The iPhone SE is here and, in many ways, it promises to be everything millions of customers wanted: a small smartphone with cutting edge technology. Then again the iPhone SE isn’t without flaws and it also looks identical to the model it replaces: the iPhone 5S.
So what’s the difference between them? If you’re considering an upgrade, this breakdown will prove essential reading…
Perhaps the biggest shock with the iPhoneSE is what it didn’t change: the design. The new smartphone is visually almost identical to the ageing iPhone 5S and even its measurements are virtually identical:
There are a couple of very small changes though: matte-chamfered edges, a colour matched stainless steel Apple logo and four metallic finishes (including rose gold) to tie in with the newer iPhone models.
Yes, a smaller iPhone 6/6S-inspired look would’ve tied the SE more to the flagship models but the old design does mean it is more grippy in hand and – the big selling point – it’s easy to use one handed.
While the iPhone SE features a lot of cutting edge internals Apple hasn’t made any obvious changes to the iPhone SE from the iPhone 5S and both models have the same key features:
Interestingly this also doesn’t appear to include any improvements to the brightness, viewing angles or contrast ratios (its the same panel) and a sub HD resolution is far behind the 1080p and 2K panels of most cutting edge smartphones. That said its PPI is the same as the iPhone 6/iPhone 6S and its smaller size means individual pixels are less noticeable in any case.
Perhaps the most controversial downside, however, is the iPhone SE lacks 3D Touch – as seen in the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus. This pressure sensitive display technology allows quick actions (notably on app icons) and is a niche, but important part of Apple’s iPhone differentiation strategy.
Whether this hurts sales or Apple’s attempts to popularise 3D Touch more remains to be seen.
Of course where the real motivation to upgrade to the iPhone SE comes from, however, is its top of the line performance:
These are iPhone 6S internals and combined with its less demanding, lower resolution display the iPhone SE is quite simply the fastest iPhone right now that money can buy. And the difference, as the video below shows, is extremely impressive:
But there are some downsides. The iPhoneSE has the same generation Touch ID fingerprint sensor as the iPhone 5S (one behind the iPhone 6S) – though it is still excellent. It also has the same external speaker as the iPhone 5S (newer iPhones are slightly louder) and modem, which means theoretical 4G speeds could be lower than the iPhone 6S – but this is unlikely to be a problem in real world use.
The iPhone 5S was no slouch when it came to camera performance, but the iPhone SE takes on the rear optics of the iPhone 6S/iPhone 6S Plus for a significant upgrade. Unfortunately, however, the front facing camera has not been upgraded – which is a real shame in this selfie obsessed society:
As a consolation, iPhone SE users do get support for Live Photos (via a long press on the image, with 3D Touch being unavailable). Which is something.
That lower resolution display not only makes the iPhone SE the fastest iPhone on the planet, it also makes it perhaps the longest lasting. This despite a relatively small jump in battery capacity from the iPhone SE from the iPhone 5S:
As you’ll see in the table below, the iPhone SE can even give the massive Plus models a good fight – losing out only in standby and audio/video playback. In the more important category of Internet browsing, however, it sets the standard. Given the iPhone 5S has very disappointing battery life this is one of the new phone’s most practical advantages.
With the arrival of the iPhone SE the iPhone 5S has been phased out, but the good news is the SE comes in at the lowest price tiers of any iPhone ever released.
The bad news is Apple is still sticking with the controversial 16GB of entry level storage, but compared to the starting prices of the last two ranges of iPhone it is a bargain and $50 less than the iPhone 5S.
Apple isn’t known for being easy on the wallet, but the iPhone SE is easily the best value iPhone Apple has ever released. You’re getting a mixture of iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S parts but the most important features are cutting edge and – crucially for some – it comes in that finger friendly one handed form factor.
As such the iPhone SE arguably breaks from typical Apple strategies by giving customers what they want rather than what it wants to provide. Aside from the omissions of 3D Touch (which will polarise opinion) and a more updated design, the iPhone SE is everything fans of Apple’s smaller models could’ve wanted. Well done Apple.