iPhone SE: Updated

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Review: Updated: iPhone SE

Introduction: a new / old era for Apple

There’s a part of me that doesn’t understand why Apple gets the amount of interest it does with something like the iPhone SE. It’s a phone that’s in an identical chassis to the one released three years ago, and beyond a new color it’s impossible to know which model is which. It’s the iPhone ‘Special Edition’.

Then I look around the train carriage on the way to work and count the amount of iPhone 5S and 5 devices that are being prodded quietly all around. The number is staggering, and it easily dwarfs the amount of iPhone 6 or iPhone 6S handsets on show.

Has Apple been smart here? Looked at the way people are using phones and realised there’s a massive market for a certain form factor – one that’s not only not being serviced in the iWorld, but in the smartphone arena in general?

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

The iPhone SE is a phone that many might not have expected – in truth, we thought the iPhone 5C would get a reboot, with the plastic chassis coming in a more rounded, 6S-a-like shape and allowing Apple to offer a lower-cost phone that could be pushed to other territories where flagship phones don’t sell as well.

But instead we got a hark back to a long-forgotten era in smartphones, like Apple slit time in two and pulled a phone back through, and charged US$399 (£359, AU$679) for the 16GB model, and US$499 (£439, $AU829) for the 64GB option for the privilege.

The question of price is more important here than ever before. By launching a 4-inch phone, no matter how fancy the internals are, consumers will expect it to be a little cheaper – and thankfully that’s what Apple has done.

It’s actually rather impressive – in the UK at least, the price of the contract for this phone is cheaper than many flagships from 2015, and considering the high-end internals used here, it’s pretty good. The SIM-free price isn’t cheap, but it’s more affordable than a ‘new’ iPhone has ever been.

But enough about the price – usually, people that are embedded into the iOS ecosystem struggle to leave it, and are willing to pay whatever’s necessary to get a decent new phone.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

So what about this decision to re-re-release the iPhone 5? Has Apple zigged when the rest of the world has zagged, and come up with the direction everyone has been clamoring for, making a powerful-yet-palmable phone?

Or is this a company arrogantly believing it can churn out the same phone design for the third time and hope the world will consider it different enough to be worth the upgrade?

Key new features

Besides price (the iPhone SE is the cheapest Apple handset on the market, after all) the key selling point with this new phone is the design. The chassis, as I’ve mentioned above, is precisely the same as on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S, and beyond coming in rose gold, doesn’t offer anything new at all.

That said, so many people are looking at the iPhone’s evolution to the 4.7-inch display of the 6 and 6S and scrunched their noses up a bit, not wanting to make the leap to the larger size of screen (and that’s before we even get into the iPhone 6S Plus’ mega size).

The new phone is designed to be easily operated with one hand, the 4-inch screen sitting just at the edge of a thumb stretch, and Apple is banking on this fact keeping the handset current.

However, internally things are genuinely supercharged, a world away from the innards stuffed into the handset from a few years back. The camera has had one of the biggest overhauls, now coming with the 12MP iSight sensor found in the current flagship phones, and offering the same array of tricks.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

That means Focus Pixels to offer clearer and faster autofocus, the improved two-tone flash and Live Photos, where a small amount of video is captured with every photo taken. 4K video recording and ultra-slo-mo movie modes really help sweeten the deal too.

The power of the iPhone SE is something to behold as well – it’s as powerful as the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus thanks to having the new A9 chip, the M9 co-processor and 2GB of RAM.

Compare that to the A7 chip with a measly 1GB of RAM from the iPhone 5S and side by side they’re absolutely night and day in terms of speed and battery life management.

The M9 co-processor is an important element too, telling the phone when it should be heading into a dormant mode thanks to being sat quietly on a desk or in a pocket, which prevents the battery-hungry pings that lead to the red line of doom and you needing to reach for the charger at 6PM.

