Wednesday, April 22, 2020

iPhone SE 2020 Reviews

Rene Ritchie:

The iPhone SE’s main camera is a hybrid, a chimera. It has the same sensor and lens system as the iPhone 8 but uses the image signal processor, the ISP, of the A13.


It’s especially fascinating to see the new iPhone SE out-shoot the iPhone XR, which has a slightly bigger sensor. That’s all part of the transition from big glass and big sensor to big compute.

In almost every case, the results between the last two generations of iPhones is so close that I’d have to pixel peep to see differences in most situations, which is not something normal humans do.

Lauren Goode:

A smaller phone body also means a smaller battery. This iPhone SE has essentially the same size battery as the iPhone 8; thanks to a much more efficient processor, the SE’s battery should perform better than the iPhone 8’s. And yet, relative to larger iPhones—the “Pro” or “Max” models, the iPhone XR, my iPhone 11—the iPhone SE’s battery life is middling.

Dieter Bohn:

I also get that this design looks tired in 2020. There are many comparably priced Android phones that have managed to reduce their bezels. That’s not just an aesthetic consideration, either. Smaller bezels mean you can fit a bigger screen in a smaller phone body.


The first is, for a $399 phone, the cameras are absolutely great, and any complaints or gripes should be promptly dismissed given that price. The second is that they’re quite good but have some baffling shortcomings that Apple could have overcome, even at this price point.


I’m not sure why the A13 Bionic allows the iPhone SE to gain all of those other benefits but not better night shots. I’m not going to say that night mode is a solved problem by any stretch, but Google has been doing it on cut-rate hardware for a couple of years now, so it’s certainly possible. And Apple’s camera would, in theory, be up to it, given the processor is the same as its more expensive phones.

Matthew Panzarino:

The biggest practical benefit of the pipeline, though, is the improved Smart HDR feature, which I covered in my iPhone 11 review. This really improves detail across massive tonal ranges from bright highlights to shadow detail. While it does not magically make the iPhone SE the same class of image-making device that the iPhone 11 is, it goes a long way to making your average snapshot look the best it can.

See also: MacRumors.


Update (2020-04-23): John Gruber (tweet):

The black front face is simply a better look, to my eyes. And it doesn’t hurt that when the display is off, the black front disguises the now-dated forehead and chin above and below the screen.


Like its iPhone 11 brethren models, the iPhone SE’s back panel markings have been reduced to the essential minimum: just the Apple logo, perfectly centered.


It has just one rear-facing camera lens and sensor, and that sensor (but not the lens) is apparently the same as that in the iPhone XR.


It’s clear to me, but well beyond the scope of this review to examine in detail, that the iPhone SE’s rear-facing camera is capable of much more accurate depth maps than the iPhone XR’s. Since they’re both single-imaging systems and the same (or very similar) sensors, the SE’s superior depth mapping can only be attributed to the A13’s much more powerful neural engine.


I strongly advise buying an iPhone SE while the getting is good. I would wager, heavily, that this is the last iPhone Apple will ever make with a home button and the old-style user interface.

Update (2020-05-06): Juli Clover:

We did a full hands-on video back on Friday, but we took the weekend to see how the iPhone SE’s camera measures up to the iPhone 8 and iPhone 11 Pro.

Based on an iFixit teardown that looked at the base camera hardware, the iPhone SE is using the same camera sensor as the iPhone 8, a 12-megapixel lens that features an f/1.8 aperture and a 28mm focal length, narrower than the 26mm focal length of the 12-megapixel wide-angle in Apple’s flagships.

Update (2020-05-14): John Moltz:

Let’s be clear right off the bat: the 2020 iPhone SE is not a real iPhone SE. And rather than keep referring to it as the iPhone SE Second Generation throughout this review, I’m going to just call it what it is: the iPhone 9. In fact, that’s what I’ve named mine.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what Apple calls it and I know that “SE” is an acronym that stands for “sell [it] e-gain”, but the reason I bought the original iPhone SE after owning an iPhone 6 and then an iPhone 6S was not because it was cheap, although that was nice. It was because it was small. Wonderfully, perfectly small.

