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PriceSpy tests the new iPhone SE

Spoiler alert: The new iPhone SE is an excellent mobile phone for those of you who want a small and handy iPhone with a good camera and which doesn’t cost a fortune.

You've probably already read our heading so I'll get straight into it: the iPhone SE is an excellent mobile phone for those of you who want a brand new iPhone, for less than NZ$799, and which you'll use for several years.


The new iPhone SE is made of aluminium and glass with a solid feel when holding it. That being said, this model is not suitable for all types of mobile users.

Below I'll go through some of my thoughts on the iPhone SE after using it for some time. I've consciously chosen to not go into depth regarding specifications and similar, but rather concentrating on how the phone feels and works on a day to day basis.

Pros

  • Quality feels excellent
  • Both front and rear camera take good photographs in good lighting conditions
  • Entry price at NZ$799
  • Very good performance in both commonly-used apps and games
  • Several years of updates to iOS
  • Support for wireless charging and fast charging

Cons

  • The iPhone SE doesn't feel innovative in any way
  • Low resolution LCD-screen
  • Battery life is not very impressive
  • Quick charger not included
  • No Face ID support
  • Camera’s not so good in low light conditions

In addition to the mobile phone, there’s a 5-watt standard charger, a charging cable and wired in-ear headphones for the phone's lightning port. There’s also a small SIM-eject tool.

In addition, we also find two stickers with the Apple logo and a welcome booklet.

Cases and screen protectors are not included as usual. I recommend that you get both while buying a new mobile phone.

What's included when you buy the new iPhone SE

  • The iPhone SE
  • 5-watt mobile charger
  • Lightning cable
  • Lightning-connected headphones
  • Welcome booklet with two stickers & SIM card tool

Installation

The installation took just over five minutes. That's how long it took from the phone being in the box to being ready to use.

However, at least a minute was waiting for Apple to do its magic in the background when we registered a new Apple account. So, around four minutes if you already have an Apple account you want to use.

Already have an iPhone or iPad with the same Apple account you want to use in your new iPhone? This makes it even faster to set the phone up. New iPhones can get all settings, apps, and login information from existing Apple gadgets nearby.

A small tip: If you signed up for a brand new Apple account, don't forget to activate your account. Check your email for the activation email from Apple. Without activation, you are limited to as to what you can do with your mobile phone.

Size and quality

The new iPhone SE is a small and handy mobile phone. In terms of size, it’s identical to the iPhone 8, making it significantly smaller than many other phones on the market today.

The quality of the phone feels solid. The aluminium chassis and glass rear has no tendency to flex under gentle pressure like some phones can.

In terms of size, the iPhone SE is perfect for both jacket and trouser pockets. In fact, it almost feels surprisingly small. And although the sides are relatively slippery, the rear glass offers a comfortable resistance to the fingers.

With an iPhone SE case, the phone will be slightly larger but also safer to hold, with a better grip on both sides.

It’s initially difficult to get used to the size of the phone. The weight of 148 grams is a whopping 24 percent lower than an iPhone 11, and 16 percent lower than what my iPhone XS weighs. It's partly thanks to the small screen from the iPhone 8 that allows Apple to keep the size and weight down, but that compactness does come at a price.

It takes time – but you'll get used to it

The first few days, everything I do with the 4.7-inch screen feels too small and impractical. The digital keys have shrunk, as have the icons on the home screen. And the Facebook feed feels more claustrophobic than ever.

However, after a few days of use, the iPhone SE has improved and the screen size does not feel as small as the first time I used the phone.

Having said that, I may not be the right target group for the iPhone SE. Whoever acquires this phone is likely to appreciate the phone for its small size and thus a small screen is probably not a problem either.

Performance and film watching

This mobile phone is awfully fast. Beneath the small screen is the same processor found in the iPhone 11 series — and it's capable of running everything you add to it from App Store.

Sure, the iPhone SE has slightly less internal memory than the iPhone 11 (3GB vs 4GB), but it's not something I noticed when seamlessly jumping between apps, browser tabs and games.

Two of the games I tested were Hungry Dragon and Asphalt 9: Legends. They played nicely without hiccups and not once did I experience performance issues that could affect the experience.

What had a noticeable impact, however, was the screen. The size, resolution and screen type are simply not as good as the OLED screens in the iPhone XS and iPhone 11 Pro sibling models. The colours are not as strong and the brightness of the screen is not as high.

Does the screen make me hesitate before buying? No, certainly not for me who only uses a phone for gaming every now and then, but it’s worth mentioning such a big difference. Feel free to compare an iPhone SE with an OLED phone in shops before buying.