Battery life is impressive on the phone, especially when you consider there are only a few mAh added in here, from 1560mAh to 1624mAh, and with no increase to the size of the chassis at all, this is a really impressive feat and addresses one of the key concerns I had with the iPhone 5S.

Design and screen

The design of the iPhone SE, as you’ve probably already guessed, is identical to that of the iPhone 5S. That means you’ve got the same compact chassis that fits perfectly in one hand, the chamfered edges to provide a different texture and comfort to the edge of the phone and the same overall boxy design from the days of yore.

In fact, visually the only difference is the thing now comes in rose gold. That’s it.

The phone does indeed fit well in the palm, with almost no stretching needed to get to all parts of the screen. What’s surprising is how Apple hasn’t drawn in any design elements from the iPhone 6S, keeping things like the ‘battery-like’ + and – icons on the volume keys, the larger drilled holes of the speaker grille at the bottom of the phone and the power button living on the top of the handset.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

It makes sense, I guess. After all, they were well made then, and they’re as premium looking now. The finish on the metal chassis is always impressive from Apple, and combined with the new rose gold color always makes me feel like I’m looking at a high end phone when glancing at the display on my desk.

What’s funny is that one of the same issues I had with the older model, which I thought was just a slight manufacturing defect, is back once again. If you shake the phone at all, something will rattle – the power button doesn’t seem properly attached on some level.

Clearly this is a design point Apple is fine with, else it would have been eradicated a few years later when rebooting the phone’s design – it’s irritating though, as it diminishes the iPhone SE’s premium feel.

I do like the smaller design though, despite the fact I’m firmly a fan of larger phones these days. It’s almost a novelty having something so capable that I can use one-handed, and it’s surprising that so many brands have shied away from doing the same thing.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

In terms of weight, it’s super hard to even tell you’re holding the phone at some points, thanks to it being 113g light. That’s a whole 1g more than the 5S, but it’s impossible to tell the difference.

The ‘click’ and pressure needed on all the buttons remains perfect, with the feedback feeling like it’s the result of months (or in this case, years) of honing.

From the mute rocker switch to the volume keys, I’m a real fan of the way this phone has been put together (although I wish it wasn’t just one mono speaker firing out the bottom of the phone.)

However, my biggest bugbear with Apple (and phone brands in general) is that this is a backwards step in terms of phone design. Yes, it’s a popular shape (as the quick survey on the train proved), but the identical iPhone SE is nothing but a ‘bonus’ version of the 5S.

I’m fully behind Apple’s decision to bring the raw power of its flagship phones to the smaller form factor, but it could have rebooted the design quite easily. Why are we not seeing a smaller phone with the same curved edges of the iPhone 6S, a smaller, pebble-like experience in the hand? Now that would have been exciting.

It’s easy to see why the form remains though: the brand has surely invested in the manufacturing processes to create the iPhone 5 and 5S, and rather than cover them in a dust sheet has cranked them into use once more.

It’s a great exercise in cost saving, and while you can ask why one of the richest companies in the world needs to keep its margins as high as possible when it could afford to take this hit… well, there’s a reason it’s so wealthy.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

That said, I firmly believe that every phone, to be considered a success and a step forward, needs to be obviously different from its predecessor, to make the user feel like they’re getting something new for their money.

The angled sides seen on the iPhone SE were brilliant in 2010 when they appeared on the iPhone 4, but they’re tired now, so the SE will always feel like a small, if powerful, update.

Screen

Another issue I’ve got here with the new iPhone is the screen – like the chassis, it’s straight out of 2012, coming as it did with the iPhone 5. While you could just think that it’s simply a smaller version of what’s on the current iPhone duo, in truth it’s rather old in terms of spec.

Of course it’s a Retina display, Apple’s shorthand for a phone that hits a certain sharpness at a certain distance from your eyes – but in a 4-inch display, there’s a noticeable lack of sharpness here.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

Apple’s always focused more on the quality of the display than pixel density – its iPad range is industry-leading when it comes to having a great-looking screen, rather than shoving in more pixels for the sake of it.

