There are a lot of ways to think about Apple’s new $399 iPhone SE. One is that it’s a more affordable option than the iPhone 11, with surprisingly similar camera specs, which it is. Or that it’s the 2020 sequel to the original SE from 2016, which it also is. Or, at 4.7 inches, that it’s the smallest and cheapest iPhone you can currently buy (though it’s not that small). Or — and this is my favorite way to think about it — that it’s an iPhone 8 with the brains and power of an iPhone 11. In fact, the new iPhone SE is all these things and that’s why I’m enamored with it.
The new iPhone SE has the classic design that defined the iPhone for its first 10 years. The design, the body and the camera lenses are all the same as 2017’s iPhone 8. But Apple performed a clever brain transplant, replacing the nearly tiga-year-old processor with the A13 Bionic processor used in the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. This goes well beyond a simple spec bump by majorly improving things like the cameras and battery life. The new processor not only runs faster, but it will likely future-proof the phone through years of iOS updates.
Read more: iPhone SE 2020 is proof that Apple won’t actually bring back the tiny phone
But a $399 (£419, AU$749) iPhone comes with compromises, which Apple chose wisely. The SE has only a single rear camera, it doesn’t have Face ID and it lacks camera features like Night Mode, Slofies and Deep Fusion processing. The selfie camera is OK but not as amazing as the one found on the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max.
When you look at the complete picture, the iPhone SE represents the most value for your dollar of any phone Apple sells. It has an attractive price, fantastic battery life, great rear camera, A13 processor, water resistance and support for wireless charging. The SE is not only a wonderful iPhone, but one of the best budget phones you can currently buy.iPhone SE (2020) specs compared to iPhone 8, iPhone SE (2016), iPhone 11 iPhone SE (2020)iPhone 8iPhone SE (2016)iPhone 11 Display size, resolution 4.7-inch Retina HD; 1,334×750 pixels4.7-inch Retina HD; 1,334×750 pixels4-inch; 1,136×640 pixels6.1-inch LCD Liquid Retina; 1,792×828 pixels Pixel density 326ppi326ppi326ppi326ppiDimensions (Inches) lima.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 in5.45×2.65×0.29 in4.87×2.31×0.tiga in5.94×2.98×0.33 inDimensions (Millimeters) 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm138.4×67.3×7.tiga mm123x58x7.6 mm150.9×75.7×8.3 mmWeight (Ounces, Grams) lima.22 oz; 148g5.22 oz; 148 g3.99 oz; 113 g6.84 oz; 194gMobile aplikasi iOS 13iOS 11 (can update to iOS 13)iOS 9.3iOS 13Camera 12-megapixel12-megapixel12-megapixel12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide)Front-facing camera 7-megapixel7-megapixel1.dua-megapixel12-megapixelVideo capture 4K4K4K4KProcessor Apple A13 BionicApple A11 BionicApple A9Apple A13 BionicStorage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 256GB16GB, 64GB64GB, 128GB, 256GBRAM Not disclosed2GBNot disclosedNot disclosedExpandable storage NoNoneNoNoBattery Not disclosedNot disclosedNotdisclosedNot disclosedFingerprint sensor Home buttonHome buttonHome buttonNoConnector LightningLightningLightningLightningHeadphone jack NoNoYesNoSpecial features Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless chargingWater resistant (IP67), wireless chargingApple Pay; Haptic TouchWater resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless chargingPrice off-contract (USD) $399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB)$699 (64GB), $849 (256GB)$399 (16GB); $499 (64GB)$699 (64GB), $749 (128GB), $849 (256GB)Price (GBP) £419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB)£699 (64GB), £849 (256GB)£359 (16GB) £439 (64GB)£729 (64GB), £779 (128GB), £879 (256GB)Price (AUD) AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)AU$1,079 (64GB), AU$1,329 (256GB)AU$679 (16GB); AU$829 (64GB)AU$1,199 (64GB), AU$1,279 (128GB), AU$1,449 (256GB)The iPhone SE’s iPhone 8 design
Physically, the SE is an iPhone 8. The front and back are made of glass, the chassis and sides are aluminum. The only physical difference between the iPhone SE and iPhone 8 is that the Apple logo is now centered on the back to match current-generation iPhones.
