We use cookies on our websites. Information about cookies and how you can object to the use of cookies at any time or end their use can be found in our privacy policy.

Apple iPhone SE review: love at second sight

Update: Final review!
Apple iPhone SE review: love at second sight

The new iPhone SE is reality. After the huge success around the first SE, Apple has presented a great device that seems to divide the camps between iOS and Android more than ever before and has critics hovering on cloud nine. And I also like it in the first hands-on test. Nevertheless, the Apple iPhone SE is certainly not suitable for everyone.

Rating

Good

  • Powerful processor
  • Home Button
  • Bokeh effects for both cameras
  • Low price

Bad

  • Aged LCD display
  • Average Portrait Mode
  • Poor audio
  • No expandable storage

The sub-$400 iPhone

And so the iPhone SE is unparalleled, no longer a status symbol; the Apple now shines incognito. Because the iPhone no longer proves the wealth or debt level of its owner. He may not even have bought this phone on credit, because the iPhone SE is more than affordable in 2020.

Starting at $399, it comes with 64GB of internal storage; however, Apple is still not offering expandable storage or storage sizes in large numbers:

  • 64GB: $399 / £419
  • 128GB: $449 / £469
  • 256GB: $549 / £569

 

An incredibly familiar design

Apple's cheapest current smartphone has a processor that makes the competition look pale . "The cheapest iPhone beats the most expensive Android," I read this morning with my first coffee after parcel service UPS had dragged me out of my warm bed with a day's delay. The comparisons between Android smartphones and an iPhone get on my nerves. There is de facto no comparison possible, and yet the fights are fought passionately. And so today I went a little bit prejudiced into this hands-on of a new iPhone, which already seemed so incredibly familiar to me when I unboxed it.

IMG 1539
The iPhone SE is hardly distinguishable from the iPhone 8, but the apple is now centered. / © AndroidPIT

The iPhone SE is the pimped sister or pimped brother of the iPhone 8. If you unpack at least one new iPhone every year - as I am allowed to do for professional reasons - you will have been disappointed at that moment. Because the iPhone SE is not a new iPhone. No wow-effect, no open mouth, or the feeling of a completely new interpreted glass back or stainless steel frame on the skin. The so important first impression was ... boring. But, do you know what? Have you ever meet a person who doesn't knock your socks off at first sight, but as soon as the first word comes out between their lips and it becomes clear what a big heart and fabulous intelligence is at work beneath the surface, you are simply fascinated? The iPhone SE is such a person.

The feel of it...!

The iPhone SE is so damn light (148 grams) and so damn small (138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 millimeters) and you don't really want to complain because it feels just as incredibly soft, cuddly, and good. The iPhone SE is delicate, almost fragile if you are used to handling a much bigger and heavier device. I got used to the flyweight amazingly quickly in the course of the morning and learned to appreciate again the advantages that you lose when you carry around a big, heavy, and ostentatious iPhone 11 Pro Max as your daily companion. The soft glass back of the iPhone SE is really my highlight. The strong haptic feedback, which the home button on the front is capable of, creates an almost disturbing contrast right after setup. It immediately becomes clear: there is a lot of power in this little mouse.

IMG 1534
The Home Button is one of the highlights of the SE - for iPhone nostalgics. / © AndroidPIT

The iPhone SE appears visually simple, unobtrusive, and is kept suspiciously simple. Apple has placed the shiny silver apple in the middle like on the iPhone 11, as on the back of its current models, proving more than ever that a powerful iPhone is no longer positioned at the top, but has arrived in the middle of the consumers' minds. The iPhone lettering is also missing in direct comparison to the iPhone 8. That is not a bad move at all. Because whoever buys this mobile phone will not peddle the name and will not buy a mobile phone case with a ridiculous recess for the Apple logo, because the times of bragging are over. People has grown out of his youthful urge for recognition with the brand.

Not the brightest candle on the cake

The design language and intelligence of this device impress me as much as its facial expressions. Because the LCD panel is one of the best of its kind you can buy at the moment. Only another LCD display performs better in Apple's house: the notched panel of the iPhone XR called the Liquid Retina HD Display. Nevertheless, I have nothing to complain about here. Every interaction on the iPhone SE lets the 4.7-inch display shine fluidly, even if a lot of display is swallowed in the fresh air and with a corresponding amount of sunlight. These are the disadvantages of LCD displays, which never perform as well outdoors as under darker and therefore more ideal lighting conditions, and those interested in buying should be aware of this. It's true: you can get a better display for the same price somewhere else.

