPhone SE goes up to 256GB of storage. Here's the kicker, the 128GB iPhone XR and 256GB iPhone SE are the same price! Both come in at $549, which seems insane when the iPhone SE doubles the iPhone XR storage.
What about photos? The iPhone XR and iPhone SE do have the same single 12MP wide camera with a ƒ/1.8 aperture. It's the standard camera that comes on all iPhones currently, and it's nothing fancy. To most people, the same photo taken by the iPhone XR will likely look almost the same as one taken on the iPhone SE. But thanks to the A13 Bionic, the iPhone SE handles HDR a little better. It might not be the biggest or most noticeable difference, but if you really want the cheapest iPhone with the best camera, the iPhone SE wins this round again.
The iPhone XR must have something going for it, right?
Face ID. The biggest thing that iPhone XR has going for it is that it has a newer design. This means much thinner bezels, a larger screen, no Home button, and of course, the notch that houses the TrueDepth camera at the top of the screen.
Face ID is great, and obviously, Apple thinks so too since it's stuck around since its inception. However, Touch ID is still as useful and convenient as it ever was. Plus, if you're looking at buying a new budget iPhone right now, chances are you are upgrading from an older generation or are brand new to the iPhone, which means you already don't have Face ID. If you've been living without Face ID up until now, you can certainly live without it going forward.
The other improvement that the iPhone XR can boast about is that it has a bigger battery than the smaller iPhone SE. Apple states that the iPhone XR should get about 16 hours of video playback, while the iPhone SE is only said to get about 13 hours. Your mileage will vary on this based on your usage, what version of iOS you're running, and a few other factors. However, on average, it's likely that the iPhone XR will hold out a little longer between charges.
Between the iPhone SE and iPhone 11, the iPhone XR is rendered obsolete
When it comes to buying an iPhone on a budget, it's been a while since we had so many great options, but it's hard to justify getting an iPhone XR based on where it sits in the lineup. Nestled between the iPhone SE and the iPhone 11, the iPhone XR offers less power and fewer storage options than both of the other models.
At the end of the day, the iPhone XR is the cheapest way to get an iPhone with Face ID and the newer form factor. If spending the least amount of money and having Face ID is important to you, then that's still your best bet.
It all comes down to what $100 means to you. You can save yourself $100 by going with the cheaper iPhone SE, and you're still going to get an iPhone that packs more power even though it bears the older design. Alternatively, you can choose to spend $100 more to get the iPhone 11, which on top of more power, offers everything the iPhone XR does and then some.
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Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way.
Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.