The believers can further be classified into two categories: first, who want the iPhone and can afford it. The second are those who want the iPhone but can’t afford it. These are the people who wait for e-commerce sales, cashback offers, the older variants to get cheaper so that they can lay their hands on the coveted iPhone. The latest iPhone — SE — comes as manna from Cupertino exactly for the second category of people.
Priced at Rs 42,990 — but you can snag it for slightly less than that — the iPhone SE is the first sub-Rs 40k iPhone in a long, long time. The aspirational value of an iPhone can never be discounted and that’s something which gives Apple a considerable edge over rivals. But does the iPhone SE have more than that edge? Is it old wine in a new bottle? Does it have enough to convert a few non-believers into believers? Find out the answers to all these questions and more in our in-depth review of the iPhone SE:
iPhone SE review: Design
You’ve seen the iPhone SE before and that’s because it looks exactly like the iPhone 8, which was launched in 2017. In an era where bezels are going completely missing from smartphone displays, the iPhone is not a ‘modern’ looking phone. It’s a throwback to simpler times when phones were smaller and could easily fit your pocket. The iPhone SE is a small phone (4.7-inch display, more on that later in the review) and will certainly appeal to those who aren’t looking big devices. It is an ideal device for those who don’t want to use two hands while operating their smartphones.
The prodigal son a.k.a the Home button makes a return on the iPhone SE. Not sure about you but every time we meet someone who has bought an iPhone X or later, they do say, “I miss the home button”. Of course they are seduced by the FaceID and gesture controls on modern iPhones, the Home button retained its charm. The Home button on iPhone SE also brings back TouchID, which works smoothly to unlock the device. Considering we are currently living in times when a mask is mandatory at all times (at least outdoors), the TouchID is a welcome relief.
While the first look might not be ‘modern’ as such but Apple has given an all-glass body to the iPhone SE and it does look quite premium. The iPhone SE comes in three colour variants — White, Black and Product RED and it’s quite obvious that it will be the last one that would find most takers.
You will find the usual array of buttons — power, volume and the one to turn off/on vibration. These buttons are made of aluminium and are quite easy to use.
On the back, you will find a single rear camera and as always the Apple logo bang in the middle. Don’t be surprised if you are seen using the iPhone SE and people could mistake you for using an iPhone 8. Having said that, the one-handed operability is a big clincher for the iPhone SE.
This size and form factor has already been sold millions of times by Apple with the iPhone 6, 7 and 8. There is a sense of familiarity and appeal to it which could attract a lot of buyers.
Apple iPhone SE review: Display
Apple has put a 4.7-inch display on the iPhone SE. The specifications aren’t really flattering and if you are one of those who checks them out judiciously before buying a phone, stop reading. You won’t be impressed by the on paper specs. The iPhone SE has IPS panel that offers resolution of 1334 x 750 pixels. Budget Android phones can boast of OLED panels and have a bigger screen. Almost every — if not every — phone has a bigger sized display than the iPhone SE
Yet, the iPhone SE produces crisp and vibrant colours. Reading on it isn’t a problem, neither is watching multimedia content. Since it’s a small display, you will have to scroll more than you are used to be the quality is quite good. There’s no escaping the fact that watching videos on a big screen phone is much better and that’s something which will go against the iPhone SE for a lot of buyers. But they can be assured that the quality of display will not disappoint them. Even while playing games like Call of Duty Mobile or Forza Street, the iPhone SE does a fine job of producing accurate colours.
Apple has put an an oleophobic coating on the front and rear panes of glass and comes with the ubiquitous layer of Gorilla Glass.
And then there are the bezels, which once again Android smartphones have more or less done with. The Google Pixel 3A is an exception with chunky bezels. Truth be told, a couple of days of using the iPhone SE and we didn’t even notice them or care about them. Of course, if you are used to a ‘bezel-less’ display then you will grumble about it once in a while but the next aspect of the review negates that also quite well.
Apple iPhone SE review: Performance
Alright, now you may have heard or read that the camera, design or display are some important considerations for many before they fork out the cash to buy a phone. Yes, they are important but not as important as the processor. The processor still remains the absolute clincher of any smartphone argument. A Ferrari with all its killer looks and drool worthy exterior won’t be a Ferrari without the engine. And here’s where the iPhone SE plays its winning hand — the ace in the pack called A13 Bionic processor. You will not find a better and faster processor in any smartphone across price range.
The A13 Bionic processor which powers the iPhone 11 series finds its way in the iPhone SE. Yes, you will get better looks, better display in a OnePlus 7, 8, 9 but you won’t get the processor. The A13 Bionic is based on a 7nm side and has six CPU cores. Out of these six cores, two can go up to 2.66GHz while four go up to 1.73GHz. Now that’s a lot of power.
The other specification that’s quite often bragged is the RAM and we are seeing phones that offer up to 12GB. Not in the iPhone SE price range but yes, you will find phones by the dime and dozen that offer up to 8GB RAM. Apple has never ever — forget flaunted — but even mentioned how much RAM iPhones have. However, teardown specialists can figure that out and you will find a claimed 3GB RAM in the iPhone SE. Again, if you are the specifications are the be-all and end-all kind of buyer, Shania Twain’s words “That don’t impress me much” might just be ringing in your ears.
But the iPhone SE blends hardware and software seamlessly. iOS is more than capable of delivering fast performance with that amount of RAM on board. Combine it with the A13 Bionic and you will not find a phone as good in performance as the iPhone SE in this price range. Add to it the fact that you are assured of software updates for many years is another box ticked for the iPhone SE.
