Apple’s cut-price iPhone is back and has been upgraded for 2022, with a faster chip and 5G making it an even better bargain than before.
The third-generation iPhone SE costs £419 ($429/A$719) and is the cheapest smartphone Apple sells, priced to compete with myriad mid-range Android devices.
On the face of it, the iPhone SE doesn’t look that tempting a proposition. There are cheaper smartphones available and it only comes with 64GB of storage. The 4.7in LCD display is bright, but cramped and markedly less crisp and vibrant than competitors. It is basically the same as the previous version from 2020 on the outside, which already looked extremely dated.
But while the phone may look decidedly old school on the outside, internally it is anything but. It has Apple’s latest A15 chip, which is the fastest on the block and the same one in the top of the line iPhone 13 Pro.
The phone is extremely responsive in use and will continue to be so for years. It runs the latest version of iOS and all the apps and games you might want, except Fortnite. It has 5G, wifi 6, Bluetooth 5, wireless charging, water resistance and all the things you’d expect of a modern phone in 2022.
Battery life is average for a modern smartphone, lasting in the region of 30 hours between charges with the screen on for about four hours using various messaging services and apps, and two hours of 5G. That’s a couple of hours longer than its predecessor but miles behind the 46-hour iPhone 13.
Use more 4G or 5G mobile data than wifi and battery life will be shorter but the iPhone SE should generally last about a day of use as long as you’re not gaming for long sessions.
Screen: 4.7in Retina HD (LCD) (326ppi)
Processor: Apple A15 Bionic
Storage: 64, 128 or 256GB
Operating system: iOS 15.4
Camera: 12MP rear camera with OIS, 7MP front-facing camera
Connectivity: 5G, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5, Lightning, and GPS
Water resistance: IP67 (1m up to 30 minutes)
Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm
The iPhone SE has a single 12-megapixel camera on its back. It produces very good images in decent light with good colour balance, detail and dynamic range. Even in dull indoor settings it does admirably, but it lacks Apple’s night mode so images shot in the evening are dark and grainy by comparison. It shoots solid video too, particularly at this price point, while its selfie camera is similarly decent in good light but weak at night.
Apple does not provide an expected lifespan for the iPhone SE’s battery but it can be replaced for £49. You should expect it to maintain at least 80% of its original capacity for 500 full charge cycles. Out-of-warranty screen replacements cost £146.44. The previous iPhone SE 2020 was awarded six out of 10 for repairability by the specialists iFixit.
The phone contains 91% recycled rare earth metals, 100% recycled tungsten and at least 35% recycled plastic in various components, plus 100% recycled tin in the solder of its main board. The company breaks down the phone’s environmental impact in its report.
Apple also offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.
For comparison, the iPhone 13 mini costs £679, the iPhone 13 costs £779, the OnePlus Nord 2 costs £369, the Samsung Galaxy A53 costs £399, the Fairphone 4 costs £499 and the Google Pixel 6 costs £599.
The iPhone SE is one of the best bargains in modern smartphones. It is not the flashiest or most feature-rich but it offers more bang for buck for longer than any other.
It has an almost vintage design, lacks the MagSafe charging and accessory system, Face ID and other niceties of Apple’s more expensive models, but is otherwise a solid phone. At £419 it is Apple’s cheapest model, competing with mid-range devices from Samsung and myriad Chinese phone companies, many of which offer bigger, better screens, more cameras and greater storage.
But unlike its rivals, it has Apple’s top chip, 5G, the latest version of iOS and will, crucially, be supported for a very long time with software and security updates – it should be safe to use for seven years or more.
When even the best competition at this price tops out at only four years of updates, the iPhone SE will last longer than any other mid-range phone. And because it is an iPhone, it benefits from a huge ecosystem of third-party accessories, plus you can get it fixed if you break it and the battery can be replaced when it wears out. The starting 64GB of storage will be enough if you store your photos in the cloud and don’t download lots of games and movies.
That makes the iPhone SE the best new smartphone for people who don’t really care about phones – it gets the job done and will last as long as possible.
Pros: lowest-cost new iPhone, about seven years of software support, A15 chip, 5G, wireless charging, decent single-lens camera, top performance, easy to handle, water resistance, Touch ID, amazing value.
Cons: battery life could be better, no headphone socket, no zoom camera, no Face ID, dated design, very slow charging, no MagSafe.