Apple is not a brand you associate with quality, but the iPhone SE 2020 delivers exactly that. The phone features the A13 Bionic — the same chipset powering the iPhone 11 series — and it has an array of exciting features, including Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, IP67 rating, and even wireless charging.
Best part? Only $399 is the starting price for an iPhone SE. This is amazing when you consider what you get. Apple clearly targets mid-range Android smartphones with the latest release. With the latest slate of Android devices boasting robust hardware and large displays as well as long battery lives, the mid-range market has experienced a lot of growth over the past three years.
This trend is not being followed by the iPhone SE. It retains the same design as the iPhone 8’s chassis. This means that the phone has a 4.7-inch display and large bezels. The iPhone SE is ideal for single-handed usage. There’s also a physical home button with Touch ID — a rarity these days — and a solitary 12MP camera at the back. There’s also the guarantee that the iPhone SE gets at least 4 years’ worth of updates, something unheard-of on Android.
The iPhone SE clearly has many advantages. Its position in the value category invites comparisons with the numerous Android phones under $500. Let’s take a look at the iPhone SE 2020 and decide if it is worth your time to switch.
This review was written after I had used the iPhone SE for about a week in Hyderabad (India). The device came with iOS 13.4.1 and was updated to iOS 13.5 during my testing. It was also connected to Jio 4G. Android Central was provided with the unit by Apple India.
iPhone SE Display and design
The first thing that you will notice about the iPhone SE 2020 when you get it is in your hands is its size. Even compact phones are getting smaller and more narrower so the iPhone SE is an exceptional smartphone. Although the iPhone SE is only 3.8mm shorter than last year’s Galaxy S10e (which was released in May), it comes close. This phone is among the most compact in this market, at 138.4 x 67.3x 7.3mm.
Bezels are the second thing that you will notice. For the last three decades, Android manufacturers have been fighting for bezels. The result? You won’t see them on any of their devices. The Pixel 3a’s bezels are larger than those on the iPhone SE, although they appear chunky at the top and bottom.
Its compact size makes it ideal for single-handed usage.
You know what, though? After a while, I forgot about all the bezels. I went from the Xiaomi Mi 10 — which has a massive 6.7-inch screen — to the iPhone SE and its 4.7-inch panel, and it took a while to get used to the device. The iPhone SE measures 24.1mm smaller than the Mi 10. This is why it took some time to get used to the device.
Once I was used to its small size, I found that I enjoyed the phone more. A compact phone is an enjoyable experience. It’s a shame that there aren’t many of them. The Galaxy S10e was a great phone, and I love the iPhone. It’s a great phone to use in your hand, and it will be a good choice for anyone looking for a small smartphone in 2020.
The iPhone SE might not look the greatest, but the design has been sold in more than 500,000,000 units. This phone has an easy-to-use form factor. Sure, the design may be dated in 2020, but the fit and finish are top-notch — as you’d expect from an iPhone.
Let’s dive into the details. With an aluminum middle frame and a glass back, the iPhone SE is made of glass. A single-camera lens can be found at the rear in the top right corner. Only the Apple logo is visible on the back. All sides have rounded corners. The physical home button doesn’t actually function as a button. Instead, it acts as a touch-activated haptic sensor that allows for Touch ID. You will feel at home using the physical fingerprint sensor on the front. The sensor works well and is reliable.
The iPhone SE is available in three color options — black, white, and red — and all models feature an all-black front. The front and rear glass panes are coated with an oleophobic layer and reinforced with Gorilla Glass. To the right is the power button, while the volume and rockers are to the left. A dedicated toggle allows you to switch to silent mode. You’ll find two mics at the bottom — one inside each grille — and the primary speaker sits to the right of the Lightning port. Stereo sound is produced by the earpiece, which doubles as the secondary speaker. The 3.5mm port is absent on most 2020 phones.
