Apple in April 2020 unveiled a new low-cost iPhone, the iPhone SE, which is a follow-up to the 2016 iPhone SE of the same name. Like its predecessor, the 2020 iPhone SE is Apple’s most affordable iPhone, priced starting at $399.
The original iPhone SE was a budget 4-inch iPhone before being discontinued in 2018, but Apple revived the name in April 2020 with a new 4.7-inch model that looks like an iPhone 8 with internals similar to those of the iPhone 11. It features an A13 Bionic chip, 3GB RAM, and a low starting price of $399. Comes in white, black, and red, and comes with 64, 128, or 256GB of storage.
- Great performance
- Good rear camera
- Underwhelming selfie camera
- Starts at 16GB storage
The 2020 iPhone SE is identical to the iPhone 8 when it comes to design. It has a 4.7-inch Retina HD LCD display with True Tone to match the ambient lighting in a room, Wide color, Dolby Vision, and HDR10.
Available in black, white and (PRODUCT)RED, the iPhone SE is built with a glass front and back with a color-matched aluminum band. Wireless charging is supported and it features IP67 water and dust resistance so it can hold up to splashes and even brief submersions in water.
The top bezel houses the 7-megapixel front-facing camera and microphone while the bottom bezel includes a Touch ID Home button for fingerprint-based biometric authentication making the iPhone SE 2020 the only iPhone in Apple’s current lineup that continues to feature Touch ID over Face ID.
There’s a single-lens 12-megapixel rear camera in the iPhone SE with an f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilization, and support for Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting.
The iPhone SE’s camera can record 4K video at up to 60 frames per second with optical image stabilization and support for slow-mo video and time-lapse video. The front-facing camera supports Portrait Mode as well using the image signal processor and Neural Engine of the A13 Bionic.
Inside, the iPhone SE is equipped with modern chip technology, featuring the same A13 Bionic chip as the iPhone 11, which Apple says is the fastest chip in a smartphone to date.
When it comes to battery life, the iPhone SE lasts for 13 hours when watching videos, eight hours when streaming videos, and 40 hours when listening to audio. It is capable of fast charging and can charge to 50 percent in 30 minutes when using an 18W power adapter or higher.
Though named after the 2016 iPhone SE that shared a design with the iPhone 5, the 2020 iPhone SE is identical to the iPhone 8. It features a 4.7-inch display with thick bezels at the top and bottom of the device.
The top bezel features a cutout for the front-facing camera, speaker, and accompanying sensors, and at the bottom of the device, there’s a Touch ID Home button covered in sapphire crystal.
The back of the iPhone SE houses a single-lens rear camera, a microphone, and an LED flash.
On the left side of the iPhone SE, there’s a mute switch and volume buttons, while the right side features the sleep/wake button. The bottom houses a Lightning port and speaker holes, and like prior iPhones, there is no headphone jack so Bluetooth or Lightning headphones are required.
The 2020 iPhone SE measures in at 138.4mm tall by 67.3mm wide, it’s 7.3mm thick, and it weighs 5.22 ounces. It is the smallest of Apple’s iPhones, but still much larger than the prior version of the iPhone SE.
The iPhone SE is available in white, space gray and a (PRODUCT)RED version that features a bright red glass-backed shell. All three colors feature black front panels, including the white, which in previous light-colored iPhones was white.
Water and Dust Resistance
The iPhone SE features an IP67 dust and water resistance rating, which means it is entirely dust proof and able to withstand one meter of water (3.3 feet) for up to 30 minutes.
Apple’s flagship iPhones feature an all-glass design with Face ID, but to keep costs low, the iPhone SE continues to offer a Home button with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor.
The Touch ID Home button is covered with a durable sapphire crystal that protects the Touch ID sensor and a steel ring that detects a user’s fingerprint. Touch ID is used for unlocking the iPhone, filling in passwords with iCloud Keychain, confirming App Store purchases, opening passcode-protected apps, and confirming Apple Pay transactions.
