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Saturday, June 25, 2022

iPhone SE (2022) Review: Defying Expectations

mobilesiPhone SE (2022) Review: Defying Expectations


It isn’t possible to review the new iPhone SE (2022) without essentially reviewing Apple’s entire product and pricing strategy. This is meant to be the company’s most affordable iPhone, but it’s still in premium price territory. It looks old-fashioned but has modern 5G network capability. Apple has used its top-of-the-line A15 Bionic mobile SoC, but also a tiny low-res screen that you can’t really do much on. You get wireless charging and an IP rating, but only a single camera. This phone seems to be a big bundle of contradictions, and it’s not unreasonable to question whether there’s even a market for it.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time with the iPhone SE (2022) to help you decide whether it’s worth buying. Here’s a full review of its capabilities and limitations, as well as a rundown of the competition – including some factors that will matter a lot for buyers in India. Read on to get the answers to all the questions you might have about the latest low-end iPhone.

iPhone SE (2022) price in India

In India, where prices seem to keep rising and we don’t even have 5G networks yet, the new iPhone SE (2022) might confuse buyers. It’s priced starting at Rs. 43,900 for 64GB, which means even the base storage option competes with the compact Asus 8z (Review) as well as the likes of the OnePlus 9RT 5G (Review), Vivo V23 Pro 5G (Review), Oppo Reno 7 Pro 5G (Review), and others.

If you want more storage, you’ll have to pay Rs. 48,900 for 128GB or Rs. 58,900 for 256GB. That means you could also buy an Asus ROG Phone 5s, Vivo X70 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S21 (Review), or OnePlus 9 Pro (Review). These are all top-end or nearly top-end Android phones with extensive features and capabilities, particularly in the camera department.

What’s even more pertinent is older iPhone models are available at significant discounts online in India. The iPhone 12 (Review), iPhone 12 mini (Review), iPhone 11 (Review) and iPhone XR (Review) are often available within this price range. The previous-gen iPhone SE (2020) (Review) has been on sale for as little as Rs. 25,999. Apple doesn’t sell it officially on its own website anymore, but it’s still widely available. If you factor in sales, exchange offers, and the occasional incentives that shops and banks offer, it’s possible to get some great deals, while the latest models sell at their official MRPs.

All this means that even if you have over Rs. 40,000 to spend, and even if you really want an iPhone, the new iPhone SE (2022) is not your only option. You should be sure of exactly which features and capabilities you want, and that’s what this review is going to help you figure out.

iphone se2022 front fingerprint ndtv iphone se

The home button on the front with its integrated fingerprint sensor is a throwback feature that other manufacturers have abandoned

 

iPhone SE (2022) design and usability

The one big downside of the iPhone SE (2022)’s design is immediately evident – it has a small, short screen with lots of wasted space above and below it. All content including the iOS UI feels cramped and constrained – if you’re used to today’s mainstream phones which all have 6-inch or larger screens, the 4.7-inch 9:16 panel on the new iPhone SE (2022) will feel quaint. This is a real limiting factor when it comes to enjoying video or games, and typing might be a bit of a challenge if you have big hands. Maps, creative apps, document readers, and even Web pages can’t show very much content at a time.

“Old-fashioned” might be the most obvious way to describe this phone – and rightly so, since it sticks to pretty much the exact same design template as the iPhone 6 from 2014 – but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, this could be the iPhone SE (2022)’s biggest selling point for a number of buyers. For one thing, it’s familiar, and that’s great for people who don’t like change or might not find gesture navigation comfortable. For another, you won’t find many such slim, light smartphones in the Android world – at least not with up-to-date specifications. The iPhone SE (2022) weighs only 144g which is significantly less than most other phones today.

You might like being able to use this phone one-handed, and it isn’t much of a stretch to reach all corners of the screen with one thumb. Speaking of thumbs, the big Home button below the screen has an integrated Touch ID fingerprint sensor just like older iPhones, and this is an extremely convenient feature that I’ve missed, especially in the age of masks.

iphone se2022 rear hand ndtv iphone se

Build quality is excellent, and the iPhone SE (2022) has an IP67 rating

 

You can slip the iPhone SE (2022) into any pocket and it won’t weigh you down – plus it’s very comfortable to hold while having a long phone conversation. The power and volume buttons are within easy reach. There’s also a mute switch on the left. A tray on the right can hold a single Nano-SIM but this phone can work with one or even two eSIMs. Apple’s proprietary Lightning port can be found on the bottom, with a speaker to one side and grille on the other for symmetry. As expected, there’s no 3.5mm audio jack.

