Last year, Google turned the mid-range phone market on its head by introducing the ludicrously-priced and well-specced Pixel 3a. A few other brands have followed suit since then, but none have been quite as exciting as the new iPhone SE. Now it truly seems like flagship inclusions at lower price points are here to stay – and it’s about damn time. The trend of $1,500 – $2,000 becoming the norm for new phones over the last few years has been bad for buyers. A new middle ground has been long overdue and we welcome it.
But is the resurrected iPhone SE actually a good phone to buy in 2020?
iPhone SE Specs
But before we dive into things, here’s a quick reminder of the specs.
- Display: 4.7 inches (1334 x 750)
- CPU: A13 Bionic Chip
- Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
- Battery: Up to 13 hours video playback, Qi wireless charging, fast charge
- Rear camera: 12MP (f/1.8)
- Front camera: 7MP (f/2.2)
- Video recording: 4K video up to 60 fps
- Water resistance: IP67
- Size: 5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches
- Weight: 148g
- Colour: Black, White, PROJECT(RED)
iPhone SE Price In Australia
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What’s good about the iPhone SE?
iPhone SE Size
In a world where 6.5-inch phones have become par for the course, it’s refreshing for a premium phone manufacturer to offer something a bit smaller. While large phones screens are good for some things ” streaming shows, reading, general browsing ” they can also be incredibly uncomfortable.
While I have gotten used to the iPhone 11 Pro Max, I have found the SE far more comfortable to use as a daily driver. The screen size isn’t too small, the device nestles perfectly into my hand and it can actually fit into my lady pockets. A true miracle in 2020.
And from a tactile perspective, it’s the same as flagship phone ” you won’t find cheap plastic here. The material is lovely to touch and feels exactly the same as my 11 Pro Max, just smaller.
While it isn’t as small as the previous SE or some other older iPhones, I think that anyone upgrading from one of those previous generations will still be pleased ” especially if you compare it to something like the Pro or Pro Max.
iPhone SE Camera
It’s important to set your expectations if you’re coming to the SE from a flagship device. It only has a single lens on the front and back, so it simply can’t have the same functionality as a triple or quad camera array.
That being said, it is still pretty damn good and this is primarily due to the processor. The iPhone SE has the same A13 bionic chip as iPhone 11 devices, which is a crazy move that I’m here for.
The signal processor and neural engine in the A13 boosts the computational photography of the iPhone SE, which helps make up for what it lacks in hardware. But what does that actually mean when it comes to real world functionality?
To put it simply, the single camera lenses are more capable thanks to the processor and software. The SE has Smart HDR, optical image stabilisation, subject recognition and the ability to capture clearer faces. It’s also able to offer the same six lighting affects in portrait mode as the iPhone 11, as well as depth control adjustment you usually need a second lens for.
When it comes to video, the rear camera is still able to capture 4K and 30 fps with cinematic stabilisation.
As for the selfie cam, you still get the lovely bokeh effect ” the soft, out-of-focus background in photos ” of pricier iPhones thanks to the inclusion of monocular depth estimation.
The portrait and regular photo modes do a great job for a single lens setup. Sure, they’re not as good as the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but at a price point of $750 – $1000 that was never going to happen.
If you’re comparing it to the regular iPhone 11, you probably won’t notice much difference with it at all, at least in a well lit environment. But it’s a different story when it comes to low light. Unlike the iPhone 11, the SE doesn’t have a night mode and its low light functionality is lacking somewhat. It’s not terrible by any means — it’s just okay.
While it may be tempting to blame the hardware for this, it’s worth pointing out that the Google Pixel 3a has night mode, and was even injected with the flagship Pixel 4’s astrophotography mode via a software update.
Considering how powerful the A13 bionic chip is, it’s a shame that night mode wasn’t added as a feature of the iPhone SE.
Here are a few comparisons between the iPhone SE and iPhone 11 Pro Max:
iPhone SE Regular Photo Mode
There’s a noticeable different between the iPhone SE (left) and iPhone 11 Pro Max (right) in terms of brightness, sharpness and warmth. However, some of this could be brought back into the final product with some editing.
iPhone SE Portrait Mode
Left: iPhone SE, Right: iPhone 11 Pro Max
iPhone SE Low Light Camera
The iPhone SE (left) doesn’t have a dedicated night mode like the iPhone 11 Pro Max (right) but it’s low-light capabilities are alright.
iPhone SE Selfies
Left: iPhone SE, Right: iPhone 11 Pro Max
If you want to best camera phone on the market, the iPhone SE is not what you should opt for. But I’m quite impressed and I’m looking forward to putting it through its paces more.