But when Samsung is easily making the best smartphone screens in the world, and the iPhone 6S is stuck on a 720p display, I’d have hoped for a little bit of an upgrade for the iPhone SE. Instead it’s used the same LCD and digitizer layer as found on the older models (again, likely to save money on production) and as a result it’s clearly less sharp and lower quality than the flagship brands.

The key thing for any brand in making a quality phone is making sure four pillars are present and correct: great design, non-annoying battery life, good camera and quality screen. After all, it’s the bit you stare at most.

Apple’s not stupid though – this display is more than good enough. The lower contrast ratio (800:1 is quite far behind some of the top phones on the market right now – the new iPhone 6S duo included) is probably the most irksome element, but in terms of sharpness the 4-inch display handles the 1334×750 resolution adequately.

One thing I didn’t miss a jot was 3D Touch. I still like the idea of a screen that has levels of pressure response baked right in, but the amount of times I forget it’s there on the larger iPhone is dizzying. While it would have been nice to have the option on the SE, it’s not like I ever felt the experience was compromised by its omission.

And when viewing Live Photos in the gallery app, the simple long press on the screen activated the mini-video just fine. On the iPhone 6S you need to prod the screen a little harder to get the motion going – it just seems like overkill when it’s so easy to do without the technology on the SE.

Movies, music and gaming

The main issue I encountered with the iPhone SE’s screen was when watching movies. The Retina display can’t even display the lower end of HD movies… but that does make buying them a little cheaper, I guess.

The sharpness looked OK actually – better than I was expecting / remembered from the iPhone 5S. But I’ve become used to a much more vivid and visible screen, and watching any kind of ‘atmospheric’ (read: a bit darker) movie meant I had to fire the brightness right up.

As you’ll see in our battery tests later, this had far less effect than on older Apple phones as the improved internals help improve power management on the iPhone SE, but I’d rather not have to fire the brightness right up on my phone just to watch a movie.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

Gaming was a similar experience, with the power of the iPhone SE easily taking on any title that needed a bit of raw grunt to run smoothly. Real Racing 3 still looks great – and is a great benchmark to test whether a lot of fast action can be handled on screen at once.

But other games, like Warhammer 40,000 Freeblade, ran super smoothly even with loads going on throughout the screen – it’s weird to see such a thing, like a Ferrari engine shoved into a small Fiat but somehow fitting in well.

In short, the performance of the iPhone SE is astounding given the size and what Apple’s had to fit in the smaller chassis.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

And that includes the excellent audio reproduction I’ve come to expect from the Cupertino-based brand. I’ve not got the audiophilic ears that some of my techradar colleagues possess, so my main rule of thumb is usually ‘does it sound SUPER TERRIBLE Y/N?’

But a couple of times, paired with some decent Marshall headphones, the iPhone SE caught me by surprise with the audio clarity of just listening to average quality songs on Spotify. Apple’s iPod heritage is still going strong here, despite the lack of overt support for the new wave of Hi-Res sound files.

Specs and performance

Are you wondering how impressive the iPhone SE is under the finger? Well, the answer is simple: very good indeed. There are a number of factors at work here, from the fact it shares an A9 chipset with the latest iPhones to the doubling of the RAM seen in the iPhone 5S – everything is much faster than expected.

The graphical upgrade is probably the most marked improvement – it’s a six-core chip that dwarfs the power of the iPhone 5S and even the iPhone 6, making me wonder why anyone would buy 2014’s iPhone other than wanting the larger screen at a lower price.

GeekBench 3 benchmarking offers some interesting stats: the iPhone SE matches the 6S duo almost perfectly, and slightly outdoes them, in fact. The result of 4438 is a shade ahead of 2015’s flagships, likely to do with having to power fewer pixels, and is almost twice as good as the performance from the iPhone 6 – this really is an impressive amount of power for the small phone.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

The other performance indicators – movies, gaming and audio output – have all be covered in the section above, and while the screen does mar the film-watching experience somewhat, the sheer quality of the images whether from the camera or on the display is impressive.

