First impressions: Apple goes full circle to say 'small is better' with new iPhone SE, iPad Pro

The media scrambling to get a closer look at the new iPhone SE at the hands-on area at Apple Campus in Cupertino.
The media scrambling to get a closer look at the new iPhone SE at the hands-on area at Apple Campus in Cupertino. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

CUPERTINO, California - Apple has gone full circle with the launch of the 4-inch iPhone SE. No wonder the event is called "Let us loop you in".

Small is better. That is what Apple used to say in 2012, when the likes of Samsung and other manufacturers grabbed chunks of the smartphone pie with their 5-inch or bigger phones. Then, Apple had only the 4-inch iPhone 5.

Apple finally succumbed to consumers' pressure when it launched the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5 6 Plus in 2014. And last year, it went even bigger with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. But now, the loop has been closed, with Apple updating its 30-month old iPhone 5s with the iPhone SE. Small is better again.

I had a brief hands-on with the new small iPhone and it was a feeling of deja-vu. It was like the first time I touched the iPhone 5.

The iPhone SE's exterior looks and feels like the iPhone 5 with its chamfered edges (but matte) instead of the curved sides of the iPhone 6.

 

All the upgrades are inside the phone with the latest processor and cameras found in iPhone 6s. Playing games and taking pictures with the iPhone SE feel like a snap.

For those who hate the bigger iPhones, the iPhone SE is certainly the one to get. However, Singapore users tend to prefer bigger phones as they want to watch their latest Korean dramas or other TV shows during their daily commute. At least, that's what I have observed.

But in the US, 20.3 per cent prefer a smartphone with a 4-inch display based on the findings of investment firm Piper Jaffray.

The major sticking point in the local market will be the price. Apple never does entry-level smartphones. Starting at $658 for the 16GB model, the iPhone SE is more of a mid-range model compared to its competitors, even though it is nearly S$400 cheaper than the iPhone 6s 16GB model. Its appeal will depend on how much the telcos subsidise the iPhone SE for two-year contracts.

On the other hand, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro might cater to more people. I personally have friends who are waiting for a new 9.7-inch iPad because they know the iPad Air 2 is due for an upgrade.

And they do not want to have a 12.9-inch tablet that is as big as their laptops. Not to mention, as expensive as well.

 

While the smaller iPad Pro's display is definitely not going to beat that of  the bigger iPad Pro in terms of the wow factor and screen real estate, the smaller tablet is a much more manageable size and more lightweight.

Users can still use the Apple Pencil stylus to draw and design things. Plus, Apple came up with an accompanying Smart Keyboard Case for the smaller iPad Pro. I found typing on the smaller Smart Keyboard to be pretty intuitive.

In addition, the smaller iPad Pro uses a better 12-megapixel rear camera with a dual-tone flash and it supports Live Photos.

The smaller iPad Pro also has the least reflective display according to Apple. I can't really see that in the bright hands-on showroom.

But I could see the difference in the new True Tone display feature. This feature uses new four-channel sensors to dynamically adjust the white balance of the display to match the ambient light around you for a more accurate paper-white viewing experience.

Disable the True Tone feature, and I could see the display becoming more blue. Turn it on, and it becomes slightly whiter. For photographers who need accurate white balance for their photos during presentations to clients, this feature is a heaven-send.

All things start from small. The iPhone SE and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro might be smaller, but expect great things from them. Perhaps more for the iPad Pro.