iPhone SE (2020) Review

For my long term review of the iPhone SE, I wrote a regular review in my usual format, read it, re-read it, and then trashed it. Because this is not a regular phone. The iPhone SE is a phone with a unique concept behind it and after using it on and off as my daily driver for the past 3 months, I think I’m ready to help you decide whether you should get one. 

The Bad

iPhone SE 2020 Review: Display

iPhone SE 2020 Display Review

The first one is the display. Since this is a phone targeted to compact phone users, I am not going to complain about the display size. But I am going to complain about the display quality. When competing phones have higher resolutions, higher refresh rates, and much better-looking AMOLED panels, it looks like the 4.7”, 16:9 LCD display on the iPhone SE has specs from 5 years ago. Oh wait, it actually does. Now, I know that the reason this phone is so economical is because Apple could use the iPhone 8 display and other parts without investing in more Research and Development but at the same time, displays are one of the most important parts of the smartphone experience and I wish Apple included a better quality display. 

iPhone SE 2020 Review: Battery Life

iPhone SE 2020 Battery Life Review

The second major negative of this phone is the battery life. It is underwhelming. If your usage includes social media, texting, reading the news, then sure, the iPhone SE will easily last you an entire day. The standby battery drain is negligible too. But when you switch over to tasks that are a little more taxing to the CPU, the battery life takes a sudden nosedive and drains rapidly. Apple put the same 1821 mAh battery pack from the iPhone 8 in the SE and I wish they hadn’t done that. The original iPhone SE from 2016 was a battery champ when it first launched but that is not the case with this one. 

And that’s it. Those are the 2 major negatives about this phone. Let’s talk about the positives now. 

The Good 

iPhone SE 2020 Review: Design & Build Quality

Design and Build Quality Review of iPhone SE 2020

The design of the iPhone SE is old. From the front, it is almost impossible to differentiate between the iPhone 6 from 2015 and this 2020 iPhone SE. But when you remember that this is a phone for compact phone lovers, you begin to appreciate it. This is by far the lightest, smallest and easiest to handle phone in the market today. One handed usage is a breeze. And I love the fact that Apple didn’t sacrifice on the quality of materials used to achieve that. The glass and metal sandwich design feels truly premium in hand.

Another advantage of the old design is accessory support. There is a large variety of  discounted accessories like cases, docks, screen protectors already available in the market for the iPhone 8 and all of them fit the iPhone SE just as well. Frankly, when I first started using the iPhone SE, I hated the large bezels and the old home button navigation system but over time you actually get used to it. I would still definitely prefer a bezel less design with a gesture based navigation system but that doesn’t mean that the SE is bad. 

Also read: iPhone SE (2020) vs OnePlus Nord

iPhone SE 2020 Review: Performance

Performance Review of iPhone SE 2020

Another positive, perhaps the biggest selling point of the iPhone SE is performance. Oh, this thing flies. With the same CPU as the flagship iPhone 11 series, this thing is like a Beetle with a Lamborghini engine. Any intensive task you throw at it, it will take like a champ without breaking a sweat. Gaming is the same story. This phone runs intensive games far better than a lot of phones which are way more expensive. Of course, the tiny display is not ideal for gaming but if you can get past that, the iPhone SE is a performance beast. 

iPhone SE 2020 Review: Software Updates

This is a nice segway to the biggest plus point of the iPhone SE. Longevity. With its powerful specs and Apple’s flawless software support track record, the iPhone SE is a phone which will get 5 years of software and security updates. The older iPhone SE, released back in 2016, is getting iOS 14 in 2020 and will get updates till September of 2021 which is when Apple will release iOS 15. Isn’t that amazing? On the Android side of things, even phones worth twice or thrice the price cannot promise 5 years of updates. This makes the iPhone SE a dream smartphone package for someone who doesn’t need the most cutting edge technology but just a phone that serves faithfully as a reliable tool for as long as possible. 

iPhone SE 2020 Review: Camera

Detailed Camera Review of iPhone SE

Let’s talk about the cameras now. 

On the rear, the iPhone SE sports the same 12MP Sony sensor and lens module from the iPhone 8. Similarly, the front camera has a 7MP f2.2 shooter which was also used in the iPhone 7 and 8. But all this old hardware has been given a fresh overhaul thanks to the latest A13 Bionic CPU and its excellent image processing. 

