The iPhone SE is here. Well, to be honest it’s difficult to figure out what to make of it.
I mean on the one hand there is this feeling that nothing much that’s new has been presented to the world, on the other hand, the iPhone SE is very much a premium-tier phone, just in a more compact, and manageable size.
The only sense that can be made out from this concoction of high-end internals (of the iPhone 6S) in the chassis of an older iPhone 5s, is that it is a strategy shift at Apple.
So far Apple’s strategy of selling its prior models at a discount, to cover for the ‘affordable iPhone’ market has worked well from a revenue standpoint, but for the well-heeled, these older-model phones are not attractive – for their vintage and their has-been connotation.
Hence a lot of customers who wanted affordable iPhones were being lost to other brands that were creating devices with contemporary hardware at the same price as yesteryear iPhones. This realisation seems to have been the genesis of the iPhone 5c and now the iPhone SE.
Now, leaving all this behind, and looking at this device from a qualitative point of view, the iPhone SE is quite pleasing – the 4 inch phone had become a thing of the past and we really had stopped arguing over the usefulness of massive phones as compared to phones of this size.
With this phone we are reminded of how pleasant using a 4 inch phone can be – I mean it slips into your pocket so easily and casually, and you can just forget about it in there.
Now, with this small package, the big old debate is back and we find ourselves in a similar situation as before.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the hot new release.
The display on the iPhone SE is their vaunted 4 inch, IPS LCD panel. Apple thrives on LCD screens and somehow makes everything appear beautifully sharp and natural.
The LCD panel’s qualities are sound – the color production and viewing angles are good but the resolution on this device is resoundingly beaten by any other 1080p device. Which is fair enough, given that it is not an HD screen. Then the question becomes “why is it not”? And the answer is that it is not an attempt by Apple to provide a cheaper phone; instead it has to do with battery longevity, and with the law of diminishing returns.
Viewed alone, there’s no one who can fault the display on the iPhone SE as the display and the tech behind are still very relevant and satisfactory today. Adding more pixels or increasing brightness levels would have only added more demands on the battery (which is not a large one, considering the phone’s lithe form factor).
So, the screen is decently bright and consequently, outdoor visibility also is very good. The screen though small, is crisp enough and there should not be a lot of complaints with it.
The only downside we see is that watching videos and movies on such a small screen, or even using some of the newer apps that rely on extra real estate, may not provide the best experiences. But that’s the expected side effect of desiring a more pocketable (or single-handed) device.
The iPhone SE looks almost exactly like the iPhone 5s. Again, that’s not a bad thing – the design of the iPhone 5s was very well accepted, in fact, applauded.
It has an aluminum body with a power button on the top right and delineated volume buttons on the left side. The front also carries the the first-generation Touch ID sensor which is a tad disappointing though. Why Apple used the version 1 avatar of Touch ID on a contemporary phone instead of the upgraded (and significantly faster) version 2 that’s used on all Apple devices released since 2015, is a small mystery.
All the perks that come with the size of this device still exist – it is great for one-handed use and you can easily reach all the corners of the screen. Typing on such a small screen is real problem for me personally even with the auto-correct. If you are a bigger mobile phone user, it going to get a little cramped up for you. But then again, it really is a matter of time, getting used to a smaller layout and many people will get used to it as muscle-memory refreshes.
The smaller size also makes the phone pleasantly light and very handy; and it’s available in all the four colors that make up the iPhone family at this time, including the much-desired Rose Gold.
So, except for the ever going debate on whether the size is apt for a phone or not, there are not really any complaints about the design of this device.
Let’s surprise you. The performance that you get with the iPhone SE is as good as what you get with the iPhone 6s! It may sound crazy that a device that costs INR 23,000 lesser than the iPhone 6s can race around the same track as the (significantly) more expensive brother!
The iPhone SE uses the exact same ‘Apple A9’ chip clocked at the same 1.85 GHz as the iPhone 6s! It even has 2 GB of RAM (while the iPhone 5s had only 1 GB).
All this silicon thrown at such a small amount of pixels give this phone a small nimble but insanely powerful sports car feel.
The iPhone SE does differ from the iPhone 6s in terms of available features. The iPhone SE does not have a 3D Touch, for example. It is something that may not be missed by a lot of people who are upgrading from previous Apple devices (since they wouldn’t have tasted the additional functionality yet), but still, for the sake of the argument, the absence of this feature is worth noting.
The phone handles pretty much everything thrown at it, very comfortably, and there is no lag whatsoever. The free and buttery smooth feeling that has always been a trademark of Apple devices is still retained with this device.
Personally speaking, this is something that is expected out of Apple devices, no matter the price tag.
