You Should Get the iPhone SE 5G if You Just Want a Phone That Does iPhone Things

You Should Get the iPhone SE 5G if You Just Want a Phone That Does iPhone Things
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

If you were desperate to get the latest iPhone 13, I’m going to go ahead and assume that by now you would have. I’m also going to go ahead and assume you’re here because you want to buy a cheap iPhone but you’re not sure whether this latest SE 5G is worth the $719 price tag?

The iPhone SE 5G is probably the most un-Apple thing I think Apple does. It’s a good enough iPhone at a more affordable price. And it’s a cheap way to make the switch from Android. But it’s still a couple of hundred dollars for a phone that isn’t awesome.

iPhone SE 5G

Apple announced the iPhone SE 5G two weeks ago. Apple CEO Tim Cook described it as, “Delivering the iPhone experience at an incredible price”. Basically, it’s for people who just want a cheap iPhone.

I went into this review of the iPhone SE 5G expecting to basically be using a half-arsed iPhone, coming from my everyday phone, the iPhone 13 Pro Max. It’s not as big, the camera isn’t as good, and no, it’s not as powerful, but…. It’s a good enough phone.

Let’s walk through it.

Look & feel

This thing is small. Pictured below next to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the iPhone SE is pretty much the size of a (now potentially discontinued) iPhone mini. The iPhone SE 5G is 138.4 mm x 67.3 mm – the mini is 131.5 mm x 64.2 mm, the standard iPhone 13 is 146.7 mm x 71.5 mm and the iPhone 13 Pro Max (pictured) is 160.8 mm x 78.1 mm.

iPhone SE 5G
iPhone SE 5G (left) and iPhone 13 Pro Max (right). Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

The display size on the SE, however, is far smaller than the mini, given of course the bezel and the home button. The display measures 4.7-inches, vs the 5.4-inches you get on the mini and 6.1-inches on the iPhone 13. It also weighs 4 grams heavier than the mini, at 144 g.

Trying to ignore the drastic difference in changing from the iPhone 13 Pro Max to the SE, the main difference in use is the Touch ID. Rather than staring at the phone to unlock it via Face ID, the iPhone SE 5G uses the old school Home Button as a fingerprint reader. After being spoiled with Face ID, I have to say the fingerprint element is definitely a hinderance.

Using the phone

I feel like I’m using a 2022 phone trapped in the body of a 2016 iPhone. It’s honestly like it’s a six-year-old model iPhone that has been given a performance boost and the latest iOS update. It doesn’t tap to wake (a feature I only now realise I use a lot) and the battery life is quite short (more on that later) but the display quality is amazing and I can get 5G reception.

Playing games on this thing is super hard, especially with long nails (I know they’re overgrown, forgive me as I have COVID atm), and the display, while pretty, is so tiny I’m squinting. But I’ve declared not being a fan of small phones previously, so for someone who likes them, these issues aren’t a thing.

iPhone SE 5G
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

The SE runs the A15 Bionic chip, which is the same chip that powers the iPhone 13. The A15 means 6-core CPU with two performance cores and four efficiency cores, 4-core GPU and a 16-core Neural Engine. Basically, it allows the phone to perform really well. On the SE, this translates to brilliant response times.

The graphics are also great, perfect to the naked eye, in fact. Despite the screen size being tiny, I used it to stream The Office from bed while I had COVID over the weekend. I don’t have a TV in my room and I wanted to test the battery life (one stone; two birds). The Netflix stream quality was great, even though small, and the audio quality was fine. Listening to music through Apple Music also sounded fine – it was clear and not distorted. It could have gone higher but phones aren’t meant to be speakers and you shouldn’t be playing music out of them, anyway.

Talking on the phone (both speaker and holding it to my ear), the line was always clear and there was no issues here either with volume levels. It was reported on the other end I was coming through clear – no different to if I was on the iPhone 13, anyway. And 5G seemed consistent (but I have of course been unable to leave my apartment to further test this).

The iPhone SE 5G runs Apple’s iOS 15 operating system, packed with abilities like the new Focus mode and an improved Apple Maps experience. The company also brought over capabilities like on-device Siri and dictation. I didn’t come across an app I couldn’t use on the SE that I do on the iPhone 13. Again, I’m just using the iPhone I’m familiar with in a shell I am not.

Camera

The camera system on the iPhone SE 5G has been improved over its predecessor. It uses similar computational photography as the iPhone 13, including Deep Fusion, which helps optimise texture and detail in a final photo. The A15 is also to blame for this improvement. The 12-MP camera is fine. It’s not great, though.

iPhone SE 5G rear camera. Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

If you want to take close up pics, spend an extra $1,130-plus on the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Up close pics with iPhone SE 5G (left) and iPhone 13 Pro Max (right). Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

The selfie cam also got an upgrade, with the 7-MP camera not doing too poorly, either.

iPhone SE 5G selfie camera. Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

Battery life

Apple says from full charge you’ll get up to 10 hours playback of streamed video – this has to be based on ultra-low quality, because I got exactly 5 hours and 17 minutes of Michael Scott before the iPhone SE 5G died. I was streaming over Wi-Fi, the brightness was at 100 per cent and so was the volume. Using the phone as my daily device, I got a whole day out of it.

Slight hiccup

I currently use an iPhone 13 Pro Max and a Google Pixel 6 Pro as my daily phone(s). I decide which one I’m using for the day based on absolutely nothing. This means I swap my SIM card out a lot. I know it works. The SIM is not new-new, but it’s new enough. Almost exactly 36 months ago (according to my Vodafone bill), actually. It’s not a butchered SIM-cum-micro-SIM, it’s a small SIM and has always been.

The reason this review is delayed is my SIM card was playing up in the original SE I received to review. It was just rejecting the SIM after the phone was sitting on the table for a while and would come back online after a restart. But this happened a handful of times before I reached out to Apple. I haven’t had a single problem with this second phone, the one this review is based around, but I couldn’t do you all justice without mentioning having an issue. If this happens to you with the iPhone SE 5G – or any Apple product – chances are it’s just the device itself that’s faulty. Shit happens. If I have the same problem with this replacement phone, I’ll keep you updated, but for now I’m more than happy to put it down to being one dodgy device out of a bunch of thousands.

iPhone SE 5G, the verdict

The iPhone 13 mini starts at $1,199, the 13 at $1,349, while the Pro Max model starts at $1,849. The price for the iPhone SE 5G is $719. It’s a compelling proposition if you want a 2022 iPhone but don’t care that it’s wrapped in the body of a 2016 iPhone. It’s also one cheap way to jump from Android if you’re looking for a reason to make the switch.