SE vs XR: Which is the better “Affordable iPhone”?

New iPhone or the global bestseller

by: - Last updated on: April 17th, 2020

Apple has released the iPhone SE (2020) at Rs 42,500 in India, making it easily the most affordable new iPhone in town. However, it is priced not too distantly from the bestselling iPhone XR (the highest-selling phone of 2019), which starts officially at Rs 52,500 (after the GST increase) but is often available at slightly lower prices. Of course, the SE is the newer device and has a few modern tricks up its sleeves but the XR is not a pushover and remains a contender. So which “affordable iPhone” should you be going for? Well, we have not got the new iPhone SE, but judging from what we know, here is what we think:

iphone xr iphone se

Who’s got the looks

Well, this is a battle between a slightly old design against a slightly older design. And the irony is that it is the new iPhone, the SE, that has the older design. That is because it is modeled on the iPhone 8, which was released a year before the XR. Both glass and aluminum design, but there the similarity end. The iPhone 8 harks back to the older design complete with large bezels above and below a 4.7-inch display as well as a round fingerprint scanner and home button, while the iPhone XR has a more bezel-less display with a notch. The XR simply looks more contemporary and also has more colors (six) as compared to the iPhone SE (three). Both have an IP67 rating for water and sun resistance, but still, this is a win for the XR.

Winner: iPhone XR

Fitting your hand

All right, normally this would not even have been a point of comparison. But with the iPhone SE, a lot of stress has been given on how compact and portable it is. And well, the difference between it and the iPhone XR is significant – the SE is 138.4 mm tall as against the 150.9 mm of the XR, is 67.3 mm wide as against 75.7 mm and is 7.3 mm thin as against 8.3 mm. It is also almost a fourth lighter – 148 grams as compared to 194 grams. This is a no contest. If phone size matters to you, the iPhone SE is really handier, and on that count, more hand-some!

Winner: iPhone SE

The display edge…or should that be bezels?

Both phones come with HD rather than full HD Tru Tone displays. The iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch display while the XR has a larger 6.1 inch one. The resolution of the XR’s display is higher at 1792 x 828 as compared to 1334 x 750, so you are likely to see more content at one go on the XR. However, both have a similar pixel density of 326 PPI. The bezel-less nature of the XR, however, gives it a clear edge over the SE – it is simply better for more clear viewing.

Winner: iPhone XR

Processing time – pass the chips!

When it comes to processors, the iPhone SE is hands down the winner. It comes with the A13 Bionic chip with third-generation neural engine, which is the same that is seen on the iPhone 11 series, while the iPhone XR has the A12 Bionic chip second generation neural engine. Both are very good performers but the Force is definitely going to be with the A13, especially when it comes to high-end gaming and resource-hungry apps.

Winner: iPhone SE

Ready, aim, shoot someone – the camera zone

iphone

This is the one section we were not too comfortable with because we have no actual sample images to compare. In terms of sheer specs, the two phones come with cameras that are equally matched on paper – a 12-megapixel shooter with f/1.8 aperture and OIS. Thanks to the newer processor, however, the iPhone SE gets more portrait lighting effects (six as against three on the XR) and also gets second-generation Smart HDR (XR is the first generation). The SE also gets the Quick Take option which lets you switch from taking a photograph to shooting a video by just long pressing the shutter button. Apple has said that the iPhone SE features the bets single camera ever seen on an iPhone. That settles it, we guess.

Winner: iPhone SE

Ready, aim, shoot yourself – the selfie zone

This is again a bit like that rear camera zone. On paper, both phones come with seemingly similar 7-megapixel selfie cameras with f/2.2 aperture. But we suspect that the XR’s camera unit’s being used for Face ID (and a TrueDepth camera) gives it access to far more features. Both phones come with portrait lighting with six effects (yes, the XR’s selfie camera has more lighting effects than the main one), but the XR gets smart HDR, which the SE does not. The XR also has 1080p video recording at 30fps and 60 fps, while the SE only gets it at 30 fps. Finally, the XR also gets the famous Animojis and Memojis. If you love selfies, the XR will win it for you.

