In this long term iPhone SE review, IB Sam-Epelle shares some of his thoughts about the value of the iPhone SE for prospective buyers a year after its release.
Long term iPhone SE Review: The iPhone SE’s place in Apple’s arsenal
The iPhone SE is cosmetically similar to the 5s, but that’s where the similarity ends. Packing the hardware improvements of the iPhone 6s – besides the extra 0.7 inches (1.78 centimetres) of screen with 3D touch implementation – the SE is a more competent phone than the 5s. Being that I never got to publish my experience with the 5s, I’ll endeavour to use it as a benchmark for evaluating how competent the SE really is.
Apple didn’t only have existing iOS customer’s expectations to meet with the SE; the device was also envisioned as a means for Apple to better position in emerging markets – a tricky proposition if these markets generally show traits that can be found in the Nigerian smartphone market. So, if one is considering trying iOS for the first time, is the SE an ideal choice? Is the SE really a genuine strategy or Apple’s way of unloading unused leftover parts from the 5’s production to unsuspecting consumers?
Hardware: Premium build, Iconic design, Power
Hardware wise, there’s nothing new or unique that the SE possesses. Yet the familiar hardware translates to a unique experience for the SE. The visual portal for experiencing the device is a 4-inch LCD retina display, like on the 5S. However, the screen is brighter and more accurate – the disparity in my eyes is akin to the case between the 6S and 7’s screen. The SE is superior, yet far from perfect. The device is powered by the 64-bit A9 chip, which Apple claims is not only faster but more power efficient, as opposed to the A7 chip which runs the 5S.
As hinted earlier, the looks of the SE is very similar to its predecessor; besides: a new option of rose gold – which in reality is closer to pink ; the SE badge on the bottom of the back of the device; and a matte finished strip that run round the edges of the device – were the 5S’ was shinier. The classiness of this particular iconic design makes the “recycling” pill easier to swallow.
Connectivity is also more stellar on the SE compared to the 5s – easily achieving WiFi connection to the router at slightly further distances than the 5s. Call signal and Bluetooth connections also work properly, not to insinuate that I experienced any issues on the 5s. Personally, the main upgrade in the connectivity department is the inclusion of NFC, albeit being limited to Apple Pay utility.
Long term iPhone SE Review: Battery
The battery in the SE is marginally beefier than that of its predecessor. However, in my experience, this little bump makes a substantial difference in the amount of usage one can get from the device. Coming from the 5s, I was immediately struck by how much the SE could stay on for without needing a charge.
Long term iPhone SE Review: Camera
The iSight camera on the SE is bumped up to 12 megapixels from the 8 megapixels found on the 5S. This is the same camera component present in the 6s. It takes good shots and focuses quickly. Like almost all smartphone cameras, it suffers in low light, yet still produces better photos than the 5s in such conditions. On the video side of things, 4K video recording is also now in the mix.
Long term iPhone SE Review: Software
The SE was released in March 2016, outside of Apple’s regular release bracket, usually in September of each year. At launch the device was released with iOS 9.3.2, and has just been currently bumped up to 10.3.3 in anticipation of iOS 11 which is scheduled to drop towards the end of this year.
Apple’s operating system is maturing satisfactorily in my opinion. They have managed to keep it closed while still giving consumers solutions to extended functionalities through apps – which work better than any of the current mobile operating systems. There is consistency between the way things look be it built in or 3rd party. The GUI of the OS is cleaner and looks more thought out, in my opinion. However personalisation is not the OS’s strong point, and those apps I mentioned, most times would cost you some change. iOS is smooth, clean, yet boring. But the consequence of its boring nature is that it works as it is expected to.
Some bits of the OS are definitely counter-intuitive. For instance, I don’t understand why Apple keeps app settings outside the app environment itself, but in the phone’s “Settings” section. Nonetheless, these little gripes fly out the window with usage. You get used to where they are, and the things you’ll need mainly are easily accessible. There’s obviously a lower learning curve in using iOS.
Long term iPhone SE Review: Support brings rest of mind
The fact that the 5s which was released in 2013 is till getting updated in 2017 is laudable, and should boost one’s confidence in the longevity of the SE. Supporting the OS is something manufacturers should learn from Apple. Spare me the… Android is fragmented, that’s why its case is usually otherwise. Perhaps if manufacturers who supply Android offerings reduce the amount of devices and channel more of their efforts into the support of existing ones, who knows how the mobile landscape could change?
Long term iPhone SE Review: Gripes
One of the gripes I’ve had with the iPhone since its inception is it’s pricing. Apple has consistently pushed up the price attached to not only flagship devices, but even mid-rangers. Remember the 5C and how much it cost? The SE is not necessarily cheap, either, although Apple might want you to believe so. If you’re in the US, then you can get it at those mainstream advertised prices. In the UK, you might be paying the same numeric equivalent; and we know the value of the dollar and the sterling are not equal.
$400 for a non-expandable 16 GB device is in no way cheap; not just by my standards. Cheap phones are becoming more powerful and powerful phones are becoming cheaper after all. Factor in the 4K video, then it starts to become apparent that the SE actually costs – $500 at launch for those who were looking to the device as a media utility.
Long term iPhone SE Review: Final thoughts
Now to answer the questions at the start of this article explicitly. If one is considering iOS for the first time, I would argue the SE would be the ideal choice, as long as you can live with a 4-inch screen. Yes the 5s would be a cheaper option, but the improvements in the SE – especially the battery package – are enough reason to shell out the little difference for longevity, not just in daily use but also support over the coming years – considering the A9 chipset is newer. The slightly better multimedia proposition doesn’t hurt either.
On the other hand, I don’t see the SE being the key for Apple in emerging markets considering its price, coupled with the thriving used phone markets one might find in such markets like the Nigerian. It seems to me like the SE was a result of utilising left over hardware and mixing in some new novelty to spice it up. The exclusion of 3D touch for one, seems to suggest so to me. Let’s not forget the miserly 1.2 megapixel Facetime camera… Shame Apple! Shame! In 2017? For that amount?
Nonetheless, the SE is a stellar device and perhaps the best 4-inch phone one can buy at the moment and be assured support for a long time. However, don’t let Apple’s budget claim deceive you; buying outright, you can find equally competent devices for fractionally less; even better spec’d. But would they work consistently like the SE? Would they give you access to iOS, it’s apps and uniformity? Would they possess an iconic design and come from a brand who has arguably changed our notion of what a smartphone is?
Seeing that you have read this long term iPhone SE Review all the way to the end, I’ll let you be the judge.
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IB ‘Hi Beezle’ Sam-Epelle is passionate about smartphones and mobile technology; a solution provider; critical thinker; entrepreneur; the founder, Grand-Monumental Ink.