The iPhone SE appears to feature the same 4.7-inch display that was used in the iPhone 8 with a resolution of 1334 by 750 with 326 pixels per inch and a 1400:1 contrast ratio.
It features multi-touch capabilities, P3 wide color support for rich, true-to-life colors, and 625 nits max brightness.
The iPhone SE supports True Tone, a feature that has been included in iPad and iPhone models for several years now.
True Tone takes advantage of the ambient light sensor to detect the lighting in a room, adjusting the color temperature and intensity to match the light for a more natural, paper-like viewing experience that cuts down on eye strain.
While the iPhone 8 supported 3D Touch, the iPhone SE offers the same Haptic Touch functionality available in the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max.
Haptic Touch can be used throughout the operating system much like 3D Touch and for many of the same tasks, such as accessing Quick Actions on the Home screen, previewing links in Safari, activating the flash on the Lock screen, accessing extra features in Control Center, and more.
The iPhone SE is equipped with the same A13 Bionic chip that’s included in the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max, and which Apple has called its fastest chip ever in a smartphone.
It is much faster than the A11 that was in the iPhone 8, as well as more power-efficient, which improves battery life.
There’s an 8-core Neural Engine in the A13 chip, which provides faster than ever real-time photo and video analysis. A pair of Machine Learning Accelerators allow the CPU to run up to six times faster, delivering more than 1 trillion operations per second.
The Neural Engine powers the camera system, Face ID, augmented reality apps, and more, plus there’s a new Machine Learning Controller to balance performance and efficiency. According to Apple, the A13 Bionic paired with iOS 13 enables new apps that make use of machine learning and Core ML.
Ahead of when the iPhone SE was released, rumors suggested it had 3GB RAM, and listings from a Chinese carrier have also listed the 3GB RAM number.
The iPhone SE is available in 64, 128, and 256GB storage options.
The iPhone SE features a single-lens rear camera, but it does adopt some technology from the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, which means better photos than were possible with the iPhone 8.
Based on an iFixit teardown, the iPhone SE is using the same 12-megapixel rear camera sensor as the iPhone 8, but it benefits from the A13’s improved image signal processor.
The 12-megapixel wide-angle camera features an f/1.8 aperture with optical image stabilization, wide color capture, and next-generation Smart HDR for improved highlights and shadow details. Apple says that it is the best single-camera system ever in an iPhone.
Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting
While there aren’t two cameras, the iPhone SE does support Portrait Mode, Portrait Lighting, and Depth Control using the image signal processor and the Neural Engine for computational photography. The iPhone SE is the first iPhone that uses a purely software solution to enable Portrait Mode.
The iPhone SE shoots 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, with 24 and 30 frames also available options alongside 1080 and 720p shooting modes.
Extended dynamic range support is available for video up to 30 frames per second, and optical image stabilization is available.
QuickTake video, a feature first introduced in Apple’s 2019 flagship iPhones is included, allowing users to capture quick videos by holding down on the camera button when in photo mode.
The 7-megapixel front-facing camera features an f/2.2 aperture with Portrait mode and Depth Control support despite the lack of a TrueDepth camera system. To enable this feature, Apple uses machine learning and monocular depth estimation.
The front-facing camera supports QuickTake, and it is the first iPhone front-facing camera to offer the feature. 1080p HD video can be recorded at 30 frames per second, and other features include Retina Flash, auto image stabilization, Burst Mode, auto HDR, and wide color capture.
The iPhone SE has a 1,821 mAh battery capacity, which is the same battery capacity as the iPhone 8. Apple’s own battery listings for the iPhone SE suggest the battery life is “about the same as the iPhone 8.”
The iPhone SE’s battery lasts for up to 13 hours of video playback, up to eight hours of streaming video playback, and up to 40 hours of audio playback.
The 2020 iPhone SE supports fast charging, which means it can be charged to 50 percent battery life in just 30 minutes. Fast charging requires a USB-C power adapter that offers at least 18 watts, which includes 29/30W adapters from Apple (priced at $49).