IMG 1536
The iPhone SE's LCD display, photographed out here under a slightly cloudy sky, is one of the best of its kind. / © AndroidPIT

The iPhone SE and iOS promise

After setting up the device, I was already able to install Apple's latest iOS patch (iOS 13.4.1) , which directly reminded me that the iPhone SE is faithful at heart to the A13 Bionic. Due to the latest processor, it promises you years of big and small software updates. Even the iPhone 6s with Apple A9 processor, which has been available for five years now, runs on iOS 13, which makes the retail price seem almost ridiculously cheap.

IMG 1547
Software Update: this is a sight that will probably carry iPhone SE owners for years to come. / © AndroidPIT

The A13 Bionic is a declaration of war

The performance of the iPhone is easy to understand, as you would expect from a new iPhone out of the box, and yet highly attractive. It comes with Apple's fast 7-nm A13 Bionic chip , which drives the technology inside this otherwise truly obsolete device to new heights like a pacemaker. I could convince myself of this by checking out all the benchmark tests, which make many a device sweat. Of course, the iPhone SE could also have been used as an expensive hand-warmer at that moment in time. But the nerve tracts in the tips of my fingers were far from transmitting a "hot" signal to my brain.

Apple iPhone SE benchmark scores comparison

  Samsung Galaxy S10 OnePlus 8 iPhone SE iPhone 11
3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme ES 3.1 4905 6899 3977 4989
PassMark memory 18781 27705 47130 33846
PassMark Disk 74514 41757 13631 15696
Geekbench 5 (Simple / Multi) 704 / 2283 910 / 3341 1326 / 2432 1308 / 3173

If we look at the benchmark scores, we can draw good conclusions about performance. For example, the iPhone SE weakens in terms of graphics in the 3D Mark test. I dared to play Fortnite on the SE, which is quite possible. But that is like playing The Witcher 3 on the Nintendo Switch: It works, but it is not nice. The iPhone SE with its LCD panel is not a graphic monster and was not designed as such. Nevertheless, the 7-nm chip ensures that even complex games can be played smoothly. Various hardware tests show that the iPhone SE has a 3 GB of RAM. This value seems almost ridiculous in the year 2020. In fact, all iPhones always have comparatively small RAM modules built-in, which seem to be completely sufficient and always form a symbiosis with the rest of the hardware.

If the soft skin of the iPhone SE is my optical highlight, the heart is inside. The A13 Bionic has six 64-bit ARM cores in 7-nm technology and over 8.5 billion transistors. This allows the four power-saving cores to develop their full performance and ensures a long battery life and lower power consumption. If we look at the circulating benchmark values on the net and my measurements in the table above, it becomes clear: Apple has underclocked the A13 Bionic in the iPhone SE. That's not surprising, as it has to harmonize with a much more demanding graphics unit in the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

A simple yet effective camera

I was particularly curious from the outset regarding the built-in camera. And I have to admit that I look enviously at various Android smartphones that have night modes and telephoto lenses that I can only dream of as an Apple user. The iPhone SE does not offer all this (neither does my $1,400 iPhone). Nevertheless, I don't forget that it was the company (Apple) that paved the way for portrait photography with (good!) bokeh effects in the mobile phone sector with the iPhone 7 Plus and iOS 10.1. And just like back then, the Californian company has done a great job with the new iPhone SE camera , creating an iPhone XR snapshot out of the iPhone 8 snapshot, which is very familiar to me and has all the nice bokeh effects. On the front, taking pictures with a blurred background is as possible as it is handsome. The AI processor makes it possible.

IMG 1545
The iPhone SE comes with 12-megapixel wide-angle shots, which are pimped up on the software side. / © AndroidPIT

Apple's 12-megapixel wide-angle camera features an f/1.8 aperture, 5x digital zoom, optical image stabilization, and the latest Smart HDR. The snapshots are identical to those of the iPhone 8, but thanks to a new processor it is capable of better results. Really? A single-camera, and then with "only" twelve megapixels? Our photo expert Stefan Möllenhoff evaluated my test pictures of the iPhone SE in the photo lab.

AndroidPIT apple iphone se 2 image quality general lighting
Discreet, but effective: the new iPhone SE finds a good middle ground when it comes to the intensity of the HDR automatic. / © AndroidPIT

The iPhone SE shoots very nice photos in good lighting conditions. The exposure is balanced even in high-contrast subjects. The discreetly intervening automatic HDR keeps burning highlights at bay without causing too harsh micro contrasts or halo artifacts.

Without looking overly gaudy, the lonely 12-megapixel camera's back shots are colorful and attractive. Accordingly we are happy about the realistic results. As far as we were able to test it in the short test period, the white balance is reliable.

