iPhone SE review: 5 things to know about Apple’s bargain phone
Apple’s latest iPhone is a fantastic, affordable powerhouse.
As iPhone releases go, they don’t come more low key than the new iPhone SE. The combination of a quiet roll-out and a global lockdown have meant that Apple’s new phone pretty much sneaked onto shelves on April 24th.
Don’t let its stealthy release fool you, though. The 2020 iPhone SE could very well be the most consequential iPhone release of the year. Beyond that, it could fundamentally change how smartphones are put together and priced going forward.
But should you buy one? Here are five things to keep in mind while you make your decision.
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Apple iPhone SE
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1. The design is an iPhone throwback
At first glance, the iPhone SE looks an awful lot like the iPhone 8 from 2017. A second and third glance might help you appreciate the subtly different colours - Red, Black, and White, all with a black front - and the more central Apple logo on the glass back.
But really this is the iPhone 8 resurrected for one last hurrah, right down to the IP67 water resistance rating, false home button (which vibrates to mimic being pressed), stereo speakers and total lack of headphone jack. This iPhone 6-derived design was never exactly iconic. But at the same time it’s rather refreshing to hold such a small, light phone in 2020.
Having a physical home button under the screen seems awfully old fashioned too. But using Touch ID side by side with the in-display fingerprint sensors of the OnePlus 8 Pro and the Huawei P40 Pro, we know which we prefer. Apple’s biometric sensor is way quicker and more reliable than its newfangled competitors.
You also get the same 1,821 mAh battery as the iPhone 8, which will get you through a full 12 hour day with around 20% to spare.
2. The screen is small but sharp
Take that small body, apply some huge bezels and a Home button, and you have a 4.7-inch Retina display that’s truly tiny by modern standards. It’s plenty sharp enough though, even with a mere 640 x 1136 pixels.
It doesn’t poke you in the eye with vibrant colour like the iPhone 11 Pro or the OnePlus 8. That’s because the iPhone SE basically uses the same IPS LCD display we got in the iPhone 7. It’s much brighter and more vibrant than Apple’s LCDs used to be, but you don’t get the sheer level of contrast of its newer OLED phones.
3. It’s fast and future-proof
You might be wondering why you would you bother buying - or even rebuying - an iPhone 8. But you see, the iPhone SE is a subtly different beast, having received a brain transplant from a much younger model.
Apple has fitted the iPhone SE with the same A13 Bionic CPU that powers its flagship iPhone 11 Pro. This is significant for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, you’re getting access to a lot more power. Everything runs super-snappily on the iPhone SE, whether you’re jumping into the Camera app from the lockscreen or firing up a game of CoD Mobile on maximum graphical settings.
It also means that you won’t have to upgrade from the iPhone SE any time soon. The A13 chip has bags of untapped performance potential, and you can guarantee that Apple will keep supporting it with software updates for years to come.
4.The camera has a singular focus
The internet teardown experts have already cracked the iPhone SE open and established that it uses the iPhone 8’s three-year-old camera hardware. But we’re perfectly OK with that.
Yes, this camera has just a single 12-megapixel f/1.8 lens, which means you won’t be zooming in to see what your neighbours are doing in lockdown. But it takes the kind of reliably crisp and balanced shots in decent lighting that you typically have to pay a lot of money for.
You can even take portrait shots without the assistance of a second lens, and they’ll look really good. Subjects pop from their defocused backgrounds without the usual fuzzy edges.
The reason all this can be achieved with relatively humble hardware is, as always, Apple’s brilliant camera software and its peerless image processing power. And on that latter front, the iPhone SE gets a sizeable boost from the A13 CPU.
One thing it can’t really handle too well is night time photography, which is a shame. You would have thought that Apple could have worked its computational magic here, but there’s no Night Mode to be found on the SE.
You can expect noisy, blurry extreme low light shots as a result.
5. Possibly the best-value iPhone ever
There’s one essential piece of context that casts these discussions in a new and overwhelmingly positive light. The iPhone SE price starts from just £419.
When you take inflation into consideration, alongside those impressive internal specs, then the iPhone SE is the best-value smartphone Apple has ever made. All of a sudden, those gripes about the creaky design and lack of Night Mode become a whole lot less significant.
When you buy a brand new iPhone, you’re buying into an ecosystem that gives you unique benefits. You can expect peerless customer support, frequent and long-lasting software updates, and access to the best App Store in the business.
That you can now join this exclusive club for a third of the price of an iPhone 11 Pro Max, with very little in the way of meaningful compromise, is really quite something.
There are bigger and prettier phones than the iPhone SE. It certainly won’t win any prizes for forward-looking design, and its camera could be more flexible.
But when you consider the asking price, and the level of performance and polish that you’re getting for that fee, the iPhone SE becomes one of the most tempting propositions on the market. We can scarcely believe that we’re saying these words, but Apple’s latest iPhone is an absolute steal.
The only question you really need to ask yourself is: knowing that the iPhone SE is out there, can you really justify spending two or even three times the money on your next phone?
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