Apple has used premium materials and the construction quality is as good as you’d expect considering the price. The front and back are made of glass while the frame is aluminium. This phone has an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance. It’s available in three colours – Starlight, which I have for this review, is a warm white while Midnight is a very dark blueish black. There’s also a (Product)RED option. The front panel is black for all three.

You don’t get a charger in the box; only a Type-C to Lightning cable, a SIM eject pin, and a sticker.

iphone se2022 front left ndtv iphone se

The iPhone SE (2022) is relatively slim and light by today’s standards

 

iPhone SE (2022) specifications

Although it’s clearly at the bottom of Apple’s official current lineup, the new iPhone SE (2022) does not suffer in terms of processor power. It has the same A15 Bionic SoC as the entire iPhone 13 family. Performance should be top-notch, and that includes graphics quality for gaming. It’s worth noting that Apple specifies only four GPU cores are active, like with the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini, as opposed to five with the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. There’s 4GB of RAM, which might not seem like much but works well enough for iOS devices.

Apple’s in-house SoCs are tightly integrated with their host devices’ camera capabilities. The company boasts of Deep Fusion “computational photography” which uses machine learning to combine multiple exposures to improve colours, contrast and focus. Smart HDR 4 optimises exposures so that people with different skin tones (up to four per frame) are calibrated individually. Photographic Styles are like filters that work at the image processing level, letting you override the camera’s default choices for colour tone and temperature. This works exactly the same as on the iPhone 13 series, though you don’t get the other big signature feature of that generation – Cinematic Mode – because there’s no way to capture depth information with only one camera.

The A15 Bionic means you get 5G, which isn’t a big deal for India at the moment but could be useful a year or two down the line. Although there’s no firm promise, Apple currently delivers iOS and security updates for devices up to seven years old, which also helps app vendors support them for a long time. If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 8 or earlier device, this should give you peace of mind.

iphone se2022 front rear ndtv iphone se

The rear is made of glass to allow for wireless charging, and the simple single camera stands out

 

Apple also promises increased power efficiency from the A15 Bionic, leading to better battery life. The company doesn’t disclose battery capacities but says you can get two more hours of video playback time than with the iPhone SE (2020). 20W fast charging is supported if you use a compatible power adapter, and Qi wireless charging works at up to 7.5W.

While the SoC might be a huge strength for this phone, the LCD screen is undoubtedly a weakness. At 4.7 inches, it’s far from ideal for enjoying video and games on. The resolution is lower than full-HD, at 750×1334 pixels – this would be entry-level territory in the Android world. You do get Apple’s True Tone feature to adjust colour temperature on the fly, and it does cover the wide DCI-P3 colour gamut. It gets bright enough for everyday use. Other phones at this price level have much larger panels, likely AMOLED ones, with high refresh rates and even HDR support.

You don’t get Apple’s 3D Face ID front camera system, so there’s only the Touch ID fingerprint sensor for security. You also don’t get the U1 ultra-wideband chip that higher-end iPhones have, so certain spatial awareness functions aren’t supported. Apple lists 19 5G bands for the units sold in India, which is pretty exhaustive. There’s Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5, plus GPS and NFC (with limited functionality in India).

iphone se2022 front lightning ndtv iphone se

Apple’s Lightning port has been in use for nearly a decade now, and there’s no 3.5mm audio socket

 

iPhone SE (2022) software

iOS and Apple’s ecosystem give even the low-end iPhone SE (2022) a number of advantages. First of all, there’s the likelihood of software updates for several years. If you’re conscious about security and privacy, Apple boasts of stronger data protection policies and tighter control over how apps can function than Google and Android phone manufacturers – at the cost of some functionality and flexibility. The latest iPhones do show occasional annoying ad notifications from Apple’s own apps, and you might find quite a few of the preloaded apps unnecessary, but nearly all of them can be uninstalled. There’s no blatant third-party advertising, bloatware, or promotional content.

Then there are the things that matter to existing iPhone users who need an upgrade but want to keep using familiar tools – iMessage, FaceTime, iCloud backups, AirPlay, and the Find My network. If you have a MacBook, iPad, Apple Watch, and/or AirPods, and if you use services such as Apple Music, the ease of interoperability is truly useful. This will influence the value debate for some people.

