Apple iPhone SE review: Small, pocketable, perfect


The Apple iPhone SE: At a glance

Not sure if the iPhone SE is the right phone for you? Here’s a quick summary of all the iPhone SE’s key features, and its major differences to the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. You’ll find Alphr’s full in-depth review below, and if you have any questions that aren’t answered then feel free to post in the Disqus comments at the bottom of the page. 

  • The iPhone SE is Apple’s smallest, cheapest phone
  • It’s the same size as the iPhone 5s, so old cases and accessories will work fine
  • It’s not just smaller than the iPhone 6s, it’s also 30g lighter 
  • It’s still just as powerful as the pricier iPhone 6s – games and apps are smooth as butter
  • Battery life is better than any current iPhone thanks to the compact 4in display
  • The rear camera is identical to the iPhone 6s, but the selfie camera isn’t – it’s a substantial downgrade
  • The 802.11ac Wi-Fi isn’t MIMO – that means it lacks the speed and range of pricier iPhones

Apple iPhone SE review

Apple’s iPhone SE is going to make a lot of people very, very happy. If you’ve been doggedly clinging to a now-battered iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s and steadfastly refusing to embrace the new generation of big-screened 5in phones, then the iPhone SE is your dream made reality, a retro-sized smartphone with all the power of Apple’s high-end handsets – and for less than £500.

Isn’t it just an iPhone 5s? 

If you’ve spent the past few years with an iPhone 6 Plus in your pocket, the iPhone SE looks and feels disconcertingly tiny. Design-wise, Apple has done away with the rounded edges of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus and returned to a more squared-off profile – one that’s more than a little reminiscent of the old iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s. If you were hoping for a carbon copy of the 5s, you’re in luck.

In fact, according to Apple’s specifications, the iPhone SE is literally the same size and weight as the iPhone 5s. At 7.6mm thick, it is still chunkier than any other iPhone in the range, but this is largely a good thing, making it a little more wieldy in larger hands. And, weighing in at 113g, it’s 30g lighter than the iPhone 6s and 25g lighter than the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. 

Frankly, if you thought 2013’s iPhone was the perfect size and shape, you’re probably already clicking through the various options on Apple’s site in another browser window. The only question is whether you want to pre-order it in Silver, Gold, Space Grey or Rose Gold, and whether you want it in 16GB or 64GB. Decisions, decisions.

Buy the Apple iPhone SE now from Argos

Okay. Is it a mini iPhone 6s then?

Although the iPhone SE looks like a slightly refined iPhone 5s on the outside, it has the heart of an iPhone 6s. It’s not literally a shrunken iPhone 6s, though. To keep the price below the £500 mark, Apple has made some changes. It has done away with the pressure-sensing 3D Touch technology, and also made do with a first-generation Touch ID sensor. 

If you’ve become accustomed to the lightning-quick fingerprint recognition of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, you’ll have to be a little more patient with the iPhone SE. In all fairness, however, this is something that’ll bother most people in everyday use – it certainly doesn’t bother me. The other differences are fairly subtle, but they’re still well worth knowing about before you decide to splash the cash on an iPhone SE; I’ll get into those a little later on.

“The iPhone SE takes a little getting used to if you’ve acclimatised to larger phones”

Be under no illusions: the iPhone SE takes a little getting used to if you’ve acclimatised to larger phones. I never forgot that I had the iPhone 6 Plus in my trouser or jacket pocket, such is its size and weight, but the iPhone SE disappears. On more than one occasion, I’ve walked out of the house and then panicked that I’ve forgotten my phone only to find it happily sitting in my jeans pocket. And similarly, where as I used to find the iPhone 6 Plus to be an annoying lump in a jersey pocket on 50-mile-plus bike rides, the iPhone SE is just perfect – it sits snugly at the bottom of a cycling jersey, and also proves very usable in one hand on the odd occasion that you have to use it while on the move.

There is, however, one glaring downside to the iPhone SE’s dimensions. I have big hands, and equally outsized fingertips, and there’s no two ways around it – I have to type more slowly to avoid making mistakes. Even after a few months with the SE in my pocket, I still have to type very carefully to avoid deleting and retyping every other word several times. 

Google to the rescue

Recently, it got the point where I was idly considering digging out an old iPhone 6 Plus and giving up on the iPhone SE, purely because of that tiny fiddly keyboard. Then a solution appeared from the most unlikely of sources: Google. Yes, while Google’s Gboard keyboard for iOS took a good few weeks to arrive in the UK it is finally here – and it makes a huge difference to the iPhone SE. 

Gboard adds a whole host of nifty new features, but while the addition of Swype-style keyboard input is little more than a bonus for the larger iPhones, it’s a transformative addition to the iPhone SE. Rather than pecking away at a tiny keyboard with my giant sausage-shaped digits, Gboard makes it possible to trace out words quickly and easily, and with far fewer mistakes than with Apple’s standard iOS keyboard. When Gboard does get it wrong the alternative word suggestions can be a little wayward, but that’s a minor gripe – it’s still a big improvement overall. And when you factor in the ability to search for information (yes, and GIFs) direct from Gboard, it really is an essential addition to the iPhone SE. I couldn’t live without it. 

And before you think I’m hating on the iPhone SE’s bijou build, I’m really not. In fact, there are several benefits to the small screen. One of those is that the iPhone SE doesn’t need the Reachability feature of its larger brethren. For all but the smallest of hands, it’s easy to reach every corner of the screen without having to adjust your grip or stretch your fingers uncomfortably. This makes a welcome change from having to doubletap the home button every time you need to type in a web address, or craning your thumb awkwardly upwards while simultaneously attempting to not drop your pristine new iPhone. Sometimes, tiny is just better.

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