Large Size of Apple’s New Low-Cost iPhone SE Disappoints

At long last, Apple has released a second-generation iPhone SE. The original iPhone SE was based on the iPhone 5s form factor and provided a smaller, less-expensive alternative to the iPhone 6s. Apple has nominally employed the same strategy here, essentially updating the iPhone 8 to bring this new iPhone SE’s specs up to modern standards. You can choose from black, white, and PRODUCT(RED) colors. Proceeds from Apple’s PRODUCT(RED) versions will go to the Global Fund’s COVID‑19 Response.

iPhone SE colors

Prices start at $399 for 64 GB, with a 128 GB model increasing it to $449, and the 256 GB model at $549. It became available for pre-order on 17 April 2020, with deliveries starting on 24 April 2020.

The Elephant in the Room

First off, size matters. After every iPhone release over the last few years, conversations I had with friends and acquaintances who don’t follow the tech industry always led off with “Why doesn’t Apple make a smaller iPhone anymore?” At first, I chalked it up to design trends, but more recently, I’ve resorted to joking, “Because Apple hates you and your tiny hands.” Do Apple designers never hear complaints from women who find current iPhones too large for their hands, much less their pockets? That’s a common refrain from Tonya, Glenn Fleishman’s wife Lynn, and many of my female friends, plus plenty of guys. Last I knew, Peter Lewis of Keyboard Maestro fame was still using an iPhone SE.

So yes, the new iPhone SE is significantly larger than the first-generation iPhone SE. It’s even a hair larger than the iPhone 6s that many people have been holding onto as each successive generation of iPhone has ballooned. Tonya passed on a hand-me-down iPhone X because it was annoyingly larger than the iPhone 6s that replaced her dying iPhone 5s.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, is quoted in the iPhone SE press release as saying, “The first iPhone SE was a hit with many customers who loved its unique combination of small size, high-end performance and affordable price.” That’s absolutely true, especially the “small size” part. However, then he goes on to say, “the new second-generation iPhone SE builds on that great idea and improves on it in every way.” No. When small size is the key feature, “improved” would require that it get smaller, not larger.

Sorry, Apple hates you and your tiny hands. And your small pockets.

Impressive Specs for the Price

Apart from the disappointing size, the new iPhone SE sports an impressive set of specs for the price. Little is particularly new here, of course, since it’s basically an upgraded iPhone 8. The key specs include:

  • A13 Bionic: The second-generation iPhone SE uses the same A13 Bionic chip as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. If past behavior is any indication, this second-generation iPhone SE won’t see any updates for years, so having the fastest chip available now will keep it up to snuff for some time.
  • Improved photos: Although the base specs of the iPhone SE’s 12-megapixel rear and 7-megapixel front camera are the same as the iPhone 8’s cameras, the additional processing power of the A13 Bionic chip enables Portrait mode, all six Portrait Lighting effects, and Depth Control. Tests will undoubtedly be out soon, and we expect that the image quality will be noticeably improved over the iPhone 8.
  • More storage options: The iPhone 8 offered storage choices of only 64 GB or 256 GB; the iPhone SE adds the middle-ground 128 GB option.
  • Video changes: There are several differences in the specs for video recording between the two models, but it’s impossible to tell if they’re substantive. The most likely one is the iPhone SE’s new “extended dynamic range for video up to 30 fps” spec.
  • 4.7-inch display: The screen technology appears identical to the iPhone 8, with 1334-by-750-pixel resolution at 326 pixels per inch and a 1400:1 contrast ratio. It’s a Retina HD screen with True Tone and wide color display (P3).
  • Haptic touch: Whereas the iPhone 8 supported pressure-sensitive 3D Touch, the iPhone SE drops back to the Haptic Touch approach that relies on the length of the press and can’t distinguish between different pressure levels.
  • Touch ID: Although Apple has moved to Face ID for the 2018 and 2019 iPhone models, the iPhone SE sticks with the Touch ID sensor from the iPhone 8. Some people prefer Touch ID, and, especially as mask-wearing becomes more commonplace, Touch ID may be more effective than Face ID.
  • Qi wireless charging: Like the iPhone 8, the iPhone SE supports wireless charging. Battery life is the same as the iPhone 8 as well, and it’s still fast-charge capable.
  • eSIM-capable: Where the iPhone 8 was limited to a single nano-SIM, the iPhone SE has both a nano-SIM and supports Apple’s eSIM technology for a second number.

In short, then, the second-generation iPhone SE is just an iPhone 8 with a faster chip that enables better photos, a “just-right” 128 GB storage option, Haptic Touch instead of 3D Touch, and support for an eSIM-enabled second number.

What’s important about the iPhone SE, though, is its price. It costs $399, $449, or $549, depending on whether you want 64 GB, 128 GB, or 256 GB of storage. In comparison, equivalent models of the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro are $300 and $600 more, respectively.

So as much as the size of the second-generation iPhone SE is disappointing, the price—and the performance for that price—is extremely welcome. At $699, the iPhone 11 could never be considered inexpensive in any light other than that cast by the $999 iPhone 11 Pro and the $1099 iPhone 11 Pro Max.

If you don’t care about size, Apple is still selling the beefy iPhone XR for $200 more. Apart from its older A12 Bionic chip, the iPhone XR has Face ID and somewhat better specs than the iPhone SE. But if you’re going to spend $200 more, ante up another $100 and get the iPhone 11.

For some people, an iPhone is such an important part of their lives that there’s no question that it’s worth spending over $1000. But for many others, an iPhone is nice but not necessary, so having the second-generation iPhone SE cut that price by more than half will significantly increase Apple’s sales.