Firmitas

A Quick iPhone SE Review

Revision 1
© 2018 by Zack Smith. All rights reserved.

Introduction

The iPhone SE is the last of the one-handed-operation iPhones that Apple has sold. Despite the urging and clamoring of Apple fans who have small hands, especially women and parents buying phones for their kids, as well as people who simply prefer to operate a phone one-handed, Apple has decided to cancel this basically excellent product rather than improve it.

Despite that, as of late 2018, new iPhone SE phones are still available for as little as $0 in the USA to consumers who are switching prepaid carriers, typically to MetroPCS. This is a deal that is hard to beat especially since Metro offers cheap, reliable service that includes tethering.

On top of that, the iPhone SE is still a very responsive and useable mobile phone that even shoot 4K video. The days when frequent phone upgrades were needed have past, because the phones have gotten fast enough and their storage is ample enough to justify keeping them longer.

The iPhone SE was originally released March 31, 2016 and subsequently upgraded to provide more storage.

Performance

The iPhone SE provides very decent performance especially while running iOS 12. Many reviewers have credited iOS 12 with giving new life to older devices, but in fact the SE was already fast enough running iOS 11.3.

It's worth asking what makes a phone feels fast. It comes down to several factors:

  • Processor speed.
  • The number of cores.
  • How much RAM it has, how fast that RAM is, and how efficiently the OS uses it.
  • Screen resolution (higher is slower).
  • The Wifi chip's speed.

While the SE has only 2GB of RAM and only processor cores, the phone feels perfectly fast. iPhones use memory very efficiently and 2GB is quite enough RAM, which cannot be said about Android phones. The SE's screen is Retina resolution but it has relatively few pixels due to its 4-inch size, which helps the phone run faster. The SE has the same 1.85 GHz dual-core 64-bit Apple A9 processor as the iPhone 6s, which is likewise still performing well.

Storage

When the iPhone SE first appeared it had only 16GB of flash memory, which was definitely was not enough.

Now it has a minimum of 32GB however and this is quite enough even for people with large music collections and many apps.

It is not enough for making long 4K video recordings however e.g. longer than 20 minutes.

Camera

The iPhone SE has a very adequate rear camera. It can provide RAW photos for quality-conscious amateur photographers, however its JPEG photos remain, like all Apple JPEGs, smeared-looking when zoomed in. The sharpness and realism of the RAW photos however are quite good even when zoomed in, and despite the SE offering only a single rear sensor with only 12 megapixels of resolution, it doesn't disappoint.

Camera apps that produce DNG (digital negative) RAW files, such as iRAW, let you get the most out of this phone's camera.

The major downside to the rear camera is that it doesn't offer image stabilization, neither optical image stabilization (OIS) nor stabilization of the sensor shift variety. This means that any photo taken while you are in motion may be blurry. For the sharpest photos even when you are not moving, it is best to stabilize the phone by holding it against a solid object such as a light pole or building.

If you want optical image stabilization, you will have to upgrade to an iPhone 7. This may cost you an extra $300-450 because the iPhone SE is heavily discounted whereas the iPhone 7 is not.

Conclusion

At this point, it is really hard to go wrong buying an iPhone SE because it is very cheap and very much a sufficient phone for most uses. If you can get a brand new SE it will serve you well as either a daily one-handed phone or a backup or a phone for a kid.

However now that it is discontinued you must also apply your natural buyer's shrewdness because remaining stock may not be as new as a sealed box might imply. Stores such as Best Buy and Walmart are alleged to have sold returned items marked as new. If the shrink-wrap plastic is not perfectly tight around the box, it's a returned item.

Nevertheless a phone that's defective when new can still be taken to Apple under warranty for repair.