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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  • Impulses - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Ehh, there's other places you can place a fingerprint sensor and have it be just as effective... The on screen button argument is valid tho, but it's kind of subjective... For video, where they hide away, they're a better choice, for general use it's less advantageous, etc.

    The biggest rationale for a physical home button continues to be that it allows you to easily wake up the phone while it lays flat, IMO... Though tricks like the "knock on" pioneered by LG can offer an alternative to that.

    Let's be honest tho, Apple AND Samsung probably just stick to their guns on the buttons at this point as a sign of pride and/or because it's a recognisable design. They sued the stuffing out of each other in large part over the button and how it ties the design together!
  • name99 - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    I suspect the way Apple gets away from the home button (and the area it consumes) is by copying ideas from the Apple Watch.

    IF they can get ultrasound based fingerprint detection to work well (so that it can work anywhere on the screen) that's REALLY helpful in terms of making the various lockscreen swipes work so much better --- right now it's kinda lame that you swipe on a notification or text message or whatever but then have to go through the unlock screen.

    So if they can solve the "no need for a fingerprint button" problem, then, IMHO, the logical way to move forward is to adopt ideas from the Apple Watch. These ideas could include (along with screen lights up on orientation) having a crown sticking out the side of the phone. I don't know how well that would work --- maybe it would be too fragile? --- but it seems like it could be useful in a number of ways, and the sort of UI element that Apple could (at least attempt to) patent the hell out of and fairly aggressively and accurately claim that no-one had done anything like that until they implemented it. If you had a crown like button, apart from the rotating to scroll like on the watch, it could also (like on the watch) act to
    - light up the screen
    - bring up springboard
    - bring up Siri
    - bring up the list of previous apps (on watch, at least right now, just the last app) used.

    Doing something like this would allow the iPhone to kinda reset. Apple could get off the naming treadmill (so like Macs new ones get released when they are ready, and have names like "iPhone late 2018"), and even change other things they might want to change (maybe it's worth actually switching to USB-C?). Like I said, a reset allows for lotsa things to change all at once, and allows the inevitable bitching and "I'll never buy an Apple product again" idiocy to flame out over one glorious three month period of non-stop internet ranting.
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, May 18, 2016 - link

    "So if they can solve the "no need for a fingerprint button" problem". Well, on my Galaxy Note 5 fingerprint recognition works great. And it has a button too. And the ratio of overall size to screen size is better too. All it took to do that was to have an oblong button instead of a big round one. What's the big deal. Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    I guess I'll have to hold an SE in my hand to see how they feel relatively speaking. But 12.4 mm Vs 12.7 mm = a difference of .3 mm in height. Same math, .6 mm different width and .13 mm in thickness. From the numbers, its hard for me to visualize there being any significant difference in real world feel. And 4.2 is still > than 4.0, though I guess it all depends on what's important to you.

    To me, overall the form factor seems essentially the same and as with all these endless debates, in the real world it comes down to personal preference.
  • name99 - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    I use both (6 vs 5) frequently. The difference in height, and the difference in edge curvature, are both noticeable, but I would not call one worse or better than the other (though I suspect the width of the 6 with hard edges would be noticeably unpleasant).
    For me at least, as a guy with big enough pockets and hands, Apple made the right call with the size of the 6. I remain curious as to whether the primary draw of the SE if the smaller screen size (or, more precisely, the smaller area for pockets and handbags) or the lower price --- I've never seen anything definitive either way.
  • qap - Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - link

    Thickness stopped being a limiting factor (for users, not for designers) some time ago. Thicker phone can even be more comfortable in hand. So there is no point in comparing volumes.
    That leaves footprint and 10% difference means they are direct competitors. In fact (as an example) I am thinking about buying one of them as they are closest to my ideal phone.
    Iphone SE is perhaps closer, but display and everything about display is really off-putting. You can fit 4,5" in the same footprint. Even 4,3" and it would be in my pocket already (it can be done - you can look at galaxy s4 mini). But 60% screen-to-body in 2016? And by 2016 standards it's not even a good display (low res, poor blacks).
  • Eden-K121D - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    They didn't even post a S7 review part-2 which was released much earlier than the iPhone SE yet the SE review comes first.Yawn. It has nothing new. Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    The review they did was sufficient to show you how much faster the SE is than the S7:
  • Impulses - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Different writers tho, IIRC, not that it's an excuse but it's not like they're purposely prioritizing the SE. Reply
  • whiteiphoneproblems - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    I love mine! Only (minor) issues are a rattling power button, and a funky auto-brightness that doesn't like turning on to lowest setting in a dark room (never had that problem in an iPhone before). Reply

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