Our Verdict

Apple's really dialled back the screen and design to hit the price point - but it's still a brilliant phone for the subset of people that still crave a small phone.

For

  • Great power
  • Longer battery than 5S
  • Lower price

Against

  • Tired design
  • Old, old screen technology
  • Rattling home key

Why should you care about the iPhone SE? It's a phone that's in an identical chassis to the one released three years ago, and beyond a new color it's impossible to know which model is which. It's the iPhone 'Special Edition'.

Then I look around the train carriage on the way to work and count the amount of iPhone 5S and 5 devices that are being prodded quietly all around. The number is staggering, and it easily dwarfs the amount of iPhone 6 or iPhone 6S handsets on show.

Has Apple been smart here? Looked at the way people are using phones and realised there's a massive market for a certain form factor - a smaller handset that you can easily reach across the whole screen with one thumb but still has some decent power?

iPhone SE review

iPhone SE price and release date

  • iPhone SE release date: March 2016
  • 16GB iPhone SE price: $399, £379, AU$679 at launch
  • 64GB iPhone SE price: $449, £429, AU$749 at launch
  • UK contracts start at £23.50 for a free phone

The SE is a hark back to a long-forgotten era in smartphones, like Apple split time in two and pulled a phone back through, and charged $399 (£379, AU$679) for the 16GB model (or $449, £429, $AU749 if you choose the larger 64GB option).

That's a surprising price for Apple to hit: it's lower than the main phones, and the price of the contract for this phone is cheaper than many flagships from 2015. 

The SIM-free price isn't cheap, but it's more affordable than a 'new' iPhone has ever been and it's already begun to drop a little in price.

But enough about the price - usually, people that are embedded into the iOS ecosystem struggle to leave it, and are willing to pay whatever's necessary to get a decent new phone.

So what about this decision to re-re-release the iPhone 5? Has Apple zigged when the rest of the world has zagged, and come up with the direction everyone has been clamoring for, making a powerful-yet-palmable phone?

Or is this a company arrogantly believing it can churn out the same phone design for the third time and hope the world will consider it different enough to be worth the upgrade?

Key new features

  • All the power of a larger iPhone in a smaller chassis
  • Camera is strong - on a par with the iPhone 6S
  • Lack of 3D Touch is disappointing and would have worked well here
  • Battery life is significantly longer than iPhone 5 / 5S

Besides price (the iPhone SE is the cheapest Apple handset on the market, after all) the key selling point with this new phone is the design. The chassis, as I've mentioned above, is precisely the same as on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S, and beyond coming in rose gold, doesn't offer anything new at all.

That said, so many people are looking at the iPhone's evolution to the 4.7-inch display of the 6 and 6S and scrunched their noses up a bit, not wanting to make the leap to the larger size of screen (and that's before we even get into the iPhone 6S Plus' mega size).

iPhone SE review

The new phone is designed to be easily operated with one hand, the 4-inch screen sitting just at the edge of a thumb stretch, and Apple is banking on this fact keeping the handset current.

However, internally things are genuinely supercharged, a world away from the innards stuffed into the handset from a few years back. The camera has had one of the biggest overhauls, now coming with the 12MP iSight sensor found in the current flagship phones, and offering the same array of tricks.

iPhone SE review

iPhone SE specs

Weight: 113g

Dimensions: 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm

OS: iOS 9.3.2

Screen size: 4-inch

Resolution: 640 x 1136

CPU: Apple A9

RAM: 2GB

Storage: 16/64GB

Battery: 1624mAh

Rear camera: 12MP

Front camera: 1.2MP

That means Focus Pixels to offer clearer and faster autofocus, the improved two-tone flash and Live Photos, where a small amount of video is captured with every photo taken. 4K video recording and ultra-slo-mo movie modes really help sweeten the deal too.

The power of the iPhone SE is something to behold as well - it's as powerful as the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus thanks to having the new A9 chip, the M9 co-processor and 2GB of RAM.

Compare that to the A7 chip with a measly 1GB of RAM from the iPhone 5S and side by side they're absolutely night and day in terms of speed and battery life management.

The M9 co-processor is an important element too, telling the phone when it should be heading into a dormant mode thanks to being sat quietly on a desk or in a pocket, which prevents the battery-hungry pings that lead to the red line of doom and you needing to reach for the charger at 6PM.

Battery life is impressive on the phone, especially when you consider there are only a few mAh added in here, from 1560mAh to 1624mAh, and with no increase to the size of the chassis at all, this is a really impressive feat and addresses one of the key concerns I had with the iPhone 5S.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Global Phones, Tablets and Wearables Editor

Gareth (Twitter, Google+) has been in charge of phones, tablets and wearables at TechRadar for the best part of a decade. He can instantly recommend the best phone for you, or can be found running around the nearest park with the latest fitness tech strapped to his wrist, head or any other applicable body part.

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