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iPhone SE (2022) Review

Verdict

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The iPhone SE 2022 is both a roaring success and a missed opportunity. Internally, this dinky phone makes a strong proposition with top-drawer performance and years of software updates ahead of it. It’s just a shame the same old design and tiny display is hard to get excited about.

Pros

  • The fastest phone at this price (by some distance)
  • Takes great daylight pictures
  • IP rating and wireless charging
  • iOS and all the benefits that come with it

Cons

  • Small screen is cramped and restrictive
  • Tired design
  • No night mode in the camera

Availability

  • UKRRP: £419
  • USARRP: $429
  • EuropeRRP: €529
  • CanadaRRP: CA$579
  • AustraliaRRP: AU$719

Key Features

  • High-end camera featuresMany of the camera software features from the iPhone 13 are included, like Smart HDR 4 and Deep Fusion
  • Serious performance skillsThere’s the same A15 Bionic chip as the iPhone 13 Pro, making this the fastest phone at its price
  • Dinky dimensionsThis is one of the smallest and lightest phones around

Introduction

The iPhone SE 2022 is Apple’s most affordable 5G device, and it comes packing some of the same tech you’ll find in the far more expensive iPhone 13 Pro.

This is a phone aimed at people who are still using a previous generation iPhone SE, or anything older than an iPhone 8, and it offers notable upgrades on those ageing devices in multiple areas.

With an A15 Bionic chipset, many of the camera software features that make the iPhone 13 Pro one of the best camera phones and handy extras like wireless charging and water resistance, the iPhone SE 2022 could be seen as a bargain.

But does an old design and cramped display hamper the experience? Let’s have a deeper look and see how it performed during our lab and real world tests.

Design and Screen

  • One of the smallest displays on a phone
  • The design will be familiar to most
  • Three colours: Midnight, Starlight and Product RED

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. The display is the new iPhone SE’s most disappointing feature. Measuring 4.7-inches, it’s small and I find it very cramped when using the on-screen keyboard. I know some people like smaller phones, but for me, this is just one step too far.

It’s also just a fairly mundane panel. There’s no OLED tech for best-in-class blacks, no fast refresh rate for smoother scrolling and thick, chunky bezels line it giving the phone a retro look and feel.

Watching videos on it isn’t a great experience and while it gets bright enough to combat a sunny day, it’s not a standout performer when it comes to immersiveness or contrast. Other phones in this price range have OLED panels for deeper and richer colours, many also have 90 or 120Hz tech. This is a cool feature that makes them smoother to use by increasing the number of images per second the screen renders. All-in-all the screen is the biggest area where the iPhone SE 2022 could have been so much more.

The iPhone SE 2022’s design needs little explanation to iPhone fans. I’m sure everyone reading this is familiar with the look of this device as it has been around, in one form or another, since 2014 when the iPhone 6 launched. That’s not far off a decade ago.

The back and camera of the iPhone SE 2022
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

At least the iPhone SE 2022 is fantastically well built and finished to the same standard as Apple’s other higher-end phones. There’s tougher glass on the front and back (no Ceramic Shield though) and handy extras like the mute toggle and an IP67 rating. Water resistance is often ditched at this price, so it’s great to see it remain.

The physical home button is a quick and effective way of unlocking, and there’s something reassuring about it. It feels old fashioned as I have spent so long with Apple’s more modern devices, but if you’re coming from an iPhone 6 to an iPhone 8 or an older SE and you like the button then you’ll be glad it remains.