On the other hand, iOS lacks several features that Android users might be used to, such as the ability to run multiple instances of messaging apps, a hidden space or separate user profile for private data, gaming optimisations, UI personalisation, file system access, and split-screen multitasking. The iPhone SE (2022) might not feel like much of an upgrade if you’re coming from the Android world.

iphone se2022 front vs se2020 ndtv iphone se

The iPhone SE (2022) (left) has a newer SoC and will work with 5G networks, but the iPhone SE (2020) costs far less

 

iPhone SE (2022) cameras

One of audacious moves Apple has made with the iPhone SE (2022) is the fact that it has only a single 12-megapixel rear camera. Multiple cameras and sky-high resolutions are often gimmicky and you can’t just consider more to be better, but you do get considerable flexibility with some far more affordable Android phones.

The camera has an f/1.8 aperture which is weaker than the f/1.6 of the iPhone 13’s 12-megapixel primary rear camera. It does however have optical image stabilisation and you can record video at up to 4K 60fps as well as slow-motion 1080p video at up to 240fps. There’s also a simple 7-megapixel f/2.2 camera on the front.

iPhone SE (2022) daytime photo samples (tap to see full size)

 

As noted earlier, Photographic Styles are supported but Cinematic Mode is not. You might also be surprised that there’s no Night mode. Portrait mode and Portrait Lighting do work even with only a single camera on the rear and no 3D sensing array on the front, thanks to the A15 Bionic’s capabilities. Deep Fusion, which was lacking on the previous iPhone SE, is now supported on both the front and rear cameras.

You’re not likely to be disappointed by photo or video quality. Photos shot in the daytime usually look great, with superb detail and exposure. Colours are accurate and not overblown at all. You can magnify subjects quite a bit before seeing much grain. Depth of field is pleasant and looks natural even without using Portrait mode, which is good because it only works on humans, not objects. Close-ups aren’t always in focus; you’d be better off shooting your subject from a bit farther away than you’d want, and then cropping the result.

iPhone SE (2022) low-light photo samples (tap to see full size)

 

Things aren’t as great when it comes to shots taken at night. There’s no night mode, which is quite strange. Photos are relatively bright but detail is lost and noise is unavoidable. Textures are a bit soft and shots sometimes came out poorly focused.

Apple doesn’t believe in over-the-top face “beautification”; at least there aren’t any filters that users can tweak. Faces had natural textures and skin tones came out looking good. Background separation in Portrait mode was surprisingly accurate for a single camera with no depth sensor or other such hardware. Portrait Lighting effects are neat, and you can change or undo them long after the shot is taken. Selfies taken at night were a bit soft and noisy – good enough for casual social media, but that’s about it.

iPhone SE (2022) selfie photo samples (top: daytime portrait; bottom: low-light portrait) (tap to see full size)

 

1080p video shot in the daytime was relatively dull, in terms of colour and contrast, but motion was smooth. 4K video looked a little punchier and was definitely crisper, but I saw some slight juddering in playback. Detail was quite weak at night and I couldn’t make much out when there wasn’t a source of light in or near the area in the frame. 4K video exhibited some inconsistencies and mild warping around bright objects against dark backgrounds.

If you just want to point your phone at something and take a photo, the iPhone SE (2022) should work for you. Some people might appreciate the uncomplicated approach. If you’re used to having an ultra-wide-angle camera or would like to get more creative with photos, the single camera will be a limitation.

iphone se2022 rear vs se2020 ndtv iphone se

The iPhone SE (2022) (left) is identical to the iPhone SE (2020) except for body colour options

 

iPhone SE (2022) performance and battery life

One of the iPhone SE (2022)’s biggest selling points is the A15 Bionic SoC, but what does that really mean for day-to-day use, especially if you just want a simple phone for simple communication? Even if you run today’s heaviest apps and games, the small screen with its low resolution and standard refresh rate shouldn’t be too demanding. In terms of power, this SoC is total overkill, and it’s most likely that Apple chose it only because of 5G compatibility.

At least this means that the iPhone SE (2022) should keep up with your needs for many years. The raw performance is clearly there; this phone scored 741,325 in AnTuTu compared to 478,156 for an iPhone SE (2020) running the same version. Geekbench 5 posted scores of 1,714 and 4,236 for its single- and multi-core tests respectively, while the previous model managed 1,326 and 2,894. All the GPU tests in the GFXBench suite maxed out at 60fps which wasn’t a surprise since these are affected by screen resolution. The 3DMark Wild Life Extreme score was 2,257.

