If you’re still holding onto an iPhone 4 or 5 because you don’t want to get a bigger phone, this is the upgrade you’ve been waiting for.
Apple iPhone SE
The iPhone SE packs all of the performance of Apple’s iPhone 6s into the compact 4-inch body of an iPhone 5s, a phone that was already considered undersized back in 2013. While a small phone with powerful performance may sound appealing, does a 4-inch phone still have a place in 2016?
Now, I actually really liked the iPhone 5s design and feel it still holds up well now. The iPhone SE looks almost identical to the iPhone 5s. It has the same aluminum body, with the exact same dimensions, weighing just 1g more. Even after using a larger 4.7-inch iPhone for the past year and a half, switching to the SE’s compact design felt like returning to a familiar friend. In fact, in my review of the iPhone 6, I commented that the rounded edges of the iPhone 6 make it feel a bit slippery, so going back to the flat sides and more manageable size of the iPhone SE was welcoming. The only noticeable design change is that the chamfered edges are no longer polished. Instead, they have a matte finish that matches the sides of the phone.
On the back, the SE sports the same 12-megapixel, 29mm, f/2.2 module you’ll find on the iPhone 6s. And because the phone itself is a little thicker, there’s no camera bump here. Like the 6s, you can take Live Photos with the SE as well. Unfortunately, the front camera hasn’t been upgraded, and is the same 1.2-megapixel FaceTime camera that came with the iPhone 6 and 5s.
Image performance from the rear camera was excellent, and photos are indistinguishable from those taken with the 6s. Color reproduction was accurate, and details remain sharp throughout the picture. Having said that, it’s not as easy to take good photos with the SE as the viewfinder is tiny.
AT A GLANCE
Apple A9 64-bit dualcore
4.0-inch Retina HD
/ 1,136 x 640 pixels
(326ppi) / IPS
123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm
The SE has the same 4-inch 1,136 x 640 pixels resolution (326 ppi) display as the iPhone 5s, which means it unfortunately doesn’t support 3D Touch. While I enjoyed going back to the smaller body of the iPhone SE, the smaller screen took much longer to adjust to. I’ve gotten used to a 4.7-inch screen, so seeing everything shrunk down had me constantly squinting at my phone or bringing it closer to my face. The smaller keyboard also resulted in quite a few typos. The screen itself also isn’t the best I’ve seen from Apple. There’s a slightly yellowish tinge to whites that just isn’t there on the iPhone 6 and 6s. It’s good enough though, and the display is bright and sharp enough to use outdoors or under bright lights. Contrast could probably be a little better, but LCD displays will never be able to match up to AMOLED screens for contrast anyway.
Below the display, there’s a Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Unfortunately, it’s the same first generation scanner that debuted on the iPhone 5s, and not the faster, more accurate model the 6s uses. It’s a little slower to unlock the phone, but again, serviceable.
The iPhone SE is armed with the same A9 processor and 2GB RAM found inside the iPhone 6s. It also has the same integrated M9 motion co-processor, which means you can use the “Hey Siri” voice prompt to activate Siri whenever you want. As expected, benchmark performance was top notch, with the SE matching the 6s and 6s Plus, as well as every flagship Android phone out there. Battery life was also surprisingly good. While the SE has a relatively small 1,624mAh capacity battery, its power efficient processor and smaller display let it run for nearly 12 hours on our video-looping battery benchmark.
The iPhone SE nearly has it all, great performance, long battery life, fantastic rear camera, attractive design and affordable price. In fact, the only thing it doesn’t have is a big screen.
I wonder though if the SE has come just a little too late. The way we use our smartphones today - reading websites, sending messages, watching videos, viewing pictures on Instagram and Facebook - all benefit from a larger display. On the SE’s tiny display, Instagram shows one picture at a time, which means a lot of scrolling. We probably spend more time looking at our phones than anything else we do, so unless you want to constantly strain your eyes, it just makes sense to have a bigger display. And looking further forward, it’s only going to get worse (or better depending on how you look at it).
With virtual reality and the Internet of Things, you’re going to be looking at your smartphone display more and more. The iPhone SE may be perfect right now for people still resisting large displays, but it’s only a matter of time until you have to upgrade, and when you do, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
The chamfered edges on the SE
are matte instead of the mirror
finish used on the 5s.
Along with the 5s’ original Silver,
Space Gray and Gold colors, the
SE is also available in Rose Gold.