Updated: May 17
After experiencing the iPhone 13 mini and the joy of a small phone all over again, I was intrigued with what this year’s iPhone SE would bring. Another small phone can only be a good thing right? But this budget friendly rendition is a different beast altogether. In a nutshell, it is practically the iPhone SE of 2020 and the iPhone 8 - but with the saving grace of the A15 bionic chip. In other words, one 12MP camera, the same 4.7 inch display, and you might be carrying a power bank or a charger again like the year 2017 when the original iPhone 8 came out. So who is this actually for?
The iPhone SE is definitely not for everyone. But it is for someone. Maybe those looking to upgrade from a previous generation SE, or anything earlier than an iPhone 8; or those looking to make the switch from Android to Apple for the first time but without the heavy price tag. And those looking for a cheaper small phone from Apple without the bells and whistles - like for older folks and young kids.
The iPhone SE 2022 is in practically the same body as the 2nd generation iPhone SE back in 2020 and the iPhone 8 before that - so this is either going to feel familiar or feel dated. Handling this without a case can get pretty slippery versus the more grip-friendly flat edged design of the iPhone 13 series - so get a case on this ASAP. Let’s leave the ‘dropping and smashing your iPhone’ trope in the past. It’s lightweight, weighing in at 144 grams, coming in the standard colours of Midnight, Starlight and (Product) Red - we have the aluminium body with a glass panel at the back and at 7.3mm thin, it is one of the thinnest phones on the market now in 2022.
The thinnest iPhone was the iPhone 6 at 6.9mm, it tends to be the more tech you squeeze in, the thicker it gets - That gives us a bit of an indication already of how much more went into this. You get your home button, yes a home button! So if you’re coming from an iPhone 8 and earlier or the 2nd generation SE, you’ll feel right at “home”. And thanks to this home button, you also get Touch ID again apart from the usual passcode. Touch ID was something that Apple ditched in newer iPhones since the iPhone X but it reappears again in 2020 and 2022 in the iPhone SE.
You can unlock with your fingerprint however this is only on the home button and not the in-display fingerprint sensors like many of the other phones in the market. Touch ID is responsive and reliable as always. But we’re already in an age where you can unlock with Face ID even with your face masks on. And the iPhone SE does NOT come with Face ID, full stop. This might be a little deal breaker for some of you - especially when most of us are REALLY into the convenience of Face ID. The iPhone SE does come with 5G, Bluetooth 5.0 and no headphone jack.
For the display, they have retained the 4.7 inch LCD display - and unfortunately, the size of the bezels and the chin too.
It’s the first thing you would probably notice - a stark reminder of how far we’ve come with phones maximising screen real estate.Your experience may vary, but we put it into the hands of an Android user with a small phone and after a while the black borders melted away and became a lot less noticeable. Humans really are adaptable to our tech.
Sure, it won’t be your first choice for watching Netflix - but playing games like Asphalt 9 with the bezels also meant a more natural resting position for your thumbs.
The stereo speakers were sufficiently crisp and immersive, and matches up quite nicely when we compare it to the experience on the iPhone 13 mini.
The LCD display’s peak brightness is advertised as 625 nits, and it fares well in bright sunlight. Typical to base iPhones, the display comes with a standard 60Hz refresh rate. Yes, 60Hz may not be top of the line, with other mid range phones and even some entry level phones on the market regularly bringing in at least 90Hz, and the 13 Pro and Pro Max already leapfrogging to an adaptive 120Hz. But remember, the 13 mini is also on a 60Hz refresh rate, and in our eyes, scrolling through on what is already a smaller screen, we can see how it wouldn’t be a priority.
The big saving grace for the iPhone SE is that it runs on the new, faster A15 bionic chip with 4GB of RAM and storage options of 64GB, 128GB and 256GB.You will be getting market leading performance in terms of processing power with the A15 bionic chip, the same chip powering the iPhone 13 series.