The USB-C power adapter and USB-C to Lightning cable needed for fast charging must be purchased separately because the iPhone SE ships with a standard 5W power adapter and USB-A to Lightning cable.
The iPhone SE has a glass body with a built-in wireless charging coil to support Qi-based wireless charging. It is compatible with any 5W or 7.5W Qi-based wireless charging accessory.
The iPhone SE supports Gigabit-class LTE with 2×2 MIMO and LAA like the iPhone 11, and it supports the same LTE bands as the iPhone 11: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 29, 30, 66, and 71 FDD-LTE bands and 34, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 46, and 48 TD-LTE bands.
Dual-SIM support, which allows two phone numbers to be used at one time, is included in the iPhone SE. It is enabled through the inclusion of one physical nano-SIM slot and an eSIM.
Dual-SIMs work with select carriers in Austria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, India, Spain, the UK, and the United States.
Bluetooth and WiFi
The iPhone SE supports Bluetooth 5.0, which offers longer range, faster speeds, larger broadcast message capacity, and better interoperability with other wireless technologies compared to Bluetooth 4.2.
It also supports WiFi 6 with 2×2 MIMO, aka 802.11ax WiFi. WiFi 6 is the latest WiFi protocol and it lets you download up to 38 percent faster than WiFi 5 (aka 802.11ac).
GPS and NFC
Support for GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and QZSS location services is included in the iPhone SE.
NFC with reader mode is included, and there’s a background tag feature that allows the iPhone models to scan NFC tags without the need to open an app first. The iPhone SE also supports Express Cards with power reserve, which means it can be used in lieu of a transit card for public transit and continues to function even if the battery is dead.
Pricing and Availability
The iPhone SE is available in 64, 128, and 256GB capacities. The 64GB model is priced at $399, the 128GB model is priced at $449 and the 256GB model is priced at $549.
How to Buy
AppleCare+ is available for the iPhone SE for $79 or $3.99 a month, and Apple also offers an upgraded $149 plan that adds coverage for theft and loss.
When Apple launched the 2020 iPhone SE with the same processor as the iPhone 11 lineup, an updated camera with Portrait mode features and 4K video recording, and a starting price of just $399 it was clear this would be fantastic for a lot of people, particularly those holding on to older iPhone models. Now the first reviews are out today and there is unanimous praise for the new entry-level iPhone.
The Verge calls it “everything you need” and gives top marks for the battery life, camera, long software support from Apple, and concludes it will make customers consider what real value a $1,000 smartphone actually delivers.
The iPhone SE shines a bright, clarifying light on the entire smartphone industry, putting even Apple’s own top-end phones in sharp relief. What are you paying for when you spend $800 or $1,000 or even more for a phone? The list turns out to be more about niceties than necessities.
TechCrunch highlights how much you’re getting with the new iPhone SE for the money and calls it “cheap and cheerful”:
Simply, it’s a super value for the price, just smashing really. And a damn good phone. Alas, I am too used to no home button for it to be really appealing to me, but this is going to be a great phone for millions of people. And talk about timing on the value side of things — $399 for an iPhone with Apple’s latest power plant on board is huge.
Another interesting point is the win-win situation of Apple doing well on its end with customers getting a great deal too when it comes to this new iPhone.
This iteration of the iPhone is one of those rare moments where the business gets served, the users get served and everyone comes out of it with a good deal.
Engadget says the iPhone SE is “the best budget smartphone out there” and that it “isn’t just a good deal — it’s a big deal.”
It’s not just because the iPhone SE is cheap, though it certainly is: The base model costs only $399. No, what makes the SE so valuable is that it doesn’t act like a $399 phone. The iPhone SE isn’t just a good deal — it’s a big deal. For people clinging to ancient phones because new ones are too large, too expensive or too gimmicky, the iPhone SE is the right phone at the right time at the right price.
Tom’s Guide says “It’s the closest thing to future-proof you’ll find under $400 offering the fastest performance around, very good cameras, wireless charging and a premium design that outclasses cheap Android phones.”
Related roundup: iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max Reviews Roundup