Apple iPhone SE review: A smaller iPhone 11 in an iPhone 8’s body

Nandini Yadav
·9-min read

TL;DR: The second-generation iPhone SE is a beautiful marriage between the iPhone 11's soul and the iPhone 8's body.

If you have been an iPhone X/iPhone XR user but you've been wanting to make a shift to a more compact iPhone, then the iPhone SE is just what you need. You may experience adaptability issues at first: not only is the screen smaller, due to the physical fingerprint sensor on the front, the UI of the phone is also slightly different.

If you're moving from an older generation iPhone like the iPhone 7 or iPhone 8, it'll mostly feel like using the same device, but faster, smoother, with a better camera, and a more long-lasting battery.

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Now, if I have your attention so far, let's dive deeper into the iPhone SE 2020.

iPhone SE's compact design is mostly a boon

The iPhone SE has the form factor and design of an iPhone 8, and the internals of the iPhone 11 €" that's pretty much what the doctor ordered.

Apple iPhone SE is one of the most compact smartphones available in the market right now. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
Apple iPhone SE is one of the most compact smartphones available in the market right now. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

Apple iPhone SE is one of the most compact smartphones available in the market right now. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

The iPhone SE 2020 fits in my palm and pocket like it should. I can grip on it with my full hand, and it doesn't keep peeking out of my pockets. If you are a woman and have a medium-sized wallet, you can easily fit the iPhone SE in it.

The iPhone SE is sandwiched between a glass front and back, and features aluminium sides.

If you compare it to an iPhone 11, the SE is one millimeter thinner and 46 grams lighter. But to be fair, the iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch display, whereas, the iPhone 11 features a 6.1-inch display.

iPhone SE next to an iPhone 11. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
iPhone SE next to an iPhone 11. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

iPhone SE next to an iPhone 11. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

When it comes to weight, design, and compactness, I'd go for the iPhone SE any day. The thick forehead and chin on the front is a bit of a turn-off, however.

If the iPhone SE had the form factor of an iPhone 4s, the body style of the iPhone 8, but the display and innards of the iPhone 11, it would have been perfect.

iPhone SE has a good display, but a bigger one could have completely changed the game

The iPhone SE 2020 features a 4.7-inch Retina LCD display with HD resolution. Yes, it's LCD and probably the best LCD display you can find. If you have never used an OLED display before, you'll have nothing to complain about.

However, if you have used another OLED Android smartphone, or even the iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max, the iPhone SE's display might seem slightly washed out and desaturated, especially when watching videos in the dark.

iPhone SE display vs iPhone 11's. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
iPhone SE display vs iPhone 11's. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

iPhone SE display vs iPhone 11's. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

Personally, though, that's not my biggest concern with the display. As I see it, if this LCD display was larger, came sans the physical Touch ID button on the front, and even had the infamous bathtub notch, I'd be way happier. This could have been a perfect buy for people who want compact smartphones.

Apple iPhone SE 2020 Touch ID. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
Apple iPhone SE 2020 Touch ID. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

Apple iPhone SE 2020 Touch ID. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

This will only bother those obsessed with big, full-face displays. My father, who has now been using the iPhone SE for a month, is perfectly happy with it. The iPhone SE's display and design come together pretty well.

Also, though display quality is a compromise, the low resolution of the iPhone SE screen does end up making the device better. Read ahead to know what I mean.

The iPhone SE delivers fast, trouble-free performance

The iPhone SE 2020, is powered by an A13 Bionic chip (yes, it's faster than a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865). The base variant of the phone comes with 64 GB storage. The one I reviewed was the highest variant, with 256 GB.

Bluntly, the iPhone 11 is currently Apple's fastest-performing phone (better than many Android flagships, and even some gaming phones out there) and the iPhone SE 2020 performs just as well.

Apple iPhone SE 2020 offers a very smooth performance. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
Apple iPhone SE 2020 offers a very smooth performance. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

Apple iPhone SE 2020 offers a very smooth performance. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

In fact, the iPhone SE actually does better than the Pro models sometimes, because it features a low-resolution screen. Fewer pixels to work on means less work for the chipset and more power for the rest of the functions and features.

I did not face any lag while using the phone. The response to every tap and swipe felt real-time. When running iOS 13, sometimes launching the camera app took half a second, but that was also fixed with iOS 14.

Apple iPhone SE's rear camera is incredible, but the selfie camera is just okay

The iPhone SE 2020 features a 12 MP camera, the same resolution as the iPhone 11 (though not the same camera). Here, though, is a single lens, while the iPhone 11 uses two.

Apple iPhone SE uses a single camera setup. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
Apple iPhone SE uses a single camera setup. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

Apple iPhone SE uses a single camera setup. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

The images clicked by the iPhone SE have natural colours €" a rarity these days. Most Android devices give you oversaturated results. The dynamic range €" levels in the brightest and darkest areas of an image €" are impressive.