Apple is smart to upgrade an existing design by adding new hardware. Apple saves money by not adding new machinery to its plants and because the design of the device isn’t necessarily new. It is probable that this was one of the reasons Apple chose to use its new A13 Bionic chipset for the device.
iPhone SE features a 4.7 inch IPS LCD screen with 1334×750 resolution. True Tone tech is built into the panel. It adjusts the white balance dynamically to match the surrounding light. The panel is small but makes a big difference.
The screen at 4.7 inches is bright and not as distracting as I expected.
The display is bright enough to be used outdoors and offers vivid colors with excellent contrast. You feel at home with the 16:9 ratio, which is why games and videos are so easy to use on your phone. There are large bezels but I didn’t find them to bother me as much. The bezels are not the only thing you will like about this device. There is no other compact phone that offers the same level of performance.
In the end, however, it feels like an old iPhone SE. The iPhone SE is a throwback, but it has the most recent internal hardware. It is a restored classic car with ceramic brakes and a new engine. If I may continue the car analogy here, the iPhone SE feels like the Eagle Speedster — a modern interpretation of the classic Jaguar E-Type that looks absolutely stunning. The iPhone SE is only half the price of a regular phone.
iPhone SE Battery and hardware life
The iPhone SE 2020 has the most notable feature, the A13 Bionic. This phone features the exact same chipset found in the iPhone 11 Series. It is huge. You can get the A13 Bionic mobile chipset on a phone starting at $400. To put things into context, the A13 Bionic pulls ahead of the Snapdragon 865, so the kind of performance that you get on the iPhone SE is unmatched — regardless of the price point.
Let me geek out about the A13 bionic. Built on a 7nm TSMC node, the chipset features six cores in a two + four cluster. You have two cores capable of delivering high performance at 2.66GHz and four cores that are energy efficient at 1.73GHz. Apple is the only company that controls the hardware as well as the software on its phones. This allows them to tweak their designs and get the best performance possible.
Apple’s ARM licensee status gives it greater flexibility in tailoring ARM cores for its specific needs. Qualcomm took a similar approach with the Kryo 280 Cores on its Snapdragon 820. But, in recent years, the company has moved to semi-customized design and made subtle changes to existing ARM processor cores. Qualcomm has returned to stock Cortex A77 cores with the Snapdragon 865.
Qualcomm and other vendors must cater to many devices. This means they can’t make the fine adjustments necessary to maximize performance. Apple is able to achieve this because the chipsets it uses are exclusively for Apple phones. This gives them a significant advantage. ARM wants to reduce the performance gap with its Cortex X1 Core, but it will have to see if that is possible in real-world conditions.
The iPhone SE ranks right up with Android’s best, as you can see from these figures. The iPhone SE is flawless in everyday use. And the A13 Bionic can handle everything, from simple tasks to complex titles. It only has 3GB of RAM but it is more than enough to run iOS. I didn’t notice any slowdowns.
Although the A13 Bionic’s novelty is impressive, that’s just one of many things the iPhone SE offers. Wi-Fi 6 connectivity is available, as well as Bluetooth 5.0 and Gigabit LTE. Apple Pay can also be used with NFC. Apple pioneered haptics with the iPhone SE, which has the same great engine as the iPhone 11 series.
When it comes to performance, the iPhone SE is unmatched by any other smartphone in its category.
You can choose from 64GB or 128GB storage options. For $549 you will also find the iPhone SE. The iPhone SE is IP67 water and dust-resistant. Outside of the Galaxy A8 series and other mid-range options from Samsung, there haven’t been many phones that offered water resistance — and as such it is nice to see that the iPhone SE has an IP rating. The phone can be submerged in water for up to 30 minutes, but it will not spit out coffee, tea, or other liquids.
Dual SIM connectivity is available on the iPhone SE. There’s also an eSIM option if you want to share your phone with multiple numbers. The iPhone SE is very reliable when it comes down to basic connectivity such as Wi-Fi, calls, and data.
The iPhone SE’s internal hardware received an upgrade, but the battery of 1821mAh is exactly the same as that in the iPhone 8. This means that the battery life is very average.
Average battery life for the iPhone SE, with a 5W charging cable included in the package.
