Apple’s cut-price iPhone is back for 2022. While it continues to rock the same old-school design as its predecessor, it’s been given a major revamp under the hood.
The iPhone SE 2022 now packs the same A15 processor that powers Apple’s top of the line smartphone. It also comes with 5G support for the first time.
While it’s seen an upgrade in the performance and connectivity departments, the new iPhone SE otherwise remains largely unchanged. There’s been no change to the iPhone 8-esque design, the Touch ID sensor remains, and the 4.7in Liquid Retina display is identical. The cameras - a 12MP rear and 7MP front-facing lens - haven’t seen an upgrade for 2022.
These specifications are unlikely to impress those in the market for a high-end smartphone with all the bells and whistles. However, for those upgrading from an iPhone 8 or the last-generation iPhone SE, this endearing familiarity might be just what you’re after.
First impressions and design
There’s something charming about the design of the iPhone SE. Its boxy chassis is reminiscent of the iPhone 8, and its compact 4.7-inch screen takes us back to a time when all smartphones could be operated comfortably with one hand.
However, the design also feels somewhat dated. The chunky bezels around the screen look almost archaic compared to the slim bezels found on the iPhone 13 mini. And the built-in fingerprint scanner - while perfectly functional - feels clunky.
But the iPhone SE isn’t aimed at those after a glitzy, high-end device. It's more for those who want a powerful, functional device that can slip easily into a pocket.
With dimensions of just 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm, and a weight of 144g, it manages that easily, with room to spare.
While it’s a perfectly pocketable device, the small size of the iPhone SE does have its downsides. The keyboard was fiddly to use and felt cramped at times, perhaps because we’ve become accustomed to the 6-inch iPhone 13 Pro. For those who’ve held onto an iPhone 5S, 6, 7 or similar, it will feel perfectly natural.
The iPhone SE is also much more durable than its predecessor. It’s water-resistant, and it uses the same toughened glass as you’ll find on the iPhone 13.
Inside this toughened-up chassis sits a 4.7in LCD display, which while plenty bright enough, feels less crisp and vibrant than competitors. It’s also impossible to ignore the thick bezels surrounding the screen, particularly if you’re playing a game or watching a show on Netflix.
Despite the large bezels, it’s worth noting that there’s no Face ID on the iPhone SE, which means you’ll have to use the fingerprint scanner embedded into the handset’s physical home button. We found the sensor incredibly responsive and enjoyed having a physical home button for navigating the device.
Performance and battery life
The iPhone SE is undoubtedly the fastest, affordable, smartphone you can buy right now. That’s because it packs the same six-core A15 processor as the iPhone 13 Pro, which blows the competition - even Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 - out of the water.
It feels somehow comical to have such power in a device with a screen this small – the screen is a more narrow window than almost any other phone, yet you’ve got the power here to create advanced 4K video edits.
In benchmarks, we found that the iPhone SE - despite its old-school design and dated feature set - was largely on par, and in some times even better than iPhone 13 Pro.
In terms of real-world use, we failed to make the iPhone SE stutter no matter what we threw at it. It handled 4K video playback with ease, and gaming on the device - although we were somewhat distracted by the handset’s chunky bezels - was slick and smooth at all times.
Storage-wise, the iPhone SE is available in 64GB, 128GB and 256GB variants, with the price increasing from £419 to £569 for the latter. Naturally, as an Apple device, there’s no built-in microSD slot for memory expansion, so be sure to choose your model wisely.
Battery life is billed as two hours longer than the previous iPhone SE thanks to a slightly larger battery and efficiency gains from the A15 chip. However, while improved, we found the iPhone SE’s longevity a little disappointing. While it made it through a typical day of use, it lasted for just nine hours of video playback.
In terms of software, the iPhone SE ships with iOS 15, the latest version of Apple’s homegrown mobile operating system. This equips the device with the latest Apple features such as spatial audio in FaceTime calls, Live Text in the camera app, and on-device dictation.
The iPhone SE 2022's camera hardware has not changed. You still get just a single 12MP rear wide camera, and you’ll find the same low-resolution 7MP camera on the front of the handset.
While this sounds somewhat lacklustre on paper, we were fairly impressed by the performance of the rear-facing sensor. This is largely thanks to the weight pulled by the iPhone SE’s new A15 processor. It adds features such as Smart HDR 4 for sharpening images in tricky lighting and Deep Fusion for better details and textures.
In decent lighting, the iPhone SE is capable of producing crisp images with an impressive level of detail and dynamic range. Some images even rivalled those taken on the Google Pixel 6 Pro thanks to Apple’s softer, more natural colour balance.
However, the single 12MP lens falls short when it comes to images shot in the dark due to its lack of Night Mode. Images taken in the evening can be dull and grainy, and we found the handset struggled to capture anything at all when using the camera at night time.
The front-facing camera, though it weighs in at just 7MP, does a decent job. While it’s by no means as strong as the 12MP selfie camera on the iPhone 13 Pro, we found it more than capable for FaceTime calls and touching up makeup.
The iPhone SE isn’t for everyone. Those buyers used to flagship-tier smartphones with large displays and multiple cameras won’t be won over by the handset, with its dated bezels and single-lens rear shooter making it feel dated compared to its competitors.
However, the iPhone SE isn’t for you. Rather, it’s aimed at those who want a compact, do-it-all smartphone at a reasonable price.
It does it all impressively quickly too, thanks to the inclusion of Apple’s latest and greatest A15 Bionic chip. The chip also equips it with an improved, though admittedly not amazing battery life, support for 5G connectivity, and a bunch of handy on-device features such as Deep Fusion camera tech.
And importantly, it’ll set you back just £419 - less than half the price of Apple’s cheapest iPhone 13 Pro, making it the cheapest 5G iPhone you can buy.
The iPhone SE is undoubtedly the best performing, affordable smartphone on the market.
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Not sure if the iPhone SE is the handset for you? Compare phones of all makes and models, using our phone comparison table.