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Apple iPhone SE (2020) review – Affordable iPhone Becomes a Reality

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On April 15 Apple introduced a new version of the iPhone SE. Before the presentation, many expected something more modern, but the miracle did not happen and the guys from Cupertino went along the well-trodden path. Why am I not surprised? Probably because the previous version of the SE 2016 was based on the iPhone 5, presented back in 2012. Now the story is repeating itself, as the new version of SE is based on the iPhone 8, released in 2017.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

By the way, the iPhone 8 was taken as a basis for a reason, because this particular series became obsolete faster than any of the Apple smartphones in its history. A few minutes after the presentation of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, Apple showed off the iPhone X, which had a completely new design. This historical background is important, as it helps to understand the company’s decision.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

Where to buy:

Apple iPhone SE (2020) specs

Currently, Apple sells the iPhone 11, the 11 Pro/Pro Max, the iPhone XR and the iPhone SE. The latter is the newest, and the XR is more than a year old, although its hardware is still relatively fresh, because the current chips for the iPhone are A13 Bionic, while the XR has A12 Bionic. Inside the newest and the most affordable smartphone from Apple there is a top-end A13 Bionic chip. Seems like a logical solution, but let’s look at the specs again.

NETWORK Technology GSM / CDMA / HSPA / EVDO / LTE
2G bands GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
3G bands HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700(AWS) / 1900 / 2100
4G bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 32, 34, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 46, 48, 66
Speed HSPA 42.2/5.76 Mbps, LTE-A (5CA) Cat16 1024/150 Mbps, EV-DO Rev.A 3.1 Mbps
LAUNCH Announced 2020, April 15
Status Available. Released 2020, April 24
BODY Dimensions 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm (5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 in)
Weight 148 g (5.22 oz)
Build Glass front, glass back, aluminum frame
SIM Nano-SIM and/or eSIM
IP67 dust/water resistant (up to 1m for 30 mins)
Apple Pay (Visa, MasterCard, AMEX certified)
DISPLAY Type Retina IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size 4.7 inches, 60.9 cm2 (~65.4% screen-to-body ratio)
Resolution 750 x 1334 pixels, 16:9 ratio (~326 ppi density)
Protection Ion-strengthened glass, oleophobic coating
Wide color gamut
True-tone
625 nits max brightness (advertised)
PLATFORM OS iOS 13
Chipset Apple A13 Bionic (7 nm+)
CPU Hexa-core (2×2.65 GHz Lightning + 4×1.8 GHz Thunder)
GPU Apple GPU (4-core graphics)
MEMORY Card slot No
Internal 64GB 3GB RAM, 128GB 3GB RAM, 256GB 3GB RAM
NVMe
MAIN CAMERA Single 12 MP, f/1.8 (wide), PDAF, OIS
Features Quad-LED dual-tone flash, HDR, panorama
Video 4K@24/30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/120/240fps, HDR, OIS, stereo sound rec.
SELFIE CAMERA Single 7 MP, f/2.2
Features Face detection, HDR, panorama
Video 1080p@30fps; gyro-EIS
SOUND Loudspeaker Yes, with stereo speakers
3.5mm jack No
COMMS WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6, dual-band, hotspot
Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, LE
GPS Yes, with A-GPS, GLONASS
NFC Yes
Radio No
USB 2.0, proprietary reversible connector
FEATURES Sensors Fingerprint (front-mounted), accelerometer, proximity, gyro, compass, barometer
Siri natural language commands and dictation
BATTERY Non-removable Li-Ion 1821 mAh battery (6.96 Wh)
Charging Fast charging 18W, 50% in 30 min (advertised)
Qi wireless charging
MISC Colors Black, White, Red

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

It is worth highlighting Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5, which have not yet been supported by the new Macs, but they are supported on all new iPhones and iPads. By the way, the transition of Mac computers to Apple Silicon ARM processors suggests that these technologies will probably be a privilege of new products. There are black, white and (PRODUCT) RED versions of the phones.

iPhone SE: What’s in the box

Here Apple did not surprise me at all – the phone comes with all the usual stuff, and the charger has not been (yet) omitted. In the box, in addition to the smartphone itself, there is the familiar Lightning to the USB-A cable, a 5W charger, as well as headphones for the Lightning connector.

