Review: Apple's new iPhone SE is blazing fast and worth the cost, despite the tiny screen

The Apple iPhone SE
It may look unlike any other new iPhone on the market, but is that a bad thing? Photo credit: Newshub

As someone who likes their tech big and bold, the prospect of the small iPhone SE really doesn't do all that much for me.

But knowing Apple has stuffed its fastest smartphone chip yet in its cheapest offering changes things.

So how does the new mid-range phone stand up against other phones and is it something you should be looking to buy?

I've been using Apple's iPhone SE for around a week now and here are my thoughts.

The good

Hello TouchID, my friend!

It's been a few years since my iPhone had a home button and, if rumours are to believed, it'll be a while longer before Apple offers under-display TouchID as many Android phones already do.

I had forgotten just how quick and useful it is. 

The latest iOS update removed some of the inconvenience of relying on FaceID in a world with facemask requirements, with an upgrade making it quicker to access the COVID scanner and my Apple Pay details.

But it's still slower than TouchID on the SE. With this I can press my thumb to the home button and it instantly wakes up the screen and scans my thumb and unlocks in one movement.

Not so for the iPhone 13 Pro Max. I have to touch the screen or a button first to wake it up and then swipe up before FaceID takes over.

And boy, the SE is fast. I was a little surprised during Apple's 'Peek Performance' event that the company revealed it would be running the flagship A15 Bionic chip, the same one that's in the current iPhone 13 range.

The Apple iPhone SE
Photo credit: Newshub

It'll also still power the non-Pro versions of the iPhone 14 phones too, if early rumours are confirmed.

It means there's never a delay when opening apps, no noticeable delay when multi-tasking and a phone that's going to be entirely usable for many years to come. Gaming is also a pleasure with the new SE - presuming you've got good eyesight. More on that shortly.

It also unlocks additional photo features - despite the camera hardware not getting an upgrade from the previous edition - including Smart HDR 4, Deep Fusion and Photographic Styles.

You might be stuck with a single 12 MP wide lens on the back and a 7 MP selfie camera on the front, but that's no excuse not to take good photos. Portrait mode on the front camera is particularly great at bringing the focus on the person and not the background.

Deep Fusion uses multiple exposures and pixel by pixel decides which to use based on details, textures and patterns to create a single image of the best quality.

It's pretty hard to say just how effective it is because it happens automatically, but for a phone with only a single camera on the rear, I was very happy with the shots it took.

Photographic Styles are a bit cooler, no pun intended. You can choose from rich contrast, vibrant, warm or cool modes and the phone will keep skies and skin tones natural while adjusting the other colours.

For both video and photos, optical image stabilisation is used and if you're someone who likes to take home videos then you can record 4K videos at 24 fps, 25 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps and 1080p at 25 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps.

Cinematic or ProRes video recording is reserved for the more expensive phones only, I'm afraid.

The phone also brings 5G to the SE range for the first time as well as both wireless and fast charging.

The battery life isn't exceptional, which isn't a surprise given how small the package really is; but the A15 Bionic chip helps there again and it's more than good enough to last a day and longer.

Apple claims an extra two hours of video watching compared to the last generation SE for a total of 15 hours, and you can use Qi wireless charging to keep it juiced up - although MagSafe isn't supported.

The Apple iPhone SE
Photo credit: Newshub

It can be charged to 50 percent battery in 30 minutes if a 20W power adapter is used and you're in a hurry.

As is to be expected from the majority of new phones these days, it's IP67 rated for dust and water, meaning it should be fine submerged in water up to 1m deep for half an hour - so wine and beer spills should prove no issue.

It's also ridiculously light. As someone used to bigger phones, picking the SE up really does feel like a blast from the past.

Its classic, compact form means you don't need giant pockets or handbags to carry it about, and while that's not necessarily something I worry about, I know others do.

The bad

There are just a few niggles with the new iPhone SE.

While the size and styling may be considered classic, it also hasn't evolved from the previous version and to some that may just seem old.

The screen is a paltry 4.7-inches in size, with a resolution of 1334x750 pixels. The Retina HD LCD screen is clear and bright but whether it's because I'm so used to big screens or my eyesight has got so much worse, I just found it too small for my liking.

The Apple iPhone SE
Photo credit: Newshub

It may be able to run new games without any flaws, but for games designed to work on bigger screens, it's not a great experience. The puzzle games I used to pass my time while watching television were generally fine, I'm pleased to say.

The base model also comes with just 64GB of storage. For nanas and grandads who just like to share photos of their grandkids and don't have hundreds of downloaded music playlists, that might be good enough.

It just seems a little stingy in 2022 to be only offering 64GB. You can pay extra for more, of course.

The last thing is there's no night mode in-camera. While you may see improvements thanks to the AI processing with the A15 Bionic chip, if taking photos at night is important to you then again this could be a dealbreaker.

The verdict

Considering it's price, I just don't think it's possible to dislike the new iPhone SE, despite some of its failings.

The moment I picked up its light shell I had a flashback to the very second I knew I had to get an iPhone for the very first time.

The Apple iPhone SE
Photo credit: Newshub

Although not identical by any means, there's enough similarity there to my first iPod Touch that a wave of nostalgia flowed over me. Oh, to be young and have a good head of hair again.

As someone who prides themselves on having the latest and greatest tech, there's no chance this phone is for me. But I think it can offer a similar experience as my iPod Touch for someone who's currently outside the Apple ecosystem and looking for a relatively cheap way in.

The greatest compliment I can give the iPhone SE is that if I was buying an Apple device for my mum, it would unquestionably be this one.

As long as she can look at pictures she takes and receives she's not going to worry about the lack of ultra-wide lens or 120Hz refresh rates.

It has everything great about the iPhone but in a much cheaper package - starting at just $799 in Aotearoa - and with the A15 Bionic chip it is going to be good for years to come.

It's not a phone you downgrade to. But it's a phone that's going to sell incredibly well and it's not hard to see why.


Newshub was supplied with an iPhone SE for this review.