The rumour mill was right — Apple did indeed unveil a smaller iPhone 5s-like smartphone at their march media event. With the number of information leaks surrounding new Apple products, we hardly get any surprises any more.
That doesn’t mean the iPhone SE is a boring, cut-price iPhone 5c refresh though. If you expected Apple to unveil a cheap, underpowered smartphone, then you might be surprised at what this brand new 4″ model can do.
1. It’s the “iPhone SE” — Not “5SE”
Leading up to the event (and in many reports afterwards) Apple’s new smartphone was referred to as the 5SE, purely down to the fact that it somewhat resembles the iPhone 5 and 5s.
This led many to speculate that the iPhone would be a cheaper, less-powerful device aimed at the budget market. The reality is quite different.
Form factor aside, Apple’s newest smartphone has little in common with the iPhone 5 or 5s. Despite maintaining the same size, thickness (7.6mm), and adding a gram to the weight (113g), it’s twice as fast as a 5s in terms of processing power, with a graphics chip that’s three-times faster to boot.
The A9 chip inside the iPhone SE is the same one that’s in Apple’s flagship iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, which makes it a powerful smartphone for those who like things in small packages. If you’ve been longing for a pocket-sized iPhone since Apple adopted 4.7″ and larger displays, the iPhone SE might be just what you’re looking for.
2. It’s a Proper iPhone
A slap-dash iPhone 5C replacement this is not — from the chassis, right down to the innards. Internally, it’s identical to an iPhone 6s, including the much-needed 2GB of RAM I raved about in my review. This vastly improves the multi-tasking performance, allowing you to switch between more apps and Safari tabs without things falling out of memory.
Unlike Apple’s last 4″ model, the iPhone SE is “crafted from bead-blasted aluminium” which might be marketing speak, but sure beats a plastic body wrapped around a few recycled iPhone 5 parts.
Camera performance is similarly on-par with the iPhone 6s, offering 12MP photos and the ability to shoot 4K video. You can capture Live Photos just like the iPhone 6s, it has a True Tone flash for balancing skin tones, and there’s slow-motion video support that offers 1080p at 120fps or 720p at 240fps.
The iPhone SE doesn’t have the excellent 5MP front-facing FaceTime HD camera seen on the iPhone 6s, but it does use Retina Flash to brighten your selfies using the 4″ display. iPhone mainstays like a TouchID fingerprint scanner and Apple Pay are included too.
In terms of battery life, the SE is quoted by Apple to have comparable talk time to the larger iPhone 6s (at 14 hours), which is interesting considering how much the iPhone 6 improved over its smaller predecessor as a result of the new chassis allowing for a larger lithium-ion cell. Let’s hope Apple can carry those improvements over to the iPhone 7.
3. There’s No 3D Touch
While there are plenty of comparisons with the iPhone 6s to be made, one of the iPhone’s most desirable features hasn’t made it to the iPhone SE. 3D Touch uses pressure-sensitive touchscreen technology that allows for new input commands by squeezing the screen harder than you normally would.
This lets you get to various menu items faster and do other neat things like preview links in messages or addresses in Maps. It really changes the way you use your iPhone once you get used to it, and the technology has been used to great effect in the Apple Watch and OS X thanks to newer MacBook trackpads and the Magic Trackpad 2.
This omission is unsurprising but still disappointing. It might not be a huge drawback — after all, the phone still packs a mighty punch in terms of internal hardware — but it might put you off if you’re after the latest and greatest Apple technologies in a smaller package.
4. You Have Two Storage Options
Perhaps the achilles heel of the iPhone SE (assuming you can get over the lack of 3D Touch) is the fact that the phone is limited to two capacities: 16 and 64GB.
Don’t expect to be making heavy use of space-consuming features like Live Photos and 4K video with only 16GB of storage. Of course, maybe you just want a current iPhone that’s a bit smaller and a bit cheaper, with hardware that’ll last you a good few years. Enter iPhone SE.
64GB is much more like it, but if you have any serious space demands, only the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus come with an option for 128GB of storage. If you want a powerful, small phone with a great camera and a bucketload of storage then you have two choices — pay more for the flagship model, or make do with 64GB.
5. It’s Not Cheap
But are you really surprised? Apple doesn’t make cheap iPhones, because Apple doesn’t make cheap anything. When the iPhone 5C was first rumoured, the Internet was awash with talk about a “cheap” iPhone, only for the device to launch at $349 for the 16GB model.
Considering the underpowered nature of the 5C, the iPhone SE seems fairly well-priced. But that doesn’t mean it’s cheap by any standards.
You’ll pay $399 for the 16GB version and $499 for a 64GB model, compared with the iPhone 6s which starts at $649. You can also choose carrier financing, which in the US starts at $13.30 a month for the base model, compared to the iPhone 6s at $21.64 per month.
Despite not being a budget iPhone, the new model stacks up well compared to the iPhone 5c, which was a noticeable step down from the flagship model of the time (the iPhone 5s) and featured a previous-generation A6 processor, inferior camera, and no TouchID.
Should You Buy an iPhone SE?
The iPhone SE will undoubtedly appeal to a lot of people, notably those who have been yearning for a return to the 4″ screen size for whom the 4.7″ models feel too big.
If you want a smaller iPhone that’s powerful, and you’re not bothered about a lack of 3D Touch or 128GB storage option, now might be a good time to pick up an iPhone SE. If you like the latest and greatest gadgets, keep in mind that Apple will be announcing the iPhone 7 in September.
If you like your iPhones with larger screens, want the very latest features right now, have big storage demands, or you absolutely need the best camera that Apple has to offer (that’ll be the iPhone 6s Plus), then the iPhone SE probably isn’t for you.
Are you considering the iPhone SE? Add your thoughts in the comments below.