iPhone 5S vs iPhone SE: small, good-looking, powerful – finally, a true iPhone 5S update.
But, should you be upgrading your iPhone 5S for this new model?
Two-and-a-half years is a long time in tech, so just how does the the small, yet powerful iPhone SE stack up against its older brother? Let’s have a look.
Video – iPhone SE in 90 seconds: All you need to know
iPhone SE vs iPhone 5S: Design
iPhone SE: Brushed aluminium casing with matte chamfered edges, 113g, 7.6mm thick, Space Gray/Silver/Gold/Rose Gold
iPhone 5S: Brushed aluminium casing with shiny chamfered edges, 112g, 7.6mm thick, Space Gray/Silver/Gold
The iPhone 5S (and the iPhone 5 before it) was, and still is, a design icon. It’s easily the most beautiful handset Apple has ever produced, and it’s aged surprisingly well.
While we’re big fans of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S, they’re nowhere near as iconic as the previous generation.
In particular, those chamfered edges continue to influence devices today, and the all-metal body still feels great (if a little abrasive) in the hand. Many will be thrilled to learn that although the iPhone 5S is being discontinued, its legacy will live on.
The iPhone SE looks almost indistinguishable from its departing brother; with the flat back, matte sides and lock-switch on the top.
In fact, just about the only difference is a switch from shiny chamfered edges to matte chamfered edges in the newer handset, and the introduction of a Rose Gold colour option. Oh, and the iPhone SE is a gram heavier, but that’s really not noticeable.
Would a new design have been welcome? Of course. But these remain two of the most handsome phones out there.
iPhone SE vs iPhone 5S: Screen
iPhone SE: 4-inch IPS LCD, 1,136 x 640 resolution, 326ppi
iPhone 5S: 4-inch IPS LCD, 1,136 x 640 resolution, 326ppi
If you’re one of the many folk who continued to cradle that trusty iPhone 5S because of its manageable 4-inch display, you’re in for a treat with the iPhone SE.
Apple’s latest handset retains the iPhone 5S’s small form, which sits below just about every other device on the market.
Related: iPhone 7 release date
The iPhone SE has the exact same Retina display seen on the iPhone 5 and 5S. That means that it has a 1,136 x 640 resolution.
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This also means that the iPhone SE’s screen is far from the best on the market. Indeed, it’s arguably the third-best display in Apple’s smartphone range (fifth if you count the iPhone 6 and 6S families as separate here).
Still, we described this faithful old screen as “perfectly acceptable” in our iPhone SE review. At this size, you won’t find a better one.
iPhone SE vs iPhone 5S: Power
iPhone SE: Apple A9 1.84GHz Dual-core ‘Twister’ CPU, PowerVR GT7600 six-core GPU, 2GB RAM, 16GB/64GB storage
iPhone 5S: Apple A7 1.3GHz Dual-core ‘Cyclone’ CPU, PowerVR G6430 quad-core GPU, 1GB RAM, 16GB/32GB/64GB storage
The insides of the SE have much more in common with the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus than the iPhone 5S. It’s quite the feat of engineering.
Keeping everything ticking along is an A9 processor, as opposed to the older A7 from the iPhone 5S. There’s also the M9 co-processor, up from the M7, which handles motion sensing for fitness and navigation apps.
The performance upgrade from the iPhone 5S to the iPhone SE is noticeable throughout, but especially when playing processor-intensive games. In fact, our gaming benchmark tests revealed the iPhone SE to perform slightly better than the iPhone 6S, thanks to the fact that it has fewer pixels to push around on its smaller display.
Related: Best iPhone 5S Deals
Just like the processor, the iPhone SE has the same 2GB RAM as the iPhone 6S, doubling that of the 5S. Again, this helps boost performance considerably, and you’ll find that far more apps stay active in the background ready to be pulled up in an instant.
Particularly annoying about the iPhone SE is that it still has a base storage of 16GB – exactly the same as the 5S when it came out in 2013. Apps, games and media in general are far more sizeable these days and 16GB just isn’t enough.
However, Apple will sell you a 64GB version of the iPhone SE, which we’d thoroughly recommend. Upon release the iPhone 5S was also available in a 32GB variety, but Apple has since done away with such an option.
iPhone SE vs iPhone 5S: Camera
iPhone SE: 12MP, f/2.2 aperture lens, 1/3″ sensor, 1.22 µm pixel size, Live photos; 4K video, 240fps @ 720p slo-mo
iPhone 5S: 8MP, f/2.2 aperture lens, 1/3″ sensor, 1.5 µm pixel size, 1080p video, 120fps @ 720p slo-mo
Similarities are rife on the outside, but beneath its glossy frame numerous changes make the iPhone SE a rather unique prospect.
Just as it does with the CPU, Apple has stuck with the same fantastic camera tech in the iPhone SE that it used in the iPhone 6S, including a 12-megapixel sensor capable of capturing 4K and 240fps slo-motion video. The iPhone 5S has a lower 8-megapixel sensor and maxes out at 1080p video, as well as a less impressive 120fps slo-mo option.
The f/2.2 aperture is the same, but the iPhone 5S technically employs larger pixels. You wouldn’t notice this by comparing low-light results, however, with the iPhone SE’s camera performing a little better. You’ll also be able to capture moving Live Photos in the SE, which is another feature not available on the iPhone 5S.
Both phones use a dual-tone LED flash for supposedly softer and natural skin tones. It works, too, creating more natural (if far from perfect) results that lack the same level of artificial glare as in rival efforts.
One area that hasn’t seen an upgrade is the front-facing selfie camera. On the 5S it was 1.2MP and it’s still the same on the SE, though the improved digital processing that comes with the A9 processor should give you slightly better photos.
iPhone SE vs iPhone 5S: Battery & features
iPhone SE: 1624 mAh battery, Apple Pay, Touch ID
iPhone 5S: 1560 mAh battery, Touch ID
Smaller phones have far less space to house more generous batteries. But, as is evident from the figures above, the iPhone SE sees some significant improvements in the battery department. It gains 10 extra hours of Audio, three more hours of video and three more for Wi-Fi and LTE browsing.
Part of this is down to the fact that Apple has somehow managed to squeeze in a physically larger battery than the iPhone 5S. Another reason is the more efficient A9 CPU in the newer phone.
Apple claims that the iPhone SE’s battery life is 50 percent better than on the iPhone 5S, and we found that this is pretty much true in general usage. The newer phone has impressive stamina.
Aside from the obvious improvements to the camera and internals of the handset, another new feature that could prove to be worth the price of upgrade is Apple Pay.
The mobile wallet we first saw with the iPhone 6 is easily the slickest virtual payment solution yet, and its convenience and wide support mean its inclusion here is great.
Both phones have a Touch ID fingerprint sensor built into the home button, although the iPhone SE version doesn’t use the same lightning-fast second-generation sensor as the iPhone 6S. That’s a shame, but the A9 CPU does speed things up noticeably compared to the iPhone 5S.
These two phones may look and feel almost identical, but the iPhone SE is a significant upgrade over the iPhone 5S in most of the ways that matter.
Thanks to some iPhone 6S-flavoured internal magic, the iPhone SE is significantly faster than its 4-inch predecessor. It also has much better battery life, and it takes noticeably better pictures.
If all that wasn’t enough, the SE also benefits from Apple Pay support, so you can stroll into a shop and make payments from the new compact phone.
While we would have liked a new design from Apple, the iPhone SE is the best small phone on the market by quite a considerable margin. If Apple’s switch to a larger form factor has left you cold in recent years, it’s a worthy upgrade.
Tell us your thoughts on the iPhone SE on Twitter @TrustedReviews.