We may never know what the R in the iPhone XR actually means—Apple VP Phil Schiller himself said that the R doesn’t really mean much to Apple. But I have my own guess: reboot.

Before the release of the iPhone X last year, the iPhone 8 was in need of a redesign. It had been some three years since Apple first unveiled its large-screen iPhones, but nothing about them changed much since the iPhone 6. The iPhone 8 brought wireless charging and a better camera, but it didn’t look or feel like a 2017 phone, let alone a 2018 one.

But rather than scrap the idea of the iPhone 8 and go all in on the higher-priced and margined X, Apple went back to the drawing board to create a seemingly impossible iPhone that had the specs of a proverbial iPhone 9, the look of an iPhone X, and the price of an iPhone 8.

iphone xr power Christopher Hebert/IDG

The iPhone XR’s glass back is smooth to the touch but not overly slippery.

Like any reboot of a classic, the iPhone XR could have gone spectacularly wrong. But with the iPhone XR, Apple nailed it. The chip, battery, and storage are all best in class. The price slides nicely in between the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone XS. And the design is close enough to the iPhone X and XS that from a reasonable distance the phones look identical—maybe you even expected some serious compromises that push people to the upper models in a bait-and-switch move. That’s not the case.

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. In fact, I’d venture to guess that more people are going to buy an iPhone XR over an iPhone XS. It’s just that good. 

A premium design for less

The iPhone XR is basically the iPhone XS’s fraternal twin. It has the same shape, same glass back, same contoured band, same rounded corners. And it’s got just as big of a notch at the top of the screen. Pick it up and it feels just like a slightly thicker XS.

iphone xr xs max Christopher Hebert/IDG

The 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max (left) is quite a bit bigger than the 6.1-inch iPhone XR.

Beyond their superficial similarities, there are distinct differences between the two phones. Most notably, the XR’s glass back comes in a variety of colors that give it a playful personality. The sides are made of aluminum, a material downgrade from the stainless steel on the XS, but they’re anodized to perfectly match whichever color you choose. It’s a subtle change that comes down to a matter of preference, but I actually preferred the XR’s matte finish to the XS’s shiny chrome.

The XR is easily the most unique iPhone since the iPhone 5c, and I suspect most people are going to opt to use it without a case. Apparently Apple does too, so much so that it’s not selling a first-party case for the XR. To that end, Apple claims that the glass covering the display is stronger than any iPhone that came before, and the rear glass, while not as shatter-resistant as the iPhone XS, is at least as good as the iPhone 8. It also has a tackier feel than the XS, at least to my fingers.

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