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iPhone SE Review

One of the devices that is certainly overshadowed by the iPhone 6 & iPhone 7 range has to be the iPhone SE which is basically a special edition version of the iPhone 5s.

There is no denying that it looks identical to the latter, but underneath the hood is some upgrades that could make the phone a useful proposition for those looking for a slightly smaller handset and of course a cheaper option over the latest models in terms of contracts.

Plus, this and the iPhone 6 models will be the last devices to feature the 3.5mm headphone port.

Design & Box Contents

SE 4

I won’t go into the box content too much because if you have owned an iPhone in the past few years the contents have not really changed. For those in the need to know you get a small box with your in-the-ear headphones (3.5mm); which also has a call-answer button attached to the cable so that it can be used to change music tracks.

You also have a Lightning port connector with a USB mains plug. Finally there is a small tool to remove the cover at the side of the phone so you can place the Nano sim inside. Also there is a quick start guide of sorts which is not really necessary because most of the setup process is done on the phone with ample on-screen instructions.

As I mentioned before cosmetically the phone offers the same look/dimensions as the iPhone 5s, 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm. However the phone did feel lighter than its twin brother and using a pair of digital scales this proved correct as it was about 4g lighter.

Other than this you will find the port configuration is identical, so you have the volume buttons to the left side, with the mute switch directly above. To the opposite side you have the Nano sim cover and directly at the base is where you will find the microphone and speaker grills that are placed next to the lightning port connector and 3.5mm headphone port.

At the top of the phone is the standby/power button and the front provides the subtle integration of the front facing camera and the touch-id home button at the base; which you can setup during the installation part of the phone so you can use your thumb print for unlocking the phone.

Mind you since iOS 10 has arrived the art of opening the phone relies on pressing the home button, so you just need to do that now with the designated thumbprint to completely unlock the phone in one press, rather than press and hold as you used to do.

Feature improvements over the iPhone 5s

SE 3 

Feature wise, the comparison I have been making with the iPhone 5s fades away at this point because while you have the same 4” LED (~60.8% screen-to-body ratio) screen with a resolution of 640 x 1136 pixels (~326 ppi pixel density) with the SE you get the A9 chipset that is found on the iPhone 6s.

This, along with the 2GB RAM and a faster CPU i.e. a Dual-core 1.84 GHz Twister vs Dual-core 1.3 GHz Cyclone (ARM v8-based) means the phone feels a lot more responsive in iOS 10 i.e. opening Apps, browsing the web and so on.

I think the Safari web browser also loads quicker because it supports the WiFi ac standard, so I could tap into my 5Ghz powered router for maximum wireless performance. It also has a bit more grunt on the Bluetooth side with a 4.2/LE (low energy) version of the standard. Note: with the Vodafone sim I had installed I was also getting 4G indoors 99% of the time, but this will of course vary between regions.

Another improvement is that the SE model supports Apple Pay, which means it is an NFC capable phone. This way you can use your touch-id sensor in conjunction with the Apple Pay side of things to pay for products at compatible retail outlets.

I’ll mention the battery life later but the battery itself has a small upgrade, as it now features a Li-Po 1624 mAh battery vs the iPhone 5s Li-Po 1560 mAh battery.

So as you can see the phone looks identical but it is actually far from it when it comes to features. The biggest one of which is the upgrade to the camera....

You now have a 12MP camera vs the iPhone 5s 8MP, you can also shoot video at 1080p @60fps or 4K video @30fps.

I’ll also need to mention that the GPU is faster as well, so you get a PowerVR GT7600 (six-core graphics) vs PowerVR G6430 (quad-core graphics).

iOS 10 General Performance

SE 2

I spoke about iOS 10 performance briefly above but the latest OS does perform really well on the SE model. By default the phone I got from Vodafone comes with iOS 10 so you will need to do an update to get it to the latest incremental version, which at the time of writing was iOS 10.02.

However once installed it provided all the latest improvements that iOS 10 brings to the table, with ample performance to match. With iOS 10 you have customisable widgets that can be accessed with a swipe from the home screen. There is also improvements to Siri which is your voice activated assistant.

You can now swipe up from the base to get a control panel with two panes, one for media playback and the other for accessing your wireless connection and so forth.

I also listened to music comfortably, dabbled with the newer version of Maps and from my point of view both worked wonderfully. Even the navigation app provided accurate routing and it tracked my position when I went off route, so the base app does work a tad better than previous versions.

Without going into too much detail iOS 10 works well and you can read more about my initial impressions on iOS 10 here http://www.crowdedbrain.co.uk/softwarefeatures/finally-get-rid-of-bloatware-with-ios-10.html

The only snag with the version I had from Vodafone is that the base model supports only 16GB of storage. Once I had attached my iTunes account and downloaded past purchases I had pretty much used up all of the storage in under an hour!

