[First Cut] iPhone SE (2020): Six points to note about the SE

New chip, old package?

by: - Last updated on: May 24th, 2020

Four years ago, Apple surprised the world with the iPhone SE, packing in new hardware inside a relatively old frame, and sticking a relatively affordable price tag on top of it. It has attempted to repeat the formula with the new iPhone SE, or the iPhone SE (2020). It is too early to speculate whether it has succeeded, but here are six points that have struck us in our initial days with the device:

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1. It is not really THAT small

We are going to burst a tiny bubble at the very outset – the iPhone SE is not really as insanely small as some are claiming. It is actually just half a centimeter smaller than the iPhone 11 Pro – the new iPhone SE is 138.4 mm long a compared to the 144 mm of the iPhone 11 Pro, and even in terms of width, the difference is about the same (67.3 mm to 71.4 mm). That said, it is much lighter – 148 grams as against 188 grams of the iPhone 11 Pro – and a touch slimmer at 7.3 mm against 8.1 mm. It is slightly smaller than the iPhone 11 Pro, but let’s get this straight – this is not the super small device that some are calling it. You will not notice a staggering change in size if you have been carrying an iPhone 11 Pro, or an iPhone XS or iPhone X. That said, you will notice the difference while using the phone itself because you will have a whole lot lesser display real estate to deal with!

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2. This is the iPhone 8 Redux…

There is no doubt that just as the original SE was an exact copy of the iPhone 5S, so too is its successor a clone of the iPhone 8. They have both exactly the same proportions – 138.4 mm x 67.3 mm x 7.3 mm and even the same weight of 148 grams. They have the same 4.7-inch TruTone Retina display, which is not full HD, but is very bright indeed, although it is surrounded by rather large bezels. Both have a circular home button with a fingerprint scanner (Touch ID) built into it.

Both have a 12-megapixel camera at the back (with OIS) and a 7-megapixel camera in front. Both have glass on the front and back with an aluminum frame in the middle, and come with IP67 water and dust resistance. Actually the biggest distinguishing point between them visually is the location of the Apple logo – it is on the upper side on the iPhone 8 and very much centered on the iPhone SE. There is another difference too – the iPhone 8 has 3D Touch while the SE has Haptic Touch, but this is more difficult to spot. The iPhone SE does not look like a modern smartphone – the presence of bezels and the absence of a notch ensure that – but it does not look bad either. We got the black model and well, it had that very Apple elegance to it – not screaming for attention but very classy.

3. …With an iPhone 11/11 Pro core

What, however, makes the iPhone SE a formidable proposition is the A13 Bionic chip that drives it. It is the same processor that the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max rock, and as per many experts is perhaps the most powerful processor out there on a phone. The presence of the A13 not only should make a big difference in terms of general performance but could also add a new dimension to the cameras and battery life of the device, which some think are actually the biggest chink in the iPhone SE’s armor. Which brings us to the next point.

4. Those cameras and battery are a challenge…

Apple has claimed that the iPhone SE has the best single-camera system on an iPhone. Now that should put it ahead of the iPhone XR, which is not a bad place to be really. However, there are some folks claiming that the sensor is actually very similar if not exactly the same as that seen on the iPhone 8. There is a chance, however, that the A13 Bionic chip might add some serious computational photography muscle to the iPhone SE’s sensor. There are portrait mode and depth control on both front and back cameras, and all six studio lighting effects (something even the XR does not have).

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There’s also Quick Take which lets you snap a photograph even while shooting a video. 4K video incidentally is supported, which combined with all the hardware muscle on board could well make this device a handy one for those who love making videos. This is one iPhone camera that is riding high on software as well as hardware. We will find out just how much it delivers in the coming days.

The A13 Bionic is also expected to give the iPhone SE a slightly better battery life than the iPhone 8 and we certainly hope that happens, because while the iPhone 8 had many virtues, battery life was not one of them – we seldom saw out a day of normal use. While there is support for wireless charging, the fact that it still comes with a 5W charger is a little heartbreaking. And we have stopped looking for a 3.5 mm audio jack already!

5. …and so is Touch ID

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For us, perhaps the biggest stumbling block for the iPhone SE is the absence of Face ID. Yes, in these times, where wearing masks is becoming the rule, a fingerprint scanner might be more convenient, but after almost two years of unlocking an iPhone (even in the dark) by just picking it up, using that home button for the same purpose will take some getting used to. Yes, Touch ID is secure enough but Face ID is supposed to be much more so. Crucially, that fingerprint scanner also takes up space on the front of the phone, ruling out a bezelless viewing experience, and also making it less compact than it could have potentially been with a notch.

6. It’s all gonna be about the experience (and the price?)

In the end, the iPhone is fighting a pure experience battle, reminiscent of the war waged by the early iPhones. It does not have the spec muscle (the processor apart) to match Android flagships, but what it does bring to the table is one of the best mobile processors out there, allied with what we think is the iPhone’s greatest strength – iOS. Apple’s hardware and software integration are pretty much unmatched and that is perhaps the greatest ace up the iPhone SE’s sleeve.

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With that processor, it is likely to keep ticking over smoothly a lot longer than any of the older iPhones in its current price range (including the XR). Of course, there are many who believe that the iPhone SE’s biggest challenge could be the OnePlus 8, which starts at a slightly lower price (Rs 41,999), as compared to the iPhone SE’s Rs 42,500 well as other Android budget flagships like the Realme X50 Pro and even the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite. To find out just how well this modernized blast from Apple’s past tackles them, stay tuned for our reviews!

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