Looking for mid-range phone? You’d need to be deep into Android or have an irrational Apple aversion to walk past the 2020 iPhone SE.
For a start it is a bargain at NZ$800. In effect, you get the brain of a 2020 iPhone 11 in the body of a 2017 iPhone 8.
That makes it competitive with a slew of mid-priced Android phones.
The same money would buy the somewhat ordinary Oppo Reno2. Spend another $50 and you could get a Samsung Galaxy S10e. Pay $100 less and you could have a Huawei Nova 5T.
That $800 buys all the power of a top level iPhone costing three times as much.
If you’ve put up with Android because the iPhone was out of your price range, the SE is a get out of gaol card.
It will also appeal to iPhone upgraders who have squeezed years out of earlier models.
Inside the case you get the same Apple A13 Bionic processor that is used in the iPhone 11. It’s not crippled in any way. You get all that power. It means apps perform much faster than on any other phone in this price range.
There is a small downside. The A13 Bionic processor chews through battery life. You’ll still get 24 hours between charges. The phone comfortably makes it through a working day with plenty left over for leisure. But it doesn’t have the iPhone 11’s ability to go two days without a charge.
Apple only includes a 5W charger in the box with the iPhone SE. That means it takes longer to charge than you might expect. If you have a compatible USB-C charger with a higher rating, it will charge the phone faster.
The iPhone SE does have Qi wireless charging. It’s a little slower than the 5W charger, but not noticeably so.
iPhone 8 body
Compared with the iPhone 11, the iPhone SE feels small and light. It weighs 148g compared with 194g for the iPhone 11. In practice that’s a bigger difference than you might imagine.
Physically it is much smaller than the iPhone 11. It fits comfortably in my hand and it is just about possible to operate one-handed. That probably means women and people with small hands will struggle.
The iPhone 8 body means you get the familiar home button. And there is Touch ID. It feels solid enough. That light weight, thinness and small size does not mean flimsiness.
Like the iPhone 8, the SE screen doesn’t extend to the top and bottom of the phone front. So there is no need for a notch.
Screen small by 2020 standards
By 2020 standards the amount of screen real estate left over is small. Most modern phones have a screen that extends across the entire front face.
The iPhone SE has a 4.7 inch display which is fine for everyday use. You could watch movies or streaming video, but this is not the best phone and certainly not the best iPhone for that application. Yet it is more than enough for FaceTime or other video calls.
If it’s more than three years since you upgraded you’ll find the design comforting, even familiar.
Usually reviews of mid-range phones talk in terms of compromise. The focus is on what you don’t get when you spend less. It might help to flip this logic on its head and think instead in terms of the extras, say, iPhone 11 buyers get that SE buyers down.
iPhone 8 camera
Apple has used what amounts to the same camera system found in the iPhone 8 in the SE. It is a single lens with a 12-megapixel sensor.
While the camera hardware hasn’t changed from the iPhone 8, the processor and software driving it has. You get all the processing power and intelligence of the iPhone 11.
There are times when it is hard to tell the difference between ordinary day time shots made on the two phones. The detail is good, colours are nicely reproduced.
Things start to diverge in low light conditions. Yet there is clearly more noise than you would find taking the same shot on an iPhone 11. The contrast is less striking and you may need to tinker a little to brighten up images.
The SE does well. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better phone camera at this price. It does especially well with video. You’ll notice the quality difference between this and an iPhone 11, but if you’re coming from any phone that is more than two years old you’ll take much better pictures.
All 2020 iPhones come with the same version of iOS. In this case iOS 13.4 was installed but upgraded to 13.4.1 during setup.
The main difference between using iOS 13.4 on the 11 and the iPhone SE boils down to using the home button instead of the flip up from the bottom gesture on iPhones without a home button. I found this hard going as I had become so used to the new user interface.
A couple of points not covered above. Like all modern iPhones, there is no headphone jack. Apple includes a pair of earbuds with a lightening connector in the box. You can, of course, use Bluetooth headphones with the SE.
iPhone SE 2020 verdict
Apple says the iPhone SE is winning customers from Android. I’ve also seen a lot of talk among New Zealanders who own older iPhone models but don’t want to spend $3000 on a flagship phone, upgrading to the SE.
Both stories make sense. This may not be the most exciting iPhone from a technology point of view, but it is the iPhone a lot of people have been waiting for. Not everyone wants a fancy top-of-the-line engineering marvel. Some people just want a good phone.
For now, it is the best mid-price phone deal on the market. You can’t buy more phone at this price. As it says at the top of this post, if you have $800 to spend on a phone, you’d need to have a good reason to dismiss the iPhone SE.