If you’re wondering how much storage you’ve got to play with here, the bad news is that AGAIN Apple has gone with a 16GB base model size, with only 64GB on offer if you want to play it a bit safer in terms of bytes you can pop in your pocket.

Considering nearly every flagship around at the moment in the Android world has 32GB minimum, this is a bit irritating. The system nabs about 7-8GB before you’ve even started the phone up, so with only 8-9GB to work with on the smaller model you might find yourself making decisions about the content you want to save on the iPhone SE during the two years of your contract.

Touch ID

Another curious / money-saving move from Apple is the use of a last-gen Touch ID sensor, which means it’s not quite as fast as the latest option on the newer phones. It’s an odd choice, given it surely can’t cost a huge amount to offer the functionality, but then again given this phone has a lower cost than the iPhone 6S, perhaps Apple’s looking to shave every margin it can.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

It’s another example of the small sacrifices you’ll have to make if you go for the iPhone SE over the larger model – nothing major and it won’t bug you too much, but not as good as it could be. It’s worth noting the speed of opening is pretty fast still, and you’d only notice if you came from one of the newer iPhones.

And this Touch ID is still good enough to enable Apple Pay, so you’ll be easily able to use the small phone to pay for goods wherever contactless is enabled. And the smaller size seems to make it easier to find the trigger point for the NFC chip, as it was a complete cinch to pay for a few beers with this thing. Worryingly.

Interface

It’s hard to talk about the interface on an iPhone because, well, I’d be hugely surprised if you don’t know it already. Most people reading this article will already be iPhone users, and those that aren’t will probably know how one works, such is its iconic status in the smartphone world.

I will say that the 4-inch screen is the perfect portal for iOS though, with the one-handed nature of operating the iPhone SE perfect for doing EVERYTHING from checking notifications to turning on the torch or activating flight mode.

The simplicity of the system seems to fit better in one hand – when you start employing a second palm to navigate around a phone, I think you’ve got more license to get a bit more complex in your tapping patterns.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

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One area that is a slight concern – and one that I’m struggling to work out if it’s just a worry because I’m used to much larger phones these days – is the keyboard.

It’s fortunate that Apple’s upgraded its default keyboard in recent years, as the older version was just terrible. Add to that the cramped conditions on offer with the iPhone SE’s smaller screen and I found typing very difficult on this phone.

You can, of course, download a new keyboard from someone like SwiftKey, and this will add in the ability to swipe your words out – I wish the default Apple keyboard had this, as it would be perfect on the smaller iPhone SE screen here.

But overall, it’s hard to fault Apple’s OS in terms of raw predictability and speed. I’ll never be happy until Cook’s Crew finally gives us contextual menus (I mean, SURELY it makes more sense to put the ability to change the camera settings in the camera app itself?) but beyond that it’s hard to say there’s much wrong with iOS.

It’s only those that like the idea of customisation, to change nearly every element of the phone, that sneer at the platform – and for them, Android is just perfect.

Battery

As I mentioned earlier, the iPhone SE somehow manages to not only build in a much better battery than the iPhone 5S, but it does so with no extra chassis space to cram extra electrons.

Despite that, Apple has managed to shrink down some of the components inside to plop a slightly larger power unit inside the SE, up from 1560mAh to 1624mAh (and that’s more impressive when you consider the iPhone 5 had a 1440mAh power pack).

In my testing though, it was a mixed bag. While it’s hard to truly remember how much battery I used to get through on an average day with the iPhone 5S, I do remember it being rather terrible a lot of the time.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

It’d regularly be down to 20% by the evening when leaving work – enough to be in the red zone at times – which was a terrible performance for any phone, let alone a top-end flagship handset.

