Still Image Quality

Like the iPhone 6s, the iPhone SE has a 12MP 1/3" camera sensor, and a lens with an f/2.2 aperture. With the A9 SoC also comes the same image signal processor (ISP), and so in theory photos should be identical between the two phones. This represents an enormous improvement from the iPhone 5s, which used Apple's first 1/3" sensor with a resolution of 8MP. Moving to a higher resolution sensor has enabled UHD video recording, and the new ISP built into A9 allows for 1080p120 slow motion video as well as Apple's Live Photos feature. Based on my experience, the iPhone SE and the iPhone 6s produce identical results when taking photos and shooting video, but I've put together two comparisons below just to illustrate that fact.

Daytime Photography

Photos taken in the day with the iPhone SE look quite good. Photos are noticeably sharper than on the 5s, which is a combination of the higher resolution sensor and two years of improvements to Apple's image signal processor when going from Apple A7 to Apple A9. As expected, the image quality is essentially the same as the 6s due to their shared camera and ISP, and it definitely gives the best results I've seen from a $400 phone.

Night Photography

Night time photos on the iPhone SE are identical to those from the iPhone 6s. In this case it almost looks like I just took the one photo and shifted it slightly, as the exposure, processing, and level of detail are the same between the SE and the 6s.

What’s interesting about the iPhone SE sharing a camera with the iPhone 6s is the fact that they’re priced $250 apart. Daytime photo quality on the iPhone 6s is quite good, but it’s definitely a step behind the 6s Plus and the best Android device in low light due to its smaller sensor than the Android flagships and the lack of OIS which is included on the 6s Plus. At $400, Apple is playing a completely different game, as the camera quality is often one of the first things to be sacrificed when you step down from the flagship price bracket. I would argue that the iPhone SE gives you the best camera in a smartphone at its price point.

Given that the iPhone SE and iPhone 6s use the same camera, there's not much point in repeating a large number of photo tests. My Galaxy S6's VCM also broke which unfortunately prevented me from including it in these comparisons. For some additional photo comparisons and some video comparisons you can take a look at those sections from our iPhone 6s review where a number of 2015's Android flagship smartphones are also compared.

Display Analysis Experience: Going Back To 4 Inches
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  • michael2k - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    You're curious how much faster the iPhone SE is than the Galaxy S7? Just look for iPhone 6S and you'll see, given the SE uses the same SoC as the 6S:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/10120/the-samsung-ga...
    Reply
  • osxandwindows - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    I can't wait for the "anandtech is so biased" comments to show up. Reply
  • Alexey291 - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Ah yes the first of the flame bait comment, so soon too...

    That said I did giggle at the excuse that he can't use non review data in a review. I'm pretty sure I've seen that happen far more than once. But yeah whatever. It's just a phone
    Reply
  • extide - Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - link

    That's not what he said. He said he can't use data that he doesnt have. Reply
  • xmrv - Sunday, May 22, 2016 - link

    sheeps dont do that so you wont see any comments like that on this site... Reply
  • DesertCat - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Thanks for the article. I have some friends wanting to stick with the smaller form factor and will forward your review along.

    One quibble from the Experience page: "X fewer emails in the Mail app"

    I'm guessing that was a place holder waiting for you to update with the number after you looked it up. May want to get that edit in. ;)
    Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    It's a little bit of a lazy effort from Apple, but it should still be a crowd pleaser. The issue is that you can get a much bigger display in the footprint of the SE. I believe the Xperia Compact is almost the same size as the SE, but can offer a 4.6" display instead. That big thumb button is really costly on Apple devices. Reply
  • Aenean144 - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    No, it really isn't. The Touch ID home button has been a huge advantage, well worth the costs of poorer screen-to-body ratios. Maybe in the future the button goes away, but it has served Apple and Samsung quite well.

    iPhone 5/5S/SE
    dimensions: 12.4 x 5.9 x 0.76 cm
    footprint: 73.2 cm^2
    volume: 55.6 cm^3

    Xperia Z5 compact
    dimensions: 12.7 x 6.5 x 0.89 cm
    footprint: 82.6 cm^2
    volume: 73.5 cm^3

    Xperia Z3 Compact
    dimensions: 12.7 x 6.5 x 0.86 cm
    footprint: 82.6 cm^2
    volume: 71.0 cm^3

    iPhone 6
    dimensions: 13.8 x 6.7 x 0.69 cm
    footprint: 92.5 cm^2
    volume: 59.2 cm^3

    iPhone 6S
    dimensions: 13.8 x 6.7 x 0.71 cm
    footprint: 92.5 cm^2
    volume: 60.9 cm^3

    The footprint of the Xperia "Compacts" are indeed small, but both the iPhone 5 and 6 models are smaller then them in there own ways. 5/5S/SE are smaller by 10% in footprint and 25% in volume. The iPhone 6/6S have smaller volumes by 15%.

    An iPhone SE will definitely feel smaller than the Xperia Compacts, while the 6/6S may feel smaller then them depending on users favoring the thinnes. The Xperias also have onscreen home, back, multitasking keys, so that 4.6" has something like 4.2" of application space for many apps.
    Reply
  • mooncancook - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Partially true regarding onscreen home/back keys. On lots of apps they auto hide so the app can use the entire screen, and you swipe that area to bring the keys up. Reply
  • ianmills - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Chinese phones put the touch ID just under the camera lense. It works great (at least on bigger phones) because thats where your finger naturally rests Reply

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