Update: After the announcement of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, Apple reduced the price of the iPhone SE to £349, making it an excellent choice if you’re looking for a small phone.
Phones getting bigger and bigger, but the iPhone SE totally bucks the trend. This is a phone that’s easy to use with one hand. Yes the the Samsung Galaxy S8 andHTC 11 are great handsets, but for many of us they’re simply too large.
How can a phone with a three year old design do it? Apple has given people a choice with the iPhone SE. The compact body is rare these days, but even though it’s small it packs a mighty punch. This is a very powerful and capable phone. It can boast the same top-notch internals as the iPhone 6S, a snazzy pink (sorry, Rose Gold) hue and support for Apple Pay. Normally small phones are hamstrung, the iPhone SE isn’t.
A surprising amount of people I speak to say they want a small phone that packs all the features of a full-fat flagship. Sony is the only manufacturer to have previously attempted anything like this, but even its Xperia Z5 Compact has a not-so-tiny 4.6-inch screen and it’s quite thick. The iPhone SE is much smaller and much easier to handle.
Anyone who’s used an iPhone 5 or iPhone 5S will feel at ease with the iPhone SE – it looks and feels almost identical, except now you can get it in a fetching rose-gold colour and its cut edges are matte rather than shiny chrome.
Those phones have an iconic design and I have no problem with Apple reusing it, especially if it means they can keep costs down and pass the savings on. The best thing about the design of the iPhone SE is that it still feels quality. The brushed aluminium back is both hard and cool to touch, the buttons are solid, and it’s easily small enough to use one-handed, regardless of the size of your hands.
Coming from using the giant iPhone 6S Plus and Huawei Mate 8 I also found it a relief to be able to bend my leg again when I put a phone in my front pocket.
In other ways it’s taken me time to adjust to the smaller screen. It’s not just that I have to move it closer to my face to read text, like my granddad reading the morning paper, I also struggle with the small keyboard. Ironically I often have to use both my hands and thumbs on the phone to minimise the potential for embarrassing autocorrect fails. I’ve gotten more used to it, but I still don’t find it comfortable after a few weeks of using the phone non-stop. The small screen also means watching video is a little cramped and, while the iPhone SE is more than powerful enough to play all the best games, trying to maneuver precisely requires daintier digits than mine.
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While the iPhone SE still looks good there are a couple of aspects of the design that aren’t perfect, and others that feel dated. For starters, if you don’t use a case with the iPhone SE you might find the edges a little harsh, particularly if you’re more used to the rounded metal sides on contemporary phone designs. The screen bezel is also rather wide – especially at the top and bottom – and that means you don’t get a lot of screen for the size of the phone.
That’s not the only problem with the screen.
It packs the exact same display as the 5S. While the 1136 x 640 resolution provides a perfectly sharp 326 pixels per inch the screen lacks punch and has a reddish tinge that is exacerbated when it’s tilted at some angles. Compare it to Samsung’s colour-packed Super AMOLED screens or even the newer LCD technology on a phone like the HTC 10 and it really starts looking its age.
The speaker located at the bottom of the phone is decent rather than outstanding. Top-level volume isn’t as high as some other phones, but the quality of the audio output is surprisingly good from such a small package – sound is balanced, if a little thin, and there’s no distortion at the highest volume.
Call quality is also strong. The ear speaker is clear and loud and the noise-cancelling mic does a good job of clearing up any distracting external noises when you’re on a call. There are louder call speakers out there but I didn’t have any problems hearing or making myself heard even on windy days with lots of traffic noise around me.
Neither the design, screen or sound quality excites the blood much – so far the iPhone SE isn’t very different at all when compared to its predecessors. That all changes, though, when I scratch the surface and take the camera for a spin around London.