Review: iPhone SE

Releasing the new iPhone SE was a clever business move from Apple that will satisfy a segment of customers that didn’t want the larger iPhone 6 design. I believe it will also satisfy many of the customers that did upgrade to the larger iPhones when they were released.

Apple executive Greg Joswiak said during the release event that the company sold 30 million 4-inch phones last year. In the big scheme of the iPhone business, 30 million isn’t a huge number, but it is a significant number. Most companies could build an entire business from that.

For Apple, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to make sure that anyone that wants an iPhone can get one, and get it at the size they want.

Keep in mind that it’s 30 million older phones, with older hardware. What happens when you take the newest technology and put it in a 4-inch enclosure that everybody seems to love? Nobody knows for sure, obviously, but I’m willing to bet it’s going to be a big hit.

At the event when the iPhone SE was released, my first opinion was that this would be a great upgrade phone for iPhone 5s users. I’ve modified my opinion a little bit after using the iPhone SE for a little bit.

I still think it’s going to make for an incredible upgrade for those iPhone 5s users, but I also think it’s going to appeal to some current iPhone 6 users. A lot of people upgraded to the newest design for the technology, and of course, to have the latest and greatest.

I believe that some of those people may go back to the form factor they liked so much and get most of the newest technology with the iPhone SE. Is this a problem for Apple? Not at all. People are still buying iPhones—ultimately, that’s what matters to Apple.

The iPhone SE feels really comfortable in your hands, as anyone who has ever used an iPhone 5s would know. Everything about it is familiar and comfortable.

The one thing I noticed is that I had to boost up the text size, but that’s a problem with my eyes getting old. Actually, making the text larger helped a lot, but I’m also using an iPhone 6s Plus most of the time these days.

People asked me about the pieces of the iPhone SE that were not upgraded with the newer technology. Let’s take a look at those.

iPhone SE has first generation Touch ID. I’m good with that. Touch ID still works great for me on iPhone SE, so I’m not that concerned that it’s not the latest version of the technology.

There is no 3D Touch on the iPhone SE. I’m speaking from my personal experience here, but I don’t use 3D Touch that much, so it’s not something I missed greatly while using the iPhone SE. Although talking about it, I probably should try to use it more on my iPhone 6s Plus.

Finally, we have the 1.2‑megapixel FaceTime HD Camera. It’s a selfie camera. For me, 1.2-megapixels is just fine. The backside camera (the one you actually use to take photos with) is 12‑megapixel and includes Live Photos, Autofocus with Focus Pixels, True Tone flash, Panorama (up to 63 megapixels), Auto HDR for photos, Auto image stabilization, and more and more and more features.

What would have upset me about the iPhone SE is if Apple passed it off as a new phone, but put in an older processor and graphics. That’s not what they did. They basically took the iPhone 6s and put it in an iPhone 5s enclosure. It’s a remarkable phone.

The reason Apple didn’t change the body style of the iPhone SE is simple: It’s one of the most iconic phone designs ever made. Why would you want to change that? Change for the sake of change is not a good reason.

Look at the iPhone SE like this.

Pick your favorite classic car. An old Corvette or Mustang—whatever your favorite car is. That design will always be classic, no matter what has happened in the automobile industry in the last 40 years, those 1960s designs will always be classic.

Now, take that classic car design and replace the engine, drive train, and everything else you can think of. What do you have? A hotrod. An incredible classic design with the most advanced technology that you could put in it.

That is the iPhone SE. A classic design with a lot of the newest and greatest technology.

The iPhone SE is Apple’s classic hotrod.

  • I agree. It will no doubt sell extremely well, maybe better than any iPhone in history and in places where the iPhone hasn’t sold well yet.

  • fastasleep

    “The one thing I noticed is that I had to boost up the text size, but that’s a problem with my eyes getting old. Actually, making the text larger helped a lot, but I’m also using an iPhone 6s Plus most of the time these days.”

    I saw something like this elsewhere in another review… My guess is you’ve been using your Plus in zoomed mode this whole time, which enlarges everything including UI elements and nullifying any extra usable screen real estate, instead of just adjusting the system-wide dynamic text size? Otherwise, the 6 and Plus don’t by default change text size from the default size of a 4 inch model’s.

  • Curmudgeon

    Sometimes decisions Apple makes are decided based on whether it helps Apple. In the case of the SE iPhone, I believe the form staying precisely as the 5S form factor has a strong advantage directly to Apple’s own operations. Been to an Apple Store? Seen the devices employees hold to ring out customers? It is a 5S in a custom sled.

    I’m sure those sleds aren’t cheap, but keeping the SE in the same form as the 5S means Apple can continue using the sleds for a few more years and just put the new SE in them.

    • They’ve already had multiple generations of those sleds. I’m sure it’s a factor, but it’s probably not a big one.

    • there is no way Apple based its decision on how to sell millions and millions of new iPhones based on a few thousand sleds. nope.

      • Curmudgeon

        Those sleds just got an update for chip and pin. The phones in them need constant replacement. The 5S form is proven in the market, customers like it. Dropping the 5S form will be show stopping disruptive to Apple Retail stores. There was zero need to arbitrarily change the design when changing the design would harm operations of another important part of the company.

        You make an error thinking the only cost is buying “a few thousand sleds”. It is also the costs of a new development cycle, building the needed sleds plus years of replacements and/or parts for repairing sleds, the cost of ensuring exclusivity such that competitors don’t gain access to the same sled design.

        I didn’t claim it was the only reason, but I believe keeping to the same as the 5S form saves Apple tens of millions of unnecessary costs making a new sled for retail stores. For at least three more years at least.

  • Merckel

    Spot on review. The iPhone 5 is still the best design.

  • Mayson

    My iPod Touch is having difficulty charging lately. If it gets worse and dies I may replace it with an iPhone SE.

  • Cranky Observer

    I wonder what percentage of the 5c user base they’ll lose though. The people who like the rounded edges and softer plastic really like the 5c; sharp edges not so much.

    • none.

    • lkalliance

      That is a spot-on question, because I’m one of those. Back when the 5S and 5c came out, I was ready to upgrade from my 4S, and I had a choice in front of me: either the 5S with its obvious tech advantages over the 5c, or the 5c with its obviously superior feeling in hand. Best phone design ever from Apple. I didn’t like the hand feel of the 5/5S: as you say, sharp edged. Not painful, of course, nor even really that uncomfortable per se…but the 5c just felt perfect.

      I also don’t like using cases: the 5c’s plastic was wonderfully grippable. I’ve never felt like it was about to slip out of my hand.

      At the time I decided to go with the 5c and forego the technical advantages (Touch ID, much better camera, and especially 64-bit chip). I reasoned that these things would likely filter down to the c line by the next time I was ready to upgrade.

      (At the time I was doing 2-year contracts of course. My experience: If I could live without the tech happily for a year, I could wait out the second year in anticipation.)

      Well, we now know that the c line was discontinued (boo!). In all ways I’m happy with the prospect of the SE…except the form factor. Though it’s definitely superior to the 6/6S/Plus.

      So as I prepare to purchase an SE, I am sadly looking at cases to improve grippability.

      (I prefer the 4″ size, but if they had come out with a 6-sized phone with the 5c design style, I would have gotten that in a heartbeat.)

      In this instance, kyron is right: the forced choice hasn’t made me abandon the iPhone. But it’s fair to say that this is the first one that I’ve got mixed feelings about.