Apple iPhone SE review: Good things still come in small packages

Price when reviewed

A small screen, but just as sharp

With a resolution of 1,136 x 640 pixels, the iPhone SE’s 4in display might appear as if it’s lagging way behind the new breed of Quad HD and 4K phones, but in fact it’s just as sharp as most. In fact, its display is precisely as sharp as the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s as the pixel density is exactly the same, at 326ppi. It’s not quite the match of its pricier cousins for overall quality, since images look a touch warmer and don’t ooze with the same level punch and contrast, but most people are unlikely to ever notice. 

Apple claims a maximum brightness of 500cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 800:1, but in our tests the iPhone SE actually did a darn sight better. It hit a maximum brightness of 577cd/m2, which is a tiny bit brighter than the iPhone 6s, and the contrast ratio soared past its claimed figures to 892:1. That contrast ratio is about half that of the iPhone 6s, but the iPhone SE makes amends by covering the same range of colours as the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and it’s just as accurate. Colours are bold and vivacious, and, since the iPhone SE covers 94.6% of the sRGB gamut with an average Delta E of 1.01, it’s perfectly balanced. It’s a superb small display.

Apple iPhone SE review: A tiny, beautiful, pixel-perfect 4in screen

A great camera

As someone who jumped straight from an iPhone 5c to an iPhone 6 Plus, the main thing (okay, one of several things) that bugged me about the iPhone 5c was the camera. It was okay, but nothing more. And even though the iPhone 6 Plus was a big step up, I’ve spent the past few months staring enviously at the snaps from my friends’ and colleagues’ iPhone 6s and 6s Plus phones – they’ve since been pipped by Samsung’s Galaxy S7 family, but they’re still great smartphone cameras in their own right.

“The iPhone SE is something of a pint-sized delight”

The iPhone SE, then, is something of a pint-sized delight. Selfie aficionados will be crestfallen to hear that Apple has stuck with a front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera, which is dramatically less sharp than the 5-megapixel snapper on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, but I’m not too bothered about that. At the rear, you get the same 12-megapixel camera found on those range-topping phones, as well as the self-same True Tone flash. The only thing lacking is the optical image stabilisation from its bigger brother, the iPhone 6s Plus.

Apple iPhone SE review: The iPhone 6s camera in an iPhone 5s body

The results, as you’d imagine, are routinely great. Like most smartphone cameras, the small sensor begins to struggle as the lights go down, but it’s still one of the best smartphone cameras you can get – and now it comes in a teeny, tiny package. Photos teem with detail and natural, lifelike colours, and, as long as you don’t expect too much in low light, the 4K video quality is astonishingly good. I’ve made more than a few short videos in dingy gigs and nightclubs only to be pleasantly surprised at just how well the iPhone SE’s tiny camera manages to cope. 

Is it as good as the Samsung Galaxy S7? No. But where other manufacturers go overboard with the image enhancement, leaving images smeared with noise reduction and edge sharpening artefacts, the iPhone SE just goes about its business quietly and unobtrusively. Images do look a little soft as a result, but there are no obvious image nasties, and the little iPhone SE fares surprisingly well even in dim conditions. Don’t believe me? Check out the handful of test photographs below.

Features and connectivity

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the iPhone SE is barely lacking anything in the way of connectivity – you get 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC and LTE for high-speed 4G. Delve deeper, however, and there are some crucial differences. 

For starters, unlike the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, the iPhone SE doesn’t have support for LTE Advanced networks. This means that, once the UK mobile carriers upgrade their 4G networks, the iPhone SE will be limited to a theoretical peak download speed of 150mbps – which is half that of a 4G LTE Advanced connection. Given that most people will never see such speeds on even the best 4G networks, this is unlikely to prove a limitation. 

The Wi-Fi also marks a slight downgrade on its pricier cousins. Just like the original iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the iPhone SE lacks the MIMO antennas of the latest models, so it loses out a little for speed and range. In fact, even though theoretically it shares the same 802.11ac tech as my old iPhone 6 Plus, it gave a noticeably poorer connection with my Wi-Fi router. While the iPhone 6 Plus worked around 3 metres into my garden, clinging on with one bar of usable Wi-Fi, the iPhone SE dropped the connection before I even got out the kitchen door. 

Buy the Apple iPhone SE now from Argos

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