Design, materials, build quality

In appearance, this is the same iPhone 8, only the Apple logo is in a different place. And the remaining elements are in the same places as in previous models of the classic form factor.

The volume keys are on the left, above them is the lever for switching to silent mode, and on the right is the lock button. The slot for one SIM card is located below, but the smartphone also has eSIM support, I will talk more about it later.

Many buyers do not look at the manual and do not even know that the smartphone has three microphones: two below the speaker grilles, and a third behind the camera module. This allows you to improve voice quality even in a noisy place, but without miracles.

There are also two speakers in the smartphone, one is hiding from below under the right grille, and the second is clearly visible above the display. If you look very closely, in the same place above the screen near the front camera you can see the proximity sensor, which turns the screen off when the smartphone nears your ear.

On the front there’s a 4.7-inch display. Nowadays, when smartphones have grown significantly in terms of the average diagonal of the display, these 4.7 inches do not seem as big as they once were in 2014.

The front and back of the smartphone has glass, of course it is very sturdy, but we will not test its limits. The base of the smartphone is an aluminum frame. By the way, on the Apple website they write that the aerospace industry uses the same materials.

The build quality is very simple, you might call this one iPhone 8S, since this is the second generation of the iPhone 8. As experienced users of Apple know, the second version with S next to the number always has better build quality. By the way, it is worth noting that the iPhone SE in the (PRODUCT) RED color is now black at the front, and not white, as it was before. Yes, all iPhone SE variants are black. The only difference is the color of the aluminum frame and the back.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

It is worth highlighting the Home button separately, because only the iPhone SE has it still, and the XR and 11 have displays of the new format. The button is not mechanical, but provides the same pleasant response during pressing due to Taptic Engine technology. This sensation is impossible to convey, you must definitely try it yourself. And yet, the Touch ID fingerprint scanner is hidden in the Home key. Oh, how convenient it is in comparison with Face ID! By the way, this button in the iPhone SE is covered with sapphire glass.

Display

Surely, many will remember how Apple pompously presented a new level of interaction with the smartphone via 3D Touch. We wondered if the new SE based on the 8 will still has this tech. The answer is obvious, of course not; the premium devices don’t have it which mean that the most affordable ones will lose it as well – there’s only Haptic Touch. The display comes from the iPhone 8, or even the iPhone 7, 6 and 6S. We’ve known it for years, and there’s no reason to change it.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

The diagonal of the display is 4.7 inches, which by today’s standard is somewhat small. Although, I have friends who do not want to change their first-generation iPhone SE, where the diagonal is about 4 inches. It’s still the same Retina display, which even with a resolution of 1334 × 750 has the same 326 ppi, which is more than enough for the human eye. This allows you to not see individual pixels and enjoy the picture on the IPS display. Yes, yes, this model does not have an OLED matrix, which is a privilege of the Pro segment.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

The 16:9 ratio is old, but it’s still the best for YouTube and other videos. Although if you want to enjoy videos on the go, there are better options like the cheapest iPad.

Apple iPhone SE (2020) vs iPhone 11

Since the maximum brightness of the display reaches impressive 625 nits, images and text remain readable even in bright sunshine. The screen also supports True Tone technology, which adjusts the color gamut of the picture on the display to the environment, so it’s better to turn off this feature when editing a photo, but in normal use it will positively affect the interaction with the content.

Apple calls all its displays Retina, but they are still based on two different technologies, IPS or OLED, and in this case this is the first option. IPS display does not have as deep black as OLED, but if you do not compare them directly, you are unlikely to notice this nuance. And yes, the viewing angles of the display are excellent; if you chat with someone or watch something in crowded places, this display will allow everyone to see the contents of your screen.

iPhone SE cameras (2020) and their features

And not the cameras – one of the best things about these phones. The iPhone SE has only two cameras. No ultra-wide nor portrait camera here. This is not surprising, because this is still the iPhone 8 and it was simply physically impossible to install an additional module into the old frame.

By the way, there was some info that the iPhone XR module was installed here, but this is not so and iFixIt confirmed this in their analysis. The same guys confirmed that almost all the details of the SE and the 8 are interchangeable, and this is very unlike Apple. But this is apparently a tribute to the iPhone X, which interrupted the sales of this model. Here are a couple of pictures from iFixIt, which prove that the SE and the 8 are almost the same (the red in the photo is the SE).