There are no heating issues and playing games is also a fun-filled experience. Well of course you may not enjoy playing games on such a small screen, as much as you would on some larger phones.
The only disappointment here, to me, is the aforementioned inclusion of a Touch ID 1.0, given that it is a little slow and sometimes irritating. But if you’re moving from a pre-iPhone 6s device, it’ll be all the same to you and you may not actually notice anything anomalistic.
The iPhone SE ships with Apple’s latest OS, the iOS 9.
Well, iOS 9 is based heavily on proactivity, which essentially means that you device is learning about you and your habits in order to act on that information through search options, contextual reminders, notifications, and a customized “Siri Suggestions” interface populated with the user’s favorite contacts and apps, along with nearby places and relevant news stories.
Apart from this, the iOS 9 seems to really be focused towards optimising the code under the hood. In fact, the ever-so-smooth and near perfect optimisation of the previous Apple devices does seem in some way, enhanced.
The iPhone 5s had a cutting-edge camera for it’s time. But that was almost three years back.
Today the iPhone 6s offers you things like deep trench isolation and focus pixels. The iPhone SE adopts the rear camera straight from the iPhone 6s. It is a brilliant 12 megapixel camera that has a number of upgrades which improve the picture quality over that of the iPhone 5s.
The increased number of megapixels allow this camera to click some really good snaps. The amount of detail on these snaps is really, very impressive and also thanks to the Apple’s brilliant Image Signal Processor, there is hardly any noise in the snaps. The auto-focus works very well too, allowing you to take your perfect shot quickly.
4k recording is available for the device but it really is like one big egg in a very small basket for the 16 GB model. There is not much that you can store in your phone if you go for the base-level variant i.e. the one with 16 GB of storage to start with. To have 4k recording to add to the storage needs – that really does not make a lot of sense.
But… it is there to be used at your discretion. The iPhone SE also has Slo-Mo video (720p at 240 fps or 1080p at 120 fps), and Time-Lapse video capabilities. It can also record 1080p video at 30 or 60 fps and it supports taking 8-megapixel still photos while recording 4K video.
This camera also clicks Live Photos that were introduced with the iPhone 6s. This is relatively new feature and what it does is that it captures around 1.5 seconds of footage before and after you take the photo, and makes a mini-video within the still photo itself, thus adding life to the picture that you just captured.
Now for the single-biggest disappointment of the iPhone SE.
The front facing camera is a huge let down. I cannot think of any single reason, why a 2016 device would have a sensor size of a mere 1.2 megapixels!
In a time where selfies are very important to a lot of people, a near decent front camera is expected at the very least. And 1.2 megapixels does not cut it.
The front camera does include a feature called the Retina Flash in which the screen shines brightly just as you click a selfie, improving the quality of the picture in low light conditions. But it’s a small consolation.
In conclusion, while the front camera is a let down, the rear camera is a winner. And if you aren’t exactly a selfie-aficionado then the iPhone SE is well equipped for your everyday-photography needs.
Entertainment apart from listening to music is not as top-notch on this phone. And that’s the limitation that a small-sized screen carries.
Playing games and watching videos is fairly smooth and delightful in a sense they run like hot knife through butter – the processor and the graphics unit will ensure that you never see a stutter or a jump between scenes. Buffering too is never seen (unless your Wi-Fi or 3G coverage lets you down).
Music wise, there’s a huge library available via Apple Music, and there won’t be too many tracks (Indian or International) that you’ll not be able to find on Apple’s gargantuan repository.
You can stream in, and steam out (to Apple TV enabled external monitors and TV screens). And if you plan to keep your music and movies locally on your phone (and not rely on Cloud-based services), the iPhone SE comes with a 64 GB memory variant too.
First up, there is no OS ecosystem in the mobile world that is more secure than Apple’s playing field.
While termed restrictive by many (mostly pro-Android folks), it still lays claim to own and manage user experience and data- and device-security better than even BlackBerry did in it’s heyday.
The Touch ID used on the iPhone SE while slightly disappointing due to it’s vintage, is still a very secure user-authentication vehicle, that also prevents unauthorised use while also playing approver for App purchases and App unlocking.
The SE comes with a built in NFC Chip which enables Apple Pay. While it joins the iPhone 6, 6s, 6 Plus, and 6s Plus in supporting Apple Pay, it the first 4-inch iPhone to be able to do so. The last 4 inch device, the iPhone 5s, while blessed with Touch ID, did not have the capability to support Apple Pay.
Touch ID’s integration with Apple Pay, allows you to make payments for Apps, cabs and even in retail stores via a credit or debit card linked to the service.
Apple Pay hasn’t yet arrived in India, but when it finally does, your iPhone SE will be ready to power you along quickly.