The new iPhone SE isn’t a phone I would personally buy, but it’s the easiest to recommend.
$719 for 5G and the grunt of an iPhone 13 in an outdated but familiar design will appeal to anyone who wants the Apple experience, without the price tag of the mainline models.
After two years of struggling with masks to use Face ID, having a reliable fingerprint reader to quickly unlock the iPhone SE was refreshing, but came at a cost.
Installing an old-fashioned home button limits the screen to 4.7-inches; tiny by modern standards. Granted, it was less of an issue texting than I’d expect on much larger devices, and the convenience of a home button is fair trade for older users who can’t don’t or don’t want to learn a whole new set of swipes.
Admittedly, it took me a while to remember how to bring up the quick settings from the bottom of the screen after so many years with Apple’s “eyebrow” controls.
Sure, the iPhone SE’s smaller screen makes it less convenient to read, but it’s as sharp as expected with Apple’s patented Retina display.
What I didn’t expect was how well the SE’s single camera setup compares to Apple’s best iPhone.
One of these photos was taken on an iPhone SE, the other on an iPhone 13 Pro.
Can you choose which is which?
The two photos on the left are taken on iPhone SE.
The pedant will notice minor differences in clarity and color accuracy, but at a glance they’re pretty darn similar and a testament to the power of Apple’s computational photography.
Portraits are nearly as good despite the loss of contrast, and in fact I sometimes preferred the more subtle blurring on the SE.
However, there’s obviously no optical zoom for shots of more distant objects and you might run into issues taking selfies.
Without an ultra-wide option on the front of the SE, it’s much harder to squeeze closer backgrounds and multiple people into a shot.
There’s also no “cinematic” option, but the iPhone SE still manages to shoot 4K video at 30 FPS.
High-end Apple fans may scoff, but they’re no dealbreakers when you get access to iOS 15 for $719.
Live Text is a great new feature that I used to scan a list of ingredients from a cookbook and paste the text directly into a shopping list in notes.
Google led the way with live text on its Pixel phones and recently added the ability to display on-screen captions for live phone calls, but Apple’s addition may be more useful.
Like other iPhones, there is no adapter included in the box for the USB-C to Lightning cable. And while the iPhone SE doesn’t support MagSafe, it will still charge wirelessly if you have old pads lying around.
“SE” once stood for special edition. Special might not mean ‘best’ in Apple’s lineup, but it does set a new standard; a benchmark to gauge the simplicity of the iPhone at its core.
Simplicity counts for everything in an increasingly crowded and convoluted smartphone mid-market.