iPhone SE review – flagship power in your pocket


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If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to put a V6 engine into a hatchback, wonder no more. The iPhone SE has the power of a flagship smartphone device placed into a reliable chassis to outperform any device at its modest $399 price point.

The iPhone SE includes the A13 Bionic CPU found in the current iPhone 11. A remarkable decision considering it’s the same CPU found in the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, the latter of which starts at $1099.

The A13 Bionic makes the iPhone SE blazing fast. From standard browsing to demanding gaming apps, the six-core CPU is not only on par with the iPhone 11, but outperforms any chipset found in new $1,000 Android-based flagship devices.

In our test, there was no discernable difference in performance between the iPhone SE and the iPhone 11. In fact, the iPhone SE was a tad faster in opening popular apps like Twitter and Instagram. Gaming performance was also excellent, with Mario Kart speeding along at 60 frames-per-second.

Not only does the A13 Bionic yield fast performance, its Neural Engine enhances the single-lens 12MP f/1.8 aperture Wide camera and the 7MP front camera to simulate Portrait mode, which typically requires two lenses. Through computational photography, the 12MP Wide camera can produce bokeh and Portrait Lighting effects with Smart HDR comparable to the dual-lens iPhone 11 and even the triple-lens iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, with a bit less detail.

Unfortunately, the iPhone SE lacks Night Mode from the iPhone 11 series. The feature utilizes Focus Pixels to illuminate typically drab photos taken in low light. By comparison, the Pixel 3a utilizes a single-lens camera and includes a comparable feature called Night Sight.

Video performance is excellent with up to 4K, 60FPS fidelity combined with top-tier fast focus and stabilization. Plus, the A13 Bionic adds extended dynamic range for videos up to 30FPS.

Besides the welcome addition of Wi-Fi 6 and eSim functionality, the rest of the iPhone SE is from iPhone 8 parts bin. It features the same 4.7-inch Retina HD display, Touch ID, fast charging, wireless charging and similar battery life at 13 hours of video playback or eight hours of streaming video. Like the iPhone 8, iPhone SE is missing the beloved headphone jack last found in the iPhone 6S.

Battery life was decent in our full-day test. Taking the iPhone SE off the charger at 7am, the phone held a 37 percent battery by 10pm. Usage included a mix of Wi-Fi and LTE, phone calls, browsing, app usage, and location tracking.

In a fast charging test, we used an 18W charger (not included) and increased the iPhone SE battery from 36 percent to 80 percent in 30 minutes. The iPhone 7 Smart Battery Case fits the iPhone SE and will make the device a two-day phone for power users, but won’t work with wireless charging.

But perhaps the best feature of the iPhone SE is one that no other $399 smartphone can match – operability with the latest version of iOS for the next four to five years. That means the latest features, performance levels, and security updates to keep the device buzzing years after purchase.

The iPhone SE is a phenomenal value proposition. The A13 Bionic transforms the device into a pocket-sized beast capable of flagship-level performance. While the camera is missing some bells and whistles, and the battery life could be better, most buyers will be plenty satisfied when they start their Neural Engines.

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