The size of this phone will be a pro to some and a dealbreaker for others. Next to the iPhone 13 Pro Max it looks comically tiny; dwarfed by the 6.7-inch screen on the Max model. I know many people who love smaller devices that can be comfortably held in one hand and this device is catering to them. I would still say the iPhone 13 Mini is a better overall size though, as it avoids the cramped display issues of the SE 2022 I’ve experienced during testing.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max next to the iPhone SE 2022
The iPhone 13 Pro Max next to the iPhone SE 2022

Camera

  • A single rear camera and flash
  • Deep Fusion and Smart HDR 4 added from the iPhone 13
  • Complete lack of night mode

The single 12-megapixel camera on the back of the iPhone SE 2022 takes really nice pictures in daylight situations. In a well-lit environment, I found the difference between snaps taken with this and with an iPhone 13 are minimal, when viewed on the phone screen. Along with the Pixel 5a, these are easily the two best main cameras you’ll find at this price.

In terms of hardware, it seems as though the iPhone SE 2022 is using basically the same sensor as the older model. Where the updates come are in the software and image processing, and these are because of the A15 Bionic chipset powering the phone.

The skills of the A15 Bionic and its neural engine allow for both Deep Fusion and Smart HDR 4, two software features that really help picture quality. Deep Fusion works in weaker lighting, helping to bring out more detail and works particularly well at adding more texture to shots. Shoot a snap of someone in a woollen jumper, for example, and the strands of the fabric are far clearer than what I captured on competing Android phones.

A sky sample photo from the iPhone SE 2022
The camera does a great job at levelling out bright skies and keeping lots of detail
A dusk sample photo from the iPhone SE 2022
Pictures taken at dusk still pull out plenty of colour and natural detail

Smart HDR 4 focuses on dynamic range and really helps add more pop to photos. You can’t toggle this on or off – it’s just always there – but it helps level out colours, shadows and highlights when you’re shooting on sunnier days. There’s also the Photography Styles feature from the iPhone 13, which alters an image’s profile allowing for it to be cooler or more vibrant.

An indoor sample photo from the iPhone SE 2022
The detail in the fur is strong and manages the bright outdoor light coming through the window well

These are a little bit like filters as they alter the look of pictures, however they have far more control as they’re inserted inside the imaging pipeline rather than just sitting on the top. The styles are nice, and even mimic some of the other phones around. Vibrant, for instance, reminds me a lot of Galaxy S22’s photos in terms of rich colours.

The big missing feature here is any sort of dedicated Night Mode and it’s a real shame. The iPhone SE 2022 shoots the same in daylight as at night and it can’t automatically jump into a dedicated mode to boost brightness. While using the iPhone SE 2022 at a gig, it just couldn’t handle the tough lighting conditions very well, pulling out a rather dark and lacking image. The iPhone 13, on the other hand, impresses me very much in this particular area.

A night sample photo from the iPhone 13 pro
(iPhone 13 Pro) The iPhone 13 Pro pulls out a lot more brightness from a darker scene
A night sample photo from the iPhone SE 2022
(iPhone SE 2022) In comparison, the SE is flat in colour and can’t pull out the detail in the fur

The 7-megapixel selfie camera is also in need of a freshen up. Snaps here are a bit dim and lacking in detail. This front camera doesn’t possess the same TrueDepth skills as the notched iPhones, so there’s no Face ID.

The lack of any secondary sensors might also put some people off. Not having a zoom (aside from the digital option) is restrictive, while the lack of an ultrawide does limit creativity somewhat. I can’t think of another phone I have reviewed in the past few years that has just one camera. Saying that, focussing on a very good main camera is better, at least in my eyes, than adding useless secondary zoom and macro cameras that are nothing more than window dressing.

iPhones have, for the last few generations, excelled at videography. The iPhone SE 2022 might not have the stabilisations skills to match the flagship Apple phones I tested at the end of last year, but the video I captured was stable and colourful, with realistic skin tones. The gimmicky portrait video Cinematic Mode isn’t here (likely due to the lack of multiple focal lengths) but you can still shoot upto 4K 60fps.

Other missing features you’ll find on the pricier iPhone 13 and 13 Pro series include ProRes and HDR recording and RAW capture. None of these are big misses for a phone like this in my opinion and will likely remain exclusive to the Pro phones Apple makes.