You also need to take into account the increased storage of 4K video. So in a nutshell 16GB is not really an option anymore. Sadly the only other option you have is to get the 64GB model, because the 32GB model does not exist on the SE range. The only saving grace is that the 64GB version is cheaper than the latest iPhone 7’s 32GB variant.

Game Performance & Benchmarking

For benchmark results I utilised several apps such as 3D Mark, Antutu and BaseMark II. I basically compared the iPhone SE to my iPhone 5s and the results are below. As you can see the SE beats the 5s in every test.

SE 1

This explains why gaming on the whole ran like a dream. Graphically the lack of a Full HD screen does not really impact the experience for me, because the SE has a smaller screen.

Colours though were vibrant when the backlight was raised, plus I also thought the audio output was louder than my 5s to.

Again the 16GB of storage is the phone's problem here, as the games are getting large so you will fill that storage up quickly!

Camera Performance

SE 10

I have never had an issue with the iPhone cameras in the past as their point and click nature does a great job for taking those spur of the moment snap-shots.

With the SE I forgot to mention it has a slight difference to the iPhone 5s (other than the 4K side) as the rear camera features 1/3" sensor size, 1.22 µm pixel size  vs the 5s 1/3" sensor size, 1.5 µm pixel size.

I’m not expert of photography but I couldn’t’ deny that most of the images I took came out well when viewing these back on my computer.

I’ve added the Flickr gallery below so you can see the un-edited versions.

Despite its simple autofocus nature, you can still tap to focus manually and use your finger to adjust the light exposure option.

You also have standard geo-tagging, HDR support and the new live feature, which basically takes a snapshot of footage before and after the press of the shutter button; so it captures moments you may have missed.

You can view these back in the Photos App which has also had improvements in iOS 10 in that the People’s section can now group all the photos of people it recognised into their own folders.

You can also use the Photo App to perform basic editing of your photos i.e. crop, rotate and change brightness/contrast.

More features of the camera includes Time-lapse and slow-mo options, alongside the Panoramic style mode. I did not use these a great deal but they could prove useful none the less.

4K Video

By default you don’t have the 4K option enabled, instead you have to delve into the phone's main settings option to enable 4K recording, so this could be more intuitive.

However once enabled the camera app will display a small 4k symbol at the top part of the display so you know you are in the mode.

Once shooting 4K you can also press the shutter button to take 8MP photos as well if the need takes you.

The quality of the 4K footage when viewed back on my 4K TV looked superb (rich colours and ultra sharp detail) in my eyes. Though there are some parts where the autofocus was having trouble coping with the changes in light conditions.

I’ve added one of the samples I took on Flickr. However I will also be adding more 4K content to my YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/user/Crowdedbrain when I do the second part of my Hisense 4K TV review, so please keep an eye on this.

Note: I must mention as well that the front facing camera performed well to, despite its 720p nature I felt it captured more natural light than my iPhone 5s.

iPhone SE

Battery Life

For battery life don’t be alarmed when you first use the phone and think that the battery seems to be going down pretty quickly. This is normally the case if you have upgraded from another handset, as it needs to restore all of your iCloud content across (which causes more drain on the battery).

Once this has settled down the phone is pretty much capable of doing a full day of heavy use. For gaming this will reduce the battery life, but I was still able to have some charge left at the end of the day after several hours of heavy gaming on the fly.

I also did a comparison with my iPhone 5s from a movie playback point of view. In that I streamed a 1hr 45min film to the phone with the backlight on full.

After this time the battery on my iPhone 5s had dropped by 28% vs the SE’s 24%. So there is a subtle improvement here.

On the whole the battery is not bad at all and it's helped with the new low-power battery mode which kicks in after the battery reaches a certain level. This helps you get an extra hour or so of life from the battery with minor usage, such as texting and making the odd call.

Summary

For me the iPhone SE is a great handset that may appeal to those who preferred the look/feel of the iPhone 5s and are put off by the increasing girth of the larger iPhone 6/7 range.

My only concern would be that the iPhone SE looks identical to the 5s and would it psychologically make me feel that I would not get a significant upgrade if I bought one. In theory yes, but in reality when using the phone it offers so much more.... Better battery life, Apple Pay support, improved performance in iOS 10 and games in general. Additionally all the accessories I have for the iPhone 5s, such as car cradles, bike mounts and so forth would still be able to accommodate the SE device. Thus there are merits to upgrading even from a 5s.

The SE also has a better camera with 4K video support thrown in. Storage is the only drawback, so you will need to spend more on the 64GB model. It’s also still pricey compared to say an Android phone. Yet if you want a stepping stone in to the world of Apple’s iPhone, then the SE is certainly a good starting point!

Editor's rating

8Overall9Design8Features9Ease of use8Performance6Price

Product Sourced from Vodafone.co.uk prices vary depending on contract! Crowdedbrain recawardweb