Apple iPhone SE Review: Short On Ideas, But Not Short On Performance

Apple iPhone SE Review: Short On Ideas, But Not Short On Performance

It isn’t quite fair to review the iPhone SE as a new device. Despite being the first iPhone to step away from Apple’s number naming scheme, and despite being the first 4-inch iPhone in two years, it isn’t a product of innovation, but rather one of stagnation.

If you liked the 5 or the 5s and you’ve missed having a phone you could slip into your pocket and forget about, then you will love the SE. Larger phones never let you forget you’re carrying them as they stand half out of your pack pocket. They scream gadget when you pull them out and two-thumb type a text to a friend. They’re decadent.

With the 6, I would stare at my phone just to stare at it, and on the train I was always terrified to leave it in my pocket. In the front, it jutted out of my pants and begged to be snagged by a pick-pocket, and in the back, it risked being bent under the weight of my own arse.

The SE on the other hand, is beautifully practical. It simply disappears.

The performance is fine too. The beauty of the iOS app ecosystem is that as long as the processor is only a year or two old, it will work perfectly. Applications stayed at a smooth 30 or 60 frames per second, depending on their FPS cap and the pictures were gorgeous, as you’ve come to expect from an Apple phone. It really is just an iPhone 6s writ small.

But there is one problem with having an iPhone 6s smooshed into the body of an iPhone 5s — besides all the body switching fan fiction it has inspired me to write. The display is still an iPhone 5s display. So it has the same resolution (lower than 720p) and pixels per inch (lower than anything made by Samsung). It also has the same default brightness, which is exceptionally lower than the iPhone 6 or 6s. When checking my email at the dog park, I never had to hunt for the brightness slider on my 6, but I have to regularly adjust it on my SE.

This does translate to solid battery life (your display is the primary drain on your battery, so a dimmer display means less drain). After 2 years, the iPhone 6 really struggles to make it past 12 hours of regular use. I unplug at 7:30 in the morning and am hunting for my charger by 8 p.m. I can handily go 24 hours with the SE, only plugging it in when I finally roll into the office each morning. Part of that has to do with the diminished returns on battery charging over time, but much of it has to do with improved handling of battery drain.

The iPhone SE isn’t an awful phone. If you’ve been staring off into the distance singing “Someday my tiny phone will come” then you can stop. This is it. The best phone under four inches currently available.

But how long will that last? In September, Apple will announce the iPhone 7 and it will likely have a whole new design and vastly superior internals. Unless it updates the SE at the same time (unlikely as Apple does not do six month product cycles), its guts will be a year old. That’s absolutely ancient in the technological world. So even though you have the fastest small phone money can buy, it’s still not top of the line.

The SE is effectively the “budget” iPhone. Which means it’s a really great niche for Apple’s product line. But for the consumers? It’s just another decent phone.

Apple used to be a lot better than that.

The iPhone SE will start from $679 in Australia, which is a pretty hefty Australia tax on top of the phone’s US$399 starting point internationally. That stack of cash will get you a 16GB iPhone SE in any of Apple’s four distinctive colourways, and for the larger 64GB version, you’ll pay $829 for the iPhone SE. Here are the iPhone SE plans available on Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.


  • It’s an iPhone 5S. If you liked that you’ll love it.
  • Is’s an iPhone 6s. If you liked that you’ll love it.
  • It doesn’t have 3D Touch. That’s probably fine.