Performance

  • Powered by the same A15 Bionic as the more expensive iPhones
  • Larger battery than the previous iPhone SE
  • Up to 256GB storage

It’s on the inside where it really counts for the iPhone SE 2022. While the design feels tired, the internals are bleeding edge and in some ways not far off what’s powering the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

But it’s not just the benefits of speed boosts and better gaming performance that having a high-end chip brings. Arguably the biggest upgrade is longevity and how long this phone will be supported. Buy the iPhone SE 2022 now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pick up iOS updates for at least seven years based on Apple’s support for past iPhones we’ve reviewed. The original iPhone SE, for example, was released in 2016 and that is still supported.

Long software support, both for security patches and new feature updates, isn’t something you’ll really find on Android phones at this price. Pick up a Motorola, Realme or Xiaomi device and you’ll be lucky to get two years of updates. I see the iPhone SE 2022 as a phone that’ll last and that could be a real reason to choose this over most of the competition if you don’t want to upgrade your phone regularly.

The actual chipset used here is the A15 Bionic – the current flagship mobile chip in Apple’s arsenal and the grunt of the iPhone 13 series. It’s the fastest mobile silicon around, outshining the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 in benchmarks and flying through every real world task we threw at it during testing. To have that power in a phone that not only costs less than £500/$500, but one that’s also this small is incredibly rare.

The iPhone SE 2022 in red, along with the box
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

In the Geekbench 5 test – a synthetic all-around performance benchmarking tool – the iPhone SE 2022 matches the scores of the iPhone 13 Pro and beats the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Two phones that cost more than double its price.

Geekbench 5 single core
Geekbench 5 multi core

Benchmarks don’t mean everything, and in real-world use the iPhone SE 2022 shines. The dinky display means I can’t see this being a favourite for mobile gamers, but the phone can easily play top titles like Genshin Impact and Asphalt 9 if you wish. I have liked having the power in a small form-factor for photo editing in Lightroom too.

Apple never mentions the amount of RAM inside its phones, but the iPhone SE 2022 has an extra 1GB when compared to the older model. The 4GB at play here should again help with that longevity aspect and, of course, ensure apps stay in memory longer, which will help launch times.

The new SE is the cheapest Apple phone to support 5G thanks to the Qualcomm modem inside. Unlike the iPhone 13 series there’s no mmWave 5G, so if you’re in the USA or other locations where the faster 5G tech is live, then that’s something to note. I wouldn’t upgrade to this phone purely for 5G, even though I am starting to notice its benefits more, but it’ll be a nice feature to have a few years down the line. Again, it all feeds into the idea that the iPhone SE 2022 will last a long time.

Battery Life

  • Improved endurance when compared to the previous iPhone SE
  • No included charger, no MagSafe
  • A full charge in roughly an hour

The first thing that can be said about the battery life here is that it is a notable upgrade over the iPhone SE 2020. It does not have a physically larger battery inside, but the more efficient chipset helps it eke more juice out.

When you’re not using the phone it barely drops at all – leaving it unplugged overnight saw a mere 2% battery drop and tasks like music streaming, browsing Safari and WhatsApp messaging all sip juice slowly. If you’re a very light user who cares about battery first and foremost, it is worth looking at with this phone. During my time with it, the new SE has never struggled to make it through a full day of standard use.

An hour of Netflix streaming with the battery set to a comfortable brightness took the battery down 5%, which isn’t that surprising considering the small display and comparatively low resolution. I can’t say I’ll be watching hours of Netflix on this screen though, given its size.

The glass back of the iPhone SE 2022
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

But this is still a meaty processor along with a fairly small cell and when pushed the battery drain is visible. Gaming is a noticeable culprit, as is anything that pushes the chipset to work hard. Just as it’s easy to make it through a day with light use, it’s equally easy to burn through 20% of an extended gaming session and some Google Maps use. The addition of 5G On: Always isn’t overly kind on endurance, especially if you’re using it for a lot of download.