The good news is the iPhone SE is much more capable – but then again, you’d expect that from a phone that’s had two years of development, a leaner operating system and the M9 co-processor all to ease the strain on the troubled power unit.

That said, it’s fairly easy to run it down quickly, with some days seeing me need to switch on Low Power Mode early at 35% to make sure I made it through the day.

It’s fair to say these are the higher-usage days, with things like tethering an iPad and a couple of hours of video watching at full brightness in the mix, but the new glut of flagship handsets are all capable of easily lasting a day with such pressure put on the battery life, and it puts the performance of the iPhone SE into the spotlight.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

You’d think the above scenario, where watching video at such a high brightness, would be the obvious reason of the battery diminishing so much – nope, not in this case.

While a trip into the battery settings tries to tell me that video is the biggest battery guzzler out there, the phone was charged to 100% at 10.30AM, a 90 minute Full HD video was run at full brightness and the iPhone SE was left on a desk.

It only dropped 20% in that time – and while that’s far from the best performance we’ve seen (I’m still struggling to explain the 6% the LG G Flex 2 managed – it’s an obscenely good result) the iPhone SE managed a score that’s slightly above average, which is a damningly good result for an iPhone.

So why did it need such massaging come 18.00 that evening? It seems that, despite the co-processor trying to manage down battery life, the iPhone is still a bit chatty when it comes to battery consumption, pinging a little bit here and there and gradually dribbling down.

However, I’m keen to reiterate that this was a heavy day on the phone – in the week I’ve had with it, it’s generally been capable of lasting more than long enough for me to not get annoyed.

If you’re upgrading to this phone from the iPhone 5 or 5S, you’ll be in dreamland with the battery life, trust me.

Camera

The 12MP camera on the iPhone SE is a marked upgrade from that in the 5S or 5 in a number of ways, not just the boost in megapixels.

It’s imbued with all manner of fancy technology that you just wouldn’t have found on the earlier models – and, in fact, is another perfect example of Apple giving iPhone SE users the same toys as found on the larger 6S.

Review: Updated: iPhone SE

Firstly, the 12MP sensor comes with Focus Pixels, which are a secondary layer within the camera that works out what the phone is being pointed at and sharpens things up rather quickly. It’s not the best in the industry, but it’s more than quick enough and if you’ve got a millisecond to hold the camera steady you’ll generally get a sharp snap each time.

Live Photos is added into the mix too, and while I was sceptical when I first saw the feature on the 6S, I can’t deny that it does enhance some snaps (there’s a surprise foam party that wouldn’t have been the same without the feature).

It’s also the sapphire covering on the camera that’s a decent upgrade too – so many pictures on older phones are now fuzzy and seemingly covered in a smeared layer, such are the micro-scratches that festoon the cover.

By making this stronger Apple has removed one of the big issues that can plague the iPhone SE in its later life, and I love that it’s now flush with the chassis thanks to being a little thicker. It’s hard to say why, but the clean lines on the back are so much more pleasant.

Settings-wise, the iPhone sticks to simplicity, keeping only the options you want front and center. That means you can toggle on HDR or Live Photos, toggle the timer or flash and add an effect. Square mode remains for easier Instagram pics, and the video and slo-mo modes are within an easy swipe.

When using the camera there’s only so much you can change when you’re snapping – there’s no professional setting to play with. When tapping the screen to focus a simple slide up or down with your finger will alter the exposure, but if you’re looking to change color temperature or aperture speed, you’ll need to install a specific app.

I’m a fan of the way Apple does things here. Cameras should be simple first and foremost, getting out of the way to let you take the best snap possible, rather than worrying you that you’re not using the right settings in the correct places.

HDR becoming automatic really makes a difference too – while the mode has less of an effect now the iPhone packs a rather decent camera and usually captures more tone and detail than in previous years, I still got improved pictures when it fired automatically.

