For the past few years, phone makers have said that if you want a small phone, you must have small demands. But that just isn’t true. Some people have small hands and big ideas. The new iPhone SE from Apple (AED 2,049 for 64GB) is the small phone that many people have been waiting for, with a careful balance of components that keep it current, while also hitting a mid-range price point.
Anyone who has been driven nuts by increasingly large devices and wants to return to simpler, one-handed days will love this phone. It’s our Editors’ Choice for smaller smartphones. Here’s a quick rundown: The iPhone SE has the same body, screen, and storage as the iPhone 5s. It has the same modem, Touch ID sensor with NFC for Apple Pay, and front camera as the iPhone 6.
And it shares a processor and rear camera with the iPhone 6s. These components add up to a phone that can run the latest apps without complaining, and fits into a child’s hand. From a design perspective, the iPhone SE uses the iPhone 5s body. That means it measures 4.87-by-2.31-by-0.30 inches (HWD) and weighs 113-gms, and has a brushed-metal back with glass panels at the top and bottom.
There’s a Touch ID-equipped, fingerprint-sensing physical Home button below the display. The phone fits easily into iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s cases. There are only two visible differences between this and the older phones: there’s a small SE logo on the back, and the beveled edges are matte rather than shiny. The phone also now comes in rose gold, in addition to dark gray, gold, and silver.
The iPhone SE also uses the same screen as the iPhone 5s, a 4-inch, 1,136-by-640 panel that has 326 pixels per inch. In terms of quality, it’s pretty similar to the iPhone 6 and 6s screens, which are just bigger. These are high-quality LCDs that have made hundreds of millions of people happy over the years.
The iPhone SE sat so firmly in my hand that I never felt like I was going to drop it – something people who like smartphones with smaller screens will appreciate. My 5 year old son found the iPhone SE to be more comfortable to play games on, than some of the devices I use on a day to day basis.
There’s one real usability handicap: I have always found the touch keyboards on 4-inch iPhones difficult to type on accurately. Autocorrect helps, but trying to type passwords—especially because iOS never displays passwords—can be frustrating.
Call quality here is similar to the iPhone 6: Voices are loud and solid through the earpiece, with support for HD calling, Wi-Fi calling, and voice-over-LTE (VoLTE). The speakerphone is adequate, but not spectacular. Transmissions through the microphone on local mobile networks such as Du and Etisalat were clear and solid.
In terms of performance, the iPhone SE performs consistently better than the iPhone 5s, but not as well as the iPhone 6s, on Wi-Fi networks. While the SE and 6s did about as well as each other within 25 feet of a Wi-Fi router, the 6s offered better speeds on the edge of the Wi-Fi cell and in a very Wi-Fi-noisy area.
The iPhone SE uses the same Apple A9 processor that the iPhone 6s does, running at 1.9GHz with 2GB of RAM. Its processor power benchmarks exactly like the 6s—which is, by the way, 75 percent faster than the iPhone 5s. The powerful GPU means that on-screen graphics benchmarks tend to hit vsync, the 60 frame per second limit beyond which screen images generally tend to tear and skip.
The A9 processor enables hands-free “Hey Siri” voice commands, which I find much more usable than holding down the Home button. It also enables Apple’s animated Live Photos, which can now be shared on Facebook, though the phone itself does not support Force Touch.
The SE runs iOS 9.3. It’s our Editors’ Choice for mobile operating systems, if only because unlike with Android, iOS devices get frequent updates and are free of bloatware. Third-party apps, especially games and social networks, still tend to come to iOS first, and the apps are still often better-looking and better-designed.
The price of that smoothness, of course, is that iOS has a more rigid layout than Android does, and pushes you into using Apple’s services whenever possible. Yeah, sure, Amazon Music and Google Photos work on iPhones, but Apple Music and iCloud Photo Library work better (for instance, allowing you to upload photos to the cloud in the background).
You also still have to put all of your apps on your home screens, and can’t have anything on your home screens except apps, which is less flexible and powerful than the myriad widgets that Android offers.
Back to the SE itself, though: if you have an iPhone 5 or an iPhone 5c, you may have noticed your phone slowing down a bit with iOS 9. It’s not really planned obsolescence on Apple’s part, but rather that newer OSes simply assume newer processors. Switching to an SE future-proofs you through around iOS 12.
The iPhone SE’s battery life is the best I’ve ever seen on an iPhone. That’s because of the combination of the energy-efficient modem and processor, the small screen, and the 1,642mAh battery, which is slightly larger than the 1,560mAh cell in the iPhone 5s. In our standard battery test, which streams a full-screen video continuously over Wi-Fi, we got 8 hours on the iPhone SE, as compared with about 5 hours on the iPhone 6 and 6s, and 3 hours on the iPhone 5s.
In a real-life test, I got 13 hours of solid use out of the phone including gaming, taking pictures, surfing the Web, and making phone calls before it needed a recharge. The SE’s main camera is the iPhone 6s’s 12-megapixel camera, and it has the same pluses and minuses. Compared with just about every phone camera, it is quite fast, and takes sharp pictures in good light with true colours.
It also records 4K video at 30 frames per second, as well as slow-motion video at up to 240 frames per second in 720p. But as with the iPhone 6s, the camera’s low-light performance doesn’t rule the roost. We have reviewed phones that take brighter shots with better colour balance when the lights go down.
The 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera is the iPhone 6’s camera, plus Apple’s new Selfie Flash feature, which dials up the screen brightness to improve image quality in low light. In good light, it’s fine; in low light, things can still get grainy.
If you want a powerful small smartphone, the iPhone SE is by far your best choice. It is both smaller and faster than its viable Android competitors. And it’s so much faster, with much better wireless performance than the iPhone 5s or 5c, that people with those phones should consider upgrading right now.
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