Over the last three or four years the smartphone market has entered a cycle of relentless progress that bounds forward in gluts of increased megapixels and ballooning screen size. In general, anything that isn’t getting bigger is seen as an abject failure on the part of whatever company is putting it out. As much sense as it makes to get as much from your device as possible, there’s also a very real possibility that the current trend of bigger phones, attempting to do the job of both a smartphone and a tablet, may result in premium phones that compromise on the usual compact mobility offered by a smartphone.
With the release of the iPhone 6/S/Plus, Apple relented and fell in line with the inevitable demand for a smartphone with a bigger screen. However, the release of the iPhone SE is likely to attract phone users that find a smaller form factor more appealing. While tech junkies itching for some kind of OS innovation, screen size boost or another gimmicky camera addition might be disappointed with the SE; more practically-minded buyers may be quite fond of what the iPhone SE has to offer. We’re going to have a look at just what the iPhone SE delivers, and hopefully you’ll get a better indication of whether or not it’s an option you should be considering.
First things first, the SE’s aesthetic has garnered a lot of divisive attention. Simply put, it is for all intents and purposes a carbon copy of the iPhone 5S body with minor differences in cosmetic detail, such as a different finish on the edges.
To the untrained and even the familiar eye, though, the only overt indication that what’s in front of you is an iPhone SE and not a 5S is the branding on the back of the phone declaring it as an SE model. Now, many were disappointed that Apple decided to rehash an old design instead of providing a fresh package for their supposed budget iPhone, which is understandable. With that being said, many iPhone users cite the 5S as their favourite iPhone design, even trumping the recent 6 and 6S models that established a serious departure from the 5 by introducing rounded edges and a far slimmer profile.
It’s likely to come down to personal preference in terms of design, but suffice it to say that the flat-edged design that the SE shares with the 5S is somewhat iconic for a reason. It fits easily in the hand due to its compact dimensions and is pleasant and secure to handle by virtue of its flat edges. Dated and uncreative or functional and iconic – that will be up to each individual to decide.
The screen will be a sticking point for many interested parties, and that’s a criticism the SE cannot escape nor dance around. The departure from 4-inch screens occurred a while ago, and Apple were fashionably late to the party attended primarily by high-end Android devices. The iPhone 6/6S both feature 4.7-inch screens, while competing flagship Android devices like the Samsung S7 or the Huawei P9 boast screen sizes in excess of 5-inches corner to corner. Additionally, the screen is still essentially the same backlit LED configuration found on the 5S (And the 6/6S too, for that matter), which is admittedly dated technology when compared to the AMOLED screens used
in many Android devices.
It is rumored that Apple will be updating their screen types with the release of the iPhone 7, but at the moment the basic LED screens used in the SE and the 6/6S leave something to be desired in terms of sophistication when compared to the flagships from large Android-based brands. For the tech junkies, the SE has the same 326ppi pixel density found on the 6/6S but across a 640 x 1136 resolution screen. These numbers are quite honestly dwarfed by Samsung’s 577ppi across 1440 x 2560 pixels found on the new S7. While there’s nothing disappointing about the SE’s screen, if directly compared to competing handsets the differences will become readily apparent.
Moving onto to some of the nuts and bolts hidden beneath the exterior – this is where the iPhone SE is likely to win potential customers over. While its visual aspects leave room for debate and its screen is arguably dated, its technical specifications are far more cut and dry in terms of their efficiency.
It features the same processor as the flagship iPhone 6S – Apple’s A9 chip, which offers incredibly smooth and responsive navigation of any stock apps as well as whatever higher stress apps you can throw at it like 3D games. General usage is a breeze and alternating between all your open apps is comfortable with the 2GB of RAM, also identical to the 6S model. In fact, due to the smaller screen profile requiring less power the chipset found on the SE performs almost identically to the 6S, perhaps even slightly faster in certain tasks. Apple is diligent with their iOS upgrades and the SE has the hardware to easily cope with whatever updates Apple puts out to upgrade the stock iOS 9.3 that the SE ships with.
At this point the takeaway from the SE might be that it’s a 6S in a shrunken body – which isn’t far from the truth, but there are a couple of features that have been down-graded in the SE from the 6S. Firstly, the front-facing camera is a very modest 1.3MP sensor, likely to disappoint selfie-aficionados to no end – especially when compared to the superior 5MP sensor found on the 6S. The SE also lacks the 3D touch functionality that allows for more dynamic menu navigation – which not necessarily a deal breaker but it is worth noting. The main camera however is effectively the same 12MP sensor found on the 6S and performs incredibly well, coping with anything from the 240FPS slow-mo to 4K video and takes great stills – easily comparable to the 6S’s performance in this regard. The main feature that it lacks is Optical Image Stabilization, which is noticeable when compared with the 6S.
After a couple of weeks of use there aren’t any complaints that spring to mind, although I could see the 16GB entry storage size being bothersome for those who cram their phones full of media. Apple’s stubborn insistence on releasing phones without microSD card slots continues with the SE, making the 16GB version a tad on the restricted side. Bar the cramped storage the iPhone SE is every bit the flagship phone in terms of performance, no tasks have caused any lag or difficulty, irrespective of how many tasks it’s given to juggle simultaneously. The primary reason why the iPhone SE will or won’t be a good option for you is dependent on a key concept – function. And by this I mean what you’re likely to use the phone for most and what your smartphone habits are.
The trend for smartphones to blur the line between many devices is continuing strongly, with flagships like the Samsung S7 seemingly doing a good job of offering a good digital camera, a good multimedia playback device as well as all the functionality of a small PC with a large screen. If you’re someone that’s going to be watching feature films, storing cartloads of media, and pushing the hardware of your phone to the limit, then the iPhone SE is unlikely to hit the levels of capability you need. However, if you’re someone who has several devices already, like a laptop, tablet and digital camera and you require outstanding baseline functionality from your smartphone, then the iPhone SE offers an impressively dynamic set of features at a strangely competitive price for the Cupertino based tech firm.
Rather than being an “entry” level iPhone, it’s closer to being a smaller 6S that shaves screen size but also almost a third of the price. It has a great camera, the processing power to stay relevant for longer than the standard 2 year lifespan we’ve grown accustomed to, and it remains rather competitive in most aspects unrelated to screen size or gimmicky innovations required to differentiate one iteration of a flagship to the next. Simply put, the SE is a flagship engine in a modest body – anyone requiring a thoroughly capable phone in compact form could very well benefit from giving the SE a closer look.
What do you think of the iPhone SE? Let us know in the comments section below and tweet us @MenStuffZA!