Needless to say the day-to-day tasks are handled quite easily by the iPhone SE. There are no stutters even when playing graphic-intensive games. The iPhone SE replaced iPhone 11 Pro Max (most expensive iPhone) as our daily driver and truth be told, there was zero difference in the performance and that perhaps is the biggest compliment that can be paid to Apple’s ‘budget’ iPhone.
The iPhone SE is designed to get a lot of people from Android to move to iOS. Apple’s smart enough to know that the display won’t be the catalyst for that change. It is betting on the performance and compact form factor and the A13 Bionic makes a compelling case for those looking to convert.
What the iPhone SE also does is that it gives food for thought to almost every Android smartphone brand that is competing in the Rs 30,000 and above bracket. Apple is offering an entry into the high-walled gardens of its ecosystem by reducing the price barrier. There will be people who are deeply entrenched in the Android world and don’t have any issues with it and perhaps they won’t switch to the iPhone SE. But if you are looking for a way out and have ‘issues’ with Android, then it will be hard to find a better performing phone than the iPhone SE. So Android brands have a task on their hands to come up with an offering which can take on the iPhone SE as an all-round package. Trust us, it won’t be easy.
Apple iPhone SE review: Camera
You would’ve heard that a cheaper iPhone means Apple cutting corners. Some might argue — quite vociferously — that offering a single camera in an era where quad cameras have become the norm is cutting costs. Yes, the iPhone SE has ‘just’ one camera module at the back. The iPhone SE has a single 12MP rear camera and for selfies it has a 7MP lens. It’s clearly not the most impressive ‘sounding’ camera and isn’t the most versatile either. There’s no zoom lens, there’s no wide-angle lens or a macro lens.
Despite all these ‘misses’, the iPhone SE has a camera that performs quite well. The daylight photography is excellent as the iPhone SE offers good dynamic range and produces remarkably accurate colours. There’s no overexposure or noise that will you find in photos — at least those clicked during the day time. There are some daylight photos clicked by the iPhone SE are as good — if not better — as the ones clicked by iPhone 11 Pro Max.
The iPhone SE relies once again on the A13 Bionic processor to deliver detailed images. The A13’s neural engine and machine learning capabilities combine quite effectively to produce really good images with ‘just’ a single camera. And all of it is displayed in its full glory in the Portrait mode. Almost every portrait shot delivers great depth of field and accurate edge detection on the iPhone SE. You get all the Portrait modes in the iPhone SE that are found in the iPhone 11 series but are missing from the iPhone XR.
There’s also Smart HDR at work which does a fine job to differentiate between the subject and the background. Smart HDR comes into play in poor lighting conditions as well and manages to deliver Portrait shots come out great, with accurate edge detection and great depth of field.
There’s no night mode in the iPhone SE and low-light photography isn’t its strongest point. Compare it to the ‘affordable’ Pixel 3A and Google does give Night mode. There’s quite a bit noise and lack of details in low-light photos and that’s a downer. Apple certainly faltered here in the iPhone SE as Night mode has become a staple in smartphones and it’s a miss on the company’s part.
If the lack of night mode comes as a dampener then the video capabilities is a redeemer in a sense. There’s 4K video recording at 60fps on the iPhone SE. You also get extended dynamic range, slow-motion video and stereo audio recording. What gives the iPhone SE an edge in video recording is that you get both OIS and EIS with 4K and that is a big deal in a phone in this price range.
The front camera is as good as the iPhone 11 series. Selfies are detailed and offer enough features to click more than satisfactory images.
Overall, the iPhone SE cameras deliver a wholesome experience. Yes, it lacks the frills but almost every ‘average’ smartphone buyer will have little complaints with the iPhone SE camera.
iPhone SE review: Battery
The iPhone SE comes with a 5W charger out of the box even though it supports fast charging. It has been our pet peeve with Apple — except in iPhone 11 Pro — about not giving fast chargers inside the box and it continues with the iPhone SE as well. Since it has a has a glass back, it also supports wireless charging.
The battery of iPhone SE is quite frankly just about average. You will be lucky if the phone with medium usage lasts about 8-10 hours. If you have a screen time of 4-5 hours, then it might just last a full-day. Anything above that and you will struggle to get it last the entire day without reaching out for a charger. The lack of a fast charger and an average battery goes against the iPhone SE for sure.
iPhone SE review: Verdict
The iPhone SE is a really smart phone (no pun intended) as it doesn’t have all the flashy specs and lacks the pizzaz of Android phones at this price but is still a better phone than competition. Why? Simply because no other phone will give you this level of performance in this price segment. The compact form factor is another big plus in our books. The design certainly looks dated but the iPhone SE is an elegant looking phone.
You will find it hard to get a phone that does everything well and that too consistently well. If you want an iPhone and don’t want to fork out a lot of cash, this is the perfect phone. If you want to switch from Android to iOS, the iPhone SE is the phone for you. If you want a smaller and compact iPhone, the iPhone SE is the ideal choice.
Having said that, it is not a phone for those who use it for long hours as its battery life isn’t that good. It’s also not a phone for those who like to primarily use their phones for watching multimedia content.
Just don’t go by the specs as what the iPhone SE does best is that it turns the idea of what affordable premium phones should be on its head. Value-for-money has a new name and it is called the iPhone SE.