iPhone SE: Updates

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Hands-on review: Updated: iPhone SE

Our full iPhone SE review is coming soon, as we just finished an unboxing video of Apple’s small, but brand new phone. Here are our thoughts so far – now with more picutures!

When the world zigs, you zag. Buy low, sell high. When the entire smartphone universe skews big, you reinvigorate the small. That, in a nutshell, is the mentality behind the iPhone SE. It’s a phone for those that love the smaller size but really wish they could have the power of a flagship phone.

There’s a big question on the lips of some smartphone fans at the moment – especially the Android ones: why does Apple seem to get such a huge interest level for re-releasing its older smartphone?

Having used the iPhone SE for a few days now, there’s nothing to choose between it and the iPhone 5S cosmetically. It’s precisely the same phone on the outside (and quite substantially on the inside too, it turns out) so is it fair to give the new handset so much attention? After all, Samsung throws out so many small phones a year it’s hard to keep count – and they get nowhere near as many pixels to read through.

Check out iPhone SE reaction video:

But just casting an eye around the train on the morning commute tells you all you need to know: there are hordes of people still using the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5, and the amount of times I’ve heard anecdotally the reason they’re holding onto the older phone is because they ‘don’t want a phone with a big screen’ is too many to number.

The iPhone 6/6S (4.7-inch) and 6 Plus/6S Plus (5.5-inch) have dominated the landscape over the past two years, creating an opportunity for a brand to recapture the market for non-gargantuan phones.

Hands-on review: Updated: iPhone SE

4-inch respect

What’s particularly special about the iPhone SE is its newness. Rather than Apple introducing a new hero device and pushing an older phone down-range (as it did when the iPhone 5S found itself selling for $0 on contract), the iPhone SE is a purpose-built device. It’s small, relatively speaking, but it’s also mighty.

It exists out of kilter with Apple’s usual release cycle. It’s not a phone that rivals the iPhone 6S or 6S Plus, but is a ‘bonus’ option that is designed to serve a specific demographic – something only Apple seems to be able to do successfully.

Watch iPhone SE unboxing video:

The camera has been overhauled and upgraded, boasting a 12-megapixel sensor and True Tone flash that puts it right up there alongside the snapper on the iPhone 6S. There’s also a potent 64-bit A9 chip, Bluetooth 4.2, a display that gets hella bright when you need to take a selfie in a dimly-lit room, and a starting price point of just $399 (16GB).

Hands-on review: Updated: iPhone SE

Exterior vibes

The exterior is svelte and sleek – every inch an iPhone, as we’re surmising Apple would say. The same exemplary precision found on the high-end iPhones is also found on the iPhone SE. At last, you don’t have to feel that you’re settling just to get a phone that’s easier to handle.

Hands-on review: Updated: iPhone SE

Handling the iPhone SE is a lovely affair, particularly if you’re coming from the iPhone 6S Plus. It’s dainty – cute, even – and although, obviously, it feels exactly as if you’re handling the iPhone 5S, there’s something extra novel about it now. It’s no longer the norm; the 4-inch form factor is now the exception.

It’s also bead-blasted aluminum on the outside too, which does give it a slightly different feel in the hand to the older, past-generation handset, although not by much. Wait, have we got to the point where a phone from 2013 is now considered retro?

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Hands-on review: Updated: iPhone SE

The fit and polish are just like the iPhone 5S though, and if you were just looking at them on the table, there’s very little way to tell the difference.

The same sharpness, the same rounded buttons on the side – it’s as if Apple opened a door in one of its warehouses and found a million boxes with the 5S chassis sitting around doing nothing.

Hands-on review: Updated: iPhone SE

It’s a shame that Apple hasn’t updated the design. While it should be lauded for offering something really viable for the reams of people still craving a phone you can use in one hand, there’s no reason the iPhone SE couldn’t have taken on the rounded form factor of the 6S duo, other than Apple wanting to save money.

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Speed in a small package

Using the phone, however, is a markedly different experience to using the iPhone 5S, and that’s precisely what Apple needs to push.

Hands-on review: Updated: iPhone SE

The A9 chip enables the iPhone SE to open apps just as quickly as the iPhone 6S. It’s honestly quite refreshing to feel this much power in a phone this small – we just haven’t been privy to Apple’s top-end hardware in its smallest iPhone in a few years, and the glut of people still buying the iPhone 5 and 5C second-hand are a testament to the desire for this spec combination.

By shoving in the M9 co-processor, there are all the same specs and abilities that you’re getting on the newer phones too. So whether that’s monitoring your steps, or flights of stairs climbed, or just letting the phone note when it’s resting quietly on the desk, it’s all handled simply.