Our Geekbench tests yield a Single-Core Score of 1744 and a Multi-Core Score of 4676 - so just as fast as even the iPhone 13 Pro Max.For comparison, our Galaxy S22 Ultra review with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Processor scored 1214 for Single-core and 3245 for Mutli-core. You are truly getting flagship performance.
Longevity is the name of the game and Apple future proofs the SE for years to come with software upgrades - we just wish it had more to power. The 64GB storage option still showing up here does make sense to keep prices as affordable as possible. Although budget friendly users does not equal lower usage. In this case it kinda works, the target user probably being someone looking for a basic iPhone that works, with budget driving the purchasing decision.
The iPhone SE still has a single 12MP camera and a 7MP front facing camera. Apple banks on the computational grace behind the A15 bionic chip to take it to 2022 - once again, iPhone showing you what an iPhone can do not just with a 12MP but a single camera. Computationally, you get Smart HDR4 where multiple photos are stitched together for different individuals with different skin tones in a group photo mapped individually within the frame (try with Fitri)
Ultra wide is missed here - you are brought back to 2017 before ultra wide became expected from every phone camera setup. We did a side by side comparison between the iPhone SE and the iPhone 13 mini. And with the examples shown here, most noticeably there are differences in colour saturations, images are more vibrant in the SE as opposed to the slightly flatter tones in the iPhone 13 mini.
You’ll possibly have more flexibility for post editing in the 13 mini as it requires more data capture, and it might have been left out of the iPhone SE to manage storage capacity. Thankfully, Photographic Styles are available just like the ones in the latest iPhone 13's so you’ll at least be able to customise the look of your photos directly in the camera app for tone and warmth.
As a plus side to this, video quality is very much alike and more than plenty for everyday use with record options of 4K at 60 fps and 1080p at 240fps. Cinematic Mode is unfortunately not available in the SE. While the iPhone’s low light performance has come a long way, especially with Night Mode bringing in good detail and vivid colours in our last review of the iPhone 13 mini - the Night Mode features aren’t brought into the iPhone SE. So images in low light are pretty reminiscent of the iPhones of yesteryears - grainy and lacking in detail.
The battery life got slightly better from the last generation SE with Apple claiming 2 hours longer of video playback. Again, with the same small body, the size of the battery can only go so far. So you might want to switch it into Low Power Mode permanently, switch to dark mode, turn off 5G and keep a charger handy on days out. It can take in wired 20W fast charging, taking you from 0 to 50% in 30 minutes. Overall, other budget phones are making stronger cases like the Pixel 5a with a great camera experience and the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G with its 120Hz refresh rate AMOLED display and quad camera setup making waves of their own. So in the end, it comes down to - Apple or Android? The 3rd generation of the iPhone SE starts from RM2,099 or SGD699 for the 64GB, with storage options for 128GB and 256GB. It’s only a slightly more expensive entry point into the Apple ecosystem compared to the last SE which started at US$399 or RM1,999 back in 2020. But for a budget phone, RM2,099 is not chump change as well. At the time of this review, on Apple’s official store the only other small phone, the iPhone 13 mini starts at RM3,399, which is RM1,300 or 60% more. And even the oldest phone available there, the iPhone 11, 2.5 years old and powered by the A13 chip, is RM300 more. So if it is only down to pure dollars and cents, the SE will make a decent budget choice for you to still be a part of the Apple ecosystem.
All in all, the iPhone SE may still have a place in the market. But it’s a shrinking one. The case it makes with this rendition could have been a lot better - there is a lot of reliance on just chipset performance, keeping the user in the Apple ecosystem and the ‘comparatively small’ price tag. Big factors in itself - but in today’s competitive space with Android phones making strong cases themselves. The market may already be validating that that isn’t enough with waning sales of the iPhone SE and news on the grapevine that Apple is scaling back on orders
It’s not going to be for everyone, but we will be sad if we see SE's become a thing of the past.
Written by Melissa Tan