Now, in my view, one of the biggest disadvantages of the iPhone SE’s camera system at this price point is the lack of telephoto or an ultrawide-angle lens. They just add more flexibility to the whole photo-taking experience.

But regardless, let’s talk about the photos first and then move on to the videos. 

Photos:

  • The iPhone SE takes very well exposed 12MP stills with accurate colors, white balance, and wide dynamic range. The pictures from the rear camera are sharp, full of details even in corners, and have uniform noise processing.
  • The indoor performance is fairly good in terms of colors and contrast. We did not face any issues with AF and color casting while shooting in ambient lighting.
  • Low light performance is where things take a dark turn. There’s no dedicated night mode in the iPhone SE. Therefore, it mostly comes down to the f1.8 aperture for taking night shots. 
  • The SE performs surprisingly well in portrait mode even without a telephoto or a depth sensor camera. The portraits shot with the SE have really good subject separation and accurate colors.
  • The depth slider slightly improves the portrait shooting experience if you love playing with the bokeh effect.
  • The front camera performance of the SE is great. The pictures have accurate skin tones and decent HDR processing.
  • Even though the iPhone SE takes good stills, it has its share of limitations as well.
  • Firstly, the portrait mode is limited to people only. It does not work on objects and pets. It is not like the SE is not capable of doing it. It’s because Apple chose not to include that feature in the iPhone SE.
  • Similarly, the lack of dedicated night mode is another confusing move by Apple as the new processor and OIS should technically be able to handle low light shots. 

Full resolution camera samples: https://bit.ly/3jO1pab 

Videos:

  • The video performance of the SE is really good, especially in 4K.
  • The iPhone SE can shoot videos up to [email protected] & FullHD slow-motion videos in 240fps. 
  • Videos shot with the rear camera are properly exposed with accurate colors and fast AutoFocus.
  • The OIS and HDR help in delivering better video performance even in challenging environments like when you’re shooting a time-lapse in handheld mode.  
  • Indoor videos are a bit contrasty and the iPhone SE manages to deliver decent footage with uniform noise processing.
  • Low light videos are somewhat okay. There’s the Auto low-light FPS mode which allows you to get better shots in dark environments. 
  • The front camera can shoot videos with a maximum resolution of [email protected] only. The footage has accurate skin tones but sometimes gets minor jitters while shooting.

It’s amazing how optimized software and an upgraded processor can give new life to the old hardware. I especially loved the improvements in HDR, AutoFocus, and portrait mode. 

So, who is this camera for? If you’re a camera enthusiast who loves shooting and pushing hardware to get better shots, then the iPhone SE is not for you mostly because it lacks the added flexibility of an ultra-wide or telephoto lens which are present in similarly priced phones.

If you’re someone who just wants to take great-looking pictures & videos by pointing and shooting without diving too deep into the technicals, the iPhone SE is probably one of the best options available. Of course, once we consider the better Social Media app optimisations on iOS, the iPhone SE looks even more tempting. 

iPhone SE 2020 Review: TouchID

TouchID is great on the iPhone SE, especially in today’s day when FaceID cannot work because of the masks. It is reliable, easy, and convenient. 

iPhone SE 2020 Review: Sound Quality

iPhone SE 2020 Review Sound Quality

The sound quality from the stereo speakers is plenty loud and good. They’re probably the same components from the iPhone 8. I was also immensely impressed by the signal holding capacity of this phone. The earpiece quality and microphone are great too making for a great phone call experience. 

iPhone SE 2020 Review: Conclusion

Should you buy the iPhone SE 2020

Let’s talk about the conclusion now. Should you buy the iPhone SE? Well, it truly depends on who you are. If you follow technology and care about the cutting edge, don’t get the iPhone SE. With rapid advancements in smartphone technology, today’s smartphones get outdated tomorrow and the iPhone SE is essentially yesterday’s smartphone being sold today. 

However, if you are shopping for someone who needs a no-nonsense phone that will last them a long time and won’t cost an arm and a leg, the iPhone SE is an amazing option. It might not make sense when you look at it from a Tech Geek’s perspective, but from a general user’s perspective, the iPhone SE is a solid choice at an amazing price. 

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