Allow me to start this iPhone SE review (2022) with a long run up…
The most basic aim of the smartphone industry is, like any industry, to manufacture and sell a product for more than the sum of its parts.
With flagship phones, like the iPhone 13, the methodology of picking what should go into a new device is straightforward. It’s the best of the best of what Apple can manufacture. The NZ$799 iPhone SE clearly fills a different part of the market.
It’s a much more entry-level device, with a much more entry-level price. This makes the decision-making process of choosing which parts to put in the SE more difficult. Apple needs to offer an affordable phone, that isn’t appealing enough to impact its biggest money maker, the iPhone proper.
Which makes designing the SE an almost-impossible task. It needs to be bad enough to make the normal iPhone look good, and yet still good enough to make customers choose an affordable Apple device rather than an affordable Android device.
With that in mind, the iPhone SE is fine. It brings a lot of the features that makes iPhones great, at a much cheaper price point. But it sacrifices high-end features like photography, an edge-to-edge screen and FaceID.
What you do get with the SE is Apple’s latest A15 chip, a decent screen, a decent camera, ok battery life, 5G and TouchID.
All for NZ$799 – it’s a bargain. It would look like even more of a bargain were Apple not still selling the iPhone 11 for $899. And this is the SE’s biggest competitor, not the iPhone 13 or a similar-specced Android device.
For just NZ$100 more. The iPhone 11 delivers a much better camera, screen, battery and even FaceID – the only thing it doesn’t have is an A15 chip. And I’m not sure that really matters, as the A13 is still really good.
See also: iPhone 14 release date
Starting at NZ$799 for the 64GB model, the iPhone SE looks like a bargain. And it is.
However, don’t forget Apple still sells the iPhone 11 for $899 and that phone is way better and only costs $100 more.
I like the design of the SE. It’s a classic Apple design that looks exactly like an iPhone 8, complete with ample bezel on all sides of the display.
The device measures in at 138.4 mm x 67.3 mm x 7.3 mm, weighing 144 grams. It fits nicely in your hand and its IP67 rating means it’ll survive in the water at a maximum depth of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. Which is also fine.
I enjoyed using a phone with TouchID again too, especially as most of us are wearing masks for big chunks of the day. The ease, and security, of unlocking and paying for things with your fingerprint is a solid feature that’s a fair compromise for FaceID on a budget device. Readjusting to using an iPhone with a Home Button did take some time though – it felt very odd.
The SE’s display is another area where Apple distances the device from its flagships. The 4.7-inch, Retina HD 1334×750 pixel (326 ppi) LCD display is two or three steps down from the 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR 2532×1170 pixel (460 ppi) display the iPhone 13 offers.
It’s not just a size and pixel count thing. Apple states that its 1400:1 contrast ratio is way below its 13’s 2,000,000:1 benchmark, while its 625 nits is also significantly darker than the 800 nits of the iPhone 13.
The numbers are backed up by what your eyes see. On its own, I thought the SE’s display was really good, with good levels of contrast and appropriate brightness in games and the Photos app. It struggled a little in the bright Auckland sun, but it was still more-than-usable outside.
The only time it felt like an “affordable” display was when I compared it directly to an iPhone 13 or iPhone 13 Pro. It was only in this specific scenario where the display felt a little dull and cold.
Things look very similar to the 2020 iPhone SE here. On board the 2022 model is the same, single rear 12-megapixel wide camera and average 7-megapixel front-facing camera. They’re both still good enough to get the job(s) done, but there’s nothing special going on here.
Below are some comparisons I’ve made to help you get an idea of how the iPhone’s 12-megapixel rear wide camera holds up against its immediate competition.
iPhone SE 2022 vs iPhone 13
Standard photography in well-lit settings is a close contest where you have to really pay attention to notice any differences. If you look closely at the wood behind the bonnet you’ll notice the iPhone 13 does a better job of blurring the background.
iPhone SE 2022 vs Samsung Galaxy S22
When you allow, and remove, the over-brightened processing of the S22’s image there’s not a lot of difference between these two cameras. The Ghostbusters logo on the car door looks a little sharper in the iPhone SE’s image to me, as does the “warning” label on the car’s roof.
iPhone SE 2022 (low light) vs iPhone 13 (low light)
The SE does a reasonable job in low-light setting, however it’s easy to spot how detail and sharpness suffers compared to the iPhone 13’s images.
Battery and performance
There are a few things to unpick here. First and foremost, there’s still no charging brick in the box – so that’s an instant black mark against the device. Next, there’s no MagSafe compatibility, but it is Qi-compatible. Ugh.
The good news is that the battery life seems to be better than previous iPhone SEs. I’m a heavy smartphone user and the SE was able to keep up with me and still have between 10-15% battery most days, before I called it a day and put my phone on charge for the night.
This is where the iPhone SE shines. The A15 chip powering this phone is the same 6-core CPU and 4-core GPU chip that’s in the iPhone 13. What that means in plain English – and in the real world – is that it’s a very fast phone to use.
Gaming and day-to-day phone use on the SE is effortless – it’s as good as any phone on the market today. It handled 30min+ of PUBG Mobile without a stutter or getting too hot to hold.
Speed and performance is not an issue here at all.
There’s not an awful lot to say here. It’s a 5G phone. It’s a good thing. Especially in an affordable device.
As ever, the NZ$799 iPhone SE is a solid phone for anyone not looking to spend too much money, but who still wants to enjoy the iPhone (and Apple ecosystem).
The biggest improvements the 2022 SE has over its 2020 predecessor are the A15 chip, 5G and better battery life. Those three areas aside, it’s a very similar phone to the 2020 SE.
The problem the iPhone SE has is that Apple still sells the iPhone 11. And it only costs $100 dollars more. And for those extra dollars, you’re getting a disproportionately better camera, battery, screen, design, and FaceID – the only thing you’re not getting is the A15 chip… but the A13 is still good enough.