This is truly the affordable iPhone you were waiting for. This does not compromise at all in terms of the specs and the experience. It is a thoroughbred iPhone, albeit in a compact form factor. Which also makes this a very rare combination of compact and powerful. How many Android phone options do you get which offer a similarly handy footprint and yet pack in the most powerful specifications there are at this time? The answer lies in a word that starts with “Z” and ends with “ero”. The second generation of the Apple iPhone SE is a melding of the past with the present, representative of the future.
The Apple iPhone SE prices start at Rs 42,500 and that is before you take advantage of an HDFC Bank cashback offer which brings the effective price down to Rs 38,900. For an iPhone that runs largely the same specs as an iPhone 11, that is a steal deal.
Design is familiar, and yet very likeable
There is no running away from the fact that the second-generation Apple iPhone SE is basically the same body as an Apple iPhone 8 from 2017. It may have been a good-looking phone then, but it’s a beautiful phone now. And that came after the iPhone 7, the iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6. There could perhaps have been the argument that Apple should have gone with the iPhone 8 Plus body instead, but that 5.5-inch size would have not appealed to anyone who wanted a compact phone and would have pegged it too close to the 6.1-inch iPhone 11 in the size stakes. Apple says that the 4.7-inch screen size has been its most popular, and continues to be its most popular screen size, over the years. There must be some merit in the argument that not everyone wants a bulky phone.
You could be on the other side of the fence and say that the design looks a bit out of place now, and you would have a point there. The thick bezel above the screen stands out now, and the space below the screen for the Touch ID fingerprint sensor integrated within the Home button does add to it vertically. But Apple will counter that with pristine build quality. It feels fantastic to hold, much thinner than what our hands have become used to, no rough edges, no flex and everything is just right in place. It weighs just 148 grams, which is featherweight category in these times. You can have this in three colours at this time—Black, White and the gorgeous (PRODUCT)RED.
It is IP67 water resistant which means it isn’t averse to getting a bit wet, and the glass on the back enables wireless charging as well in case that catches your fancy. Incidentally, it also supports fast charging, but Apple doesn’t bundle that charger this time around.
All said and done, this is a proper iPhone. The build. The design. The attention to detail. The experience. Need I also remind you that there are no good compact Android phones right now.
Home button: a blast from the past
The Home button had stopped being a physical button quite a while ago. Good to see Apple has carried that forward with that reassuring haptic feedback every time you press on it. Touch ID on the iPhone SE is fast, very fast.
The magic number on the canvas is 4.7
It also isn’t the same 4.7-inch display carried forward. Apart from all the under-the-hood improvements, you will surely notice the True Tone Display feature, which that matches everything you see on the screen with the ambient lighting around you. The result, as we have experienced with the MacBook, the iPhones and the iPad Pro is that there is much less strain on the eyes than otherwise. This screen is LCD, and not an OLED. In the real world, people really don’t care. As long as it works, they are happy. And this most definitely works. It is bright, shuns reflections quite well and colours look good too. Yes, you’ll probably feel it’s a bit more restrained if you are using a higher resolution display all this while, but the thing is, most iPhone SE buyers will likely be the ones who have held on to their older iPhones till now—and for them, this is familiar yet an upgrade.
That being said, if you do intend to switch from a larger phone to this, you will feel the keyboard is a bit more compressed than what you are used to. It is a learning curve, make no doubt about it.
It is Futureproof, including for iOS updates: Leaving Android far behind
Power isn’t in short supply either. And that is putting it diplomatically. The iPhone SE runs the same A13 Bionic chip as the iPhone 11 series, which means it isn’t playing catch up. There is no faster smartphone processor right now, all chipmakers considered, and that gives the iPhone SE a solid foundation to build on. It also means that iOS updates will be available for this phone for many years to come. That is immediately better than most Android phones, including the expensive flagships, which see the end of the update goodness after about 2 years. If you are lucky, that is.
We have come such a long way since the iPhone 8’s time, that the A13 Bionic chip is 1.4x faster than the A11 which powered that phone back in the day. And it is 2.4x faster than the original iPhone SE. The party piece of the A13 Bionic is the 8-core Neural Engine that does 5 trillion operations per second.
Battery life is a day, and comfortably so. A lot of that is limited by the physics of size, which means it doesn’t get a battery pack as large as an iPhone 11. But since there are less display pixels to light up, the tradeoff has worked well.
But you do miss out on some things: 5G and more
The iPhone SE doesn’t make the shift to USB C, nor does it show any love for the headphone jack. This does not have 5G as well, and Apple for some reason doesn’t bundle a faster charger in the box even though the iPhone SE is fast charging capable.
Camera relies on software: More than ever before
The 2020 iteration of the Apple iPhone SE gets a 12-megapixel camera at the back. Yes, it is a single-camera system. It does get a new image signal processor, the enhancements of the Neural Engine of the A13 Bionic and new algorithms working behind the scenes after you tap the shutter button in the camera app to take a photo. The biggest beneficiary has to be the Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting. It is all software based, but the iPhone SE can take some really good portrait photos. The neural engine is trained to focus on people, and you get depth control as well. If you are wondering that this is already more versatile than the photography capabilities of the iPhone XR, which also has a single camera system, you would be absolutely right. It is not just the new hardware, but also updated algorithms and image processing that makes all the difference.
The full gamut of Portrait Lighting modes are available as well—Natural Light, Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light, Stage Light Mono and High-Key Light Mono are all available on the iPhone SE. Then there is Smart HDR as well and the ability to shoot 4K videos at 60fps. For the price that you pay for this iPhone SE, the photography performance is absolutely fantastic—great dynamic range, sharp, vivid colours that are well distinguished and overall photography that is quite close to the iPhone 11. It will struggle a bit in low light, because there isn’t a second sensor to provide more data, and there isn’t a night mode either. It’s a bit perplexing that, considering Google has managed better low light photos all thanks to AI and software, on single camera systems for a while now.
At the front sits a 7-megapixel FaceTime camera, and to be honest, we would have loved an upgrade here.
WHAT ABOUT THE ANDROID ALTERNATIVES?
Purely in terms of price, there will be the persistent debate about how the iPhone SE matches up to the Android counterparts. The thing is, the fact that you are considering the Apple iPhone SE second-generation means you want top-notch performance. That discounts a lot of the pretend flagship killer Android phones, and we get into the business end of that debate with the OnePlus 7T with prices starting Rs 34,999 and the new OnePlus 8 with prices starting at Rs 44,999 though availability is limited at this time. But they only get factored into the equation if you aren’t adamant about a compact screen size. In which case, why wouldn’t you also consider the iPhone 11? It is all too complicated, isn’t it? That is the power of choice.
The Last Word: Smaller size does not mean a compromise
The thing is, the 2020 iPhone SE would be a definite upgrade for anyone still rocking an iPhone older than let us say the iPhone XR—the performance boost will hit you in the face in the most pleasant manner. The camera matches the much more expensive iPhone 11 for the most part, which is a huge bonus for the new iPhone SE. There are three storage options to choose from, and I would seriously recommend paying a little more for the 128GB option over the 64GB one, just to add to the longevity aspect of your purchase. You want an iPhone. You got an iPhone. And this wouldn't leave you penniless either.