There’s no charger inside the box, so if you don’t have one around I would suggest investing in a USB-C plug that can charge at least 20w. At this speed, you’ll get a full charge in just over an hour. Wireless charging is much slower and there’s no MagSafe support for that extra fast wire-free charging.

Final Thoughts

The iPhone SE 2022 is a strange phone. In many ways, it’s very ambitious, especially when it comes to daylight camera performance and general speed. I also appreciate that this will be a phone that’s updated through software for years to come and I really believe that’s an important skill that Android devices at this price mostly ignore.

But if you’re hoping for a fresh take on the SE’s design or a larger option, then you’re going to be disappointed. The screen is small and cramped in a way the iPhone 13 Mini avoids and the design feels a bit dated.

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Should you buy it?

You want a phone that’ll last: Apple updates its phones for years with security patches and new feature drops and it should be the same story here. With that A15 chipset inside and plenty of RAM, this is a phone that will outlast many similar priced options

The phone needs to be a multimedia device: With its small screen, the iPhone SE 2022 isn’t a good choice if you want a phone for gaming, video watching or any other content-focussed task.

Final Thoughts

The iPhone SE 2022 is a strange phone. In many ways, it’s very ambitious, especially when it comes to daylight camera performance and general speed. I also appreciate that this will be a phone that’s updated through software for years to come and I really believe that’s an important skill that Android devices at this price mostly ignore.

But if you’re hoping for a fresh take on the SE’s design or a larger option, then you’re going to be disappointed. The screen is small and cramped in a way the iPhone 13 Mini avoids and the design feels a bit dated.

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How we test

We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.

Used as main phone for 8 days

Photos shot in various lighting and compared to rivals

Performance tested both in real-world use and benchmark apps

FAQs

Does the iPhone SE 2022 fit the same cases?

Yes, the new iPhone SE will work with all the same cases as the older model.

Does it support mmWave 5G?

There’s only sub-6Ghz 5G here, so no mmWave if you’re in an area or country that supports it.

Is there a headphone jack on the iPhone SE 2022?

Apple ditched the headphone jack on its phones with the iPhone 7 and hasn’t added it back again for anything since. There is no headphone jack on the iPhone SE 2022.

Trusted Reviews test data

We run all the phones we review through a number of tests and see the data below. This iPhone SE 2022 is a particularly strong performer in the synthetic Geekbench tests.

Geekbench 5 single core
Geekbench 5 multi core
sRGB
Adobe RGB
DCI-P3
Max brightness
1 hour video playback (Netflix, HDR)
30 minute gaming (intensive)
30 minute gaming (light)
1 hour music streaming (online)
1 hour music streaming (offline)
Time from 0-100% charge

Full specs

These are all the most important specs for the iPhone SE 2022 and how they compare to the older model,

UK RRP
USA RRP
EU RRP
CA RRP
AUD RRP
Manufacturer
Screen Size
Storage Capacity
Rear Camera
Front Camera
Video Recording
IP rating
Battery
Wirless charging
Fast Charging
Size (Dimensions)
Weight
Operating System
Release Date
First Reviewed Date
Resolution
HDR
Refresh Rate
Ports
Chipset
RAM
Colours

Jargon buster

mAh

An abbreviation for milliampere-hour and a way to express the capacity of batteries, especially smaller ones in phones. In most cases the higher the mAh, the longer the battery will last but this isn’t always the case.

5G

Offering faster download and upload speeds when compared to 4G. Great for game streaming and HDR video playback. Not supported everywhere yet and speeds vary wildly.

Lightning

Apple’s port of choice for charging and data transfer. You’ll find it on the cheaper iPads and all of Apple’s phones.

LCD

The type of display usually used on cheaper and mid-range devices. Lacks the punch on an OLED panel.

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