This means Hey Siri, the auto voice recognition function, is enabled – although whether you’ll use it more than three times during the life of the phone will depend on what kind of committed tech-fiend you are.

Hands-on review: Updated: iPhone SE

The revamped 12MP iSight camera is present and correct onboard, and while it’s every bit as good as the one found on the iPhone 6S, it’s not as easy to use thanks to the smaller form factor. It’s odd to think that a more ergonomic phone makes framing pictures harder, but it was just harder to work out the picture with the more cramped screen.

In terms of spec though, you’re getting the same camera mix as on the iPhone 6S. That means 4K video recording, the Focus Pixels to get the sharper autofocus, a True Tone flash – in short, all the bits that Apple has shouted about on the newer iPhones in the smaller package.

Hands-on review: Updated: iPhone SE

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And by making the iPhone SE thicker, the camera bump is gone, which is great news for those that hated the ruined aesthetic from the raised section on the rear of the phone.

Hands-on review: Updated: iPhone SE

Early verdict

Notably, the iPhone SE looks and feels just like the iPhone 5S before it. It didn’t get slimmer, or more round, but we kind of dig it. There’s something novel about maintaining a tried-and-true design motif while overhauling everything within; indeed, that’s exactly the model Apple followed when transitioning from the iPhone 6 to 6S.

It’s the iPhone 5S but with the brains and brawn of the newer models, which will likely appeal to a great many iPhone fans – and many in the Android world looking for this size-and-power combo. Some have pointed to the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact as a perfectly good smaller alternative to the behemothic flagship phones in the Android world, but even that ‘smaller’ phone is much bigger than the SE.

Sure, you could still nab a 5S now if you wanted and save a whole lot of cash, but in terms of performance and longevity of upgrades the SE is leaps and bounds ahead of that ageing handset – stay tuned as we give our definitive verdict on whether the new iPhone really stands shoulder to shoulder with the new 6S and 6S plus… metaphorically speaking, of course.

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50 thoughts on “iPhone SE: Updates

  1. The 5S, particularly in white, was an absolute eyesore. Sony’s phones are much better looking, which I assume is what you mean by ‘design’. The 4/S were sleek but I imagine would look very squat by today’s 16:9 standards. Earlier than that it’s like they weren’t even trying. The very curved philosophy of the 6 family reminds me of medication, I don’t think I like it. Curious to see where they go with the 7

  2. That’s simply because Sony doesn’t have the design prowess that Apple has, I honestly loved my 5s and the SE is basically a much better 5s with all the grunt of the 6s and 6s Plus where the only compromise is the front facing camera and no 3D Touch.

  3. HTC as well. Apple truly has tech media on their knees. If you want your iDevices to review first and invites to Apple events then media must promote the propaganda. It unfortunate for naive consumers that many of them aren’t aware of the BS that surrounds the Apple brand.

  4. It certainly amuses me that this is seen as a fried and true design, yet company’s like Sony for example are often berated for sticking with a design template and refining it. It always amazes me that Apple always seem to get a free pass.

  5. Apple doesn’t disclose specs but since Apple confirmed the the A9 is under the hood then thr 2GB RAM should be as well.

  6. all the grunt….annnnddddd undisclosed ram… doesnt sound like all to me.

  7. Because it’s Android, you know that fragmented OS from Google that’s on every smartphone that’s not an iPhone. Which will run like crap on a Sony handset, just because it has more core don’t mean it’s automatically going to be better, it’s about software and optimisation which Apple is far better at than most.

  8. Annihilate an older cheaper more powerful phone which has SD storage, waterproof and far far superior camera? How the mighty have fallen. How does better on paper not translate to real life?

  9. Only on paper is the Z5 compact better than the iPhone SE but it will annihilate the Z5 in real performance.

  10. The Sony Z5 compact is better in every aspect and cheaper, in the UK at least, plus expandable storage.

  11. This is not a mid range phone, the iPhone SE has all the grunt and power of its bigger siblings (6s and 6s Plus) with not much in the way of compromises and is the most powerful 4 inch phone at its price point. The design maybe 3 years old by it’s a design that’s very much loved probably more than the current design due to the slight camera hump and the antenna lines at the back (which I personally love and has replaced the 5s as my favourite iPhone design but the 5s design is my second favourite as it is still a very beautiful design 3 years on).

  12. I buy midrange phones for the midrange prices, hardware inside became irrelevant years ago – many would shout gaming I’m sure but as a gamer the idea of them on my phone holds zero sway over me. The very first thing I look at is screen resolution.

