Apple has officially announced the new iPhone SE, a lower-cost iPhone that starts at $649 for a version with 64GB of storage. It has the same basic shape and looks like the iPhone 8, which means it has a 4.7-inch screen, large bezels on the top and bottom, and a home button with Touch ID. It’s a design that has stayed consistent since the iPhone 6, which makes the iPhone SE virtually the fifth generation of that same look. Apple knows this design well.
The iPhone SE is essentially an iPhone 8 with a better camera and processor — and a lower price tag. Although it’s a relatively old design, this iPhone SE has Apple’s A13 Bionic chip, the same that’s available in the latest iPhone 11 and 11 Pro models. The A13 Bionic processor, which is bar-none the fastest processor you can get on any smartphone at any price.
That should ensure that it has a much longer lifespan than the iPhone 8 model that it’s replacing in Apple’s lineup, which had an A11 chip from 2017. There won’t be a plus-sized version of the second-generation iPhone SE, but the iPhone 8 Plus will continue to be sold in certain markets.
The processor also lets the new iPhone SE gain some new camera features. There’s a single 12-megapixel camera lens on the back (along with a flash). Apple says it’s using the A13 Bionic’s chips to improve its Smart HDR photography, which combines multiple shots into a single photo to enhance lighting and detail.
It also has a portrait mode with technology Apple calls “monocular depth sensing.” It uses machine learning to detect depth and faces — which, unfortunately, means that it will only work on people, not pets. It includes optical image stabilization, and Apple says it can do “cinematic” stabilization on video as well as support 4K video at 60fps. The front-facing selfie camera is 7-megapixels, and it can also do portrait mode effects.
Many of the new second-generation iPhone SE parts are identical to the iPhone 8. It should have about the same battery life as the iPhone 8 (but no word on exact battery size). Apple says that cases designed for the iPhone 8 will work fine on the SE. It has Apple’s 4.7-inch IPS LCD Retina display with True Tone colour. It sounds as though it’s the same display as what’s on the iPhone 8.
That’s not a problem from a quality perspective. This IPS display is well-known and well-regarded, but it does mean that people who were holding out for a smaller phone are out of luck. Apple says that this is the most popular screen size it has ever sold — 500 million devices and counting — and that’s part of the reason it’s using this screen size now.
It only comes with a dinky 5W charger in the box, though it can support 18W fast charging if you have the right adapter. It uses a Lightning connector for charging, of course, and it will also support Qi wireless charging. There is no headphone jack, but it will come with Lightning headphones in the box.
Rounding out some of the other modernized specs, it supports Wi-Fi 6, Gigabit LTE, and dual-SIMs. (The second one is an eSIM, however.) It also supports Haptic Touch, which is Apple’s replacement for 3D Touch, amounting to a long press with haptic feedback.
The 2020 iPhone SE is another major smartphone release coming in the midst of the pandemic. The SE’s lower cost and Touch ID sensor may have slightly more appeal than usual, especially as people realize that they’ll be wearing masks more often. Apple noted that it believes that people depend on their phones more than ever right now, but there’s no getting around the fact that its physical stores are closed. Apple’s website and app offer good customer support, but it remains to be seen what the appetite for new phones will be right now. Best Buy will be offering curbside pickup at locations where that is available.
The iPhone SE looks like an outstanding deal overall. It’s a $400 phone with what appears to be a strong camera and the very same processor that’s in Apple’s most expensive iPhones. As noted above, that means a phone purchased today should be getting software updates for many years to come.
Deciding whether it’s a good phone will have to wait for a full review, but I suspect more than a few people who have been waiting for this phone will be a little disappointed. The original iPhone SE from 2016 is beloved in part because it was so small compared to most other smartphones. It had the same design as the iPhone 5 — and while that screen is tiny by today’s standards, it also still feels like a more natural size for some. Apple stopped selling the original SE in 2018.
For people who thought the iPhone 6, iPhone 7, and iPhone 8 were too large, the second-generation iPhone SE is unlikely to change their minds. But phone screens are all going to be big from now on, which makes 4.7 inches the new small.