Apple iPhone SE: Smaller but better

The Apple iPhone SE.
The Apple iPhone SE.PHOTO: APPLE
The Apple iPhone SE.
The Apple iPhone SE.PHOTO: APPLE
The Apple iPhone SE.
The Apple iPhone SE.PHOTO: APPLE

Apple said 30 million 4-inch iPhones were sold last year. So, there is clearly a demand for a small  iPhone fitted with the latest specs. It could also be one of the factors that led Apple to launch the iPhone SE.

DESIGN

At first glance, the iPhone SE could be mistaken for the iPhone 5s, with the same 7.6mm-thick aluminium body with chamfered edges.

In fact, you can use your old iPhone 5s cases on the iPhone SE without any issues. 

But there are subtle physical differences. The edges are matte instead of shiny, and the colour of  the rear Apple logo now matches the phone’s colour in stainless steel. Talking about colours, the iPhone SE is now available in rose gold (version reviewed) in addition to the usual silver, space grey and gold. 

Button placement is also similar to the iPhone 5s, with round volume buttons on the left hand side and the power/wake button on the top right. 

This took some getting used to, as I have been using the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus - where the power/wake button is on the right side - for a while. It’s like using my iPod Touch all over again.

The iPhone SE’s 4-inch display has the same 1,136 x 640 pixels resolution as the iPhone 5s screen. It lacks the 3D Touch support found in iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Being used to a 5.5-inch display for so long, the 4-inch display just looks so tiny now.

That said, one-hand texting is comfortable again. No more having to use another hand to reach for that top corner icon. Putting it into and getting it out from the front pocket of my pants is easier.

PERFORMANCE

With its upgraded A9 processor, the iPhone SE is a speedy phone that is almost on a par with the iPhone 6s. 

In the Geekbench 3 benchmark tests, it scored 2,546 (single-core) and 4,403 (multi-core). Those scores are similar to that of the iPhone 6s (2,535 - single-core; 4,410 - multi-core). But the iPhone SE is around 2.5 times faster than the iPhone 5s (1,081 - single core; 1,937 - multi-core).

It took only 6.8sec to load Infinity Blade III while my iPhone 6s Plus took 7.7sec. Graphics-intensive games, such as Implosion and Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade, played smoothly and without lag.

But I wish the display is bigger, as I find the virtual controls to be really small for my fat fingers.

Also, the iPhone SE still uses the first-generation Touch ID found in the iPhone 5s. I found it to be slower than my iPhone 6s Plus by around 0.5sec during unlocking. 

CAMERA

The iPhone SE uses the same 12-megapixel rear camera as the iPhone 6s, with the same ability to shoot 4K videos and Live Photos. But the camera does not protrude out. Like the iPhone 6s, the iPhone SE lacks the optical stabiliser of the 6s Plus.

In terms of picture quality, the iPhone SE is right up there with the iPhone 6s Plus. Colours and skin tones look natural with great details. Autofocusing is speedy and it snaps pictures and videos quickly. Those who have been using the iPhone 5s will really sense the difference in speed and quality. 

In fact, it might be the best camera on a small phone in the market. But the iPhone SE uses the same 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera of the iPhone 5s, and not the 5-megapixel one found on iPhone 6s or 6s Plus. So, selfie photos lack the details compared with the latter two.

BATTERY LIFE

In our intensive battery life test where a 720p video is looped at full brightness and full volume, and with Wi-Fi on, the iPhone SE lasted 6hr 42min. In comparison, the iPhone 5s lasted 6hr 45min, while my iPhone 6s Plus lasted 7hr 10min.

In normal use, the battery mileage varies. With my daily routine, which consists frequent checks of e-mails, text messages, Facebook and Instagram updates, the iPhone SE still has around 33 per cent battery life left before I go to bed. 

In comparison, my iPhone 6s Plus is usually left with only 10 per cent juice at the end of the day. But it is connected to an Apple Watch all day.

Verdict

 The iPhone SE might be the most powerful yet cheapest iPhone to get. But it is also the smallest one. Getting it depends on whether you prefer a small display or not.

Tech specs

PRICE: $658 (16GB), $828 (64GB); all without contract, available March 31

PROCESSOR: A9 with 64-bit architecture, M9 motion co-processor

OPERATING SYSTEM: iOS 9.3

SCREEN: 4-inch Retina display; 1,136 x 640 pixels

CAMERA: 12-megapixel rear camera, 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera

WEIGHT: 113g

Rating

FEATURES 4/5

DESIGN 4/5

PERFORMANCE 4/5

BATTERY LIFE 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY 4/5

OVERALL 4/5