Apple iPhone SE in-depth review - Small & mighty

Apple's latest iPhone SE is a return to form factor for the Cupertino giant. Packing the might of the iPhone 6S, it has the body of the iPhone 5...But now that people have gotten used to phablets, will it find favour?

 Apple iPhone SE Review - Small & mighty
4.5

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,4/13/2016 3:33:45 PM

9

out of 10

Performance

10

out of 5

Look and feel

10

out of 5

Ease of use

10

out of 5

Features

8

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Perfect for using one-handed | Incredible performance | Great camera | Price | good battery life

Cons:

Might be too small | no 3D touch

- By Sunetra Chakravarti

Before the iPhone Special Edition was announced and when there were rumours floating around of what Apple would unveil, most in the know thought it would be a redux of the iPhone 5C, an expensive plastic bodied iteration of the then iPhone 5. But when the SE made an appearance, there was surprise all around.

Is the iPhone SE basically a rebooted iPhone 5?

It totally is. If you have a iPhone 5 lying around, check to see the dimensions- Apple have whipped out the shell of their older flagship, made the tiniest of tweaks and presented beefed up specs in the retro-themed body.

When the iPhone 5 came out, we gushed about how much bigger the 5-inch screen was and how there were hardly any apps in the market that could handle the bigger size of the phone (Read our original Apple iPhone 5 review here) and look what a difference of a few years makes.

While reviewing phones, I usually bemoan the fact that with increasingly bigger phones, you would need clown pockets/ larger handbags or just carry the phone in your hands. But even though larger phones are cumbersome, they are brilliant at feeding our media streaming habits and now when I had to go back to what is harked back frequently as 'the right size' for a phone, how odd it seemed.

(The Apple iPhone SE that we reviewed was supplied by Carphone Warehouse)

Out of the box, it seemed like a miniature, probably because I had been using a Huawei Mate 8 with its 6-inch screen for work then, and turning it around, I caught myself squinting at the display... Stocky, squat and pretty solid is how I would describe it.

After using it for a few days I realised how easy it was to slip it into pockets, tiny clutch bags during a night out as well as use it one-handed during a commute. But I couldn't shake off the niggling feeling that I was being sold an older model of a car when barely 6-months back Apple had waxed eloquent about the beauty and must-have size of its latest phone...

I was soon to be proved very wrong...

Look and feel wise, it has the Apple blueprint right, with the added bonus of a fingerprint sensor on the Home button bringing you the joys of Apple Pay.

The sides of the phone are the same gold as the back and the only place where the gold foil look stops is on the twin white bands at the top and bottom of the phone's back. A flat rectangle, the phone will definitely not be suffering 'bendgate' owing to the 7.6mm thickness.

How is the iPhone SE different from the iPhone 5S?

The iPhone SE and iPhone 5S weigh the almos the same: 112 and 113g respectively. The same solid aluminium casing makes its presence in both instances.

The Special Edition and 5S iterations both have the same dimensions: 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm. However, the 5S does not have a fingerprint sensor. 

Although Apple did say that the iPhone SE is three times brighter than the iPhone 5S, pixel density, screen size and resolution on all three are the same.

Both phones currently run iOS 9 although neither supports 3D touch. The iPhone SE does not have features like Live Photos available on it.

The main differences between the 5S and the SE lie withinin the battery and processors. While the battery on the iPhone SE is slightly larger (1642mAH) over the one on the iPhone 5S (1560mAH), the latter has an A7 processor coupled with an M7 motion co-processor, the iPhone SE has Apple's latest A9 processor which is also found on the latest iPhone 6S.

And, how is the iPhone SE different from the 6S?

Apart from the difference in size, there is virtually no difference between the iPhone 6S, 6S plus and the iPhone SE. Weight-wise, the iPhone SE is 30g lighter than the iPhone 6S and the only physical statistic where the SE outnumbers the iPhone 6S is thickness, 7.6mm to 7.1mm.

Display wise, although both save the same pixel per inch ratio, you might want to go for the 6S for watching moving images on tap. The reason for this is the bigger display size 4.7-inch vs 4-inch and the higher 1334 x 750 pixels resolution and a 65.6% screen-to-body ratio.

