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Apple iPhone SE (2020) review: almost perfect

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On March 31, 2016, the first Apple iPhone SE (2016) launched for $399. Four years later, its successor is here: the second-generation iPhone SE, also known as “iPhone SE 2″ or “iPhone SE (2020)”. It is currently the most compact iPhone on the market — and with a starting price of (Check on Amazon) also the cheapest iPhone you can buy. But how much of an iPhone do you get for (Check on Amazon)?

The best way to describe the iPhone SE (2020) is this: it’s a hybrid between the iPhone 8 (Check on Amazon) and the iPhone 11.

The new iPhone SE features a very classic design, one very close to that of the 2017 iPhone 8. But Apple has done a brain transplant and replaced a 3-year-old processor with the latest A13 Bionic, the same one we find in the iPhone 11 (Check on Amazon), 11 Pro (Check on Amazon), and 11 Pro Max (Check on Amazon). The modifications go far beyond simply inserting a new SoC since it is responsible for the improvements in the photo department and optimized autonomy.

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There are, of course, compromises. The iPhone SE 2020 sports only one rear camera, it doesn’t have Face ID and it lacks features such as Night mode, Slofies (slow motion selfies), and Deep Fusion processing. It takes good photos but not as amazing as the ones we get with the iPhone 11. Overall, the iPhone SE offers to date the best quality/price ratio in its range. Its price is very attractive, its battery life adequate, its rear camera OK, it is equipped with the best processor, it is IP67 certified and supports fast and wireless charging.

Apple iPhone SE (2020) – Design

Apple iPhone SE (2020) - Design

Needless to hide behind our finger: the design of the iPhone SE (2020) is outdated. Especially when compared side by side with devices such as the iPhone 11 Pro — whose dimensions are almost overlapping — the new iPhone SE shows its age. The design is in fact almost identical to the iPhone 8 (same weight and dimensions, so much so that you can use the same cases). This design was introduced with the iPhone 6 back in 2014 and marked a drastic change in Apple’s aesthetic direction since it shifted between the right angles and flat sides of the iPhone 5 and 5S to a much curvier design and smoother contours, dominated by aluminum. The iPhone 8 was Apple’s last phone with that design, as the iPhone X (Check on Amazon) launched in 2017 inaugurated a new design language.

Read more: iPhone X review

The iPhone SE has the same glass as the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus (Check on Amazon), and iPhone X and uses the same 7000 series aluminum that has models like the iPhone 8, iPhone XR (Check on Amazon), and iPhone 11. The glass on your back has a seven-layer process of color and oleophobic coating that helps not stick fingerprints and grease.

The 2020 iPhone SE comes in three colors: black, white, and red. It is IP67 certified. Its body is made of glass and aluminum and we advise you to use a case. The phone also sports a Touch ID Home button – has a “Taptic Engine” built-in, which convincingly imitates the feel of a mechanical button – in order to unlock it with your fingerprint, but no Face ID, present only on Apple’s premium phones.

The old design has its advantages: although Apple’s Face ID works well in everyday life and – unlike the not so secure face recognition of many Android phones – it’s hard to crack, there are still users that like the combination of a fingerprint sensor and the Home button.

One of the most anachronistic aspects of iPhone SE (2020) concerns the screen: the 4.7-inch screen (1334×750 pixels – 326 PPI) is Retina HD (and not Fluid Retina like the one we find in the iPhone XR/11) and offers Haptic Touch (no 3D Touch). Its brightness and contrast are not comparable to the iPhone 11 Pro / 11 Pro Max. In terms of brightness, we measured 650 nits and a contrast of 1,600:1. These numbers are very similar to the ones we got from the iPhone 11. Only the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max can boast a much better display with more brightness, and thanks to OLED technology, enormous contrast. Anyhoo the display makes a good impression overall. The text is crisp, the colors are precise and the brightness is strong enough to view content under direct sunlight. Only those that use their smartphone intensively for surfing the web and/or watching videos might consider it too small. For such applications, the iPhone 11 with a diagonal of 6.1 inches is much more suitable.