Let’s get onto the actual camera quality. It’s, obviously, pretty good – and I say obviously because the iPhone 6S’ camera has already been dissected and impresses, so I was fully expecting the same to be happening here.

Apple’s phones always err on the side of natural pictures – which sounds like a great thing, but I’m not always so sure. While it’s great to have natural skin tones and more neutral colors to match more closely to what the eye is seeing, other phones add a slight richness to snaps that makes them ‘pop’ off the screen.

I’m not saying that this will be the sort of thing many people like, but I kept feeling like the pictures I was getting off the iPhone SE were a little muted in comparison to something like the Samsung Galaxy S7.

The iPhone SE also has a decent low-light mode, although again it’s not the best around. It is, however, still brilliant at getting pictures in darker scenes, and for that alone it gets a big tick from me.

My only bugbear with this camera really comes from the size of the phone. I found that it was too small to properly wield when framing a shot – while it was easier to hold, and thus more steady, I really pined for a larger viewfinder to see what I was going to be capturing.

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I maintain that a good photo is the one that you want to share, and the smaller 4-inch display meant I wasn’t always sure I’d got something brilliant, having to zoom in and out to check clarity etc.

The smaller screen also made it harder to use the volume-down key to take pictures one handed, as I kept covering a portion of the screen with my palm. It’s not a big deal, and one that I probably wouldn’t feel if I wasn’t coming from a larger phone.

But in this instance I think it’s worth pointing to the larger phones as a superior photographic experience – in terms of holding the phone if you’re thinking of sticking with the iPhone, or just checking out the brilliant snapping ability of the Galaxy S7.

 

If you’re wondering whether the iPhone SE is for you, then you’re thinking one of two things: whether you want a new iPhone, or you fancy a smaller handset.

If it’s the former then the iPhone 6S is your obvious other choice – it’s got all the same power but in a bigger (and sleeker) frame, with the curved edges sitting nicely in the hand.

However, the screen sharpness isn’t improved (although it’s brighter and clearer overall) and you’ll be paying more for the privilege – but that screen size is important to a lot of people.

So it’s not the iPhone you’re after – it’s the power in the smaller package. Well, if you’re into the Android ecosystem, we recommend the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact.

It’s got nearly all the same impressive innards as the Z5 ‘normal’ – a 720p screen aside – which means you can take superb photos and still get the same amount of whizz under your finger.

It’s a little older – no more so than the iPhone 6S though – but it’s the only option here that’s waterproof.

 

OK, we get it. You want the iPhone, but you want the smaller size. The issue you’ve got is with the higher price. Well, in that case maybe you should look at the iPhone 5S – still on sale in many places despite being launched in 2013.

It’s got the same chassis and screen technology as the SE, but it’s in the speed and battery life areas that this phone will struggle – then again, if you’re not revving it with loads of apps or relying on it to entertain you all day then you’ll probably be OK.

Best to buy it SIM free though – this thing might not be supported by Apple in a couple of years.

 

This phone doesn’t fit into any of the categories above: it’s not an iPhone, it’s not a small phone and it’s not cheap. But it is one of the very best handsets around at the moment, with a superb camera, loads of power and the ability to charge on any wireless pad you happen to have lying around.

The design is rather neat too, with the back of the phone curving away nicely thanks to a new ‘3D thermoforming’ process.

In actual fact, I think the Galaxy S7 Edge is the better phone, but chose this one as the Edge is an even bigger device – it’s worth checking out though.

Read our Samsung Galaxy S7 reviewVerdict

I hope it’s been hugely apparent that I’ve written this review directly aimed at those upgrading from one of Apple’s smaller phones from a few years ago, because that’s clearly who the brand is aiming the SE at.

It sees the older form factor as a beloved chassis that many people will be loath to give up, and is trying to convince them that the iPhone SE is the perfect port in the Storm of Myriad Smartphones, the obvious upgrade.