Compared side-by-side, the display on the 6S is brighter, with deeper contrasts.

Both the phones have the same processor and motion co-processors: the A9 and M9 and the slight advantage that the iPhone 6S has over the SE is the presence of 3D Touch which makes jumping through shortcuts easier.

Primary camera resolutions are again the same, although the SE has a 1.2-MP front-facing snapper and the iPhone 6S has a 5-MP selfie cam. During testing, I could not find any glaring differences in quality between the two.

Apple devices have terrible batteries, how's the one on the SE?

I have suffered because of my iPhone 6S dying before lunch and perpetually being on the lookout for a charger to make sure power stays above the 70 percent mark. I have even had instances where it has gone from 20% remaining charge to sudden death.

I have used the iPhone SE for the past two weeks-ish and the battery life is more like the one on the iPhone 6S Plus than on the 6S. I would put this down to the size of the screen not using up as much and during my usual battery test where I play videos off Youtube for 15-minutes over 4G, power went down from 89% to 82%. This is one of the best for battery consumptions recently and during regular use, I found that the phone didn't lose charge as quickly as the 6S.

However, the tiny niggle I have is that there is no fast charge on the handset. I was able to fully charge the LG G5 in under an hour whereas the iPhone SE too about 3 hours to be fully charged.

iOS 9.3.1 features and updates

Night Shift

Install the latest iOS upgrade on your phone and then swipe up to bring up the utilities screen, tap the Night Shift button, the phone uses your geolocation to make the display go a warm glowy gold. Apple say that bright blue light interferes with our falling asleep and I am not sure if there is solid scientific reasoning behind this but I did actually find it very handy while reading in bed. 

 Touch ID for Notes

You can use notes to store personal information, handy notes and party details in Notes and not have to worry that your partner will find out about the surprise party you are hoping to throw for them.

Personalised Newsfeed

Like Blinkfeed on HTC devices, Apple's Newsfeed personalises and aggregates news stories based on news outlets of your choice and categories you like to browse.

Health

Health app has been improved and it displays steps, exercise, and stand data, as well as goals, from Apple Watch and makes health metrics accessible with third‑party apps.

Should I buy the Apple iPhone SE?

If you have always wanted an Apple device but haven't been able to afford one because of their prohibitive costs, then this phone is for you.  

The iPhone SE is a masterstroke from Apple to go into the upper mid-range handset market which is quite direction-less and get a new generation of users to convert.

It is an amazing phone which packs all that's important and worthy in the iPhone 6S into a smaller albeit retro style while still maintaining its premium looks, all at a price-point that will wow many users.

Upfront, the 16GB iPhone SE costs £359 and even though you should ideally go for the 64GB variant, the decision for a consumer looking to spend under-£500 on a handset is now much easier because although there are some sparkling handsets out there, Apple holds far too much soft-power for a person to pick up the LG G5, despite its revolutionary form factor and fantastic camera, instead.

Back when the iPhone 5c was launched, nobody thought it would sell as many units it did, and this despite the plastic construction and costing just £80 less than the then flagship. 

Would I buy the iPhone SE? Probably not. I am not used to a small phone any more and Apple's latest device, Special Edition or not does not pack enough punch for me. I know there are some incredibly good Android options out there and am willing to take a small risk.

However, I know there are plenty out there who will lap up this super power-packed pocket rocket. And they would be wise for doing so.

Apple iPhone SE specifications

 Price: £359/£439

Operating System: iOS 9.3

Dimensions: 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm

Weight: 113g

Resolution: 1136 x 640 pixels (326 ppi)

Display: 4-inch, retina display

Processor: A9 chip with 64-bit architecture; Embedded M9 motion coprocessor

Camera: 12MP rear camera, 1.2MP front-facing camera; Auto image stabilisation; 4K video recording; Take 8-megapixel still photos while recording 4K video

Memory: 16/64 GB internal storage

Battery: 1642mAH

Fingerprint sensor: Yes

Misc: LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2 and GPS

(The Apple iPhone SE that we reviewed was supplied by Carphone Warehouse)