Tap on the Flickr album below to view sample images clicked on the Apple iPhone SE 2020.

Apple iPhone SE review
Apple iPhone SE review

The iPhone SE also has a night mode, which is quite effective. Images clicked in the dark look very natural, with minimum noise and haziness. The night mode doesn't work in video, though.

If you are a photography enthusiast, you may want to look at the Pixel 3A XL, which has Google's legendary 'Night' mode.

Additionally, the iPhone SE uses Apple's version of single-lens portrait mode, but it's a little disappointing because it only works if there is a human face in front of the camera. The portrait mode doesn't work on objects or animals. The same goes for Smart HDR.

Apple iPhone SE camera mode. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
Apple iPhone SE camera mode. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

Apple iPhone SE camera mode. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

The video quality of the iPhone SE is amazing. It lets you shoot 4K videos at 24/30/60 fps, and HD videos at 30/60 fps. The video output is stable, and has gorgeous colour.

The front camera on the iPhone SE is an older generation 7 MP f/2.2 unit, which also means no Face ID and only 1080p 30 fps videos. The front camera video quality is decent, but nothing that would make you go wow!

The improved battery life is reason enough to go for the iPhone SE

Apple iPhones aren't known for their battery life. But with iPhone 11, Apple really made an effort, and that reflects on the iPhone SE 2020 as well.

I used the iPhone SE for a few weeks as my primary device. Personally, I use an iPhone 11.

Apple iPhone SE's battery performance is impressive. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
Apple iPhone SE's battery performance is impressive. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

Apple iPhone SE's battery performance is impressive. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

I was using all my thirty social media apps on the phone, and watching videos. I was also obsessed with this game called Archero, while I was using the iPhone. I would launch the app every chance I got.

The phone's battery almost always lasted close to two days. When I watched one-too-many videos or played games for longer than usual, the battery died on me sooner. But on average, I was comfortably using the iPhone SE for 18-19 hours on a single charge.

Here's where that low-resolution display also helps: battery life.

The iPhone SE comes with an 18 W fast-charge adapter. It takes about 30 minutes to charge it from zero to 50 percent.

The Apple iPhone SE fuels up from zero to 20 percent in about 15 minutes. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
The Apple iPhone SE fuels up from zero to 20 percent in about 15 minutes. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

The Apple iPhone SE fuels up from zero to 20 percent in about 15 minutes. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

iOS 14, Touch ID, and more

The Apple iPhone SE runs on iOS 13 out-of-the-box. But with iOS 14 rolled out, you'll be using the latest operating system on the device.

Performance-wise, iOS 14 only helps and makes the iPhone SE better. There was a bug in the camera app that delayed the launch of the app, which was fixed with the update. The overall usability of the phone still remains fluid and smooth.

Apple iPhone SE has a drop down notifications centre. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
Apple iPhone SE has a drop down notifications centre. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

Apple iPhone SE has a drop down notifications centre. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

The iPhone SE uses the older iOS UI, where you need to swipe up for control centre. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav
The iPhone SE uses the older iOS UI, where you need to swipe up for control centre. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

The iPhone SE uses the older iOS UI, where you need to swipe up for control centre. Image: tech2/Nandini Yadav

The App Library is probably my fav feature on iOS 14, and I think it works especially well for the iPhone SE. The App Library is a standalone page on your homescreen which categorises and clubs together all your apps. Key is that you have the option to have new apps go only into the App Library, and not on the home screen. This way, even with the small screen, your iPhone SE home screen can look neat.

The small screen still has downsides: if you add a lot of widgets to the homescreen, it starts to feel a little claustrophobic.

Additionally, as I mention at the beginning of the review, if you are someone switching from the flagship models by Apple, the iPhone SE may take a while to adjust to. The iPhone SE 2020 sports a Touch ID button on the front, and does not feature Face ID. This means it uses the older UI design, where you need to swipe down for your notifications and swipe up for your control centre.

If screen size and night photography aren't your priority, iPhone SE is a great phone in its budget

Priced up to Rs 53,900, the iPhone SE 2020 is a wonderful device that offers you a compact design, great camera and overall performance, and an improved battery life that's been a pain point on iPhones for a while now. The size of the iPhone SE is undoubtedly a big selling point for anyone who misses being able to comfortably clutch a smartphone.

I'd only caution you against the iPhone SE for two reasons:

a) If you are a photography enthusiast, because the selfie camera and the portrait mode may mar your experience

b) If a large display is crucial to your daily use of the phone

If one or both the reasons above apply to you, you could look at the Pixel 3a series, or wait for the Pixel 4a, that's expected to launch sometime in October. You could also look at OnePlus 7T Pro or Samsung Galaxy S10.

For everyone else, the iPhone SE 2020 will not disappoint.

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