iPhone SE 2020 review: Prima Facie, the headline will sound outlandish and reek of drivel coming out of the mouth of an Apple apologist. But once you cool down, then and take a couple of minutes to think about it – the genius of the latest iPhone SE becomes undeniable. Even at Rs 42,500, a good 10,000 more than its US price, it becomes the best value proposition for anyone looking for a new smartphone. But again, that Rs 42,500 pricepoint is contrarian to any value for money conversation in a market like India, that too in the middle of a pandemic which is increasingly looking lethal.
But, yes, another but, you need to remember that Apple provides software updates for its phones for a very long time. The iPhone 6S which launched at the fag-end of 2015 also received iOS 13 in 2019, four years after it was launched. And considering the new iPhone SE is powered by the very same A13 Bionic processor as the iPhone 11 models, the good money is on the SE also getting the latest and greatest the iPhone has on offer till at least 2024. You don’t get that on Android smartphones — the best you can hope for is for two years of support which is meh compared to Apple’s wow.
Apple’s wow is also a low-blow for any competing Android phone because the A13 Bionic isn’t just a couple of generations faster than the best you can get on an Android phone, it’s also faster than some MacBook Pro models. In other words, when you buy the most affordable iPhone – you also get the world’s fastest smartphone by default. You don’t get that kind of fancy with even the most expensive Android which can cost more than twice.
And the type of things the A13 Bionic enables the diminutive iPhone SE to do is just bonkers. For instance, you can fire up both the front and rear cameras at the same time and shoot high-resolution video simultaneously using an app called DoubleTake. High-end video cameras can’t do this kind of processing. You can even edit 4K video on the tiny gadget using an app like LumaFusion. Leave Android phones here, this phone can do things that even PCs can’t do – its capabilities outsize its petite nature.
Which brings me to the beauty of the ecosystem that Apple has fostered. iOS is home to best mobile apps so much so you even tend to see the best of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Adobe appear first on it. It is the biggest AR platform if you happen to be into that kind of a thing or even if you are a gamer the iPhone SE will play your favourite games better than any other Android phone – even the ones that tout to be gaming monsters.
Optically, Apple uses the same camera gear like the iPhone 8 – but thanks to this new processor, the cameras perform closer to the iPhone 11 models which are universally accepted as the best all-round camera phones on the market. Sure, it is not as versatile as most modern camera systems that you get on almost every phone in the market. It doesn’t have a telephoto lens, nor a wide-angle one besides not having the ability of a dedicated night mode which is really helpful in the dark.
Apple makes up for these deficiencies in pure quality, software and pragmatism. When given good light, the iPhone SE is one hell of a camera. It can take sharp, and colour accurate photos that look rich – some would say even better than the iPhone 11 because of better white balance. It also takes lovely portrait mode shots engineered via machine learning propelled by its beastly processor.
It can make up for the lack of night mode with a deluge of third-party apps like NeuralCam and pro camera something you wouldn’t experience on Android because of the broken nature of Android’s camera subsystem. And then its video capabilities are unparallel to anything you can get on Android. Outside of the iPhone 11 series, the iPhone SE has the best video camera on a phone. It can shoot smooth 4K video at 60 frames per second which decimates Android phones on quality by a country mile. And if you like shooting in loud environments, it also comes with great microphones that record loud and clear audio without distortion. I even managed to shoot a music video on this phone and it came out brilliantly.
Despite all this good, perhaps, the biggest drawback of this phone for many people would be its design and form-factor. But again, it is important to analyse with some context — not the myopic viewpoint of how a modern smartphone is judged on the basis of design and screen size and type.
Fundamentally, the tiny 4.7-inch IPS screen of the iPhone SE remains one of the most colour accurate screens you can get on a modern smartphone. It also gets quite bright and while having great viewing angles. It also doesn’t suffer from the letterboxing issues that apps like Netflix can suffer on some other phones with larger sizes.
And while the look is dated, it also comes with some benefits. For example, one-handed usage is possible again. You can also use the phone easily with your non-natural hand. Typing wasn’t an issue for me when I went back from the rather large screen of the iPhone 11. The bezels kind of disappear once you’re using the phone for a while and the home button and Touch ID are more convenient to use than the gestures and the facial recognition system in the age of facemasks.
For anyone coming from an older iPhone, this will be a god-sent device. Older iPhone users are also premium customers and they are the primary target audience for the iPhone SE. They want a small phone, they want a fast phone and one that gets the basics right. The iPhone SE is homerun for that audience.
There are little things about the iPhone SE that makes it the perfect phone for the average joe who is not a technophile. It has great speakers on both sides, louder and clearer than most phones. Its build – fit and finish are exquisite exacting to Apple’s standards with aerospace-grade aluminium and rock hard glass that doesn’t break easily. It gets water and dust resistance at an IP67 rating better than most Android phones at its price point. The call quality is also fantastic on this phone.
It works wonderfully with Apple’s galaxy of gadgets like the Apple Watch, HomePod, AirPods, MacBooks and iPads. It also is super secure, widely acceptable in corporate situations and being an Apple product, you can also flaunt it as even in its older dated look, it resonates more like a classic car than a cheap offering.
The only area where it potentially stumbles is longevity. Its battery life is slightly above average at best with it not doing more than 5 hours of screen on time. It will max last you 12 hours with heavy usage. But even then, it does support niceties like 18-watt fast charging and wireless charging which can be considered luxuries for the average joe.
When you do the math and look at the iPhone SE from the lens of a 4-year ownership cycle, even in India, it comes down to just upwards of Rs 10,000 a year. And trust me, most people will be changing around their 10k phones every year if not earlier and will be prone to security risks, advertisements, average cameras, poor audio and video capabilities in the name of buzzwords like full-screen displays, multicore processors that will hang with the latest Call of Duty update and poor software support. With that context, it is easy to say, the iPhone SE is the best value in the smartphone market today, even after accounting for the extra Indians pay in customs duty and GST.
PS: Also, remember, if you aren’t happy with this phone, you will get most of your money back as the iPhone holds its value for much longer than any other smartphone.