iPhone SE Unboxing and Hands-On

Some people like 4 inches – and there’s nothing wrong with that

Size matters, but it’s not everything.

Love it or hate it, the iPhone SE is arguably a class of its own. It may look old but it doesn’t perform like one. It’s something not even the Android world can offer – where small nowadays, most often than not, means sluggish, second-rate, and a 2-4 year-old OS built into a cheap plastic body.

The iPhone SE has a 4-inch Retina display, Touch ID, and a 1.2MP front-facing camera

Sure, Apple made some compromise here and there to cut down on price – and in 2016 it still starts at 16GB – but the iPhone SE is a worthy upgrade for those who stuck with the iPhone 4, 4s, 5, and 5s all these years.

Heck, there are even some iPhone 6s users who want to ‘downgrade’ and go back to a smaller display. Some people like 4 inches – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Apart from going small, the new iPhone raised a lot of eyebrows especially because it looks exactly like the iPhone 5s. It’s a new phone in an old body.

The iPhone SE has the SE branding at the lower back of the phone and it comes in rose goldEverything is found right where Apple left it three years ago: volume and silent buttons on the left side; SIM card tray on the right; power button on top; headphone jack, microphone, Lightning port, and speaker grille at the bottom.

Save for the SE branding at the back, the matte edges, and color-matched stainless steel Apple logo, nothing else has changed on the outside. The only “new design” is the rose gold variant.

Even packaging didn’t change. It’s the familiar minimalist box with the same contents as those of iPhones 5 and up: a pair of white EarPods, a Lightning to USB cable, wall charger, a SIM card removal tool, manuals, and Apple logo stickers.

But why judge the book by its cover?

Apple packed the best iPhone 6s features into the iPhone SE’s little body and made it work.

It ships with Apple’s powerful A9 chip and the latest version of iOS (9.3) out of the box. And it’s fast. It loads pages, opens and switches between apps smoothly and efficiently.

It comes with iOS 9.3’s new features like Night Shift, which changes the color of your iPhone’s display from cool to warm depending on the time of the day. Apple says this should help you sleep better at night.

Speaking of display, the iPhone SE sports a 4-inch Retina display at 326 ppi. This means images are rendered clear and sharp enough for the 4-inch screen. If we’re being specific though, it’s not a high resolution one – not even HD – only 640×1136 to be exact.

On the bright side, this means images and videos whose resolutions are a little lower than 720p will still look sharp on the iPhone SE. The bad: the phone is not ideal for watching a Full HD or HD movie. The contrast ratio is also lower than the iPhone 6s so the screen doesn’t look as bright.

While the lack of a Full HD or Quad HD display may be a deal-breaker for some people, a smaller, lower resolution display can mean better battery life as what drains the battery the most for a lot of smartphones is screen-on time.

The iPhone SE although smaller is thicker than the iPhone 6s so its camera doesn't protrude.

The integration of the top of the line processor and new iOS should improve battery performance as well, even if the iPhone SE ships with a smaller battery (reportedly 1642 mAh, compared to the 6s’ 1715 mAh). Apple promises 13 hours on LTE but this is something we will have to test on a later date.

This, we can say now: the iPhone SE has the best camera technology in a 4-inch phone in the market today. It gets the same 12-megapixel main shooter as that of the iPhone 6s but because it’s thicker, it doesn’t protrude like the one on its older, bigger brother.

It’s also worth noting that at its size, the iPhone SE can shoot 4K video. Although, if you’re getting the 16GB version you’ll want to back up those files so they don’t eat up into your precious space. A 3 minute 4K video clip takes up about 750MB of space.

If taking selfies is your thing, you might want to sit this one out as Apple put the 4-year-old 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera onto the SE that dates back to the iPhone 5. Well, at least it got the Retina Flash.

Here are some samples:

The main iPhone 6s feature missing on the SE is 3D Touch, but it probably won’t be sorely missed – new iPhone users won’t even notice. Apple did, however, keep Live Photos so you can still take those short moving images and view them with a long press.

Another thing not found on the SE is Apple’s newest Touch ID so the fingerprint scanner is not blazingly fast compared to the 6s but it’s a compromise that had to be made for a better price tag.

Just like its announcement in Cupertino, the iPhone SE doesn’t have the bells and whistles new phones usually get. True enough it’s nothing innovative, and to some it’s just plain disappointing especially coming from a company like Apple.

Although already the cheapest iPhone Apple has ever released, the iPhone SE is still not for people who are on a very tight budget. It’s also not a phone for people who have gotten used to a bigger display and love it for reasons like watching videos, gaming, and multi-tasking with split screens.

The rose gold iPhone 5s and rose gold iPhone 6s side by side

With its old but well-loved metal chassis, the SE feels premium for a mid-range price of $399 (16GB), which, in most cases can get you a good performing phone albeit with a plasticky build.

But what’s more important is on the inside. The iPhone SE, however small, is a phone that is just as powerful as the iPhone 6s, and performs even better than a lot of those that come in bigger packages.

The iPhone SE is not the best smartphone there is and may not be the size you’re used to anymore, but it just works. And there is nothing else like it.

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