Apple’s new iPhone SE delivers incredible value and performance, based on early hands-on reviews. It has a surprisingly good camera and handles videos well. Many reviewers were impressed by the phone’s A13 chipset.
However, there were criticisms too, including insufficient battery life and absence of a night mode feature. Lack of 5G support also came up.
The device is “an excellent midrange iPhone … with the processing power of a top-of-the-line smartphone, for (US)$400,” wrote Lauren Goode in her review for Wired.
For those who need a new iPhone but don’t want to spend $1,000 on one, “the iPhone SE might be a tiny slab of good news for you right now,” she added.
Some mid-range Android phones offer excellent performance, extra-long battery life and even headphone jacks, noted Goode, but purchasing a smartphone is “effectively deciding which ecosystem you want to live in.”
For an affordable phone, the iPhone SE delivers, and “should give you a phone that will last you for the next 3-4 years without the need to upgrade, wrote Stuart Miles for Pocket-Lint.
Standout features include flagship specs at an affordable price, small size, decent camera performance and the water resistance, he said.
Among the phone’s drawbacks are a dated design, the fact that the 18W fast charger has to be purchased separately, the lack of Face iD and night mode, and battery life limitations, according to Miles.
Still, “we’ve been using the iPhone 11 Pro for over six months at the time of writing — and the experience with the new SE is very much the same,” Miles pointed out.
He experienced no problems running “the latest and greatest games” on the new SE, including those available on Apple Arcade.
The iPhone SE’s appearance is dated and the screen is too small, wrote Chris Velazco in his review for Engadget.
The eSIM dual SIM support and the device’s support for Gigabit LTE and WiFi6 drew his praise.
The lack of 5G support could be a problem because “2020 is the year we’re going to see mid-range phones with 5G support really flourish thanks to inexpensive chipsets like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765,” Velazco pointed out.
Repairs will be cheaper than for some of the flagship iPhones — $129 for a screen replacement on the new iPhone SE compared to $149 on the iPhone 8 and $199 on the iPhone 11, he noted. Battery replacement is $49 compared to $69 for the flagship phones.
“For those of us concerned about money right now — and that’s probably the vast majority — and who need a new iPhone, the SE provides the greatest bang for the buck,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
“Right now the market either isn’t buying or people are looking for value.” he told TechNewsWorld.
Phones in the $400 to $500 range, both iOS and Android, generally provide the best value right now, Enderle said.
“You’ll generally always get more for the money with Android, but, if you’re locked into the Apple ecosystem, you don’t get those choices without some migration pain that many aren’t willing to undergo,” he observed.
Apple “has never played the specs game, and the SE’s Android counterparts are not even close to the sheer power the Bionic A13 offers on the SE,” contended Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, associate research director at Strategy Analytics.
However, the SE’s screen resolution is “severely outdated compared to the Android competition,” he told TechNewsWorld.
That said, the processor “enables a better imaging experience, thus staying true to Apple’s heritage,” Ukonaho pointed out.
The iPhone SE “is just so value-oriented that it’s hard to find anything as a con,” remarked Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.
“There’s the $399 price, Touch ID, the 4.7-inch screen, the Retina HD display, water resistance, wireless charging, portrait mode, the 4K video, free delivery, zero percent financing with the Apple card; and 3 percent cash back with the Apple Card,” he noted.
“If you think the use cases are video, camera and social media, you realize these hit the key features for anyone ready to switch off Android to iOS and for those who want to upgrade for a select set of features without spending $1,000,” Wang told TechNewsWorld.
“Not everyone needs three cameras and the ability to last longer under water,” he remarked.
Apple’s Incredible A13
“To me, the standout feature is the inclusion of the latest chip,” said Gerrit Schneemann, senior analyst atOmdia.
That puts the SE’s performance on par with other iPhone models, he told TechNewsWorld. “Buyers will be able to get iOS updates for a long time. This is in line with Apple’s support for existing devices, and maybe even more so with this one.”
The A13 Bionic chipset “gives the SE flagship performance,” Strategy Analytics’ Ukonaho pointed out.
The A13 lets the iPhone SE handle “damn near anything,” Engadget’s Velazco wrote. “This is $1,000 performance in a $400 body.”
The chipset “future-proofs the phone — to a point since the iPhone SE won’t be able to connect to 5G networks,” noted Wired’s Goode.
Switching between apps, downloading and installing were fluid. Launching heavy apps like Fortnite, which takes up 8 GB, took about six minutes, she wrote. Videos “launched and streamed smoothly on a stable WiFi connection.”
The iPhone SE’s main camera “punches way above its weight,” Velazco said. He usually can’t really tell the difference between photos taken with it and with an iPhone 11. However, the phone’s portrait mode does not work unless the main camera is used, and the lack of a night mode is an issue.
“We really miss Night Mode, especially as low-light pictures are blurry at times,” Pocket-Lint’s Miles wrote.
Wired’s Lauren Goode said the camera is “extremely capable,” although it isn’t comparable to flagship phones’ cameras and underperforms in certain settings.
Apple relies heavily on software to offer features like portrait mode and various stage lightings on the iPhone SE, but portrait mode works on photos of people and not objects and pets, Goode noted. Portrait mode also falls short in the iPhone 11.
In some situations, the iPhone SE was better at shooting the basics than the iPhone 8 Plus, she said. However, the iPhone 11’s front-facing camera captures more detail in general than that of the iPhone SE.
Still, you get what you pay for, argued Miles. “If you want Night Mode, Face ID, a bigger battery or more cameras, the options are elsewhere in the range — but you’ll have to pay more.”
Battery Life Issue
The SE’s battery tends to last 11 to 12 hours on a single charge under normal use, Velazco found, and 8 to10 hours when he used the phone heavily for games and camera tests.
The iPhone SE’s battery life is “middling” relative to larger iPhones such as the XR, the 11, and Pro or Max models, Goode said. Streaming an hour-long YouTube yoga video reduced battery life by about 15 percent on the SE and by 5 percent the iPhone 11.
The Bionic A13 “gives the SE comparable performance to the more expensive Apple devices,” Ukonaho said. “Having a performance that matches the iPhone 11 is what sets Apple’s strategy apart.”
The SE “should allow Apple to prevent migration to Android, but it doesn’t have any showcase features to pull people over from Android,” Enderle remarked.
“Vendors like Motorola have already set the bar for $500 devices and the SE falls short, but, given that Apple users exclusively buy Apple phones, that shouldn’t be a problem for the existing Apple market,” he observed.
Over time, though, SE sales “could cannibalize Apple’s more expensive phones and reduce the brand’s status,” Enderle added, “but that’s been happening for the last several years anyway.”