The new iPhone SE is not a phone I’d personally buy but it’s the easiest to recommend.
$719 for 5G and the grunt of an iPhone 13 in an outdated but familiar design will appeal to anyone wanting that Apple experience, without the price tag of the mainline models.
After two years battling masks to use Face ID, having a reliable fingerprint reader swiftly unlock the iPhone SE was refreshing, but comes at a cost.
Fitting in an old-school home button limits the screen to 4.7 inches; tiny by modern standards. Admittedly, this was less of a problem texting than I expected coming off much larger devices, and the convenience of a home button is a fair trade for older users who can’t, or don’t want to learn a whole new series of swipes.
It admittedly took me a while to remember how to pull up the quick settings from the bottom of the screen after so many years with Apple’s “eyebrow” controls.
Of course, the smaller screen on iPhone SE makes it less convenient to read but is as crisp as you’d expect with Apple’s patented retina display.
What I didn’t expect was how well the SE’s single camera setup compared to Apple’s best iPhone.
One of these photos was taken on an iPhone SE, the other an iPhone 13 Pro.
Can you pick which is which?
Both photos on the left are taken on iPhone SE.
The pedantic will notice minor differences in clarity and colour accuracy, but at a glance, they’re damn similar and testament to the power of Apple’s computational photography.
Portrait shots look almost as good despite losing some contrast and in fact at times I preferred the more subtle blur on the SE.
However there’s obviously no optical zoom for shots of objects further away and you might run into problems taking selfies.
With no ultra-wide option on the front of the SE, it’s much harder to squeeze closer backgrounds and multiple people into a shot.
There’s also no “cinematic” option, but the iPhone SE still manages to shoot 4K video at 30 FPS.
High-end Apple fans may scoff but they’re not deal breakers when you get access to iOS 15 for $719.
Live text is a remarkable new feature which I used to scan a list of ingredients from a cookbook and paste the text straight into a shopping list in notes.
Google has been leading the way with live text on its Pixel phones and recently added the ability to bring subtitles up on screen for live telephones calls, but Apple’s addition may be more useful.
Like other iPhone, there’s no adapter included in the box for the USB-C to lightning cable. And while the iPhone SE doesn’t support MagSafe, it will still charge wirelessly if you have any old pads lying around.
‘SE’ once stood for Special Edition. Special may not mean ‘best’ in Apple’s line-up but it does set a new standard; a baseline to benchmark the simplicity of iPhone at its core.
Simplicity that counts for everything in an increasingly crowded and convoluted middle market of smartphones.