iPhone SE review: small, blocky smartphone has guts where it counts

The most important thing to realise about the iPhone SE is that it’s not a new phone. Not really.
Nanjing Night Net

This phone is kind of like the ‘s’ branded iPhones that release every second year and serve as refinements to their direct predecessor, except that the SE is a refinement to 2013’s iPhone 5s. For anyone used to a newer phone, the biggest shock in using the SE will be the reminder of what flagship phones looked and felt like three years ago.

Of course, the phone’s insides are taken from the much newer iPhone 6s, meaning for anyone using Apple’s latest the SE represents a downgrade in physical design (and price), and a sidegrade in guts.

While there are several reasons a 6 or 6s owner might want to switch to the SE (more on that in a bit), the diminutive iPhone’s biggest success is in filling a hole Apple had in its line for a less expensive, more manageable handset that has the latest functionality. Many more people — whether they’re on a budget or simply don’t need the biggest, fastest, prettiest pocket candy they can get their hands on — now have the option of getting a brand new iPhone, and that can only be a good thing. Build and screen

The SE looks like a throwback, especially since the 5 and 5s were already retro-looking at the time of their release. Unfortunately, the first thing I noticed when I switched on the device was also a bit of a time trip — back to an age before HD phone screens.

It won’t be a big deal to everyone given the size, but coming from the world of big phones where 1080×1920 is the bare minimum, the little panel plucked directly from the iPhone 5s shows its age. Viewing angles and contrast are identical to the 2013 phone, but it’s the resolution that sticks out most. A 4-inch LED at 640×1136, the pixel density is comparable to the iPhone 6s but far below the 6s Plus or any recent Android flagship.

The phone’s body has seen some minor updates in the details — the aluminium and shiny Apple logo are a bit nicer this time around — but at a glance and in the hand the SE could well be mistaken for an iPhone 5s.

The edges are chunky and square, which makes for excellent grip and easy one-handed use. I was shocked to remember how much of the phone’s face was taken up by plastic, which makes the small screen feel even more cramped, but being able to reach both the home button and top edges with the same thumb is nice. The 3D Touch of the iPhone 6s is nowhere to be seen on the SE. Performance

Inside that ageing shell beats the heart of a much more modern machine, with the central processor, graphics processor and RAM pulled straight from last year’s iPhone 6s. The efficiency of the new tech paired with the simplicity of the sub-HD screen means the SE has the snappiest navigation of any iPhone you can get right now, and probably the best battery life too.

According to Apple’s own battery numbers, the big iPhone 6s Plus has the SE beat for standby longevity and talk time (since the screen is off), and the SE has a slight edge when it comes to internet use. In much less scientific real-world use however, the SE seems to last quite a bit longer than its larger brothers, and way longer than the 5s does.

The quickness of the SE shows iOS 9 in its best possible light, with buttery smooth transitions and no delay or stuttering when launching apps or navigating that animation-heavy app switcher. If you’re currently on an iPhone 6 or 6s and like the sound of a smaller screen, the more stable overall performance could be enough to sway you to sidegrade.

Of course apps and games benefit from the improved internals as well, with the phone taking even the latest 3D intensive graphics in its stride. It’s worth thinking about the apps you use when considering the SE though, as it’s clear developers tailor their efforts for the 4.7-inch iPhone. When shrunk to the SE, tap targets can be harder to hit and your hands will cover more screen real estate. While this is something you get used to with some apps — messaging, browsing, more passive games — it can make others difficult.

Camera-wise, you get a mixed bag with the SE. The main shooter is straight from the 6s, which remains one of the best mobile cameras on the market. Live photos and burst mode are supported, which will be a nice upgrade if you’re trading in your 5s, and all this without the unsightly camera bump seen on the new iPhones. Less nice is the fact that the front-facing camera is the same old 1.2MP guy from 2013, meaning low-light selfies are pretty poor even with the light-blasting ‘retina flash’.

Finally, while the SE packs the same version of Touch ID seen on the 5s, it has an NFC chip ready for Apple Pay built into the back. Should you get one?

If you don’t currently have an iPhone and are in a position to get any one you like, your decision will depend on your priorities. The SE is the smallest, lightest and cheapest of the five options available from Apple, while the others are bigger, bolder and pricier. If you already have a 6 or 6 Plus, moving to the SE will give you a noticeable performance bump, while 6s and 6s Plus users don’t have a reason to switch unless they really want a smaller phone.

The user more likely to consider the SE is the one who can’t (or doesn’t want to) drop the kind of cash needed for Apple’s big new phones. If this is you, you can rest assured that the SE is every bit as capable as its biggest brothers, even if it’s not quite as shiny. Using the screen and body of a three-year-old device, this is definitely a budget product (although Apple would never designate it so), but it’s shiny and new where it counts.

The iPhone SE is available in silver, gold, ‘space grey’ and ‘rose gold’. Outright from Apple, the 16GB model costs $679, while the 64GB model costs $829.

Follow Digital Life on Twitter

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Comments are closed.