Update (2020-07-06) Paul Carroll (via Hacker News):

Achieving an overall DXOMARK Camera score of 101, the Apple iPhone SE (2020) places near the center of our smartphone image quality database. While the budget-friendly Apple device offers comparable quality in many respects to the more expensive iPhone 11, its single camera setup falls short for zoom and bokeh shots compared to our top performers. The lack of an ultra-wide camera is also a disadvantage and is the main difference between it and the iPhone 11.


The iPhone SE (2020) achieves a good score for exposure and contrast, which is one of the device’s main strengths. Target exposures are accurate in most lighting conditions and performance is consistent. In our lab analysis we found contrast to be generally excellent, with bright target exposures in simulated indoor and outdoor lighting. It’s not as good in low light as the best performers, however, with some obvious underexposure in very low light.

8 Comments RSS · Twitter

Niall O'Mara

Its perfect for this netherworld we’re living through.

Cheaper phones make all the more sense for Apple now that ‘services’ is a growing revenue stream.

That it doesn’t remotely entice me to retire my iPhone 7 speaks to its lack of game-changing status.

An all-screen iPhone 5 sized phone please Apple - pref with touch ID somehow (back or side-button)

It will be interesting to see how the SE sells. I don't see the market here. The vast majority of people who are invested in Apple's ecosystem have probably already upgraded (or want to) to an X or 11-series iPhone. And the people who want the SE2 for the low price just aren't typical Apple customers -- I'd wager that most people who can only afford a $400 smart phone already have a cheap Android. I know the online community of SE evangelists is loud, but in real life I think this is a very, very small group of people who want a smaller phone that also packed with yesterday's screen and camera tech.

”The vast majority of people who are invested in Apple's ecosystem have probably already upgraded (or want to) to an X or 11-series iPhone.”

Not so sure about that assumption. This is anecdotal of course, but I see a lot of 6, 7, 8 and old SE still in use. Older people, kids or those who just can't afford the higher price levels that X and 11 has established. I'd bet that this new SE will have a decent market.

@Ben G: On my budget, I can't afford any of the all-screen iphones. $200, maximum, is my budget for a phone, and I'd rather spend $100. All of the larger phones are way out of my price range, but when my current SE dies, I expect I'll be able to afford a refurbished 2nd generation SE.

@Ben G: re:

> but in real life I think this is a very, very small group of people who want a smaller phone that also packed with yesterday's screen and camera tech.

Actually, I want a small phone with *today's* screen and camera tech. I'd be happier with something slightly thicker even than the original iPhone SE.

Honestly, I want the 4S size back. That was the last phone that felt comfortable to me. The 5S/SE size is usable, but uncomfortable.

I've been stuck with this "cheap" phone because Apple doesn't make a small phone with the current tech, but until they stopped making a phone that I could use one-handed, I regularly bought the latest and greatest phone.

So maybe it is a small group; I have no knowledge on that. But it's not a group looking for yesterday's tech; we want a good, small phone. Apple is the one who seemed to think that the small phone had to be cheap and old.

(There are also people who need a cheap phone; this is not to diminish them. My point is that the conflation of small and cheap is not the market, but Apple.)

@Ben I predict it’s going to sell really well. The camera is way better than what a lot of people currently have, the processor is great, the price is good. Lots of people are comfortable with the home button. Touch ID is better than Face ID during the pandemic.

My iPhone trajectory has been 4 → 5S → SE 2016. While a hardware upgrade and new battery would be nice, the performance of my first gen SE is enough where I don't feel a strong desire to upgrade, though I suppose I will have to if iOS 14 drops support.

I very much value lower price and smaller size. Like Ricky, I feel that the 3.5" size was the last iPhone that felt truly comfortable for me to hold, and fit in various pockets comfortably.

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