  13. And they are marketed and priced accordingly. For 00a399! I’m not talking about people, I am mad at the general media. All tech sites seem to love apple for the

  14. Are you sure? Shouldn’t you be more mad at the hypocrisy at Apple’s situation. If they don’t change the design, people bash them for it, but just look at Samsung’s J series. I can’t even tell them apart from the rest and yet everyone LOVES them

  15. werent doing enough….so they had completely comparable specs….same more or less everything only, the z compact series were released YEARS prior to and iphone Super Expensive…..pretty amusing…. proven themselves time and time again to have completely screw up software updates….YEP every update since about iOS8 has had major issues…. explain that away a-hole….oh wait….buy why do i spend so much on apply products?

  16. I think your obsession with Apple is the unhealthy thing here. Do you have a portrait of Steve Jobs in your bedroom that you prostrate to?

  17. Wah wah wah, stop crying, the reason Sony and Samsung were critised for their design is because they weren’t doing enough and at least Sansung has made the effort to improve their design but Sony hasn’t and nor has HTC in fact HTC have resorted to copying Apple now. Apple ‘s design is iconic and ageless and people love Apple myself included, because it’s a good looking phone and maybe it isn’t as durable as such (at least the 5s design) but other than Samsung and HTC (before they started copying Apple) cone close to rivalling Apple for design, the rest do not. You are being silly, Apple is known all over the world and have proven themselves time and time again. Apple deserves the respect they get from tech sites to users like myself. Go and seek professional help and your anger towards Apple and the tech press isn’t healthy.

  18. I’m not talking about people, I am mad at the general media. All tech sites seem to love apple for the

  19. But does the Sony run iOS? The point of this phone is to take an old, tried and tested design, including the 4 inch form factor, future proofing the internals and making it so that people who still have their iPhone 5S from 3 years ago who didn’t want to upgrade due to no funds or the fact that 5 inch phones don’t appeal to them can transition over without too much hassle. Apple aren’t even marketing that the design is new. They admit that they’re design is old on their own site. The phone is marketed for its form factor. That’s why it exists. If Samsung released the S4-E with that S820 and 3GB RAM, with the same design, people would bash it too. People are bashing the iPhone. People bash other people. It’s what they do. It doesn’t necessarily mean that S4-E won’t find a market (in fact, they probably will, seeing that it’s a Samsung built phone with the small form factor some people are looking for). The problem is that people complain too much about a product they probably won’t buy. Do you like the product? If yes, good that you found one that suited you. You didn’t like it? Don’t buy it. Apple won’t care, because they know that there are people who will buy this for whatever reason they need it for, be it form factor combined with operating system or maybe nostalgia from 3 years ago.

  20. Because it’s Apple and they can. If you don’t like how things are then go and comment on an Android article.

  21. You were done before you started kid, you’re just not smart enough to realize how dumb you are :-)

  22. Ok. I’m done here. You’ve demonstrated time and time again you haven’t the first idea what you’re talking about. And ‘the reasoner’? LOL.

  23. There is no reason for the internals to be moved around, only the power button location is different on the newer design. Would it have cost to shrink the design so it could wrap around a 5s or SE, sure but miniscule when compared to a completely new design.

  24. oh yeah shrink it. Just shrink it. I wonder why they didn’t think of that? Have you ever looked inside a modern electronic device? Do you understand how the components go together? (these are rhetorical questions, it’s obvious that you don’t). Take a look some time how much they spend on R&D and their manufacturing. You literally have no idea do you.

  25. I suspect a redesign to have minimal cost seeing as the template in the 6/6s is already in place. Simply shrinking it in size would have been cheaper than a who new design and considering that the internals can keep their current configuration with just a different case surrounding them I’d say the costs would be very manageable indeed.

  26. What?! Do you even understand how much designing a new device like that costs? Using an old design has afforded them some savings, which are passed on to the consumer by way of a lower price than their other devices. You seem to have misunderstood my point about 16GB vs. 32GB vs. 64GB. I totally agree that a 16GB base model is ridiculous in this day and age. And for it to then jump to 64GB is equally ridiculous. I’m sure everyone agrees that 32GB would be a more sensible base model. But my point here is that it would also not make sense for them to increase it on their budget device and leave their flagship with a 16GB. That would alienate customers and lose them sales from their flagship phone. I hope that they also see it the same way and change to 32GB base with the iPhone 7, paving the way for the iPhone SE successor to do the same.

  27. Now you’re just being silly, Apple’s margins are the biggest in the industry. There is absolutely no reason to raise the price just because a new design or better quality internals were included….other than greed that is. Yes, mobile payment options are limited here with the banks blocking them while they get their own mobile payment services running. 16 to 64 GB spread never should have happened in the first place. Just more greed being defended by gulible fans imo.

