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Apple iPhone SE review

 Review: March 2016  

Rating: 5 stars

In a nutshell: The Apple iPhone SE gives you the power of the latest iPhone 6s in the compact and stylish body of the iPhone 5s! It's a winning combination, and the fact that this is the most affordable iPhone for years makes it a top buy. We love the ultra-premium & ultra-lightweight design, the super-fast M9 processor and the brilliant iSight camera with 4K video recording. The only room for improvement is the non-HD screen.


Design & looks

When the iPhone 6s was released last year, we wrote that it was "too big, too expensive, and we didn't like 3D Touch." So, the new iPhone SE is just what we were hoping for! It's super-compact, much cheaper, and doesn't have 3D Touch.

In design terms, Apple has rewound the clock 3 years to the classic design of the iPhone 5s - probably our favourite design of any iPhone ever. Perhaps the high water mark in phone design ever! The squarer, flatter shape of the SE makes it look less like a toy phone than the iPhone 6/6s, despite its more compact size. All of the design features of the 5s are here, including fingerprint recognition in the home button. It's a design that's slim, incredibly light in weight, and just feels so good to hold. It's a classic!

Yet at the same time the phone's specification has been massively increased, matching the latest 6s, while still keeping the cost significantly lower. The iPhone SE combines the beauty of the 5s with the power of the 6s. The phone is available in a choice of Silver, Gold, Space Grey and Rose Gold, bringing its looks right up to date.

While the popularity of big-screen Android phones reveals a strong desire for ever larger screens, there are still many people who are happy with - or even prefer - a smaller phone size. And the fact is that the latest iPhone 6s is simply unaffordable for a significant number of people. So the SE meets two needs - the desire for a compact iPhone, and the desire for one that's more affordable.

We should say a few words about that screen before we move on. It looks like the original screen from the iPhone 5s of 2013. It's not even HD, and has a rather modest pixel density of 326ppi. We're used to higher resolutions these days, and we'd have liked to see a HD screen ideally, especially since rival manufacturers seem perfectly capable of fitting HD displays even into phones costing £100.

A9 chip & iOS 9

We're delighted to see that the SE incorporates all of the high-end hardware from the 6s. That includes the A9 processor and M9 co-processor, making the SE blazing fast and able to run any app you care to download.

The phone runs the latest iOS 9 operating system too.

As usual for an iPhone, the memory capacity is fixed, and comes in a choice of 16GB or 64GB.

iSight camera

Impressively, the iPhone SE has the same iSight camera as the 6s. This is outstanding, with a 12 megapixel BSI sensor, auto-HDR, and the ability to record UHD 4K video. The front camera enables FaceTime and selfies.


Connectivity is the same as for the 6s, with support for 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a Lightning connector, and NFC, which enables Apple Pay.

Battery life

Apple's official figures claim 13 hours of continuous use on a full battery, and that sounds about right, especially with the smaller screen size, and the battery-enhancing features of iOS 9. The quoted standby time of 10 days might just be possible, under optimum conditions.

Conclusion – a recommended buy

We very much welcome the launch of the iPhone SE. It's a beautiful, compact smartphone with the power of the very latest high-end technology. It's premium in every way, although we do wish it had a HD screen.

The continuing sales of Apple's older iPhones indicates a strong desire for a compact iPhone (plus an unwillingness of many people to pay silly money for the newer models.) The new SE bridges the gap, offering a compact iPhone with cutting-edge technology at an affordable price.

That sounds like a winning combination to us at S21, and we have no hesitation in recommending the iPhone SE. The closest Android alternative is probably the Sony Z5 Compact.

Apple iPhone SE features include:

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Apple iPhone SE user reviews

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