Big at heart: Apple’s iPhone SE reviewed

A small iPhone with the heart of a big one? It’s true, and it’s a pretty decent package, even if it took Apple long enough.

Specs

It’s too early for a new iPhone, it being March and all. September is when that’s expected, and when the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus will likely cede their flagship territory to a new generation of device, one that carries the number “7”.

Before that happens, though, Apple is keen to address a section of the market that has been asking a very simple question: what do you do if you want a new iPhone but don’t want a big screen?

The answer is clear, though it is one that Apple has certainly taken its time with: you build a smaller version of your flagship handset.

Currently, the flagship is the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, and to make this answer something people can bank on, can plonk their money on and take home, Apple has shrunk the flagship into the casing and design of something smaller.

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Presenting the iPhone SE, a handset that pretty much takes the iPhone 5S that Apple has had for a few years now and replaces what’s inside, because it is what’s on the inside that counts, especially when you’re talking about phone upgrades.

On that inside, you’ll find Apple’s 64-bit A9 processor paired with the M9 motion co-processor to handle things, and either a choice of 16GB or 64GB for the amount of storage with 2GB RAM on either. Apple’s iOS 9.3 arrives on the phone out of the box, up to date and ready for action.

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Connections are fairly standard especially for a premium phone, with WiFi working on 802.11ac (compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n) while Bluetooth is set to 4.2, GPS arrives as A-GPS with GLONASS, and Near-Field Communication (NFC) is made to work for Apple’s payment technology “Apple Pay”.

Mobile connectivity works with a Category 4 LTE modem, meaning 4G speeds are capped up to 150Mbps downloads and 50Mbps uploads, network dependent of course.

On the camera side of things, you’ll find a 1.2 megapixel FaceTime HD camera up front, while the rear camera is a 12 megapixel camera supporting Live Photos and 4K (3840×2160) video recording.

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That’s what’s inside, and on the outside, it’s more or less the same phone you’ve seen in an iPhone 5S before, with an aluminium casing holding the innards together, with a mute switch and set of volume buttons on the left side while a power button sits up top.

At the bottom, you’ll find the only ports for the iPhone SE, with a 3.5mm headphone port on the left while the Lightning port for charging and data sits in the middle flanked on each side by speakers. Along the right side, you’ll find the one tray for the phone, with a pin-ejectable nanoSIM tray.

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Completing the package is a 4 inch Retina screen displaying 1136×640, a resolution that calculates to 326 pixels per inch, while the home button underneath it features a fingerprint sensor underneath.

The battery on the iPhone SE is rated at 1642mAh.

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Design

Over on the design front, pretty much nothing has changed, at least to the naked eye.

If you’ve owned an iPhone 5-series device that wasn’t the plastic-backed iPhone 5C, the iPhone SE is mostly the same device, with the flat-face edged, metal buttons, and a screen that sits in a body measuring roughly 4 inches diagonally.

Yes, this is mostly the same 4 inch iPhone many people started smartphones with, and very little has changed.

The back now features a stainless steel Apple logo compared with the laser etched one from the original iPhone 5 series, and the edges are a little different, but mostly this is the same aluminium premium small smartphone Apple made so much success with before it dove into big phones.

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In-use

So given that it’s mostly the same device as before, in-use you’d expect it to perform just as brilliantly as when you first let the box open itself with the long slide of a presentation drawn out from an intentionally tight box and tore open that plastic packaging.

Good news: it does.

Better news: Apple’s updated innards on an otherwise identical iPhone 5S make for a surprisingly refreshing experience, with snappy hardware that works a treat for an updated operating system.

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Little has changed outside of the look, though you will find support for “night shift” mode which introduces a yellow or orange hue — warmer tones, in essence — as the hours start to get darker, and this is here specifically to help your eyes adjust to the screen better.

But other than that, it’s still your same old iOS experience, punctuated by the fact that you’re using it on a small 4 inch display.

As a result of this smaller screen, you don’t get a double-tap to bring the screen down closer to your thumb like you do on the 6S or 6S Plus, nor do you get a zoomed mode.

This is the iPhone the way you’ve seen it before on this size, and it just has a nicer set of guts updated for today rather than yesterday. How quaint.

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