  28. RAM could be an issue, but you’re making an assumption based on lack of information. You realise why it has a lower camera, touch ID and screen right? They’re using the same ones off of the 5S for this. This is how they got the price so low – they’ve had to do very little development in comparison to making a whole new phone. They’ve put the new internals in, but no exterior work was needed. If they wanted to include all the upgraded front camera, an upgraded screen or touch ID, then guess what, the price would have gone up! And not being able to use Apple Pay. What?! I don’t know what country you live in, but in the UK it’s everywhere. You have a point on the storage, but consider what you’d be saying if they did up their ‘budget’ phone to 32gb minimum.

  29. You can’t use Apple Pay much? What, except for everywhere that takes contactless, which is tonnes of places?

  30. Benchmarks recently performed suggest 2 GB RAM but still unconfirmed. That they are using the older and slower touch id has been confirmed by several sites already.

  31. Apparently no new touch id either, they are still using the slower original one and at $500 for decent storage so you can use that 4K video recording it’s still

  32. $800? That’s way too expensive but bare in mind that the Australian dollar is pretty weak against the US dollar and our British pounds as well.

  33. its an 800$ phone in australia….its not going to sell…

  34. I’m not saying I would buy this phone as I have a 6s Plus and wouldn’t go back to that screen size but your whining and complaining isn’t valid and is quite frankly stupid. It’s a cheaper iPhone so you can’t expect everything the flagship has but the iPhone SE has the most important parts from the 6s, the A9 chip and M9 chip plus you can record 4K video and it has inherited the 12MP camera so there isn’t very much to complain about for those that like that screen size, I think having last generation Touch ID is a minor compromise along with having just a 1.2MP front facing camera, while not brilliant it will be better than any Android phone and the price point of the iPhone SE and yes even the S6 which is similarly priced but isn’t a 4 inch phone so it doesn’t count. Heck cone to think of it, there’s no Android that’s 4 inch at this price point so this is a master stroke from Apple which will form Android OEMs to start making 4 inch phones when they see how well the iPhone SE will sell.

  35. LOL, 2 years ago, apple supporters like yourself were all ‘the processor doesnt matter’ … now you’re all ‘its the most important part’ ‘we dont need a bigger screen’ … ‘damn this big screen is so amazing’ ‘we dont need higher resolution’ … ‘my resolution is better then yours’ you’re arguments are stupid.

  36. There isn’t very much to complain about, it has the most important parts of the flagship 6s (the A9 SOC, 12MP camera and RAM) you shouldn’t expect to get everything the bigger iPhones have, for its price it’s very good value and way cheaper than the original 5s so your basically getting a 6s in the body of a 5s, with the only differences being the older generation Touch ID, no 3D Touch and the poorer front facing camera,and a slightly better battery than the 5s had. You aren’t the target audience so you shouldn’t complain.

  37. except for you know…..all the things people are complaining about…. get out of the A-hole bennie.

  38. What’s with all the complaining? It’s a cheaper iPhone so there will be some cut backs, you’re not going to get a 5MP camera with a cheaper iPhone it’s great that Apple put all the current internals from the 6s so there isn’t much to complain about.

  39. It’s hardly the same specs, I struggling to think of an apt analogy but that screen resolution is dire! Maybe like putting the pinnacle of an F1 engine (the era that may be is up to you) into a road car but limiting the revs to, say, 2000rpm? You car may even be a nice looking one with the same power but no one will ever see it… You know, since on a phone the screen is the part you actually look at

  40. Camera has had a massive overhaul for both photo and video, Apple Pay is on this when it wasn’t on the 5S, and the processor is greatly improved over the 5S. And to answer a previous comment of yours ($400 will equal 00a3400), it’s selling for 00a3359 in the UK and has the same specs as their flagship phone which costs nearly 00a3200 more. Yes, that is a very good deal as the only real difference is the smaller screen.

  41. Because apart from putting a this year’s chip in an iPhone 5S, what else has been notably improved? I don’t really mind, there is indeed a lack of strong phones with smaller screens. The only company trying to offer something was Sony’s Z Compact range. It’s the hypocrisy that annoys me. Imagine Samsung releasing the S4 Mini with a Snapdragon 820 and 3GB ram. Everyone would bash them for lack of innovation, no design evolution, etc etc. What does Apple gets for the same?

  42. Aside from the low resolution screen how is it a 3 year old phone? Plenty of people buy mid-range phones precisely because they want a smaller screen.

  43. Only Apple can sell a 3-year-old phone as something new and exciting. I don’t even find the words of how outrageous/silly/funny/derogatory this is.

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