Winner: iPhone XR

What do you recognize: Face or fingerprint?

iphone se 2020

This is one of the critical differences between the two devices. The iPhone XR comes with Face ID, which allows you to unlock the phone by just looking at it, while the iPhone SE comes with a second-generation Touch ID fingerprint scanner. In terms of convenience, both have their advantages. But let’s face it, Face ID was promoted by Apple itself as being more secure than Touch ID. What’s more, it makes the iPhone XR just look a whole lot more contemporary than the SE. The XR wins this one – just face it, SE!

Winner: iPhone XR

Byting the bullet – how much storage

Both phones start with a base storage of 64 GB, but while the XR has only a 128 GB variant, the SE has 128 GB and 256 GB variants. So another one for the SE then!

Winner: iPhone SE

Ware this softly – it is a tie!

In terms of software and UI, both phones run the latest version of iOS. Perhaps the SE with its newer chip might be able to do things faster, but the difference is unlikely to be overwhelming. We are calling this a tie.

Winner: Tie

Sound decision – let’s hear it

Both phones come with dual stereo speakers, but while the SE has “stereo playback,” the XR comes with “wider stereo playback.” We cannot confirm this until we actually hear it but we do think that the XR might just wing it here.

Winner: iPhone XR

Assaulting that battery – who lasts longer

Apple iPhone SE 2

If the SE wins the processor war easily, then the XR pretty much wipes the floor with the SE when it comes to battery. It actually was the iPhone with the best battery life until the 11 series came along and even now, on paper, it is well ahead of the iPhone SE. The SE is supposed to have about the same battery life as the iPhone 8, which was well behind the iPhone 8 Plus. The XR, on the other hand, lasts a comfortable 1.5 hours more than the 8 Plus. The XR comes with 16 hours video playback and 65 hours of audio playback – the SE’s stats are a more modest 13 hours video playback and 40 hours audio playback. Incidentally, both support wireless charging and come with support for fast charging over an 18 W charger. Neither has the 18 W charger in the box! Still, only one winner here.

Winner: iPhone XR

How many rupees, then? Price ponderings!

When it comes to pricing, there is no doubting that the SE has a clear edge. It starts at a much lower price than the XR – Rs 42,500 as compared to Rs 52,500, although some would insist that the XR is available for closer to Rs 47,500. Still, the fact that you can get a SE 128 GB for Rs 47,800, which is still lower than the official price of the 64 GB XR, and even close to its street price, makes the SE the winner in the price stakes. Even at the top end, the 128 GB XR is priced at Rs 57,800 officially, while an SE with twice the storage (256 GB) costs just Rs 500 more at Rs 58,300.

Winner: iPhone SE

To SE or to XR, that is the question!

So going by that very rough analysis – and remember we have not used the SE at all yet – the two phones seem to be very closely matched. The SE’s appeal is definitely clear – the compact form factor, that processor, what promises to be a very good camera and a lower price. On the flip side, it is let down by a design that is increasingly retro – would people like others to think they are carrying an iPhone 8? We wonder. The XR on the other hand very ironically scores on appearance (from the front it can even be mistaken for an iPhone 11) and on factors life Face ID, selfie camera, and battery performance.

This is going to be one very close call. Our gut feeling is that the geeks, spec lovers and those on a tight budget will prefer the SE. That said, those with slightly more money to spend and wanting a more modern looking device (even if it is larger) will prefer the XR. For mainstream users, it is going to be a tradeoff between that processor and form factor on one side and the battery life and bezel-less display on the other. Choosing one would not be easy, but considering how good they both are, it is a good problem to have. And a rare one in the iPhone-world, where phones are often very clearly segmented in terms of price.

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