The phone’s screen size of 1334×750 is helpful in extending the battery life. Additionally, the 7nm Bionic contributes to the device’s efficiency. The average screen-on-time for iPhone SE during my week was 4 1/2 hours. This is spread over several days. Although this is decent battery life, it won’t last very long under high usage.
It was obvious that I did not use the cellular data as frequently as I would for running errands. I also didn’t use it as often for navigation. iPhone SE works great for most everyday use, including streaming music and browsing social media. You will have to recharge the battery every day if your plans include marathon gaming sessions, binge-watching TV shows, or binging.
You get only a 5W charger with the iPhone SE. It takes over 2 hours for the charger to charge your phone fully. However, the iPhone SE has 18W fast charging. If you do not have an 18W USB PD fast-charging charger, you can get one here. You can charge the phone from 0 to 50% with an 18W charger in just 30 minutes. Wireless charging is available on the iPhone SE. You can also use an existing Qi wireless charger to charge your phone.
iPhone SE Camera
The iPhone SE’s camera features include a 12MP rear lens and a 7MP front camera. The 12MP camera, while it doesn’t offer the same versatility as a zoom or wide-angle lens, is still incredibly powerful. Apple claims that it is the most advanced single-lens camera system.
A single 12-megapixel camera can take great pictures and a 4K video can be shot at 60 frames per second.
Many of the recent improvements in the image quality are due to the inclusion of A13 Bionic. It offers portrait mode and portrait lighting effects, which allows for new AR applications. iPhone SE uses machine learning and Augmented Reality to identify real objects. For example, if you hold a cup of coffee and look through the viewfinder, it will be identified by the camera as such.
You can also get multi-band noise suppression, which preserves your natural skin colors and textures. The front camera has also been upgraded with a portrait mode that uses machine learning and A13’s neural engine to take selfies.
To produce great images, the iPhone SE’s camera uses the A13 Bionic ISP. You get shots with excellent dynamic range and great color vibrancy — particularly in daylight. The photos don’t look overexposed and there is no noise. Although the phone is very durable in low-light situations, you may see some noises in certain shots. With an excellent depth of field and edge detection, portrait photos turn out beautifully.
Smart HDR was added to the iPhone 11 and is now available in iPhone SE. It is capable of distinguishing between background and subject, thanks to AI-based semantic render. This allows the camera to preserve details, such as facial features, in low-light conditions.
Video recording is also improving. With the iPhone SE, you can record 4K video at 60fps and have stereo audio recorded. You also get slow-motion video, and the ability to take a video by holding down on the shutter button in photo mode — just like the iPhone 11 series. OIS, EIS with 4K video at 60fps is what makes video recording the iPhone SE stand out.
iPhone SE Software
It will take some getting used to switching from Android to iOS. You can install all apps from the app drawer directly on your home screen. And the way notifications are handled is different to Android — there’s no notification grouping, so the notification shade ends up looking rather busy. However, notifications can be dismissed in bulk.
iOS 13 is not easy to learn and there are very few customization options.
You will need to take some time getting used to iOS. This is due to the fact that you can access the toggles for Wi-Fi and adjust brightness by using a swipe-up gesture at the bottom of your screen. Control Center has a music widget that allows you to access flashlights, timers, and launch cameras. You can also scan QR codes and change things such as Wi-Fi Bluetooth and airplane mode.
You can customize the layout of the controls, add voice memos and alarm tiles, as well as change the background for the home and lock screens. In terms of customization, you’re limited to changing the background for the home and lock screens — there’s no option to install your own launcher or change the look of the icons with an icon pack. It can be a little bit more difficult to activate Google Assistant on iOS if you are using it a lot. First, you’ll have to invoke Siri, and then launch Google Assistant — the “Hey, Google” hotword detection does not work on iOS.
Next, there is the sharing menu. All installed apps don’t offer sharing options. You can transfer photos to your NAS from the phones you use using DS File. On Android phones, I simply choose the photos and then hit the Share button. From the list, I can select DS File. However, the iOS app is not listed in the share menu. To upload photos, I must go to DS File. The file manager has similar problems and it is more difficult to download files on iOS.
