Apple iPhone SE vs iPhone 5S – is it worth the upgrade?

The news that Apple was going to launch a smaller 4in phone – the iPhone SE – came as no surprise to anyone at Apple’s spring event, but that it bore more than a passing resemblance to the nearly three-year-old iPhone 5s was a bit more of an eye-opener.

Apple iPhone SE vs iPhone 5S - is it worth the upgrade?

Given that the iPhone 5s is the handset many potential iPhone SE customers will be upgrading from, it will take a lot to persuade them to move to a new phone that looks identical to their old one.

To help you make that decision – whether to stick with your 4in phone or ignore the new handset and move up to a larger screen – here’s how the two phones compare with each other.

iPhone SE vs iPhone 5s: Design

Design-wise, there’s not an awful lot between the two, and this could be the undoing of the iPhone SE. The SE is a single gram heavier than the iPhone 5s, and the chamfered edges now have a matte finish instead of a gleaming exposed metal one, but otherwise the two handsets look precisely the same.

The volume buttons are circular, just like the 5s, the coloured insets at the top and bottom of the rear of the phones look the same, and all the detailing, from the speaker grilles to the strips that let the signal through to the antennae, is identical.

Yup, if you upgrade from your ageing iPhone 5s, you may not be able to tell the difference between the two, although the new handset will almost certainly look shinier and newer than your battered old iPhone 5s.

On the one hand, that’s not ideal, but by opting for a phone with exactly the same design as your old one, there are some positives. You won’t have to buy a new case for your phone for one – something to bear in mind.

Results: A draw

iPhone SE vs iPhone 5s: Display

The iPhone SE’s screen falls into the same category as the design. It’s basically the same as on the 5s.

Not that this is a bad thing. The iPhone 5s’ display was classed as a “Retina” display, and so is the 1,136 x 640 screen on the iPhone SE. It’s just as sharp, and likely will look pretty similar as well in terms of quality.

We won’t know the full story until we have one in our hands for testing, but one small snippet Apple let slip was that the screen of the iPhone SE will have a contrast ration of 800:1.

That’s a little lower than our measurement of the iPhone 5s, which came in at 972:1, and much lower than the iPhone 6s’ 1,542:1. Will this affect your enjoyment in using the phone? Probably not. Although 800:1 isn’t up with very best these days, it’s still more than respectable.

Result: A draw

iPhone SE vs iPhone 5s: Specifications and camera

So far you might be forgiven for wondering what on earth Apple is playing at, but get ready to have your expectations completely overturned, because the iPhone SE is a completely different animal when it comes to the internals.


That’s because the specifications match, almost blow for blow, what’s inside the flagship iPhone 6s, making the iPhone SE a hugely powerful smartphone. It has Apple’s latest smartphone processor – the Apple A9 – which remains one of the most powerful smartphone chips around, despite the best efforts of Apple’s rivals.

It has Apple’s latest smartphone processor – the Apple A9 – which remains one of the fastest smartphone chips around, despite the best efforts of Apple’s rivals. It also has the M9 coprocessor integrated on the chip, enabling the “hey Siri” wake-up phrase when the phone is in standby and disconnected from the mains.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Apple is transplanting the camera from the flagship iPhone 6s over to the iPhone SE, with its 12-megapixel resolution, f/2.2 aperture, 4K video and super-tough sapphire crystal lens cover.

Here are the full specifications compared, side by side:

iPhone SE

iPhone 5s





1,136 x 640 (326ppi)

1,136 x 640 (326ppi)


Apple A9

Apple A7




Rear camera

12MP, f/2.2, phase-detect autofocus, sapphire crystal lens cover

8MP, f/2.2, contrast-detect autofocus

Front camera






Extra features

Touch ID fingerprint sensor

Touch ID fingerprint sensor

Result: A big win for the iPhone SE

iPhone SE vs iPhone 5s: Prices and verdict

So there’s clear air between the two phones when it comes to raw specifications. In fact, the iPhone SE is out of sight of the 5s when it comes to its all-round capabilities.

What really counts, however, is the price. When the iPhone SE hits the shops later this month it won’t cost a fortune, and for what is essentially an iPhone 6s in a more compact package, that’s the critical thing.

It comes in at a price of only £359 for the 16GB edition (and £439 for the 64GB). That’s £180 less than the equivalent iPhone 6s, a difference that makes this little handset best-value iPhone Apple has ever released.

Even if the samey design of Apple’s new budget smartphone doesn’t do it for you, the bang for buck it offers should swing things its way. Fans of small-screened iPhones rejoice: the iPhone SE is well worth an upgrade.

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