Monday, April 17, 2017

Switching to an iPhone SE

The volume and power buttons on my iPhone 6s stopped working, so for various reasons I decided to try replacing it with an iPhone SE. It’s been great.

The iPhone SE is much more comfortable in the hand, and especially in the pocket. Sometimes when walking or sitting I find myself checking with my finger to make sure that it’s actually in my pocket—that I didn’t leave it somewhere. Whereas, I would always feel the need to remove the iPhone 6s before sitting for an extended time.

Part of the improvement is because it’s smaller and lighter itself. But the SE’s less slippery and sharp shape means that I can use it without a case. This brings the weight down from 6.6 oz. to 4.0 oz., which feels like a big difference. The iPhone 6s’s weight never bothered me, but now that it’s gone I prefer it that way. Plus, there’s no dust stuck between the edges of the screen and the case.

The other big difference is that it’s much easier to reach the upper corners of the 4-inch screen one-handed. Again, I got used to the iPhone 6s, but I didn’t realize how much shimmying I was doing until I no longer needed to. I thought I would miss the larger screen, but I don’t. Perhaps this is because a few months ago I started using a Kindle again, so I’m no longer doing extended reading on my phone. At first, I noticed a big drop in typing accuracy with the smaller screen, but now that I’m used to it again I’m not sure there’s any difference.

The final area where the iPhone SE feels better is the buttons. The layout with the power button on the top just seems more natural and less confusing, and the volume buttons feel better and are easier to find by touch. There’s also no camera bump, although that’s less relevant since my iPhone 6s would lie flat in its case.

What I thought I would miss the most from the iPhone 6s were the better Touch ID sensor (which seems both faster and more accurate) and 3D Touch (for text editing). In fact, I miss these but am getting used to their absence. The main regression seems to be that (like my other iPhones prior to the iPhone 6s), the screen can be hard to see with polarized sunglasses on. I mostly notice this when taking photos. Depending on the position of the sun, sometimes it seems like all I can do is frame the shot, whereas with the iPhone 6s I could more easily see the exposure and facial expressions on the screen. With more high-contrast images, such as when driving with Google Maps, sunglasses don’t cause any trouble, though they do seem to shift the colors more than with the iPhone 6s.

The iPhone SE’s front camera is much worse, and the display quality and speaker volume seem slightly worse, but these don’t bother me greatly. I rarely use the front camera. Also, the older shape makes me think of it as an iPhone 5s with much a improved processor, camera, and storage, rather than as a downgraded member of the iPhone 6 family. The final difference that I notice is that, like the iPhone 5s, the iPhone SE sounds like there’s something loose inside when you shake it.

There seems to be plenty of demand for the iPhone SE, so my hope is that in the future Apple will treat it as more than a budget model. I’d like to see it updated yearly with the latest processor and camera. There’s no need for a new case design. The current shape and finish still look and feel great.

Update (2017-04-18): See also: Kirk McElhearn, MacDailyNews.

Update (2017-05-10): I’ve also discovered that the iPhone SE can’t track flights of stairs climbed, despite having the same M9 as the iPhone 6s, because it’s lacking a barometer.

16 Comments RSS · Twitter

Welcome to the dark side. I just bought my second iPhone SE to get the 128gb storage bump. It was disappointing that Apple didn't sell a larger size last year and that the only improvement this year was the storage size. That said, I wasn't sure there would ever be a version two of the SE, so I guess we're lucky.

What I would like, as you pointed out, for the SE to be the smaller sized version of Apple's current flagship phone, not a budget model. I get that Apple can't fit every new technology into the case, but shut up and take my money already.

I had an iPhone 5 for three and a half years. There was no way I was getting a larger screen. I fundamentally don't "get" larger-screened devices, for all the reasons mentioned above. Every time I take it out, people look at it in wonder, asking what it is. I really hope that Apple does keep upgrading the SE, too. Even if it remains Apple's "budget" model, I'm happy to pay less money for fewer features as long as the size stays small.

Zachary King

I am kind of in the middle on this. I had a iPhone 6 until the SE came out and switched. Then when the 7 came out I upgraded the wife and I, and now I am trying to figure out if I want to move back down to an SE size or up to the Plus. Moving to the Plus would just me being "I don't care about how comfortable it is to use anymore."

You are right on every detail about iPhone 5SE, it feels great in hand and in the pocket and all other things are just fine or great.
I am afraid that Apple will remove headphone jack in the future models with 4" screens.
I wish the future iPhone SE would just have better coating on the screen, be waterproof, has better cameras and faster processor, improved Touch ID and Force Touch, yet keep the same form factor with 3.5mm jack, no camera bump, good grip edges and power button on top.

And USB-C would be even better, but that wish seems to be unrealistic. Even the things I (and most SE buyers) ask or wish for already seem unrealistic to expect from current Apple. That is sad part, but we can be optimistic for a while.

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Kurt Hollasch

Lost the Find My Friends app when I upgraded to iOS13 on my iPhone SE. :(

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