Apple iPhone SE review: Good things still come in small packages
iPhone 6s performance in an iPhone 5s body
You’ve got to hand it to Apple – taking the powerful A9 processor from its top-end phones and cramming it into the tiny iPhone SE is something of an engineering feat. And if you suspected that it would be a cut-down, half-pint imitation of its bigger brothers, you would be wrong: the iPhone SE matches its pricier stablemates blow for blow. No matter what apps I’ve tested the iPhone SE with, it’s sliced through them with silky smoothness – this is a tiny phone with the heart of a giant. If you’re the kind of smartphone user who gets easily annoyed by jerky animations and regular pauses as you open or switch between applications, then the iPhone SE will be right up your proverbial lightning socket.
As you can see in the Geekbench 3 tests below, it even nudges slightly ahead of the iPhone 6s, and I suspect this is due to the presence of iOS 9.3 – our iPhone 6s results came from a model running on iOS 9.1.
Gaming performance is, unsurprisingly, pretty great. GFXBench’s offscreen tests see the iPhone SE matching its Apple compatriots, but it edges ahead in the onscreen tests, thanks to its lower screen resolution. If you want a phone that’s pocketable and seriously powerful, the iPhone SE doesn’t have much competition.
Small in stature, big on battery life
“This is a tiny but impressively long-lasting phone”
At the time of writing, I haven’t had time to run the full gamut of day-to-day use tests, but the iPhone SE is already looking to be longer-lasting than any of the iPhone family. This is no doubt partly due to the smaller, lower-resolution screen, which means that the A9 processor doesn’t have to work as hard to power through iOS 9.3’s silky-smooth screen animations.
After running through our usual video-rundown test, with the screen brightness dimmed to 170cd/m2 and Airplane mode enabled, the iPhone SE’s battery kept trucking for well over 16 hours. That’s significantly longer than any of its family members, and not far behind the larger Samsung Galaxy S7. Going by the other reviews on the web, it seems everyone else is getting very similar results. This is a tiny but impressively long-lasting phone.
Accessories & cases
Already got an iPhone 5s in your pocket? Then you’re in luck: all the existing iPhone 5s cases will fit the iPhone SE without any hassle or customisation whatsoever. Simply bung your old phone on eBay and pop your shiny new iPhone SE in your old case. A further benefit of a battered old case is that no-one (and particularly not any iPhone-coveting ne’er-do-wells) will be able to notice that you’re actually holding one of Apple’s newest phones.
If it really is time for a new case for your iPhone SE, then you could do much worse than shell out £29 on Apple’s iPhone SE Leather Case. This is actually a whole £6 cheaper than the old iPhone 5s case, but it’s no less lovely. Bear in mind that it only comes in Black and Midnight Blue colours, though, so it’s not the best choice for complimenting a Rose Gold iPhone SE.
Still, fashion quibbles aside, the iPhone SE that Apple sent for review has lived in the case for the last few months and it’s been great. The case stays put unless you make a concerted effort to remove it, and after sending the iPhone SE floorward on one too many occasions it’s made sure that the phone bounces rather than breaks. I’d still invest in a screen protector just in case, but the case will take the worst of most falls. The lip around the case’s edge stops the screen from hitting the ground if it falls face down on an even surface – and that’s saved my iPhone SE from permanent disfigurement on more than one occasion.
Existing accessories will also continue to work with the iPhone SE, too. For instance, I found a dusty olloclip 3-in-1 lens at the bottom of my drawer and it works perfectly with the new iPhone. In tandem with the iPhone SE’s upgraded camera, the olloclip’s multiple lenses open the door to a variety of creative photographic possibilities: you get 180-degree fisheye, wide-angle and ultra-closeup macro modes to play with. And even if, like me, you haven’t got one lying in your drawer, you can pick one up for £50 over at Amazon.co.uk. It’s a lot of fun.
Is this the biggest iPhone bargain yet?
I’m a dedicated follower of big-phone fashion, but months after I first tried the iPhone SE, I still haven’t gone back to my iPhone 6 Plus. I’ve often wished for a smaller phone when I’m cramming my outsized phone into a cycling jersey or leaving the house without a jacket, and the iPhone SE has delivered exactly what I wanted.
It’s small, but as powerful as anyone could need it to be; the battery life exceeds even Apple’s plus-sized handsets; and the screen, camera and all-round quality should be enough to seduce almost anyone who’s in the market for a smaller phone. And the fact that I routinely forget it’s even in my jeans pocket makes a lovely change from the litany of 5in+ phones that I’ve had – it’s a phone that’s there when I need it, but almost invisible when I don’t.
The clincher is the price. While I’d happily ignore the £359 16GB model, the 64GB model for £439 is very reasonably priced indeed, at least by the standard of most high-end smartphones.
This isn’t the most alluringly high-tech device that Apple has ever created – you’ll have to wait for the next iPhone if that’s what you’re after – but I suspect many people won’t care in the slightest. The iPhone SE is a tiny phone with the heart of a giant.
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