Although iOS may not offer many customization options, it has lots to offer in the other areas. My sister, who refused to use FaceTime or iMessage in the U.S., bought an iPhone XS Max instead because her friends all used iMessage.
There’s no need to panic here — the iPhone SE is a fantastic conduit for Google services.
iOS has many privacy protections. Safari offers Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which prevents browser fingerprinting. You also have better control over permissions and the ability to restrict access to hardware features such as Bluetooth. You’ll have fewer problems with iOS apps.
If you are like me, and you use Google services mostly, iOS will be a great choice. Google offers a full range of services that work as well on Android Android. Google Photos allows for easy keyboard switching to Gboard. You can also set up Google Photos as a backup of photos and videos. Google Home is able to manage your smart home device. Google Drive lets you store files and documents in the cloud.
Apple’s entire software ecosystem is also very impressive. Apple Music and Apple TV+ are just a few of the many services that Apple offers. And, as with all Apple products, an entire year’s access to Apple TV+ is yours for free when you buy an iPhone SE.
iOS software updates are what make it the most popular operating system. The iOS platform update guarantee gives you at least four years’ worth of software updates. This is twice as many updates as other Android phones. The iPhone SE is known for its ability to receive regular updates, thanks in large part to the A13 Bionic. This is a major problem for many middle-range Android devices. This isn’t a problem with iOS. With the iPhone 6s, which is five years old and running iOS 13 software updates, it is an area in which iPhones have a significant advantage.
iPhone SE Competition
There are many options for mid-range phones, but the best choice is the Pixel 3a XL which currently sells at $270. The Pixel 4a is not expected to be launched until July. Google’s mid-range 2019 offering will still offer great features and software.
The 6.7-inch Galaxy A71, which has the biggest screen and more powerful hardware in the category, is the best choice. For $365 you can get the 4G version. You do get quite a bit for your money.
You can also get the OnePlus 7T starting at $499 It comes with a high-resolution 90Hz display, a Snapdragon 855+ processor, and 8GB of RAM. You also get 128GB of storage. OxygenOS is clean and comes with decent cameras.
iPhone SE: Should You Buy It?
This new iPhone SE is packed with features. With all-new hardware and a familiar design, the iPhone SE delivers unparalleled performance. The camera takes amazing photos and has IP67 water and dust resistance.
The iPhone SE reduces barriers to Apple’s ecosystem. Apple created an appealing range of products that work with iPhones. Apple TV+, Apple Music, and Apple Arcade are all strong reasons to upgrade to iPhone.
Although the iPhone SE is one of 2020’s best offers, it’s still a great deal if you’re not ready to move to iOS.
The iPhone SE 2020 offers one of the most attractive deals this year. The device also has the potential to do particularly well in markets like India, where it is available for ₹42,500 ($560). While it may not have as much value in India, Apple’s brand is strong in that country. The iPhone SE also has A13 Bionic chipsets and will continue to receive updates for the next four-five years.
There’s another small point: iPhones are more durable than other devices, so you will get higher resale values than Pixels and similar mid-range models. This thing will sell very well, even if you don’t have an economics degree.
It’s up to you to decide whether to switch to iOS. You would probably have purchased a number of apps and subscribed to various services through the Play Store if you own an Android phone.
You might be reluctant to begin over again. The introduction of the iPhone SE will be a benefit to the whole industry. We’ll see Android companies releasing phones with different features that stand out within this market. A $400 smartphone with guaranteed four-year updates might be enough to push Android device manufacturers to provide more software updates.
My point is to emphasize that you can switch from iOS to Android if your investments are already substantial in the Android ecosystem. If you have had problems with Android phones in the past, and want to make a switch, there aren’t many smartphones that offer as much value today as the iPhone SE 2020.
If you like it, buy it
You rely on wireless charging
It’s not worth the money.
A large, high-resolution screen is required.