 

It’s tremendously difficult to write an iPhone review – it doesn’t follow the rules of other phones. Firstly, the people in the ecosystem are the most entrenched, so recommending moving to a certain kind of Android phone is rarely helpful.

Secondly, price seems to be much less of a problem for many. Despite pointing out that, spec for spec, you’re getting a lot less for your money with each flagship iPhone, the things keep selling in obscenely high numbers, so there’s a disparity between value for money and the desire to own an iPhone.

So with that in mind – has Apple made the perfect iPhone for the niche of people that have been holding off buying a bigger handset for as long as possible?

We liked

The iPhone SE’s biggest draw is its size – and I know, that’s obvious. But if it weren’t for the fact it’s so easily operated one-handed, it would be impossible to see why Apple made this phone at all.

The smaller size definitely feels great in the hand and the pocket – and whether you’re slipping it into a bag, a running armband or just holding it gripped while walking along it’s a much more palatable design.

Obviously the power the SE’s been imbued with is impressive too – and considering the amount of grunt Apple’s managed to stick into the smaller phone, I’m surprised it doesn’t run hotter or have a poorer battery life.

I’ve been re-reading our iPhone 5S review from a few years back – and it’s interesting to note that while it sounds like the 5S has a better battery life (only dropping 17%, compared to 20% in our battery run-down test) in day to day use, the iPhone SE offers a much longer time between charges. While it’s not industry leading, it’s an iPhone with a good battery life, which many will love.

The camera is powerful and sharp too – again, for the upgraders out there they’ll be astounded by the changes (my friend recently couldn’t stop taking side-by-side pictures with the SE and an old 5, such was the difference).

It depends how you see the iPhone SE in the pantheon of modern smartphones as to whether you think it’s good value for money. It’s the cheapest iPhone on the market in many territories, and that’s with the same power and performance as the recent iPhone 6S. It is still on the higher side, but in terms of Apple’s pricing, it’s much better than phones I’ve seen recently.

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We disliked

The design of the phone isn’t ‘iconic’ – it’s dated. There’s no reason Apple couldn’t have created a smaller version of the iPhone 6S other than saving money – while that cost has been passed onto the consumer, it would have been amazing to see a new phone in this space.

The screen technology is what irritates me the most – and yes, I know it’s a price tradeoff. But, bar some small tweaks, this is a very similar display to what we saw on the iPhone 5 from 2012. Nearly four years old, and it’s being reused here. I’m not criticising spec for the sake of saying ‘well, this brand has shoved more pixels in’ because it’s how things look on the screen that matters.

And I’m sure that someone in Apple took a look at the display on the iPhone SE and said ‘yep, that’ll do’. Because it’s adequate – but compared to other phones you can get for the price (and I know, they’re a lot less wieldy) the difference is marked.

Whatever you do, don’t look at the iPhone SE’s screen then the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, for example. You’ll be a bit sad.

Verdict

With the iPhone SE, Apple’s fixed a big problem: price. Given the internals on offer here, this would have been close to a perfect phone if it weren’t for a few glaring omissions.

Firstly, we needed a new design for this to be seen as the next step in the 4-inch phone cycle. And it’s not like Apple doesn’t have a perfectly brilliant design just waiting there to be retooled, rounded edges combined with a more palm-friendly shape. Man, that would have been amazing.

The screen just had to be better for this to be seen as a brilliant phone. It’s fine, and in some instances still looks sharp. But compared to the rest of the market, it’s been left behind – but then again, Apple needed to make some savings to keep its high margins on the iPhone, and this was clearly one of those (the cost of making those screens is reportedly a lot lower than it was a few years ago as processes have improved).

Will the iPhone SE pull in any Android users fed up with having to wrap their hands around devices they consider too big? Actually, yes – such is the clamour I hear from people not wedded to any particular brand for a phone that ‘I can use one handed’.

Phones like the Nexus 5X tried to solve this itch, but are nowhere near the compact dimensions of the SE.