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

These are the cameras. The iPhone SE is the first, next comes the 8 with the XR on the right.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

The presence of the Apple A13 Bionic chip helps creating photos and videos with the same cameras as before. The most striking thing about it is the ability to create photos in portrait mode even with the selfie camera. But it is worth noting that this mode works only with the face, you can’t use the bokeh effect on objects.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

But with proper dexterity and without portrait mode, you can photograph an object with a blurred background.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

The photos themselves in portrait mode look decent both on a smartphone and on a MacBook screen. Do not forget that you can edit the depth of field and portrait photo mode only with photos created on the main camera, and these settings cannot be used with the selfie, even if you transfer the photo to the iPhone 11. Below we can see a photo from the selfie camera.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

This smartphone makes good photos, the A13 Bionic chip helps improving them, below are a few photos without any processing.

PHOTOS AND VIDEOS IN THE ORIGINAL RESOLUTION

And iPhone panoramas are very good. At least this one is worth adding to the review. Last year, when I was making panoramas on the iPhone 6S with the latest firmware at that time, and the smartphone always asked me be slower, but I did not notice this in the SE, although I very moved the phone quite fast. So there’s your improvement.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

Overall, you get decent photos. Just in case, I recorded a short video of the process of making photos on the device.

The Live Photo function is here, and parents love this feature for the opportunity to make a mini-videos of their child. I will not describe in detail the shortcomings of photo management and just note that it’s not very convenient to go into the smartphone’s settings each time to change certain parameters. It is unclear why Apple still does that.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

Well, now let’s move on to video capabilities. It’s worth starting with the fact that I used video calls through Instagram, which stresses the smartphone a lot, so even without a case it somehow gets very hot. You can imagine its struggle with video in 4K at 60 fps. Yes, yes, the iPhone SE can do it, but not without rare lags, although 4K at 30 fps worked fine. Below are examples of 15-second videos in various modes – in 4K and 60 fps, 4K and 30 fps, 1080p and 60 fps, as well as 1080p and 30 fps.

 Phone SE (2020) videos in 4К@60fps

Phone SE (2020) videos in 4К@30fps

Phone SE (2020) videos in 1080p@60fps

Phone SE (2020) videos in 1080p@30fps

Sometimes you might want to make a Slow-Motion video, and an example is below. There’s also an HD mode with 120 frames per second and 240 frames per second.

The Time-Lapse mode works great with no manual input from the user. This is a video of my walk through the park in Kharkiv.

PHOTOS AND VIDEOS IN THE ORIGINAL RESOLUTION

Oh yes, sometimes you also need take a photo in the dark. The iPhone 11 must have spoiled me, since pictures from the new iPhone SE are far from ideal. It’s not as bad as the iPhone 6S, of course, and you will understand what’s on the photo. Here are the examples:

Performance, battery life, hardware

In part, I have already discussed overheating during demanding tasks, such as recording video in 4K or during video communication, but these are not all the scenarios. For example, games and AR (augmented reality) also make it very warm, but the phone still performs admirably. Apple A13 Bionic is well optimized, like the rest of the smartphone hardware.

Overall there’s good energy efficiency of the entire platform. The chip allows the smartphone to work for about 8 hours when streaming video, even with a poor 1821 mAh battery (by modern standards), and it provides about 5-7 hours of working with calls, social networks and other usual tasks.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

According to Apple, the new iPhone SE is able to provide local video playback up to 13 hours, video streaming up to 8 hours, and audio playback up to 40 hours. Naturally, each person uses phones differently and it is impossible to predict everything. For example, the camera will drain the battery significantly faster than just videos, and games also drain the battery quickly. Active consumption of content on the Internet consumes much more energy than we would like, because when scrolling through Instagram feed, battery drain is more intense than when watching YouTube. Below are a couple of screenshots, they show that the SE was charged up to 100% at 11 o’clock on the first day and it was down to 1% by 9 pm on the next day. I used the phone for 3 hours 33 minutes on the first day and 44 minutes on the second.

In terms of battery, I want to share my experience, which tells me that when buying an iPhone, you should not count on 3-4 years of continuous operation of the device. It is better to immediately plan battery replacement in two years. A lot depends on the way you use the device, of course. The key message of this digression is that you do not have to bother with recharge cycles and the like. It’s better to immediately understand that in a couple of years it will be worth changing either the battery or the entire device.