Another aspect not to be underestimated is that of the form factor: more and more movies are now being released in an 18:9 aspect ratio (the one we find in the iPhone X onwards) while the iPhone SE (2020) still sports a 16:9 aspect ratio and thus the risk that many videos will show black bars when viewed in landscape mode. These were clearly necessary compromises in view of the price, but at the same time something that the potential buyer must be aware of.

For lovers of compact phones, however, the 4.7-inch LCD screen is larger than the 4-inch LCD screen of the original iPhone SE, while being smaller than the competition and thus much more comfortable to use.

Another difficult aspect to metabolize in 2020 is the presence of a physical button for navigating the OS: the iPhone SE (2020) is missing the gestures that we have become accustomed to. The process of rolling back to an outdated interaction is extremely difficult and far from intuitive. The same goes for Touch ID when compared to Face ID. Apple’s face recognition is universally considered the best solution around to unlock the device and authorize payments. Returning to Touch ID will take time if you’ve already experienced the newer technologies.

We also miss the 3,5mm headphone jack. Despite the abundance of wireless headphones, we are still sorry that Apple has made no exception for this device. At least they included a pair of EarPods into the box, which uses the phone’s Lightning port instead of the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Apple iPhone SE (2020) – Features

Apple iPhone SE (2020) - Features

So from the outside, the iPhone SE 2 offers little to none, but under the hood Apple has significantly improved the device. Inside we find the powerful A13 Bionic, the same chip that powers the iPhone 11 series, making them the fastest smartphones in the world and an SoC that is faster than any Android processor. Just so you understand, according to Apple, the A13 Bionic is 2.4 times faster than the A9 in the 2016 iPhone SE and 40 percent faster than the A11 Bionic in the 2017 iPhone 8. The GPU is four times faster than the A9, and two times faster than the A11 Bionic.

In our performance test (Geekbench 5), the iPhone SE produced exactly the same result as last year’s iPhone 11, confirming that it is the same chip. However, the graphics performance was slightly lower compared to the iPhone 11 Pro (probably, Apple has balanced the SoC’s output with the device’s battery for a better autonomy). Anyhoo, the iPhone SE is as fast as the fastest Android smartphone, the OnePlus 8 Pro (Check on Amazon). And it’s significantly faster than the iPhone XR that uses the previous A12 Bionic chip.

In everyday use the iPhone SE performed admirably: messaging and social media apps run well, videos look vivid and sharp, video calls are clear. Although I’ve never had performance issues with my old iPhone 8, the iPhone SE is a beast that offers the huge advantage of having an upgraded processor (the most powerful one today) that will perform well for at least three years to come if not five.

Last but not least, if you buy the iPhone SE (2020) today you will get your hands on the latest version of iOS 13 and have access, in the future, to all software updates that will be released by Apple.

Apple iPhone SE (2020) – Camera

Apple iPhone SE (2020) - Camera

Equally exciting are the results of the camera. Compared to the current-generation iPhone 11, Apple uses a stripped-down technology with a single 12-megapixel camera; both the ultra-wide-angle camera of the iPhone 11 and the telephoto lens of the Pro models are missing. Also present are OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) and True Tone flash with Slow Sync. The autofocus seemed very fast and accurate, both in photos and videos.

The most significant difference between the iPhone SE and the iPhone 8 is once again the more modern and faster image processing unit offered by the powerful A13 Bionic SoC. Thanks to it, the iPhone SE 2 receives the new “Smart HDR” technology that detects objects, such as faces, and automatically adjusts the appropriate brightness for these areas, thus improving shadows and skin tones, for example. It also includes all the extras of the Portrait mode, such as the black and white mode (“High-Key Light Mono”) and the advanced bokeh effects for both the main and selfie camera.

In fact both cameras can take photos in Portrait Mode, something that was not possible with the iPhone 8. This is achieved mainly thanks to the A13’s Neural Engine processing. Sadly the iPhone SE does not offer bokeh of objects other than people like the iPhone 11 does; that is, it only activates when it recognizes faces, similar to the iPhone XR.

