The iPhone SE (2020) Review: A Reinvigorated Classicby Andrei Frumusanu on April 24, 2020 6:30 AM EST
First Thoughts & End Remarks
This very much has been a light-speed review for a phone that at the time of writing I’ve only received 23 hours ago now, but the iPhone SE is also a phone which many of us should actually be plenty familiar with.
There’s no doubt that Apple's choice of recycling the iPhone 8 design and housing is related to achieving the super low $399 cost of the iPhone SE. This is a manufacturing chain that has been pumping out hundreds of millions of these phones over the years and I imagine that re-using that machinery very much helps the affordability of the phone.
It’s a very familiar design, but it’s certainly no longer a modern one. Besides the actual price of the phone, I can imagine that for some the biggest selling point of the phone is that it’s so a small device compared to other contemporary options. Particularly for people attached to the iPhone and iOS ecosystem, the iPhone SE is the only option going forward if you’re after a small form-factor phone.
The iPhone SE’s display is in line with that of the iPhone 8, meaning it’s an excellent LCD panel with outstandingly good color calibration, although it’s no longer keeping up in terms of brightness and resolution with newer generation OLED phones.
Performance of the iPhone SE is arguably the very best part of the phone, and Apple’s choice to go with the new A13 chipset is an outright disruptive move in the $399 sector. In essence, Apple’s lowest-end phone right now outperforms all other Android flagships on the market, painting quite the stark contrast of the competitive situation of the silicon playing-field.
Camera performance of the iPhone SE was the biggest question mark for the phone, and the new SE delivers on its promises. In daylight pictures, there’s much better HDR and dynamic range characteristics, and Apple here is mostly able to match the compositions of the iPhone 11 in the vast majority of scenarios. Detail-wise, the phone is also extremely strong although slightly lagging behind the class-leading iPhone 11 cameras. Meanwhile colour temperature is still on the warmer side, similar to previous generation iPhones.
Low-light capture, whilst not explicitly tested in this piece today, is significantly improved for the new iPhone SE, massively upgrading the quality of shots compared to the iPhone 8. Whilst it doesn’t quite match the low-light ability of the iPhone 11 series, it’s a very respectable performer here given the lack of computational photography.
Overall, at the end of the day what the new 2020 iPhone SE represents is a $399 iPhone – and that’s a selling point all by itself. It’s a significantly better device than the now discontinued iPhone 8, for a cheaper price. You’re getting the best performance of any mobile device out there on the market – and the compromises in the screen, battery life and cameras are reasonable given the price of the phone.