Review: Apple iPhone SE

Apple's latest iPhone is a pocket-sized powerhouse


Over the past 24 months, there has been an undeniable shift to bigger-screen, 5 inches and beyond, phones. Clearly, however, Apple believes there is still a sizeable group that would prefer a smaller phone, because it is easier to hold and carry.

At first glance, it seems to be a throwback to the past—the iPhone 5s, to be exact. The iPhone SE’s design is similar, and the dimensions (123.8mmx58.6mmx7.6mm) are exactly the same as the iPhone 5s, released in 2013, but this may not necessarily be a bad thing. The iPhone SE feels compact, solidly built and very usable with one hand. The flat sides offer excellent grip, and the Rose Gold is the standout colour choice.

It may have an old-school design, but make no mistake—this is essentially the latest generation iPhone 6s in the body of an iPhone 5s. Power isn’t in short supply, for it runs the latest generation Apple A9 processor, the M9 motion-tracking chip and six-core PowerVR GT7600 graphics. The newest 3D intensive games and multitasking will not trouble the iPhone SE. The buttery smooth transitions of the iOS 9.3 and the stutter-free animations in the app switcher are perhaps the biggest testaments to the fact that the smaller-screen iPhone isn’t inferior in performance to the latest generation and bigger-screen iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. The TouchID fingerprint sensor is as quick as the one in the iPhone 6, and only marginally slower than the iPhone 6s.

While the iPhone 6s has a 1,715 mAh battery, the iPhone SE has a 1,624 mAh battery. But because it is lighting up a much smaller screen with a lower resolution, the iPhone SE battery lasts a bit longer.

The only obvious downgrade is the screen resolution. The iPhone SE’s 4-inch screen has a resolution of 1,136x640 compared to the iPhone 6s’ 1,334x750. There is always a debate about the optimum resolution in smartphone screens, and while this doesn’t pander to people interested in 4K resolution, it is actually very usable and will get the job done—it offers crisp, great viewing angles and good contrast. There is no 3D Touch feature at present.

Apple has given the iPhone SE the same camera as the iPhone 6s—12-megapixel photos, 4K video, and the “Live Photos" feature that allows users to capture 3-second videos while clicking photographs. This is arguably one of the best smartphone cameras available at present, with details, colour and crispness reproduced well across most lighting scenarios. Apple’s image-processing algorithms are the slickest among all smartphones, and it shows in the quality and richness of every photo.

While the iPhone SE is a return to the basics of usability and screen size, it doesn’t fall short in performance or user experience. Those who have become used to the 5.5-inch screen size of the iPhone 6s Plus may find it hard to switch, but reluctant users of the iPhone 6 or 6s may actually find the iPhone SE an enticing prospect.