Review: Apple iPhone SE – New-ish Wine, Old Bottle?
We try and answer the 39,000 buck question – who exactly is a 4-inch iPhone SE meant for?
At The Quint, we’ve wondered out loud often enough about the iPhone SE – about its exorbitant pricing, the massive profit margins Apple enjoys on this device, and some alternatives you could consider if you have cash to spare. But all of that was before we tried one on for size, and now that we’ve had our time with the newest, yet most familiar-looking iPhone SE, we try and answer the 39,000 buck question – who exactly is a 4-inch iPhone SE meant for?
What Is it?
Simply put, this is an iPhone 6S packed into the body of an iPhone 5S – a replacement for the 2013-generation iPhone 5s that’s almost a misfit in an iPhone lineup which accepted larger screen sizes a couple of years ago.
It may have been the cheapest iPhone ever launched, but at thirty-nine grand for the base 16GB variant, we don’t need to tell you it’s pretty pricey – even by iPhone standards. That said, in a world of supersized phones that stretch the size envelope (and our palms!), this is one retro-sized throwback device that’s easy to grasp and to pocket!
Design wise, this is a 5s for all practical purposes, with some minor variations that only a keen eye (or previous 5s owner) can spot. Clearly, Apple could have done a lot more when it came to reimagining the 4-inch form factor, but aping the 5s isn’t altogether a bad thing. The 5s had an edgy, almost industrial design which screams class, and the design inspirations from this device – from the matte-chamfered edges to the all-aluminum build – are still seen in phones today. The sharp edges give the petite phone a good grip, and at 113 grams, this baby disappears into your jeans/shirt pocket – so much so that you can hardly feel its presence. The small screen means that it’s easy to reach any place on the screen without adjusting your grip, and the phone is, for a change, completely usable in a single hand, even if you’re holding onto the Metro handrail for dear life and want to send out a quick text. If you’re upgrading from the 5s, all your accessories fit the SE as well… plus there’s a new Rose Gold colour, should pink tickle your fancy.
Visually, while this is a 5s 2016 edition, under the hood it is very much an iPhone 6S mini, with the powerful A9 processor from the 6S series making its way into the SE. Benchmark scores put it alongside its pricier stable mates, and the performance while gaming or using the device for everyday tasks is pretty great. One benefit of the smaller, lower-resolution screen is impressive battery life, which lasted me a day-and-a-half with regular usage, matching or outdoing the iPhone 6s Plus (with its massive battery) on most days.
If you’ve spent the last couple of years with a bigger phone in your pocket and are hoping this is your ticket to switch to iOS, be prepared – the SE looks and feels disconcertingly tiny, and you have to work your way around how you use it if you’re coming from a bigger 5-inch+ device. The screen is pin-sharp, but it lacks the vibrancy and contrast of the bigger iPhones. The larger issue is that the 4-inch screen feels terribly cramped, whether you’re browsing the web, using apps or even typing out a message to someone. Either the buttons end up very small or the keyboard takes up a big part of the screen, and the experience feels a bit dated.
Hardware wise, there are a few compromises – there’s no pressure-sensing 3D Touch technology on the screen, the phone misses out on the speed and range benefits the Wi-Fi MiMo antennas deliver to the 6S range, and the first-generation Touch ID sensor is just a tad slower than the current-gen fingerprint recognition tech. The 12MP rear camera and the True Tone flash are the same package as the iPhone 6S, and it performs as reliably and consistently as its bigger sibling, with the signature levels of detail and accurate colours. You also get 4K video recording and Live Photos but make no mistake – while this is a good camera, it still comes second to Samsung’s best. What bothered me more is that Apple has retained the 5S’s 1.2MP selfie camera, which really struggles in low-light conditions.
At Rs 39,000 for the 16GB and Rs 49,000 for the 64GB variant, the “Special Edition” SE has instead earned the “Seriously Expensive” moniker, and the current pricing would be a serious deterrent to anyone even remotely enamoured by the thought of jumping onto the iOS bandwagon with this device.
Why Buy it?
The iPhone SE, then, is a tiny phone with the heart of a beast, and unlike previous cheaper iPhones, you don’t have to settle for previous generation hardware. That said, the smaller display isn’t for everyone, and with the 6s retailing for not much more, it’s easy to recommend picking up the bigger iPhone – not to mention a whole host of Android offerings – unless you’re hankering for a small-screen device. If Apple (or e-commerce giants) were to drop the price to the original thirty grand announced price, it would at least give this little phone a fighting chance!
(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached on Twitter: @2shar.)
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