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iPhone SE review: Apple's cut-price smartphone king

Guardian Technology 01 May 2020 06:00
The iPhone SE has a design largely unchanged from the iPhone 6 of 2014, but the performance and longevity of a brand new Apple phone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Apple’s latest iPhone SE is a surprise cut-price marvel that revives a classic iPhone design and trounces every other mid-range phone in the process.

The £419 iPhone SE takes the important bits of the iPhone 11 – the processor and software – and shoehorns them into the body of an iPhone 8 from 2017. You get a phone design largely unchanged from the iPhone 6 of 2014, with traditional home button, but the performance and longevity of a brand new Apple phone for £310 less than an iPhone 11.

It’s a tantalising proposition, competing on price with a load of mid-range Android smartphones, including Google’s Pixel 3a, but with top-level iPhone performance and service.

2020 iphone se review
The 4.7in iPhone SE on the left next to the 5.8in iPhone 11 Pro on the right. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The iPhone 8’s design was tired in 2018 and it is no different today. The 2020 iPhone SE’s 4.7in screen is tiny by today’s standards but the phone’s body isn’t, because it eschews the modern all-screen design in favour of the old large bezels and chunky chin and forehead.

Same top performance as an iPhone 11

The iPhone SE has the same A13 Bionic processor as the iPhone 11 and performs similarly in day-to-day usage, which is a very good thing. It means that the iPhone SE should be a top-performer for years to come.

Apple does not give a rated lifecycle for the iPhone SE’s battery, typically 500 full-charge cycles, but it can be replaced for £49. The phone is generally repairable, with the out-of-warranty service cost being £136.44 for the screen or £276.44 for other damage. Repair specialists iFixit gave the phone a repairability score of six out of 10.

The iPhone SE comes out of the box with iOS 13.4.1, the same version of iOS running on Apple’s more expensive iPhone 11 series and every other currently-supported phone.

The iPhone SE has a single 12-megapixel rear camera that is essentially identical to that used in the iPhone 8, but with the processing and smarts of the iPhone 11. The combination is really quite good.

  • The haptics on the iPhone SE are simply fantastic

  • There’s no headphone adapter in the box, but there is a set of Lightning EarPods

  • The stereo speakers are surprisingly good

  • You can’t expand notifications through a long-press on the lockscreen like you can with every other iPhone, which is annoying (you can on notification pop-ups though)

  • The iPhone SE is too short for some wireless charging stands

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