Apple has upgraded the familiar iPhone 8 to create the perfect smartphone for people who find large screens a bit unwieldy. And it’s half the price of the iPhone 11.
First impressions and design
- Small form factor is a rarity nowadays
- Identical to the iPhone 8
- IP67 water-resistant
Take the iPhone SE out of the box and fond memories of the iPhone 8 come flooding back. The small, curvy device that has sold millions worldwide.
The iPhone SE is the cheapest, and most compact iPhone released in the past three years.
Its design is almost identical to the iPhone 8, with soft curves that are going to feel familiar to long-term iPhone users.
But don't be fooled by the retro look. Under the hood, the SE is very much a new generation iPhone.
Available in White, Black or the "(Product)RED" special edition.
Fingerprint sensor with haptic feedback that doubles up as a home button. But no facial recognition on the iPhone SE.
The iPhone setup is one of the best you’ll ever use. It leads you through the necessary settings in a clear manner with minimal faff.
There are two choices of system themes. You can choose one to be always on or you can schedule them to swap after sunset. Regardless of initial setup you can always change the settings in the "Display & Brightness" menu.
Nothing to see here apart from Apple's own lightning socket for charging and audio output. Rumour has it that Apple will eventually ditch the proprietary plug for the standard USB-C but this is unlikely to happen in the near future.
The iPhone SE is water-resistant, a feature usually reserved for the more expensive devices and, unlike its predecessor, it lacks an audio jack. No need to panic, though, adaptors are inexpensive and easy to find.
Rather than following the curve of the frame as seen on the iPhone X and 11 released last year, the 4.7-inch screen has sharp right-angled corners. The frame is also noticeably bigger compared to what we have seen on the latest generation of iPhones.
Unlike the latest generation high-end devices, the iPhone SE's 4.7-inch display doesn't stretch to the edges of the device. The result is the inevitable "lost" space at the top and bottom, which is a bit of an old fashioned look when compared with newer, all-screed models.
Unsurprisingly for a brand new iPhone, the display looks really good. Still, there is no denying that it just feels small and things can get cramped when you're typing, as the keyboard will take up a third of the screen. Of course, this is bigger than the first edition iPhone SE that had an even smaller 4-inch screen, but things have changed and so have people's expectations.
Limited size is not the only complaint we have about this screen. It uses IPS LCD technology, last seen on the iPhone 8. While it is perfectly acceptable indoors, it can struggle in the sunshine and lacks the deep blacks and overall brightness that you can get with the OLED technology used in the more expensive iPhone 11.
— Apple logo moved to the centre —
The Apple logo has been moved to the centre and the "iPhone" marking is gone.
Apart from that, this looks identical to the iPhone 8.
Performance and battery life
- Same processor as the iPhone 11
- Small battery
- Future-proof components
The compromise made on screen technology is balanced by the inclusion of the A13 processor.
First seen on the flagship iPhone 11, this is the most powerful chip released by Apple so far, and it delivers outstanding performance.
More importantly, it will ensure that your new iPhone will maintain its snappiness even after a system upgrade and numerous app installations.
The most significant benefit of this decision is the projected longevity of the phone.
It defines this mid-range model as a latest-generation device that will be supported for years to come
Apple gives the iPhone SE 3GB of RAM as opposed to 4GB as in the iPhone 11, but still significantly more than past iterations of iPhones.
Bluetooth connectivity has also been upgraded to version 5, ensuring better coverage and fast setup of compatible devices such as speakers and wireless headphones.
Despite coming equipped with a tiny battery, the same 1810mAh found on the iPhone 8, battery life is acceptable thanks also to the excellent energy efficiency of the LCD display.
Unlike the original iPhone SE, this new edition supports wireless charging when used with any compatible charging pad but charging speed is identical
The iPhone 8 had a fantastic camera for the time, and Apple has made the decision of keeping it the same for the iPhone SE.
A single camera lens is all you'll find at the back of the iPhone SE. This is identical to the one found on the iPhone 8.
Image quality, however, has made a leap forward when compared to the iPhone 8.
Thanks to the A13 chip, the iPhone SE camera can rely on powerful software to enhance picture quality. It is nowhere near as good as the camera found on the iPhone 11 as it lacks zooming as well as a sophisticated Night Mode. However, the new A13 chip makes it excel at standard photography. The capable image processing software mean this phone holds its own when compared to more expensive devices.
The portrait mode, blurring the background for striking portraits, is one of the main highlights of this iPhone's camera. It relies solely on software instead of a second lens, and results are impressive.
The set focus mode has its limitations, though. It only works on people so, if you're looking for the same professional-looking result when photographing pets or capturing small objects with a soft-focus background, you'll be disappointed.
Apple has included the same fancy shooting mode seen on more expensive iPhones. Pick of the bunch is the dark background and stage lights. All effects can be modified and removed after you take a picture. This way, you can be creative with your portraits and selfies in a way that very few iPhone competitors will allow.
The software engine found on the iPhone SE is a marvellous achievement. It may lack the versatility of the iPhone 11, and there is no zoom lens or wide-angle. Yet, the quality is comparable to what you would find on phones that retail at twice the price.
Take semantic-rendering, for instance. This technology is used for portrait shooting and relies on AI to deliver professional-looking portraits with little effort.
Instead of adjusting highlights and shadows for the whole image, it detects a specific element of a face and makes adjustments like brightness and contrast only in certain areas. Hair will be recognised as such and will receive a different treatment than skin texture.
Despite fierce competition, Apple is still the top dog when it comes to portrait photography, and you can rest assured that the iPhone SE is the best performer on the market at this price point.
The camera interface is, of course, identical to the ones found on the iPhone X including the useful QuickTake Video feature. Tap on the shutter to take a photo, hold to record a video.
The new SE is better at capturing low-light scenes when compared to both the iPhone 8 and original iPhone SE but it lags behind when compared to the iPhone 11.
iPhone SE 2 sample 1
iPhone SE 2 sample 3
iPhone SE 2 sample 4
iPhone SE 2 sample 2
The iPhone SE second edition has more in common with the iPhone 8 released in 2017 than the first generation SE.
It has the same glass, and aluminium body, IP67 dust/water resistance, support for wireless charging and battery and even the camera hardware is identical.
Apple has, essentially, taken a past flagship, that at the time of its launch was retailing for about £700, and beefed up its processing unit, so that it is capable of running iOS 13 with ease as well as keeping up with the latest AI support for great photography.
The low price represents its biggest selling point. Retailing at around £400 SIM free, the new iPhone SE is an attractive alternative to the latest generation of iPhones if you care about compact size.
Check out all our deals for the iPhone SE
Not sure if the iPhone SE is the handset for you? Compare phones of all makes and models, using our phone comparison table.