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Review Roundup: iPhone SE (2020) – a solid, affordable smartphone from Apple

The budget iPhone is a winner.

iphone se on purple background
Image: KnowTechie

The iPhone SE (2nd generation) has been in reviewers’ hands for a hot minute and now the reviews are out. Well, not from us but we’ll bring you the relevant parts from around the internet.

The surprising part? All the reviews pretty much say the same things, with no real disagreements or interesting “to note” sections. I guess that just means it’s consistent, and nobody really found any glaring issues.

If you don’t want to read all the way down, just know that at $399, it’s gonna sell like hotcakes. It’s got some limitations, as you’d expect from a mid-price phone from a company known for flagships, but none that are enough to put you off buying.

Smaller phone for smaller pockets

iphone se in red

Image: KnowTechie

The new iPhone SE is a return to classic iPhone looks. The 4.7-inch screen with a Home button and flattened sides makes it look like Apple’s got a touch of nostalgia. The Verge goes as far as to say “It’s what you probably still think of as the canonical iPhone.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, as iPhone designs have traditionally been ahead of the curve. There are three storage options, with $399 getting you 64GB, $449 getting you 128GB, and $549 getting you 256GB. Wired says you’ll probably want to pay for extra storage, which will get you a better return on your investment. The Verge also echos that, saying “just in case I’d want it three or five years down the road.”

It’s a shame that the removal of Face ID to save costs means that the Home button is back. Not because there’s anything wrong with the button, just that it necessitates a return to the old navigation actions when the newer swipe actions are more intuitive and user friendly.

About that single camera…

iphone se on blurred background

Image: 9to5Mac

Reducing the camera array from the multiple lens configuration on the flagships also reduces cost. Normally it also reduces image quality, but handsets like the Pixel range have shown that a single lens can create magic if the right software and computational photography is applied.

The 12 MP lens on the iPhone SE is just that, a single lens, backed up by Apple’s A13 Bionic chip that brings Apple’s Neural Engine to play. That means Portrait mode is now available on both the front and selfie cameras, using monocular depth estimation. Before this, iPhones needed two cameras to get the same effect. DaringFireball has a good explainer on how it works, as well as saying that the selfie cam in Portrait mode does a “very credible job compared to the 11 Pro,” and remember that the 11 Pro has a TrueDepth camera to help out with depth mapping.

Pocket-lint was disappointed that Night Mode isn’t there, and neither is Apple’s Deep Fusion AI routines for enhancing shots even further. Maybe that will be the decider between the midrange iPhone and the flagships from now on? Other than that, it’s business as usual for Apple with “bright crisp colours with clean results” as long as you’re using it during daylight hours.

Smaller phone, smaller battery life?

apple iphone se size comparison

iPhone SE size comparison (Image: KnowTechie)

Apple’s website says that the iPhone SE’s battery lasts about the same as the iPhone 8 battery. CNET tested that claim out and found that the new iPhone SE lasted “hours longer than what the iPhone 8 and iPhone SE lasted in the same test when they were new,” going on to say that it [anecdotally] lasted a day and a half and in some cases two days. Pretty good stuff.

Wired took a different approach, preferring to show how the battery lasted in normal, everyday use. They found it just about got to the end of the day before the low battery notification, but that’s during lockdown procedures where things like GPS, calling rideshares, and streaming podcasts over LTE while commuting is less prevalent. I guess it’s time to get a second charger to keep at the office, whenever you’re allowed back in.

Does anyone need 5G yet?

The new iPhone SE does not have 5G capabilities yet, but honestly, that’s ok.

I’m just going to swipe my comments from the Samsung Galaxy S20 roundup here and say: No, we don’t need 5G yet. Between slow roll-outs, expensive data plans, and the price premium on handsets, it’ll be a long time before most of the U.S. is ready for 5G, even if the infrastructure was ready for them.

Plus, leaving it off is about the only way Apple could get the price of the iPhone SE to stay at $399.

Final verdict: What’s a flagship again?

With the overwhelmingly positive feedback from reviewers, the iPhone SE is going to be a huge (or should that be tiny) hit with consumers.

With previously “flagship killer” manufacturers like OnePlus joining the scrum at the top of the food chain, it’s going to be hard for any Android manufacturer to match the iPhone SE on power, looks, or usability. I expect Apple knows this and is hoping to tempt away Android users that don’t want to pay $1k for their handsets anymore.

The iPhone SE is now available for preorder, with units shipping out on April 24.

What do you think? Interested in the new iPhone SE or will you wait for the next flagship phone from Apple? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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