AndroidPIT apple iphone se 2 image quality color channels
Not a matter of course: even intense colors do not burn out in the individual RGB color channels. Thus, even fine color structures in the photos remain intact. / © AndroidPIT
AndroidPIT apple iphone se 2 image quality cat detail
Prudence in times of three-digit megapixel numbers: 12 million pixels are easily enough for the common cat photo even in 2020. / © AndroidPIT

In good lighting conditions, the photos are rich in detail. Of course, several dozen megapixels allow more digital zoom, but they also place correspondingly higher demands on the hardware. In practice, one misses less in the results than the factor ten difference would suggest.

AndroidPIT apple iphone se 2 image quality cat detail lower light
Less light, less detail: moderate conditions quickly turn fine hairs into mud. You can get a shocked look. / © AndroidPIT

As the light gets progressively worse, more and more image errors creep in. Noise kills off fine details, whereby the colors are still relatively well preserved, at least indoors. The bottom line is that the cheap iPhone SE certainly benefits greatly from the algorithms of its more expensive siblings.

AndroidPIT apple iphone se 2 image quality vs iphone 11 pro max
The direct comparison: the camera of the iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPhone SE. / © AndroidPIT

Three times cheaper, practically as good. You have to look very closely to see a difference between the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the iPhone SE. The pictures of the flagship succeed a touch warmer and crisper. But honestly: without a direct comparison the difference is not noticeable. More praise is hardly possible for the cheap iPhone, but in comparison to the flagship you have to do without a telephoto lens, night mode and object portraits.

The front camera of the iPhone SE has a resolution of seven megapixels and an f/2.2 aperture. Portrait shots are also possible here, but these reveal a software-based effect even under ideal lighting conditions. So the selfies are technically quite nice. But the contours blur especially in the transition between hair and sky and show calculation errors on the horizon. Thanks to iOS 13, however, all six portrait effects are available:

AndroidPIT apple iphone se 2 image quality selfie filters256
The front camera of the iPhone SE: one selfie, six effects. / © AndroidPIT

There is also a restriction with the front camera. Due to the missing TrueDepth sensors, creating Animojis with the iPhone SE is not possible. But users can create Memojis manually and send them as stickers in various chats.

In this Google Drive folder you will find all comparison pictures taken with the iPhone 11 Pro Max and all test pictures I took with the iPhone SE.

Between 9 and 12 hours of battery

Let's get away from theoretical values and go into everyday life. For me personally, what's important with an iPhone is smooth multitasking performance and a long-lasting battery. The iPhone SE fulfills both of these requirements for me. The processor, display, and built-in battery work hand in hand and ensure a battery life of between nine and twelve hours, including benchmark tests, gaming, surfing the net, and a short photo session. So the iPhone SE can keep up in terms of battery life with my iPhone 11 Pro Max, which has to be plugged in every evening or the following morning.

Once again, the good coordination of all hardware components inside the smartphone is evident. The measured value in the battery cell of the iPhone SE could be daunting on paper, though: around 1,820 mAh are available, if you believe these figures. Apple does not announce battery capacities or RAM sizes, remember.

If you're not satisfied with the standard Apple power supply, you can charge the iPhone SE much faster with the 18-watt power supply. During my test, I charged the small Apple mobile phone with my iPhone 11 adapter, which works quickly. In less than an hour, the iPhone SE is charged with new energy and ready for use. The 18W adapter costs $30 at Apple.

Vergleich iPhoneSE links iPone8 rechts
Apple installs the iPhone 8 battery in the SE; but a different connector. / © iDoc

Affordable entry-level iPhone with high-end accents

Anyone who calls the iPhone SE a spare parts store is not wrong. Dressed in the iPhone 8 garb, looking through the glasses of the iPhone XR and doing its work with the heart of the iPhone 11, Apple has rummaged deep in its toolbox and created a powerful iPhone mix that combines not the best, but the most solid iPhone technology at an affordable price. Apple is playing Frankenstein with the iPhone SE; the difference is that they were aware of the creation of a price-performance monster from the very beginning.

Nevertheless, the iPhone SE is certainly not compatible with everyone. As with every product you buy or relationship you enter into, you need to know exactly what your expectations are. And then you're either willing to compromise, not choosing the brightest image, but getting a loyal heart. You either like the soft, delicate feeling when you touch it or you would like to have more in your hand. If the former is the case, this relationship may be crowned with long-term success.

Latest articles

Recommended articles

3 comments

Write new comment:
All changes will be saved. No drafts are saved when editing
Write new comment:
All changes will be saved. No drafts are saved when editing
Write new comment:
All changes will be saved. No drafts are saved when editing