The new phone has Apple’s old-school forehead and chin bezel above and below the screen. This makes the SE look, well, old. This is the one of the few things that I’m not too thrilled about. It’s not ugly, it’s just dated. And that might appeal to some people, but not me.
Welcome back, large bezels. John Kim/CNET
Having used Face ID for the past couple years, it’s a strange and familiar feeling to set up and use Touch ID. It’s like going from an automatic transmission back to a stick shift. But in the right car, stick shift can be a blast.
I forgot how much I missed the home button and how it makes interactions and navigation less fussy than swipes and holds. I tap and hold to pay for purchases instead of angling my phone to get Face ID verification. A speedy double-tap shows recent apps. Though Face ID has its own benefits, the home button is still as satisfying to use as it was back in the day.
For tiny phone lovers, the iPhone SE’s 4.7-inch LCD display isn’t as small as the original SE’s 4-inch screen. But it’s still smaller than most phones out right now and is enough to be portable and comfortable for most people.
The screen on the SE is similar to the one on the iPhone 11, especially in terms of quality and resolution. Text looks sharp, colors are accurate and it’s bright in sunny conditions.
The iPhone SE is rated IP67 for water and dust resistance. Patrick Holland/CNET
The iPhone SE is rated IP67, meaning it can withstand being submerged for 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter (about 3 feet). I wasn’t able to test this claim, though I did submerge it in a liter of water for 30 minutes and everything worked fine. This level of water and dust resistance isn’t something you normally find on phones under $400, so it’s particularly noteworthy that the iPhone SE has it.
The SE comes in three colors: black, white and red. The iPhone 8 had its own red version too, but it had white bezels and damn if the iPhone SE doesn’t look more striking in red with black bezels. The iPhone SE’s battery life is longer than the iPhone 8
Apple’s website says that the iPhone SE’s battery lasts about the same as the iPhone 8, but my testing showed it lasted much longer. I played a looped video on Airplane mode at 50% brightness and the iPhone SE lasted 15 hours, 45 minutes. That’s hours longer than what the iPhone 8 and iPhone SE lasted in the same test when they were new. Anecdotally, it made it through a day and a half without a problem, and a couple times it went two days straight without a charge.
In our early battery tests, the iPhone SE easily outlasts the iPhone 8 and original 2016 iPhone SE. Patrick Holland/CNET
I should note that I have more battery tests to run (including streaming video tests), so check back when I’ll update the results.
The iPhone SE has wireless charging, which is another feature not found on most budget phones. There is also support for fast-charging, which replenishes the battery to 50% in 30 minutes. But the iPhone SE doesn’t come with the necessary 18-watt charger and instead includes the slower lima-watt one. Again, this is likely to keep the cost of the device low.iPhone SE has A13 Bionic processor performance
The longevity of Apple’s iOS support for “older devices” is a quiet but significant appeal of owning an iPhone. The iPhone 8 and its A11 processor are now two-and-a-half years old and will likely stop receiving iOS perangkat lunak updates a couple years before the iPhone SE and its newer A13 Bionic processor.
In performance tests, the iPhone SE was consistently better than the iPhone 8 and (no surprise) the original iPhone SE. It scored similar results to what we got on the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max.
In real life that meant app launches were peppy, playing games like Sky: Children of Light and Doomsday Vault were a breeze. Editing photos was easy and I could even use graphics-heavy AR apps such as Wonderscope, which transformed my bedroom into a training ground for ghosts. Geekbench v.5.0 single-core
Apple iPhone SE (2020)1,326Apple iPhone 111,338Apple iPhone 8921Apple iPhone SE (2116)546Notes: Longer bars indicate better performanceGeekbench v.lima.0 multicore
Apple iPhone SE (2020)dua,638Apple iPhone 113,436Apple iPhone 82,242Apple iPhone SE (2016)1,003Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance3DMark Slingshot Unlimited
Apple iPhone SE (2020)10,405Apple iPhone 1110,505Apple iPhone 82,529Apple iPhone SE (2016)1,865Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
Apple iPhone SE (2020)97,415Apple iPhone 1197,199Apple iPhone 864,333Apple iPhone SE (2016)29,066Notes: Longer bars indicate better performanceiPhone SE cameras have Portrait Mode, Smart HDR