Apple iPhone SE review - New Iphone - Small phone but powerful

Apple iPhone SE review - New Iphone - Small phone but powerful!

There were plenty of Apple customers that missed having a 4in phone when Apple went bigger with the iPhone 6 (and, more recently, iPhone 6S). However, it was also clear that nobody would particularly want a 4in phone if it meant losing out on build quality and power.

Enter the iPhone SE - a smartphone that returns to Apple's tiny 4in form factor while packing in exactly the same amount of processing power as the latest iPhone 6S. It's a compact smartphone without compromise, and, more importantly, it's got a lower price to match its pint-sized proportions.

Iphone SE - color

Iphone SE - color

PROS

Compact body

Great camera

Excellent performance

Solid battery life

CONS

Average screen

Poor front-facing camera

Still 16GB starting storage

KEY FEATURES

4-inch IPS Retina screen

iOS 9.3

A9 dual-core processor

2GB RAM

Touch ID fingerprint sensor

1624 mAh battery

16 or 64GB storage

12MP rear camera

1.2MP Facetime front camera

Live photos

Manufacturer: Apple

Available for £359 SIM-free or £439 SIM-free depending on whether you opt for the 16GB or 64GB version of the phone, the iPhone SE is now the cheapest iPhone in the entire range, giving you plenty of power for (comparatively) not quite as much money. Contracts are even better, as you can current buy one for £40 upfront and then £26-per-month thereafter from Carphone Warehouse, and that gets you 2GB of data and unlimited calls and texts. 

It's a much better bet than the iPhone 5C when that first came out, as this so-called cheap option lagged way behind the iPhone 6 (the then flagship of its day). This time, however, Apple has nailed absolutely everything. With the Apple iPhone SE, it's managed to bring together its latest build quality, processing power and camera into one neat and easy package. 

Build quality

As a result, anyone that owned an iPhone 5 or iPhone 5S will immediately feel at home with the iPhone SE, as the two handsets are identical from the outside. With the slick metal body and squared edges, the impressive thing is that the design looks as fresh today as it did when it was first introduced.

iPhone SE volume and mute buttons

iPhone SE volume and mute buttons

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Weighing 113g and at 7.6mm thick, the iPhone SE is exactly the same size as the 5S and is compatible with the same range of cases and covers. While this makes the SE the lightest iPhone currently available, it's actually the thickest.

This doesn't particularly matter, as the thickness makes the handset easier to grip, and it means that the camera sits flush with the rear of the case. Besides, it's the overall size of the handset that counts here, and the iPhone SE is comparatively tiny by today's standards, slipping easily into any pocket. There's plenty of colour choice, too, with the SE available in silver, space grey, gold and rose gold cases; there's a bit of something for everyone. 

Display

Moving back to a 4in screen, Apple has continued with the iPhone 5S' resolution: 1,136x640. This is one of the lowest resolution phones available, but it's important to put this into the context of display sharpness. On this display, the pixel density of 326ppi matches that of the iPhone 6S, which has a resolution of 1,334x750. Both phones are definitely sharp enough, and text looks clear and is easy to read.

Iphone SE Screen

iPhone SE screen

Image quality isn't quite as good as Apple's more expensive iPhones, though, but it's a close-run thing. In fact, the iPhone SE's screen performs better than stated: Apple claims maximum brightness of 500cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 800:1, but I measured the phone at 577cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 892:1. While this contrast ratio still isn't great, its colour accuracy coverage of 94.6% of the sRGB colour gamut does go some way to make up for it. 

Of course, in order to keep the cost down, the SE doesn't have the fancy 3D Touch features of the iPhone 6S. It's the one feature that I found myself missing, as 3D Touch adds that extra dimension of interaction, and the shortcuts it gives you can make some jobs a lot quicker. That said, the lack of 3D Touch isn't a deal breaker here, and I can still use iOS perfectly well without feeling too hampered

Camera

Apple has fitted a 12-megapixel camera into the iPhone SE, which is the same resolution as on the iPhone 6S. There are a few minor differences in the sensors used, but the results are extremely similar.