What’s not so good about the iPhone SE?
iPhone SE Battery Life
Unlike Android manufacturers, Apple doesn’t reveal its battery sizes – but we do know that it’s smaller than any device in the iPhone 11 lineup. For example, Apple quotes the SE as having up to 13 hours of video playback, where as the baseline iPhone 11 has up to 17.
It didn’t take long for me to notice the battery drain, particularly when I went out for a walk. In 30 minutes, the battery dropped by 13 per cent while I had my AirPods Pro connected via bluetooth, location enabled and Spotify playing. During that time I also sent some messages via Facebook Messenger and Slack.
I went on a similar walk the next day and lost 10 per cent battery in 20 minutes – this time around I had added some light browsing into the mix.
That being said, the battery still go me through the whole day. I started using the device at 7:30am and by 11:30pm it was down to 3 per cent. As a moderate to heavy user, this was okay.
However, if Australia wasn’t in lockdown right now I would probably have run out of battery earlier due to heavier music listening and reading on my morning commute, as well as connecting my Apple watch for gym workouts and taking the phone out after work. If the world was normal right now, I would definitely need to be put the SE on a charger during the day.
Apple mic-dropped the mobile world last week by unveiling a brand new iPhone SE for just $749. Not only that, even the most expensive version of the mid-range phone still comes in at under $1000. The phone is on sale today, and every major Aussie telco is on board with this little beauty. Because opening 500 tabs to compare phone plans sucks, we have rounded up all of them for you. You're welcome.Read more
But despite my battery complaints, it’s important to take my own experience and background into account. I review phones for a living and use an iPhone 11 Pro Max regularly. And in recent weeks, I’ve been playing around with the Samsung S20 Ultra and Huawei P40. These are flagship phones with huge batteries.
My prediction is that people most likely to buy an iPhone SE will be upgrading from an older Apple device, such as an iPhone 6, 7 or 8. Alternatively, they’re low to moderate phone users who simply want a cheaper device without having to make a lot of compromises. If these scenarios sound like you, the battery life on the iPhone SE will be just fine. You’ll probably find that it’s on par with the iPhone 8 and a proper upgrade compared to anything older than that ” especially when you take battery degradation into account.
Plus, the iPhone SE charges incredibly quickly thanks to 30W fast-charge capabilities, combined with the smaller battery. I even found that the wireless charging on it to be quite speedy.
iPhone SE Bezel
While this isn’t a problem for me, this will probably bug some people. So let’s talk about it.
The 4.7-inch display has quite a thick bezel at the top and bottom of the device to house the home button and front-facing camera. This makes sense because it would cost a lot more to include an in-screen fingerprint reader and camera.
However, some folks may not like how this throwback inclusion eats into the screen real estate, especially if they enjoy streaming content on their phones.
While it’s not my favourite feature, the bezels really don’t bother me that much and after a few days of use I don’t really miss Face Unlock. I also found watching Netflix and Quibi on the SE great. The smaller screen didn’t bother me and the brightness and quality of the display was lovely.
However, if you’re a fan of having as much screen as possible, it’s probably worth considering one of the Phone 11 models instead.
Is the iPhone SE Worth It?
After spending almost two weeks with the iPhone SE, I keep coming to the same simple conclusion — this is a great device for the price point. While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the more expensive iPhones, there’s more than enough to make this phone perfect for some people.
And it still offers some flagship features you usually have to pay more for, rendering it future-proofed for a few years. Qi wireless charging, eSIM functionality and water resistance are all fantastic inclusions ” but the real game changer here is the A13 bionic chip. Being able to get the best phone processor on the market in a sub-$1000 phone is a real power move by Apple, and one that will probably pay off for them.
The only real competition it will have in market is the upcoming Google Pixel 4a. Although Google’s new mid-range offering will probably be superior in some ways, that’s unlikely to matter much to Apple fans.
The iPhone SE isn’t aimed at people who want the latest and greatest, although it still delivers some of them. Colloquially, most of the people who have expressed their excitement over this device to me have been those upgrading from a much older iPhone. They want something familiar, small and convenient. Something that won’t force them out of their Apple ecosystem due to an overinflated price tag.
The iPhone SE is as modern as it is thoughtful. It provides an option for people on a tighter budget or who don’t want to stretch their fingers across the mammoth phone screens that have become the norm over the last few years.
And on all of these points, Apple has delivered.