Home > Phone Reviews > iPhone SE
|Editor's rating (1-5):
Carrier: all major carriers and unlocked
What's Hot: Still a lovely design, high quality casing, as fast as the iPhone 6s, great camera.
What's Not: Tiny screen by today's standards.
Reviewed April 1, 2016 by Lisa Gade, Editor
in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)
Apple's made a few stabs at an affordable iPhone, but mostly it's been last year's model sold at modest discount. There was the tepidly received iPhone 5c with its plastic-fantastic casing and lesser specs compared to the then current flagship iPhone 5. It did just OK, but since it wasn't all that much cheaper, it wasn't the wild success some analysts had envisioned to bring the iPhone to institutions, kids and less affluent countries. With the iPhone SE, Apple's produced a familiar and well-liked design at a price that's a considerable savings over the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Better yet, it has the same internals and rear camera as those much more expensive models.
The iPhone SE has the casing and design (exactly!) of the iPhone 5 and 5s--that Leica inspired one with the straight edges and 4" display. That's actually my personal favorite in the iPhone's long history: it was unique, stunning, and the straight sides made it easy to grip. The 4" display isn't my personal favorite feature... I'm a large phone person... but for those who miss Apple's easily held and pocketed smaller models, it could be a godsend. It's easy work for Apple to reuse a design, and that helps keep the cost down. They have jazzed it up with two new colors: gold and rose gold (the iPhone 5 was only available in silver and space gray, which are also available for the SE).
The iPhone SE has Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner built into the home button and it works with Apple Pay. It lacks the iPhone 6s' 3D Touch, where you press and hold your finger on the display to bring up additional applications options (if any are available).
First Rate Internals
Inside we have the iPhone 6s, and that helps to make the iPhone SE a good deal. No more living with last year's processor and a year or two outdated cameras. The phone runs iOS 9.3 on the same 1.83 GHz dual core Apple A9 CPU as the more expensive models, and it has the same 2 gigs of RAM. It's available with 16 gigs of storage for $399 and with 64 gigs for $499. Given the wealth of apps, games and media available for iPhone, 16 gigs may be tight. We look forward to the day Apple makes 32 gigs the baseline. The iPhone SE benchmarks the same as its more expensive siblings, which is expected since the 6s and 6s Plus use the same CPU, graphics and RAM. That means the iPhone SE is equally capable of playing 3D games well (perhaps even faster since the display resolution is lower). It can do the same iMovie video editing too, though you'll have less screen real estate and resolution to do that editing.
Good Cameras Too
You're getting the same camera and lens as the iPhone 6s, and that's pretty darned good. The 12MP with enlarged pixel sites means better low light photos and video, and the reasonably fast f.2.2 lens lets plenty of light in. The camera can record 4K video at 30 fps, and it can do slow motion video. Auto HDR, and simultaneous photo capture at 8MP while capturing video and panoramas are standard. It's the same camera as the iPhone 6s and the same software and features. Though the Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 edge and the LG G5 edge it out for low light photography, it's still one of the best cameras on the phone market.
Apple cuts some features for the budget iPhone SE model, so you get the old standby 1.2MP FaceTime front camera rather than the iPhone 6s' 5MP shooter. It's fine but not stellar for FaceTime video chats, and it does better than some higher megapixel Android phones for Skype video chat.
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