More modern than you may think, yet the Apple iPhone SE clings on to the past

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‘Old wine, new bottle.’ ‘Old is gold.’ We have heard all these, and in a way, the eclectic fragments apply to the latest generation Apple iPhone SE too. It has been two years since the last iPhone SE update was ushered in. Two years is a long time. Back then, things were not as complicated (comparatively, at least), as they are now. It may be good in a way that Apple has firmly retained the continuity. And added a lot of power. And by a lot, we mean a lot. But has familiarity stood in the way of changes that should have been made?

The Apple iPhone SE (2022) remains the most affordable price point to enter the iPhone line-up – that’s discounting the previous generation iPhones that tend to come along with decidedly interesting deals on shopping websites. That means it is 43,900 for the 64GB spec, 48,900 for 128GB and 58,900 for the 256GB option. Prices are not entirely dissimilar to the previous iPhone SE’s launch price tags.

Before we get to the possible complications getting in the way of your decision, we must talk about the definitives. First, a lot of power. This may be the most affordable iPhone from the current line, but it is at par with the rest. The A15 Bionic under the hood is the same chip you will find in the rest of the iPhone 13 series, including the top-of-the-line iPhone 13 Pro Max. That is great, and something not entirely common in the cluttered world of smartphones.

You will get the experience too, because this chip has not been clocked down (significantly, at least it is not visible) and matches the iPhone 13 Mini. For this phone to be able to match siblings around 3X more expensive (there or thereabouts), is quite astonishing. It is not a force fit (there is no heating or clocking down) and neither is it ticking off the checklist (same processor for namesake but clocked down).

The battery is larger than before too. Add the power consumption improvements that the A15 Bionic gets along with the tweaks that iOS 15 continues to make best use of, you are looking at robust battery life. One that you would not get anxiety over. Robust may just be an understatement – it gets through a bit more than a day and a half, when used as a primary phone, but without gaming interspersed in your free time.

That gets us to the complication. The 4.7-inch display that is the same as the iPhone 8 series. That was 2017. While there are improvements to how colours look and the overall illumination (as you would expect, users cannot be bothered with old style displays anymore), the similarities get ticked off down to the resolution and display type. That would not otherwise be a problem, except that it feels out of place at the present time. The web browsing experience, mobile web and apps in general are not really catering (optimisation, in other words) to this screen size.

There is the option to force the experience, but over time, you will likely realise that some apps do not always fit this screen size and resolution properly (that may mean weirdly placed icons in the interface), or controls may be too small or cramped, forcing you to dial up the attention as you navigate. It is likely you will not be using this much for gaming, which is a pity, considering the power that is under the hood.

All said and done though, this Retina display is plenty bright for comfortable outdoor use under the sun, and while colours do not exactly pop out, they are very natural to look at. It is not a bad display by any stretch of the imagination. It just works. Everything looks well balanced. It is just too small.

The screen’s position in the larger scheme of things is a direct result of the choice of design and form factor. By continuing to give the iPhone SE the design we thought we had seen the back of post 2017, there isn’t much scope of tweaks. From a mile out, the iPhone SE stands out with the home button below the screen – that also holds within it the Touch ID fingerprint sensor (that may be a big boon if you are wearing a mask).

This is where a trick was perhaps missing. We are sure there was a lot of contemplation before the final decision was taken, yet we strongly feel a switch to the newer design language (iPhone X, iPhone XR and since) would have had the desired effect with a larger screen footprint as well.

Ticking off what else the iPhone SE has – 5G support, IP67 dust and water resistance and the promise of iOS software updates for quite a few years. The iPhone SE does not get any support for the MagSafe wireless charging tech, but you do get Qi standard wireless charging. This feature is not exactly common in phones around 40,000 – Samsung Galaxy S20 FE does not have it (neither does the successor, the S21 FE), the OnePlus Nord 2 does not have it, and neither does the Xiaomi 11T Pro.

The approach to photography and videos is as simple as it gets. A single 12-megapixel camera at the back, which simply works, and a 7-megapixel FaceTime camera, which does the job to a large extent. Both camera hardware is the same as the iPhone SE (2020), but the iPhone SE (2022) takes advantage of the new processor and a bunch of software smarts. There is the addition of Deep Fusion which really props up photos that may have been sacrificed at the altar of inconsistent ambient lighting, while Smart HDR 4 gives aspects such as skin done, skies in the background and shadow areas some detailing and accuracy boost.

Everything just looks better in photos clicked by the new iPhone SE, compared with the predecessor. The software has done its bit, for sure. Portrait mode, which is completely algorithm driven since there is no secondary camera, does not show the sort of foibles that were common a couple of years ago. But just to be sure, we need to reassert that you will get very usable photos for the most part, though low light photos do tend to look a bit less detailed at times (the lack of a Night mode limits the options). Nothing extraordinary, but then again, that shouldn’t be the expectation either. Yet, in a way, the iPhone SE in its latest avatar, is punching above its weight.

This is one of the toughest phones to pronounce an opinion on. Without doubt, a lot of the iPhone SE (2022) is quite impressive. The performance, battery life and how to draw the most out of a single camera stand out. It’s also ticking off 5G and will get software updates for many years. But the thing here is, and it’s something you will have to think long and hard about – do you really feel that the small screen is something you are comfortable with? And would be, a couple of years from now. There is the risk that the experience and the requirements will outgrow what the iPhone SE’s real estate can offer. We may not be contemplating this the next time we see an iPhone SE (probably in two years’ time?), because it may just usher in a newer design.




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