Apple iPhone SE review: Attractive price and impressive capabilities

The SE isn’t going to be right for everyone, especially power users, but there's an awful lot going for it, especially as it is priced substantially less than the 6S.

From bottom, the iPhone 6S Plus, 6S and SE lie stacked on one another. Julie Jacobson / AP Photo
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Unless you take a lot of selfies or need a bigger phone, Apple's new 4-inch iPhone SE is a good choice at a good price.

You get the same 12-megapixel rear camera that is in the much larger iPhone 6S, but at a US list price of $400, you will pay about $250 less. You also get the same speeds and graphics capabilities.

Of course, you don't get everything. The SE isn't going to be right for everyone, especially power users. Now that Apple has started taking orders, keep these differences in mind:

•Most noticeable is the front camera. The SE has a 1.2-megapixel camera – not the 5-megapixel one in the 6S. But with software improvements, selfies taken with the SE came out better compared with the iPhone 5S it replaced. In addition, the SE’s screen turns into a front-camera flash. That’s more important than megapixels in darker settings.

• Although you get the same rear camera as the 6S, you don’t get an image-stabilising feature found in the jumbo iPhone 6S Plus. This won’t matter to most people. I typically have to blow up shots and look very closely for differences. You get the same options for panorama shots, slow motion and high-resolution “4K” video in all three phones.

• The SE lacks a barometer, which means fitness apps won't record stairs climbed. The SE also lacks 3D Touch, in which you can press on an icon hard and harder for shortcuts and other options. Including it would have made the phone thicker. You can still perform the same tasks, but might need an extra tap or two.

• The SE doesn’t support “LTE Advanced” cellular technology, which can be twice as fast as regular LTE. China has its own SE model, though both US versions should still work there and elsewhere abroad – data will just potentially be slower without LTE Advanced.

• The SE doesn’t come in a version with 128 gigabytes of storage – just 16GB for starters and 64GB for $100 more. Power users will probably want a bigger screen anyway, but if that’s not the case, splurge for 64GB. Your phone will fill up quickly – especially as still images now come with three-second videos by default, doubling storage requirements.

q&a same boxy feeling

How’s the battery?

Promised battery life for video and web surfing is 13 hours – a few hours better than the 6S. It helps that there is less screen to light up.

How does the SE feel?

The SE largely retains the boxy feel of the 5S, so old cases will work, but you don’t get a smoother feel from the larger phones’ curved edges. On the other hand, the smaller size feels more comfortable, and had there been a curved design at that size, your phone might slip out of your hand more easily. I ran 22 kilometres with the phone in my hand or pocket and forgot about it. But the screen now feels tiny for reading and typing, now that I’m used to a bigger one.

But I like my 5S.

Although your 5S might last a few more months, it’s going to get tougher to run the latest software and apps. And the $400 price for the new phone is $50 less than what the 5S sold for. If your 5S is in good condition, you can trade it in at an Apple store and get the SE for $240.

Final thoughts?

Many Android makers have shunned 4-inch screens in premium phones. You’re stuck with mid-range phones that lack high-end cameras and speeds. I had expected older technology in the iPhone SE. Instead, much of what’s inside is just six months old – better than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. There are trade-offs, but at least Apple didn’t try to pressure people into larger models by skimping on what matters.

When is it out in the UAE?

It is available for pre-order from Etisalat on 29 March ahead of release on April 5.

Follow The National's Business section on Twitter