What’s this, an iPhone review on Ausdroid?
Yeah, we’re not so locked in our ways that we can’t at least look at that other OS. We did the same last year when I spent a month with an iPhone in my pocket and honestly, I didn’t hate it. This year, Apple has delivered a more “budget-friendly” device in the iPhone SE and while they generally deliver excellent hardware, it’s at a cost.
So being somewhat pessimistic, I have reservations on whether or not Apple can actually deliver a budget device people will want. So, hold off till the end before you start telling me I’ve abandoned the rebellion for the dark side of the force.
The attraction of Apple
Let’s not get into the politics of it right now, but the reality is that Apple makes outstanding hardware. I’ve had several Macbooks as my laptop across about 9 years now, had an iPad for work and mostly enjoyed the month I spent with an iPhone last year.
If you’ve ever combined a Macbook (or Mac) with an iPad and/or iPhone you’ll know the convenience of everything just working. It’s not to say that there aren’t similar arrangements available for Android and Windows, or even (using third party apps) onto a Mac but the integration in the Apple world is truly brilliant.
This extends to the iPad which (like it or not) is the biggest success story in the tablet world, then Apple is generally a winner in most realms. So when the opportunity to check out the new “budget” iPhone SE came across my desk – it was a no brainer, let’s take a look.
Despite the lower budget, the phone is very Apple
This is the entry point into the iPhone world in both specs and price. Starting at $719.00 for the 64GB version and going as high as $969.00 for the 256GB version, “budget” is a relative term. That is, of course, compared to the eye watering $2,719.00 for the 1TB version of the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Impressively though, it seems that Apple has managed to walk the line where most users will consider the price affordable without compromising the business name and standards with a truly cheap option.
To put this into context of comparable Android phones, in the same price range you could pick up a:
- Google Pixel 6: $999
- Samsung Galaxy 21 FE: $999
- OPPO Find x5 Lite: $799.00
- A number of Samsung Galaxy A devices: $699.00 – $799.00
All of which are solid devices that very much deserve their place among well recognised devices.
The phone itself is a 4.7-inch screen that runs 1334 x 750 pixels at 326 PPI, capable of 625 nits, enough but not earth shattering. It measures in at 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm, but I’d put a case on it because, despite the IP67 rating, the shell looks and feels like it will mark easily.
Internally you’ve got an A15 Bionic chip, a full range of connectivity and a single 12MP f/1.8 camera that delivers some nice photos. Many of the design features of the top iPhone stand true here, although the SE is significantly more rounded in presentation. That and the physical size make it clear you’re not carrying the latest and greatest from Apple, but you’re still rocking an iPhone.
As a bit of a trade off for the physical size, there is a fairly significant bezel at the top of the screen. This houses the selfie camera and the speaker for calls, all necessary devices of course. The fact that everything on the iPhone SE is so simple makes me feel that this is a phone you’d point (or buy for) your technologically resistant relatives toward because it just works.
The simple three colour options are added to the ease of purchase: Midnight (black), Starlight (white), or Red.
A closer look at the camera
This won’t take long since, in a huge departure from the current trend, there’s a single rear-facing and single front-facing lens. While it does reduce the photographic capacity of the phone over others, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing since it also reduces the number of features the camera has. Remember, this isn’t a flagship; it’s not even a “mainstream” device: This is Apple’s “simple” and budget-friendly phone.
The controls within the camera app are minimal, which lends the camera to be a point and shoot happy snap setup. But the results are surprisingly good for a single lens device, with great colour reproduction and excellent autofocus – even compared to significantly more expensive options we’ve looked at recently.
Interestingly, compared to other phones (both iOS and Android) I’ve had a lot fewer moments of autofocus failure. We’ve all had it where, for some reason, the camera decides to focus on something completely irrelevant to your target. As a single lens option, this seems to be very much keeping the theme of keeping it simple, and it’s worked.
The same goes for video production in that it’s point and shoot. There just aren’t any complexities about it, it works the first time and that’s a very good thing. While it’s capable of 4K recording at up to 60FPS, the target market for this phone isn’t going to see the difference between 4K and 1080p, particularly on the 1334 x 750 resolution screen.
So how does a budget Apple device go in daily life?
If this were the iPhone 13 Pro Plus I’d have some pretty high expectations. Simply being Apple, I frankly had some high expectations and the iPhone SE has done very well against them. The A15 Bionic Chip does well to deliver on daily functions and multitasking, while the screen (albeit very small) is sufficient for a lot of users, with good colour, clarity and sufficient brightness for relatively bright conditions.
While Google has made its first fore into the realm, the fact that Apple has been making its own chips for a few years now makes a big difference. Even the iPhone SE, a budget model, performs admirably. Putting the two side by side is somewhat pointless given the “cheating” that most manufacturers do when detecting benchmark software. Suffice to say, that the Apple hardware has performed remarkably well.
There were a few times when the phone was being pushed hard that there were stutters in performance. Running a number of apps simultaneously, a hotspot to my tablet and laptop and streaming music really did push it hard. The phone got warm to the touch and the battery depleted significantly during this time, although I still got a full day from it with plenty to spare. Typically during testing, I was getting two days from the battery but without deliberately abstaining from use; that’s about the limit.
With aggressive power settings, Android devices are very capable of surpassing this battery life. Some are capable of 3 or more days, particularly for low use cases. Now here’s a problem, the lightning connector creates a big problem for my charging devices. I have USB-C cables everywhere but just a solitary lightning cable so on the days I forgot it, I had no music in the car and no way to charge the device. It doesn’t make sense to me for Apple to use USB-C for iPad Pro devices but not adopt it universally through its own product range.
iOS is great if you play by Apple’s rules
Since my last venture into the world of iOS, there haven’t been any huge changes. It has softened into the world of allowing more control than once was the case. But ultimately, you’re still governed by how Apple wants you to use your phone: Presentation, Workflow, file management and the app interfaces. Once you make this adjustment, the changes are similar to changing from a Pixel device to say an OPPO with Colour OS or over to One UI. Each has its own flavour, but the navigation is similar enough that finding your way is not difficult.
Should you buy one?
If you’re an Android fan that feels like an iPhone is an inferior device, then clearly, no, don’t buy one. This is a genuine plus to the iOS system where, if you play by Apple’s rules, you’ll get a phone that is easy to set up, easy to use and just works. Having used the iPhone SE for a couple of weeks now, it feels less of an “it will do” device and more like a targeted device on lower mid-range users who just want their phone to work.
The iPhone SE is, by Apple standards, a cheap phone that has a place in the market. It’s Apple’s “first phone” for users who aren’t necessarily keen on higher-end technology, but as discussed, it fits in the same price range as some pretty solid Android options.
Like it or not, the iPhone is well marketed and has some massive advantages over Android. But the combination of cost and the “walled garden” created around data is, for many, a barrier to purchase. Whether I’d consider this a budget-friendly option, probably not but if you’re happy with the mentioned barriers, want a physically small device and are happy to pay ($719.00 – $969.00) for the privilege, then this is worth a close look.
Partner has the SE (2020) model and before that the OG SE. Got it for a solid deal at $500 approx (new, Vodafone locked). We will buy the 2022 if on sale again at that price. Some folks will always be iPhone users and some like me, Pixel after switching.
Good review Phil.