However, the upper back of the iPhone SE (2022) got warm enough to be uncomfortable in the hand while running these tests. It also got slightly warm when playing games and using the camera for a long time. Asphalt 9: Legends looked great, and gameplay was perfectly smooth even with rain and other graphical effects. Call of Duty: Mobile was a little hard to play with the on-screen controls all crammed into a small space, but it also ran smoothly.

It’s the same with watching videos – the screen is small and not as crisp as I would have liked, but it works for casual entertainment. You do get stereo speakers too. Games and movies aren’t really immersive and heat is an issue, but you can still have fun.

Battery life was one of the weaknesses of the iPhone SE (2020) and Apple says that has now improved thanks to the more power-efficient SoC. I was able to use this phone through an entire day and still had at least 20 percent left over, but I didn’t find myself reaching for this phone for little tasks or to pass some time as often as I would with a more capable one. Our HD video loop battery test ran for 11 hours, 46 minutes which is a huge improvement over the previous model.

You don’t get a charger in the box, but using the 30W USB Type-C adapter that came with a MacBook Air, I observed this phone charging to 32 percent in 50 minutes and 87 percent in an hour. I did also find the phone getting quite hot when plugged in. Wireless charging is feature some might appreciate – you can use recent MagSafe wireless chargers and they’ll work, but won’t latch on magnetically.

iphone se2022 rear right ndtv iphone se

The iPhone SE (2022) is not like any other modern smartphone but it will have a niche audience

 

Verdict

The new iPhone SE (2022) is old on the outside but quite new on the inside; more than powerful enough but let down by its small screen; stuck with only one camera but capable of taking great photos and videos. You might feel as though you’re missing out on the modern smartphone experience, but then again you do get a glass-and-metal body, wireless charging, and an IP rating.

It’s way too expensive to be an entry-level phone, but supports nearly all Apple’s apps, accessories, and services. The main target audience is people upgrading from an iPhone 8 or older, who want something familiar and easy to use. In the US and many other countries, it makes sense to offer such people a 5G-enabled model at this price – they can transition to a brand new phone without much changing, and the iPhone SE (2022) should work well for many years. That’s also why the previous model isn’t officially available anymore.

In India, things are very different – for starters, we don’t even have 5G networks yet. The iPhone SE (2020) continues to be available, and it’s selling for much less than its original launch price through third-party retailers. You can buy it for under Rs. 30,000 right now (and we’ve seen it on sale for around Rs. 25,000) and that makes it a much better deal than the iPhone SE (2022). It might have a less powerful SoC and slightly weaker camera, but the target audience isn’t playing heavy games or taking pro-level shots. You’ll still get iOS updates for several years, and the money you save now could go into buying something better a year or two down the line. Battery life is the only real downside. The iPhone SE (2020) is good enough at everything its successor does, for much less money.

iphone se2022 front screen ndtv iphone se

The small, low-res screen makes the iPhone SE (2022) look and feel old-fashioned

 

There’s also the iPhone XR, which still sells for less, and the iPhone 11 which sells for a bit more. Both have been discounted heavily during sales, and you can get bank offers and exchange bonuses too. They have the same larger screen, plus Face ID, and will feel more modern. Battery life should be better, and the iPhone 11 even has an ultra-wide-angle camera, but they’re also both quite bulky. Everything else is comparable – the IP rating, glass-and-metal-bodies, and iOS support. We’ve also seen the iPhone 12 mini on sale for less than what the new iPhone SE (2022) costs, so if you want a phone that’s modern and still compact, that’s another great option.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover all the fantastically capable Android models you can currently buy for around Rs. 40,000 – check out the ones we’ve reviewed that have stood out here. Even if you specifically want an iPhone, you have multiple options.

Apple is famous for high prices, leaving some buyers more frustrated than delighted. Rumours circulated before launch that the new iPhone SE would cost less than Rs. 30,000, and as I suspected, that turned out to be laughably untrue. At that price, the new iPhone SE would have been a straightforward win for upgraders and fans entering the ecosystem, but instead it’s caught between its own siblings, and there aren’t many clear reasons why anyone should choose it right now.




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