Another feature of the new iPhone SE is eSIM support. Now, instead using physical SIM cards it is enough to simply delete it digitally on one smartphone and reinstall it using the QR code on another. Someone will say that this is not as convenient, but I recommend you try it, and then draw conclusions. And also in the event of the loss of a smartphone, nobody will get your SIM card, because to get access to it, you need to unlock the smartphone. Someone will say that you can put a PIN code on a physical card, but experience suggests that many users have turned off protection for a long time or left the default PIN in the form of four zeros or ones.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

Apple smartphones are now quite suitable for users who often travel abroad or for those who simply need to have two numbers. After all, both Nano-SIM and eSIM is better than just Nano-SIM.

Sound

As for the speakers, I already described that they are in the lower part of the smartphone under the right grille and at the top above the display. And yes, the top speaker is designed not only for talking, but also to ensure full stereo sound when playing video and in games. In addition, if you watch something and accidentally block the lower speaker, you will still hear the sound from the earpiece speaker. This is an undeniable plus. Comparing the iPhone 11 and the iPhone SE cameras  is meaningless, because the “winner” is obvious, but their sound is almost identical.

The OS

Many people know about the Apple ecosystem. It is not as beautiful as it is described, because not always everything works smoothly, but overall it’s quite nice. There’s the quick setup of a new gadget simply by entering an Apple ID. Next, connecting the AirPods (switching between devices is a matter of a few clicks, although there are nuances). I’m very used to using AirDrop to transfer photos, this is a built-in ability to transfer data between Apple gadgets. Often you need to copy something in text format or some kind of picture and paste it on another Apple device. And thanks to HandOff technology, this is possible out of the box.

Perhaps it was worth starting with this, but it is better to write now than not to write at all: setting up a smartphone, namely the first time, takes an incredibly long time, even for an experienced iPhone user like me. I had the iPhone 4S with iOS 5 on board, and since then a lot of elements have been added to the initial setup process. Much has been changed, supplemented and revised by the developers, and it is often better not to skip these points, but to read the details. By the way, in the Books app there are manuals for all Apple gadgets and operating systems. Sometimes you can find very useful information there.

And if you don’t want to read a large textbook, then just occasionally look into the application with tips.

Software

At this point, everything is simpler than simple, because the Apple App Store is considered one of the safest app stores around and the most populated with high-quality software as well. I used the iPhone SE as a second smartphone, in addition to my iPhone 11. How they work together is simply beyond words, because everything that I do on one device is synchronized on another. The depth of synchronization depends on the user’s settings, of course. For example, I photographed something on the first smartphone, and this data immediately appeared on the second.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

There are a lot of applications in the Apple App Store, because often developers primarily make applications specifically for iOS, and sometimes even exclusively for this OS. Since I have a long experience of interacting with iOS, I have already tried a lot of applications. I promise that you will probably find any app you might need. But often you have to pay for it, and decent amounts.

Verdict

Apple iPhone SE (2020) definitely is a good device, partly because we’re talking about the fifth version of the iPhone 6S, albeit with serious differences inside, but the design has barely changed. Someone will mention a new body, which is no longer as aluminum as it was before, and will be right. But you must admit that glass at the back does not change things drastically, it’s not iPhone 8 and iPhone X level of change.

Taking tried and tested design and using spare parts from the iPhone 8 is a logical step for the company. It makes manufacturing them easier and more streamlined. As a result, the user has a more affordable price for the new iPhone SE and greater reliability.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

It is also interesting that the official Apple website tells you to upgrade your previous iPhone SE to a new one. Of course, the phone will certainly interest people who wanted to try an Apple device for a long time, but didn’t want to pay through the nose. As a result, we have an excellent and affordable device from a renowned company. It’s worth a look!

Apple iPhone SE (2020) review – Affordable iPhone Becomes a Reality

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

Design
7
Materials
9
Build quality
10
Ergonomics
9
Display
8
Performance
8
Cameras
9
Sound
9
Battery life
7
Communications
10
Software
9
Apple iPhone SE (2020) definitely is a good device, partly because we’re talking about the fifth version of the iPhone 6S, albeit with serious differences inside, but the design has barely changed. Someone will mention a new body, which is no longer as aluminum as it was before, and will be right. But you must admit that glass at the back does not change things drastically, it’s not iPhone 8 and iPhone X level of change.

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