The result is that in good lighting condition, the iPhone SE takes really good pictures! In low light conditions, on the other hand, the performance drops significantly. Overall, the image quality isn’t on par with that of the iPhone 11, which in low light benefits from Night mode. The photo quality is more similar to that of the iPhone XR but offers the processing speed and the extra effects of the iPhone 11 series.

Holding down the button in Photo mode automatically starts a video recording (“QuickTake” video, a function also present on the iPhone 11) in Full HD at 30fps with extended dynamic range (HDR) or optionally in 4K at 60 frames per second (no HDR). It can also shoot slow-motion videos in 1080p and up to 240 fps. One thing I really liked and it will be very handy for people who make videos using their phones is that both cameras offer cinematic stabilization. This helps with shaky hands and means that you can do without a tripod in most cases. In addition, the device records sound in stereo. These two new features will help you record much higher quality videos.

The biggest difference between the iPhone SE and 11 is with their front cameras. The iPhone 11 has a wider angle lens, and it is capable of filming in 4K and in slow motion. The iPhone SE, on the other hand, only shoots in 1080p and does not take slofies.

Apple iPhone SE (2020) – Performance

Apple iPhone SE (2020) - Performance

The additional power of the Bionic A13 chipset should allow the new iPhone SE to compete with the iPhone 11 series in terms of speed and performance.

During our tests, the iPhone SE easily outscored the iPhone 8 and (not surprisingly) the original iPhone SE and obtained a score similar to that of the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max! We remind you that the iPhone 11 Pro Max is still the most powerful phone on the market.

In everyday use all apps and games – even the most taxing – run buttery smooth. Photo editing isn’t a problem, and we’ve even been able to try out Wonderscope, an augmented reality app for kids, that turns the living room into a playground.


The iPhone SE has a very small battery with a capacity of just 1,821 milliamperes hours (mAh). Therefore, everyone was afraid that the iPhone SE would inherit the same subpar autonomy of the iPhone 8 – it has the same battery. However, it turns out that Apple was able to perform a minor miracle. Despite the dramatically smaller unit – the iPhone 11 has a 3,046mAh battery – battery life is almost as good!

This mean that with light to medium use the iPhone SE will be able to last you for a full day, but in case of more intense use, you will probably need to charge the device before leaving work or the moment you arrive home.

Speaking of charging, the iPhone SE comes with the old power adapter (5W) that has a large USB-A connector. It is nice and small and the Lightning cable also works on older computers without USB-C, but the charging speed is just lame. A full charge takes almost three hours. The good news: you can buy an 18W fast charger (Check on Amazon) and cut charging times down to just under 2 hours (0% to 50% in 30 minutes).

The device is also compatible with wireless charging (Check on Amazon), another feature that is not found on most smartphones in this price range.


Many Apple fans wished for an affordable iPhone and with the iPhone SE (2020) Apple replied to their prayers: the latest iPhone costs (Check on Amazon) with 64GB of storage. The 128GB version goes for (Check on Amazon) while the 256GB one (Check on Amazon).

The iPhone SE is perfect for a teenager who doesn’t want to spend a lot on an iPhone. It doesn’t have the best cameras on the market, but its rear camera captures good quality photos.

Even outside the Apple fan community, the iPhone SE should be appreciated. Because with the exception of the Samsung Galaxy S10e (Check on Amazon) and Pixel 3a (Check on Amazon), compact Android smartphones are hard to find.

Read more: Google Pixel 3a review: the Pixel camera at half price

Ultimately the iPhone SE (2020) is simply the cheapest iPhone and this is both its strength but also its weakness: for those who want an iPhone without spending an arm and a leg it will surely be a best-buy, but if you look around you will find equally worthy and probably better devices. Just think of the iPhone XR (Check on Amazon), today sold for the same figure as the new iPhone SE (2020) but with Face ID, Liquid Retina screen, similar performance, and better autonomy.

Read more: Apple iPhone XR review: the best iPhone ever (yes, really)

But the most important thing is to always have a choice and in this case, Apple has been good at completing its 2020 lineup with a product that, we are sure, will end up in the pockets of many enthusiasts (and not).

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