As with Apple's previous cameras, the iPhone SE is a great all-rounder, ably adapting to most situations to produce well-exposed shots with plenty of detail in them. In particular, the HDR mode manages to capture an excellent dynamic range, without over-processing the final shots, as you can see in the image below.

iPhone SE sample shot

iPhone SE sample shot 

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^ In low-light, the iPhone SE struggles a little more (as do most smartphones), with noise starting to creep into the images

Fortunately, the phone has a True Tone LED flash, which measures the ambient light and then fires the flash at the same colour temperature. The result is that images taken with a flash don't have the hallmark tell-tale signs of a regular flash. Of course, you get all of the other modes that the iPhone 6S has, including panoramic shots and the same range of video modes: 720p (30fps), 1080p (30fps or 60fps) or 4K (30fps), plus slow-motion video (1080p at 120fps or 720p at 240fps).

Performance

iphone SE buttom

iphone SE buttom

Performance is one area that I can't find any fault with, as the iPhone SE has the same 1.8GHz A9 processor and 2GB of RAM as the 6S line-up. In GeekBench, the iPhone SE scored 2,550 in the single-core test (the same as the iPhone 6S) and faster than the 2,115 scored by the Samsung Galaxy S7. In the multi-core test, the S7 takes the lead with a score of 6,437, but that's a phone with four processors: the iPhone SE has a dual-core processor and still scored 4,444.

As with all of Apple's phones, the slick combination of the processor, iOS and Safari make web browsing a super-smooth experience: the PeaceKeeper browser benchmark score of 4,761 makes the SE one of the fastest phones

Battery life

Battery life is the one thing that people always wish would last longer on their phones, but the iPhone SE absolutely delivers on this front. Its 1,624mAh battery might sound pretty tiny compared to the 3,000mAh+ batteries found on Android phones, but its smaller screen requires a lot less power.

As a result, plays a video while running the screen at a brightness of 170cd/m2, the iPhone SE lasted an incredible 16h 46m. This is just shy of the Galaxy S7's run time and 1h 48 minutes longer than the iPhone 6S lasted. 

iOS 9.3

The iPhone SE can now be upgraded to iOS 9.3, the latest version of Apple's mobile OS. It's every bit as good as we've come to expect from Apple: its smooth, slick and works brilliantly with the phone's processor. New features include Night Shift, which tones down the blue in the display at night to hep you sleep, and password protected Notes, which you can unlock with Touch ID. 

TouchID and Apple Pay

Apple has installed an older TouchID sensor in the iPhone SE, rather than the newer, faster model in the iPhone 6S. This meant I had a couple more errors than I'm used to and had to re-adjust my grip occasionaly, but it wasn't too much of an irritation. As well as for unlocking your phone, TouchID can be used with Apple Pay, either in app or, thanks to the built-in NFC chip, in store.

iphone SE lightning port

iPhone SE Lightning port

Wireless 

There are all of the wireless standards that you'd expect in a modern phone, including 802.11ac Wi-Fi (up to 433Mbit/s) and 4G LTE (up to 150Mbit/s). In other words, no matter what type of network you connect to, you'll be able to get the highest speeds.

Storage

There are only two models of iPhone SE: 16GB (£359) or 64GB (£439). By today's standards, 16GB is really too small and I would have preferred a 32GB entry-level model. As such, I recommend buying the 64GB model. It's still excellent value, as a 64GB iPhone 6S costs £619 by comparison.

Verdict

Apple has surpassed all my expectations for the iPhone SE. Before it launched, I was expecting a plastic handset with an older processor; instead, we've got a metal handset with the latest processor and a top-notch camera. In fact, the only thing that the mini phone doesn't have, which the larger iPhone 6S does, is 3D Touch, and that's something you can easily live without.

For anyone that didn't want to upgrade to the larger iPhone 6S or iPhone 6S Plus but still hanker after a powerful 4in phone, the iPhone SE is an amazing choice and nothing else comes close to it at this screen size.

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