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iPhone SE review

It's small. But is it perfectly formed? We find out.
iphone se hero


  • Very familiar design but still stylish
  • Excellent camera
  • Pay for goods by swiping your phone over a reader


  • We'd have liked a 32GB edition
  • No option to expand storage
  • Screen could be crisper

First Impressions

iPhone SE

  • It's the iPhone 5S again!
  • You get a lot of phone for your money
  • Same features and specs as iPhone 6s

If the iPhone SE looks familiar, that's because it is.

Its 4-inch screen and sharp-edged design are identical the now-discontinued iPhone 5S. But on the inside it's all change.

Apple has equipped the SE with most of the same software features and the same powerful processor as its bigger brother, the iPhone 6S.

Live Photos, a 12-megapixel camera, 4K video recording, Apple Pay for contactless payments, they're all here.

In fact, about the only feature that's missing from the SE is 3D Touch, so you don't get shortcuts to key apps and won't be able to preview emails, messages and the like without opening them.


iPhone SE

  • High quality materials
  • Tiny by today's standards
  • First rose gold 4" iPhone

As we've said, the iPhone SE looks identical to the iPhone 5s. The only cosmetic change is that the iPhone SE comes in the new rose gold colour, just like the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

Some might question the point of a phone that looks the same as its two-and-a-half-year-old cousin. But it's easy to overcome those reservations when you remember this is the cheapest iPhone available.

Moreover retaining the 5s's design also means that all existing iPhone 5S cases will fit. So you could save a bit of money there.

The only gripe we have is that it feels tiny compared with the likes of the iPhone 6s Plus and Samsung Galaxy S7. Though that does make it much less cumbersome than larger models.

Build Glass and metal
Weight 113g
Dimensions 123.8x58.6x7.6mm


iPhone SE

  • Not as sharp as some rival phones
  • Easy to read in bright sun
  • Can't match larger handsets for watching video

The big question is does anyone want a 4-inch phone in 2016?

For one thing, the SE is dwarfed by its competitors. And even budget Android phones are larger than four inches these days.

But as the strong sales of the iPhone 5c showed, the market for smaller smartphones is bigger than you might suppose.

Not least because they're a good choice for anyone buying their first smartphone. As well as smartphone users with small hands.

The screen does look tiny, though, and it's nowhere near as sharp as those found on high-end rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S7 or LG G5.

However, the SE is, of course, a lot cheaper than these. Held side by side with a pricier rival, you really notice the difference. It's not as bright and quite a lot more grainy.

It's not a bad display by any stretch of the imagination. Although cramped, it's fine for viewing the odd video and playing simple games. And, crucially, it's clearly visible in bright sun too.

Fans of large-screen phones might be hard to convince, but we found the iPhone SE perfectly adequate for day-to-day use.

Size 4 inches
Resolution 1,136x640 pixels
Technology LED


iPhone SE

  • Crisp photos
  • Quick to focus
  • 4K video recording

The SE packs the same excellent 12-megapixel camera as the iPhone 6S, which we rate as one of the best smartphone cameras around.

And we're happy to report that it's lost none of its appeal on its transfer to the smaller phone.

In bright sunlight, the photos are stunning, with plenty of detail. It impresses in low light too.

Like the 6s, 4K video recording is included. That means you can record footage four times as crisp standard HD.

The 6s's Live Photos feature is also present. This captures a second or so of video before and after you press the shutter, putting the photo in context and making it feel more 'alive'.

There's no optical image stabilisation to minimise the effect of shaky hands, though. That's exclusive to the 6S Plus.

Camera 12MP
Optical image stabilisation No
Unique features Live Photos

Performance and battery life

iPhone SE

  • No microSD card slot
  • iOS 9.3 adds Night Shift mode to help you sleep
  • Battery lasted into a second day

No complaints here, we're happy to report. Which isn't really surprising, considering the SE boasts the same super-quick A9 processor as the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

Games and apps run smoothly and load without a hitch. We also had no problems multitasking, with no discernable slowdown.

Battery life is impressive too. Every day we used it, it lasted into the second day, and that was with very heavy use (think: playing games, streaming videos and messaging with WhatsApp).

The latest iOS 9.3 version of Apple's operating system is pre-installed , bringing with it Apple's new Night Shift feature, which purportedly helps you sleep better.

It does this by minimising your exposure to blue light emanating from the screen. Blue light fools your brain into thinking that it's broad daylight , placing your body into wide-awake mode.

With Night Shift, you can switch to softer yellow light when it's late at night, which ought to make you more ready for sleep.

Apple Pay is also on board, so you can use the handset just as you would a contactless debit card. That means you can swipe your phone over a reader to pay for goods and services in shops and restaurants.

So impressed are we with the SE, we didn't even miss 3D Touch, which is still exclusive to the iPhone 6s. This is a system of shortcuts to key features, which are activated by pressing harder on the screen.

Though the fact there's no 32GB model is baffling (your options are a measly 16GB or a whopping 64GB). And the lack of expandable storage is annoying too.

Battery capacity 1,624mAh
OS and version iOS 9.3

Value for money

SIM free, the SE costs £359, which is £110 pricier than the Moto X Play, £10 more than the Samsung Galaxy A5, and £80 more than the OnePlus 2. (Apple doesn't really do 'cheap'.)

On contract, it's free starting at around £26 a month. Once again, though, that's no-one's idea of a cheap handset.

But considering how much you get for your money, it's better value than a lot of phones.


  • Very slim
  • Same design as the iPhone 5S
  • Great performance
  • Awesome battery life
  • Fantastic camera
  • No optical image stabilisation
  • No expandable storage

It might be an old design, but Apple has filled the iPhone SE with enough up-to-the-minute software and hardware features to make it very appealing indeed.

If you prefer smaller phones and don't want to break the bank, it's a great buy.

Category: Reviews
Tagged: iphone, apple
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