Review: Apple iPhone SE | iLounge

Review

Review: Apple iPhone SE

B+
Recommended

Company: Apple

Model: iPhone SE

MSRP: $399-$499

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Phil Dzikiy

Pros: A smaller, lighter iPhone. Reasonably priced. Users with smaller hands should find it easy to use. Familiar 5s design is still an attractive winner. Upgraded internals (A9, M9, 2GB of RAM) allow phone to leap past the iPhone 5s and compete with the iPhone 6/6 Plus — it’s faster than you might expect. Camera is largely on par with iPhone 6s. Battery life is excellent. Has no issues with running newest iOS update at this point, and shouldn’t for a while.

Cons: Smaller phone means smaller display. Not introducing any new technology. No 128GB option, and we wouldn’t recommend the base 16GB option to anyone at this point. No 3D Touch. Outdated FaceTime camera. Onscreen keyboard harder to use for those with larger hands. Slower Touch ID. Standard LTE/no MIMO Wi-Fi.

Now it’s time to sort out exactly which parts have made their way into the iPhone SE, and why it matters. The SE has the A9 chip with M9 co-processor, just like the iPhone 6s/6s Plus, and the speed is evident. iPhone SE zips around, allowing users to pop in and out of apps with ease — Geekbench results show benchmarks comparable to or better than the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Add in the 2GB of RAM and you’ll see few delays when jumping into multiple Safari tabs. (Though our iPhone SE shipped with iOS 9.3, we were sure to update to iOS 9.3.1 to avoid any of the hyperlink issues that have been seen thus far.) It’s a fast phone, and a definite reason to upgrade for those who have been holding back.

One area where the SE isn’t quite as quick is in its Touch ID, which is the first-generation version. iPhone 6s/6s Plus users will notice a slight lag in the fingerprint sensor, but it’s not likely to be a make-or-break issue. A few other functions fall in that same category: iPhone SE doesn’t get LTE Advanced — just standard LTE — and its Wi-Fi doesn’t have MIMO like the iPhone 6s models. Again, it’s not a huge deal for most users, but the SE was bound to be a step behind in a few areas.

Apple Pay makes its physical 4” iPhone debut (it could only be accessed through an Apple Watch when using an iPhone 5s), and though it might be a tick slower due to Touch ID, it’s an absolutely necessary addition to any iPhone at this point. The hands-free, unplugged version of “Hey Siri” is also here, and that’s another feature we wouldn’t want to go without at this point. It works the same here as it does in the iPhone 6s models. On the other hand, the iPhone SE doesn’t get a barometer, which has been utilized in the last two generations of iPhone. One could certainly argue that Apple was shrewd in which features of the phone it wouldn’t upgrade, as they’d be less recognizable to most users, or offset by upgrades in speed from the current processor and increased RAM.

Perhaps the biggest omission in the iPhone SE is 3D Touch. It’s not a huge surprise — the phone does use the 5s display, after all — but some may see the lack of 3D Touch as a reason to dismiss the SE. We don’t see it that way. To us, time has shown the 3D Touch to be a somewhat overrated feature, at least as it exists currently. We still don’t use it that often, and we honestly wouldn’t miss it that much if it were gone. Everyone uses their iPhones differently, and we may be in the minority, but the absence of 3D Touch is a minor omission.

We’re still waiting for Apple to phase out the 16GB capacity in its iPhones. Though the SE is no different than the other current iPhone models in this regard, a 32GB base model would make a lot more sense at this point. We understand an argument could be made for a 16GB iPhone SE based on its possible customers — this iPhone can certainly be seen as a top-notch update for older users, or users who don’t feel the need to be on the cutting edge of tech, and we get that. But even if you’re downloading very few apps, or if you have no interest in games, almost everyone keeps some photos or videos on their iPhone, and the increasing size of those photos and videos really restricts those users unnecessarily. Not to mention that under Apple’s economy of scale, moving the base model up to 32GB should be so cheap that it wouldn’t really trouble the company at all.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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