Apple iPhone SE Review: Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

Smartphones are getting too big, and that's a fact.
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Smartphone screens are getting too big.

The arrival of the Apple iPhone SE then is a gentle reminder that big is most definitely not always better.

Anyone who tells us that trying to send a message, one-handed on the tube, using a 6-inch smartphone is easy is probably lying.

That's quite surprising when you think that almost all the smartphone manufacturers are throwing out titanic slabs of highly polished metal on the grounds that having a 4K screen on a device the size of a notepad is in some way useful.

It seemed that for a while however if you wanted a smaller phone then you were going to have to make some compromises.

The iPhone SE disproves that theory, and then some.

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The phone is immediately familiar to hold and it's a pleasant return to a design language that in truth we prefer a little over that of the 6 and 6s.

Holding it and using it we're immediately reminded of how practical this size of phone is. One-handed use is effortless although we should point out there was a brief adjustment period while our fingers got used to the smaller keyboard.

If in doubt, download Swiftkey, it's a great keyboard app that adds swiping input and can easily speed up your writing with what will already be a very quick typing experience.

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While on the outside it may retain the original design of the iPhone 5s, the SE is absurdly powerful.

You get the same A9 chip as the iPhone 6s so when it comes to games, apps, photo editing and more you're getting exactly the same processor and graphics performance.

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Will you notice a difference just browsing around? Honestly, no, and that's kind of the point because iOS has always been designed in such a way that it feels equally as quick on every device.

Load up some high-intensity games however and it becomes immediately clear that there isn't a judder or lag in sight.

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Surely the camera must have taken a hit then? Nope, this has the same 12 Megapixel iSight camera found in the 6s, which means you get 4K video recording and Live Photos.

Thomas Tamblyn

While the pictures are stunning (as you can see above) it did highlight that the 4-inch screen is just too small if you plan on doing some serious editing.

Finally you get Apple's first generation Touch ID sensor, which is a little slow at times, and Apple Pay thanks to the addition of an NFC chip.

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What's really astonishing about the SE is quite simply that list. The fact that they were able to cram all of that into a 4-inch smartphone while keeping the same battery life is a marvel in itself.

If we have one complaint it is with Apple's choice of storage. You can currently buy the iPhone SE with either 16GB or 64GB of storage. We're going to come out and say it now, there's only one model you should be considering and that's the 64GB.

16GB for a smartphone without expandable storage is simply not practical anymore.

As an example, just over two and a half minutes of 4K video footage recorded on the SE will take up 1GB of space. That's on top of your Live Photos (which take up around 3x the space as a normal photo), and then of course any music, apps and video you might already have.

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It's an odd one but it's certainly not the end of the world. If we're honest 64GB is what we would recommend to anyone as the norm for buying a smartphone anyway.

To some, the SE might look lazy for Apple, it's taking an 'old' design and updating it for a modern market. To us though it's an astonishing feat of common sense.

They've taken the classic, well-loved design of the iPhone 5s and updated it into the most powerful 4-inch smartphone on the market. If you're fed up of phones getting too big, then the SE is the smartphone for you (in 64GB).

Who should buy the iPhone SE:

If you're fed up of smartphones getting too big and love Apple's ecosystem then this is for you. It's a powerful, pocket-friendly smartphone that is perfect for people who love their music, taking pictures and want strong battery performance. Just make sure you get the 64GB version.

Who shouldn't buy the iPhone SE:

This is a 4-inch phone, so if you watch TV/Films and play games on your morning commute or in general then we'd advise against this. Get the iPhone 6/6s instead, it's just as capable and the bigger screen will make the world of difference.


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