Having the same battery capacity as the iPhone 8 is limiting

When it comes to watching films, the experience is much the same as with gaming.

Since the iPhone SE has an LCD screen, black doesn’t look black but more dark grey. This is mainly reflected in the black edges that often appear when watching films. The most obvious difference to OLED is when you use your phone in a dark environment, when both the contrast and the lower brightness of the screen are most obvious.

Even the screen size initially felt uncomfortably small. But just as with the size of the phone itself, it only took a short while before I got used to it.

This phone may not be an optimal media machine, but it does its job without any problems. Just bear in mind that the battery is identical to the iPhone 8, which is not the best. If you're going on a long haul flight, it's good to have a portable battery available, because a full day's use with both films and games can be limited.

Cameras

The cameras in the iPhone SE are not the most impressive either. On the back there is a single 12-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization. A lower resolution than in most modern Android phones on the market today.

Despite the fact that the resolution is so low, I think that the iPhone SE takes surprisingly good photographs. In good lighting conditions, the results are sharp and detailed with good colour reproduction. The phone doesn’t exaggerate the colours like many other mobile phones. The dynamic range is not top class, but overall I had no problem with everyday photography.

If you zoom in 100 percent, you'll notice that the low-resolution camera doesn't really keep up with the competition. On a small mobile screen everything looks good, but on my large 4K screen it’s clear that the iPhone SE does not capture the fine details so well. However, in the camera's defense, most mobile phones aren't good at it either.

Something worth mentioning is that the camera doesn’t like direct backlight, whether it’s the sun or a ceiling lamp. This creates problems such as light reflections and the photos may end up looking washed out with poor contrast.

In poorer lighting conditions, the camera struggles even more. The resolution diminishes, the colours begin to fade and the digital noise increases. Notably, the iPhone SE doesn't have the night mode introduced with the iPhone 11 series, so if you want to take photographs in very dark conditions then you need to upgrade to that series instead.

Close-up of books to show the difference in digital noise under different lighting conditions

Of course, the iPhone SE has a portrait mode for both the front and rear camera.

Below is an example of how the usual photo mode with the front camera differs from portrait mode. Portrait mode enables blurring of the background digitally to highlight the face.

And certainly it works really well, although on closer inspection it’s clear that it’s a digital solution and not a true depth-of-field phenomenon.

Left: Regular photo mode. Right: Portrait mode

Speakers

Whether you're listening to music, watching films, or playing, the iPhone SE has enough power to fill a small room with sound.

When I measured the sound level with a Blue microphone connected to my iPad Pro in a highly unscientific way, at its highest it reached 113 dBA. That's a little lower than with my iPhone XS which reached 114 dBA. I measured at exactly the same distance with both mobile phones, and playing was Hello by Adele.

It's no problem hearing vocals in films and music. Even when I turn up the volume considerably, I do not experience distortion from the speakers.

The difference between the iPhone SE and the iPhone XS is small but noticeable. With the iPhone SE I get a cooler sound that feels a little thinner than with the iPhone XS. On the whole, I’m impressed that the iPhone SE with its small speakers can handle as much sound as it does.

One detail that might not be a surprise is that the phone doesn’t have a headphone connector. Since I use AirPods headphones, it's not a problem, but it's perhaps worth noting for some of you that lack a headphone connector. If you want to use your wired headphones with an iPhone SE, there are adapters for that. Unfortunately, no adapter is included in the box.

Summary

The new iPhone SE is a good choice for those who want a small and fast iPhone that costs just below NZ$800. Sure, I could remark on the fact that the phone has the same old LCD screen and battery capacity as the iPhone 8, and in addition, is missing a handy fast charger. But the new processor and camera make up for the few flaws I can point out. This is an iPhone that will bring a lot of joy to users for several years without breaking your budget.

Specifications for the iPhone SE

  • Launch year: 2020
  • Screen size: 4.7-inch, LCD
  • Screen resolution: 750 x 1 334 pixels
  • Physical measurements: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm
  • Weight: 148g
  • Processor: Apple A13 Bionic
  • Memory: 3GB
  • Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
  • Rear camera: 12 megapixels, f/1.8
  • Front camera: 7 megapixels, f/2.2
  • Video recording: Up to 60fps 4K resolution
  • Sound: Stereo speaker, no headphone connector
  • Battery: 1,821 mAh, fast charge (18 watts)
  • Water resistant: Yes, with IP68
  • Connections: WiFi 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC, Lightning connector

This test has been conducted by Daniel Haaf who works in PriceSpy's editorial team.