The perfect mix of old and new
The original iPhone SE was released in 2016 and for its compact form-factor and it created a huge fan following to pack the new SoC for that time. Four years later, fans of Apple’s mobile devices are once again waiting for a compact smartphone. There were endless rumors surrounding the possible release of an updated iPhone SE that added fuel to the fire. Given the reason for the iPhone 11 Pro and its larger variants as a down-payment in a small car, Apple really needed to reveal something that would entice customers to help the company increase its market share, especially in India. Well, the iPhone SE 2020 has finally arrived here, it has gone through our testing process and it has definitely impressed us. The best way to summarize this new iPhone is that it is a very impressive combination of iPhone 11 and iPhone 8. Read on to find out why.
Apple iPhone SE performance
One big concern with a budget iPhone was that Apple could use an older SoC to get it. It is not, and is powered by the iPhone SE 2020 A13 Bionic, available in the same SoC iPhone 11 series. Early benchmarks show that the iPhone SE had lower benchmark scores than other A13 bionic-powered devices, suggesting that Apple could downlock the chip in some way. As it turns out, the simple reason is that the iPhone SE 2020 comes with 3GB RAM while the 11 Series sports 4gigs RAM. This brings the benchmark scores slightly lower than we saw in the 1st series, however, they are still very close, as you can see from the graphs below.
Apple has a track record in many things, consistently showing the irrelevance of benchmarks. While gaming on the iPhone SE, we clocked 59 fps on both PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty Mobile while the Asphalt 9 runs at a rock-solid 60fps. While Gamebench Call of Duty Mobile reports 93 percent frame stability, both Asphalt 9 and PUBG Mobile run with 99 percent frame rate stability. Gamers are lucky to find a reason to complain about the performance of this phone.
As an everyday driver, I moved from an iPhone 11 Pro to an iPhone SE and the experience was virtually no different. Switching apps, switching from photo editing to Adobe Literoom Mobile, and moving to CoD Mobile was fast, with Apple now using NVMe-based storage for a while, apps loading much faster.
The iPhone SE 2020 is a modern day smartphone that fits every performance metric. What you expect to be able to do on iPhone 11 Pro, you can do on iPhone SE. Performance is certainly not a compromise on Apple’s part, it’s something you can be sure of.
Apple iPhone SE display
Take a look at the iPhone SE 2020 and you’ll see an iPhone 8. That means you’ll get a 4.7-inch display with a thick top and bottom bezel. Packed on a 4.7-inch panel, the 750 x 1334 resolution gives the display a pixel density of 326 ppi, which is enough for a very enjoyable viewing experience, and yes, it’s an IPS LCD panel.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the iPhone SE’s display is that it supports HDR content playback from Netflix and other sources. Apple’s color management takes care of changing the profile between DCI-P3 and sRGB depending on the content on the display. Regardless of what you see on the display, a movie, a picture or even a game play, visual acuity is very good for accurate color reproduction. The iPhone, recorded by our Lux meter, has a maximum brightness of about 600 lux and can drop to 2 lux for easy viewing in the dark.
Apple iPhone SE camera
This is probably an area where you are going to feel that Apple has done more. The iPhone SE 2020 comes with a camera stack that is similar to the on-paper, iPhone 8. You have a 12-megapixel shooter with f / 1.8 aperture and OIS on the back. On the front, a 7-megapixel camera with f / 2.2 aperture. The rear camera can shoot in 4K and is also capable of shooting 1080p video at 240fps like the 11-Series. What you don’t get is Night Mode, a feature that only lasts for the latest iPhone. Given the limited hardware, let’s see what kind of picture you can expect from it.
Disclaimer: All of the images shown below have been resized for the web and their quality has been reduced. For full-size, straight-out camera images, you can view them in our Flickr gallery.
Shooting during the day
The daytime performance of the iPhone SE is actually surprisingly good. Smart HDR algorithms work on the iPhone SE which is of course one of the reasons for the significantly improved dynamic range in daytime photos taken from the iPhone SE. What stuck out as impressive was maintaining the level of detail in the photos. Photography is a quick experience, with no shutter lag and very little time between shots. You can see some samples below.
100% crop in the photo above
Low light photography
The iPhone SE does not have night mode and this is an area where you will definitely feel a pinch. Shooting things indoors isn’t so bad, as the camera manages to capture decent exposure. However, if you are shooting outdoors at night, the camera will fight the dynamic range, but it is given for a camera sensor that does not have the new age pixel binning magic. The price to pay for almost noise-free images in low light is the details that are lost when applying noise reduction algorithms.
The iPhone SE offers portrait mode as an alternative, but only works with the human face. This is the same technique employed by the iPhone XR, called Monocular Vision. The sensor has a dual pixel AF, whose lenses see things almost like the human eye and from there take machine learning. Unfortunately, this only works with the human face and manages to do a decent job of separating the subject from the background. Hair separation is still a difficult thing to achieve, but unless your hair is tangled like you were hit by a stray electric wire, it should be able to keep things clean.
The iPhone SE 2020 has an 1814mAh battery. It supports fast charging like the 11 Series and comes with wireless charging. Although there is no fast charger in the box. In our video loop test, we found that the iPhone SE could last less than 6 hours with the brightness set to the maximum, Wi-Fi turned on, and Bluetooth turned off. Playing 15 minutes on CoD Mobile consumes 6 percent of our battery while a 30-minute modified carbon streaming from Netflix imposes a 7 percent penalty on battery life, although in this case the brightness has not turned out to be the maximum.
Construction and design
The compact form factor of iPhone SE is absolutely amazing. The iPhone SE is an absolute boon for those who have small hands. It is easy to use with a single hand. The return of TouchID is a blessing in disguise in the time of coronavirus where opening a mask is nothing but a hindrance. It works just as fast and works well with wet fingers. The volume buttons are on the left side of the phone, within easy reach, like the power button on the right. The all-glass construction of the phone makes it a bit slippery and if you place the phone on a slanted surface it will slide, especially if it starts to vibrate. After two years of thicker iPhones, it is better to finally get a compact model.
iPhone SE 2020 fixes a lot. Performance depends on money and the form-factor is something that has been liked and appreciated by many in the old iPhone era. It brings the right mix of all features for a price point, such as an HDR display, IP67 rating and of course, the A13 Bionic SoC. While a single camera may seem inadequate, at this price point every other smartphone offers at least two cameras. The camera isn’t even Sport Night mode, but it does come with portrait mode. While the iPhone SE Excel, the cost of accessing the Apple ecosystem is relatively low. Prices for the iPhone SE start at Rs 42,500, but many retailers are offering cashback and discounts, further lowering the price. Anyone who wants to get into the Apple Bandwagon, but feels that the new iPhones are too expensive, and the older generations do not support the price, the iPhone SE is right for you. If you have an older iPhone, such as the iPhone 5s or even an older iPhone SE, upgrading to a newer one will definitely improve the leaps and bounds in terms of experience. The only pain point would be the lack of multiple cameras.