I’m here to tell you that you don’t need the most expensive iPhone. You don’t need the most expensive iPad, either! (We’ve already covered this.) If Apple’s new iPhone SE proves anything, it’s that you can get an excellent midrange iPhone, one with the processing power of a top-of-the-line smartphone, for $400.
I’ve been using the new iPhone SE since last Friday, instead of the iPhone 11 that I own. The iPhone 11 was part of Apple’s fall launch in 2019. At that time, Apple introduced the flagship iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, and then the “cheap one,” the $700 iPhone 11. The catch, of course, is that none of those devices are cheap. But now Apple has revived its low-cost model, the iPhone SE, which hasn’t been in the picture since 2018. And Apple has brought the SE back at a time when millions of people might not put “new iPhone” on the top of their purchasing lists right now. If you need a new iPhone right now, this one might be it.
Sure, the iPhone SE is not as advanced as flagship phones. Its drawbacks are obvious right away: The display isn’t as brilliant, its camera isn’t as remarkable, the phone’s battery sputters by the end of the day. But it’s still a good iPhone, and for a lot of people that means it’s good enough.
The back of the new iPhone SE is aluminum coated in glass.
Apple first introduced the iPhone SE back in 2016. It had the body of the tiny iPhone 5S, from 2013, but with updated internals. Then Apple discontinued the iPhone SE two years later, leaving fans of small phones (and bargain lovers) without many iPhone options. Now the iPhone SE is back, but it’s not quite as small. It has the same external build as a 2017 iPhone 8, but has a much improved camera and most notably, runs on Apple’s fastest phone chip yet.
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The new iPhone SE starts at $400 for a model with 64 gigabytes of internal storage. You’ll likely want to buy more storage. An iPhone SE with 128 GB will run you $449, while a 256 GB model costs $549. The phone ships in a white, black, or red finish.
It looks like an iPhone, but an iPhone from the distant past, from the Before Times. It has an LCD screen. Apple calls this a “Retina HD” display. It’s quite nice—the same display on the iPhone 11, with the same color accuracy, tone-shifting features, and haptic feedback—it’s just not as nice as the OLED display you’ll find on the more expensive iPhones. There’s a wide bezel at the top, and a thick chin on the bottom. Nestled in that chin is a Home button.
Remember this tactile relic? Maybe some of you still have a phone with one. I’ve realized I miss the Home button. I’ve gotten very used to the nearly bezel-less build of the iPhone 11, and using Face ID to unlock the phone, to log into various apps, to buy something online. But the Home button—which uses Touch ID for all of those tasks in the absence of Face ID—was never broken. The iPhone 11 is such a lineless black slab that I don’t know which way is up half the time. The iPhone SE reminded me that buttons are good. Gamers agree. So do proponents of accessible tech.
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This iPhone SE is larger than the original iPhone SE: It has a 4.7-inch diagonal display, instead of a tiny 4-inch one. And yet, the 4.7-inch display still felt too small to me.