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Hands-on review: iPhone SE
Mon, 18th Apr 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

While many smartphone makers bet big on super-sized phablets, Apple has chosen to go smaller, launching the iPhone SE. On the outside it looks like a tweaked iPhone 5s. On the Inside it's all iPhone 6. The big question is in the minds of many is this: Will Apple's counter-intuitive move succeed? Or will the iPhone SE become a quirky marketing flop?

Look and Feel

While XXL sized phablets garner the mindshare, Apples smaller iPhone SE is aimed at users who don't want an expensive big phone. The key benefit is this - its smaller body makes for easy one-handed use.

The iPhone SE might be smaller than the 6s, but it is also lighter. I liked the fact that I could put it in my jacket or trouser pocket without hearing the sound of tearing fabric. It also makes prolonged one-handed use less of an ordeal too.

Looks-wise, the SE is definitely more iPhone 5 than 6. While Apple has copped a fair bit of flak over the SE's iPhone 5 retro looks, it is great news for iPhone 5 fans. The softer, rounded edges of the Phone 6 have given way to a boxier iPhone 5 aesthetic. It still has a premium feel, even if it doesn't look like the latest crop of iPhones.

That said, the iPhone SE also has a few interesting twists design-wise. While it looks like an iPhone 5s, it sports the same matte aluminium finish as the iPhone 6/6s and Apple Watch. Regardless of what SE stands for (Small Edition?), there's little doubt the SE is a ballsy move by Apple - one that could prove either brilliant or disastrous.


The SE represents a departure from Apple's previous iPhone launches. Before the SE Apple would launch its latest iPhone, and discount previous models. This time Apple has refreshed their previous generation iPhone to deliver the latest features. They've also done it at an affordable price point without the 6SE feeling cheap or flimsy.

Targeting price-sensitive users with the affordable (but plastic) iPhone 5c wasn't a massive success. Although the strategy had worked with lower spec Macs, iPhone buyers wanted a premium device and didn't like the 5c's Tupperware finish. With the iPhone SE, Apple has deftly avoided this by using the iPhone 5s chassis. They've also not compromised on features thanks to the SE's iPhone 6 innards.

It could be a clever move for Apple. If all goes to plan they could open up a large base of new customers without damaging their existing iPhone business.

Under the Hood

Aesthetics aside, the differences between the iPhone SE and the Phone 6s are pretty minor. They consist of a lack of 3D Touch and a slower Touch ID sensor. This isn't a big deal as Touch ID still works like a charm, and I'm not sold on the merits of 3D Touch anyway.

The iPhone SE does have the same rear 12 MP shooter as the iPhone 6s so it'll capture video in 4K. It packs the same A9 CPU and also has other goodies including Live Photo and 1080p at 120fps slow-mo. Its front shooter is also the same as that on the iPhone 6s, but doesn't have Auto HDR.

Photography aside, the iPhone SE packs fast MIMO Wi-Fi as well as support for LTE Advanced. It can only be had in 16GB or 64GB models - there's no 32GB or 128GB versions available.

In Use

One of the benefits of moving to a smaller iPhone was just how practical it is. From running to catch a bus while finishing a call to snapping a quick photo, it didn't get in the way. It was also pretty pocketable.

There are some things I wouldn't recommend the iPhone SE for. Its small screen limits its appeal for media consumption. For short bursts of viewing it worked fine. On long haul flights, an iPad/tablet or Mac/PC is a better option. Additionally, its smaller screen makes for a more cramped keyboard. Although Word, Excel and PowerPoint are free apps, it isn't great for editing large documents.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of any smartphone is battery life. When using email/the web/Facebook, I usually managed a full day's use. For video playback (leaving a looped video file running) I got 12.5 hours, which isn't too shabby.


A lot of people loved that the iPhone 6 got a bigger screen. But the fact remains that bigger, large-screened phablets are not everyone's cup of tea. By launching the SE, Apple has given customers the ability to decide what works best for them. Those with larger pockets and big hands may choose the iPhone 6s or 6s plus, while the SE gives others a practical, affordable and pocketable iPhone option without any compromises on spec or build.