Apple crams all the best bits of its flagship phones into a 4in device, including a great camera and bags of power.
If you’ve been doggedly clinging to a battered iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s, then the iPhone SE is your dream made real: a 4in phone with all the power of Apple’s latest handsets. If, on the other hand, you’ve become used to a larger-screened phone then the iPhone SE looks and feels disconcertingly tiny. It’s exactly the same size and weight as the iPhone 5s, giving it an almost retro charm.
Inside, though, beats the heart of an iPhone 6s. No matter how you might feel about Apple, kudos to its engineers: taking the powerful A9 processor from its top-end phones and cramming it into the tiny iPhone SE is a remarkable feat. If you suspected it would be a cut-down, half-pint imitation of its bigger brothers, you’d be wrong: the iPhone SE matches its pricier stablemates blow for blow.
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 going for well over 16 hours. That’s significantly longer than any of its family members, and not far behind the larger Samsung Galaxy S7.
Apple has made sacrifices. There’s no pressure-sensing 3D Touch technology, while the Touch ID sensor is first-generation tech that feels slow compared to the iPhone 6s.
With a resolution of 640 x 1,136 pixels, the iPhone SE’s 4in display might also appear as if it’s lagging behind the new breed of quad HD and 4K phones, but it shares the same 326ppi pixel density as the iPhone 6s. It isn’t quite the match of its pricier cousins for overall quality, since images don’t ooze with the same level of punch and contrast, but most people are unlikely to 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 better. It hit a maximum brightness of 577cd/m2 and the contrast ratio soared to 892:1. It covers 94.6% of the sRGB gamut with an average Delta E of 1.01, making it a well-balanced display.
The rear-facing camera is another star feature, with the same 12-megapixel camera found on Apple’s top phones. 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 in good conditions photos teem with detail and natural, lifelike colours. The 4K video quality is astonishingly good too. Only selfie aficionados have anything to mourn, since Apple sticks with a front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera rather than the 5-megapixel snapper on the iPhone 6s.
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the iPhone SE lacks for nothing when it comes to connectivity – you get 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC and LTE for high-speed 4G. There’s no support for LTE Advanced, but the bigger loss is the iPhone 6s’s MIMO antennas: in both theory and practice, the iPhone SE lags behind for speed and range.
Arguably, though, that’s the only sacrifice. 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. I routinely forget it’s even in my pocket, making a lovely change from the 5in+ phones.
While a lack of storage expansion means everyone should avoid the 16GB model, the price for the 64GB version is exceptional for a high-end smartphone.