When the world zigs, you zag. Buy low, sell high. When the entire smartphone universe skews big, you reinvigorate the small. That, in a nutshell, is the mentality behind the iPhone SE. It’s a phone for those that love the smaller size but really wish they could have the power of a flagship phone.
Though the 4-inch form factor never really left Apple’s line-up, you’d be hard pressed to know that the iPhone 5S was still an on-sale option the day before the launch. The iPhone 6/6S (4.7-inch) and 6 Plus/6S Plus (5.5-inch) have dominated the landscape over the past two years, creating an opportunity for a brand to recapture the market for non-gargantuan phones.
What’s particularly special about the iPhone SE is its newness. Rather than Apple introducing a new hero device and pushing an older phone down-range (as it did when the iPhone 5S found itself selling for $0 on contract), the iPhone SE is a purpose-built device. It’s small, relatively speaking, but it’s also mighty.
The camera has been overhauled and upgraded, boasting a 12-megapixel sensor and True Tone flash that puts it right up there alongside the snapper on the iPhone 6S. There’s also a potent 64-bit A9 chip, Bluetooth 4.2, a display that gets hella bright when you need to take a selfie in a dimly-lit room, and a starting price point of just $399 (16GB).
The exterior is svelte and sleek – every inch an iPhone, as we’re surmising Apple would say. The same exemplary precision found on the high-end iPhones is also found on the iPhone SE. At last, you don’t have to feel that you’re settling just to get a phone that’s easier to handle.
Handling the iPhone SE is a lovely affair, particularly if you’re coming from the iPhone 6S Plus. It’s dainty – cute, even – and although, obviously, it feels exactly as if you’re handling the iPhone 5S, there’s something extra novel about it now. It’s no longer the norm; the 4-inch form factor is now the exception.
Have we got to the point where a phone from 2013 is now considered retro?
The fit, finish and polish are just like the iPhone 5S. Honestly, if you weren’t told any different, you’d think you actually were handling the iPhone 5S, as the exterior frame remains the same. The same sharpness, the same rounded buttons on the side – it’s as if Apple opened a door in one of its warehouses and found a million boxes with the 5S chassis sitting around doing nothing.
Speed in a small package
Using the phone, however, is a markedly different experience to using the iPhone 5S, and that’s precisely what Apple needs to push.
The A9 chip enables the iPhone SE to open apps just as quickly as the iPhone 6S. It’s honestly quite refreshing to feel this much power in a phone this small – we just haven’t been privy to Apple’s top-end hardware in its smallest iPhone in a few years, and the glut of people still buying the iPhone 5 and 5C second-hand are a testament to the desire for this spec combination.
By shoving in the M9 co-processor, there are all the same specs and abilities that you’re getting on the newer phones too. So whether that’s monitoring your steps, or flights of stairs climbed, or just letting the phone note when it’s resting quietly on the desk, it’s all handled simply.
This means Hey Siri, the auto voice recognition function, is enabled – although whether you’ll use it more than three times during the life of the phone will depend on what kind of committed tech-fiend you are.
We weren’t able to test out the revamped 12-megapixel iSight camera, but we plan to just as soon as we get ourselves a unit outside of the hands-on area.
In terms of spec though, you’re getting the same camera mix as on the iPhone 6S. That means 4K video recording, the Focus Pixels to get the sharper autofocus, a True Tone flash – in short, all the bits that Apple has shouted about on the newer iPhones in the smaller package.
And by making the iPhone SE thicker, the camera bump is gone, which is great news for those that hated the ruined aesthetic from the raised section on the rear of the phone.
Notably, the iPhone SE looks and feels just like the iPhone 5S before it. It didn’t get slimmer, or more round, but we kind of dig it. There’s something novel about maintaining a tried-and-true design motif while overhauling everything within; indeed, that’s exactly the model Apple followed when transitioning from the iPhone 6 to 6S.
It’s the iPhone 5S but with the brains and brawn of the newer models, which will likely appeal to a great many iPhone fans – and many in the Android world looking for this size-and-power combo.
Sure, you could still nab a 5S now if you wanted and save a whole lot of cash, but in terms of performance and longevity of upgrades the SE is leaps and bounds ahead.