There are two ways of looking at this phone from Apple: on the one hand, it’s the perfect 4-inch phone, coming with so much power, a great camera and improved battery life, all wrapped in Apple’s well-crafted iPhone chassis and delivering true simplicity with iOS. I know that combination will have people falling over themselves to buy the phone.

On the other hand, it’s just 2011’s design rebadged and a new engine put inside. Far from being a new phone, it’s the iPhone 5SS, another iteration on an old design – but one that’s a lot cheaper to buy. It’s also got a much smaller screen, where it’s proved that larger displays are the popular choice now, with apps in particular making use of the extra space.

Ultimately, Apple’s given consumers a great choice here and actually for a half-decent price. The iPhone SE is a brilliant phone for those that want something smaller in their pocket and don’t care about tired design – and I suspect there will be quite a few of those buyers out there.

 

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50 thoughts on “iPhone SE: Updated

  1. 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.

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

  3. 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.

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

  5. Like you can compare the build of the S4 Mini with the iPhone SE?? Haha. The iPhone 5/5s/SE still has an amazing build. I took my GF’s iPhone 5s out of its case today just to get a feel for it again. And damn.. It still is a damn nice phone! Classic design and build, and the size is appealing! The screen is small though.. But i used it for 20 minutes or so, and got used to it quite fast (been a few years since i had a phone that small). And, the iPhone SE price is just right to be honest. Especially since you’re getting one of the fastest phones on the market. And the screen is still very good. Too many people just can’t get resolution out of their heads.. The resolution on the iPhone SE’s screen is fine for its size.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. in what way are they passed on to the consumer? its be found that they are making 100% profit on these devices which cost 700$ for the 16GB version…. im wondering where the savings are here? old design, old touch ID, old screen tech…same stupidly high cost.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. It has the same camera as the 6S – how can 12mp be slower than 8?

  15. 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.

  16. Banks block its use here because Apple wants a cut of the fee so it difficult to use it at all. So far the only work around is a non-bank affiliated, high interest, yearly fee AA card that one must apply for. Personally I think that there’s lots of people who still want a 4

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

  18. The difference is under a second for Touch ID, hardly a deal breaker. DID you mean a GS6? As in Samsung? Only problem. everything Samsung makes IS shit. Period.

  19. 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.

  20. 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

  21. $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.

  22. Well, every tech gadget seem to be more expensive in Australia.. It’s cheaper in the rest of the world though.

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

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

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

  28. 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.

  29. 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

  30. And the resolution is lower than the 6S. Not that you buy Apple phones for a decent screen.

  31. missing barometer, also missing 3D touch, 1.2MP front selfi camera.for year 2016 overpriced for 16Gb model.

  32. If your Liver Heart and Kidneys were transplanted – You would still be

  33. Because it is 2016 and nobody has a 1.2 MP camera anymore not even a 199$ phone. Need or not need just cheap

  34. Ummm… Have you tried Skyping, Facetiming using such a low res camera before, the image quality is horrible once you scale up to a better screen resolution. Do you not also think that this phone is targeted towards young girls that are forever taking selfies

  35. The rear camera is very nice. Why would anyone need more than 1.2 MP front camera — really, are you that great looking 😉

  36. 1.2 megapixel front facing camera and 480p video recording. Massive overhaul. Best thing is that you are not able to see 5s or SE unless you buying the pink one

  37. 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.

  38. 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?

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. Not once has apple catered to my taste in phones. Infact the very first product of theirs that held any appeal to me was the single ported 12 inch macbook but whilst I like it I haven’t purchased one because, you know, common sense!

  42. I agree this hoodoo they make only reflects the values we have in ourselves.

  43. They have released the phone purely because they have found that their is a demand for the size. And too pack 6s specs into it is impressive. Apple will innovate with the 7, Apple has catered for every taste and power users will salivate over the 7 as usual.

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