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Apple Inc.: iPhone SE Review (AAPL)

Two years ago, Apple Inc. (AAPL) gave in to the relentless march toward bigger screens, releasing the iPhone 6 and super-sized iPhone 6 Plus. Fans of smaller, 4-inch phones were left with the 2013 vintage iPhone 5S, a drought that lasted until March 21 when the iPhone SE was unveiled.

iPhone SE Review: Apple Inc. Pumps up Its Small Smartphone
Source: Apple

The funny thing is that despite an aging CPU, lower resolution camera and chunky design, people didn’t stop buying those old 4-inch iPhones. In fact, at its ‘Let Us Loop You In’ event, Apple said it sold 30 million 4-inch iPhones in 2015.

To put that in some perspective, China’s Xiaomi was the world’s fifth largest smartphone vendor, moving 72 million smartphones in total in 2015.

It’s not just the sales numbers that drove Apple to release the iPhone SE. It’s that Apple is continuing to push Apple Pay adoption and older iPhones don’t support it, even those like the iPhone 5s that have a Touch ID sensor.

The company wants to get everyone using Apple Pay.

Both Apple and third party developers also prefer to have recent hardware in circulation. Older iPhones cut into the adoption rate of new iOS releases and lower the potential market for apps that use new iPhone features.

With iPhone SE pre-orders now arriving, what’s the verdict on Apple’s new, small iPhone? Read our iPhone SE review to find out.

iPhone SE’s Familiar Look

For a while it seemed likely that Apple would release a mini version of the iPhone 6S.

Instead, the company delivered what is clearly an iPhone 5S with a few nods to its more recent iPhones. The iPhone SE has the chunkier iPhone 5 look with its chamfered edges, but adds a color-matched stainless steel logo on the back and gains the Rose Gold option of the iPhone 6S.

The result is a device that’s extremely comfortable to hold. Because it’s lighter, physically smaller and less rounded, the iPhone SE is also easier to grip securely than the iPhone 6 series.

The 4-inch Retina display doesn’t break any new ground, but its size delivers that ease of one-handed use that many users missed when the iPhone 6 grew to 4.7-inches. If you have small hands and have been refusing to relinquish your iPhone 5 or 5S, you’ll be very pleased with the iPhone SE.

Impressive Performance

Apple held back a few features with the iPhone SE. It lacks 3D Touch support and a barometer, and the front selfie camera remains at just 1.2 megapixels, but everything else about the small iPhone is top-notch.

It gets the same 64-bit A9 CPU with 2GB of RAM powering the iPhone 6S. It also gains that phone’s impressive 12MP iSight camera and the advanced photo features like Live Photos, 4k video and 63MP panorama shots.

The Touch ID sensor isn’t the second generation version found in the iPhone 6S, but it is faster than the iPhone 5S’s and an NFC chip is included to support Apple Pay. Battery life is actually better than the iPhone 6S for applications that involve the display (which makes sense given its smaller size and fewer pixels), including 13 hours of video playback or Wi-Fi web surfing compared to 11 hours for the larger iPhone.

In short, the only real concession most iPhone SE buyers will be making compared to Apple’s flagship devices is display size — and many of them wanted that in the first place …

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iPhone SE Key Specs

iPhone SE
Source: Apple
  • 4-inch LED Retina display (1136 x 640 pixels)
  • 64-bit A9 CPU with embedded M9 motion coprocessor
  • 16GB or 64GB storage
  • LTE, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
  • Touch ID fingerprint sensor
  • 12MP f/2.2 iSight camera with Focus Pixels, Live Photo, True Tone Flash, Burst Mode, 4K video and Panorama
  • 1.2MP faceTime HD camera with Retina flash and 720p video recording
  • Supports Apple Pay, Siri and Wi-Fi calling
  • Battery rated at up to 14 hours talk time, 13 hours web browsing on Wi-Fi and 13 hours video playback
  • 4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30-inches, weighs 3.99 ounces
  • Runs iOS 9.3
  • Available in Silver, Space Gray, Gold and Rose Gold
  • MSRP $399

iPhone SE Review: Conclusion

Apple hits a lot of the right notes with the new iPhone SE. It finally has a no-compromise small phone in its lineup again, and it is a far better — and less expensive — mid-range phone than the iPhone 5c.

One thing leaves a bad taste in the mouth when it comes to the iPhone SE: the cheap move to include just 16GB of storage.

Yes, Apple does the same thing with its flagship phones, but it seems just a little more in your face to promote the iPhone SE’s affordable $399 price along with features like Live Photos and 4K video that will make short work of the storage on the base model. When you include the space taken up by iOS, there is only 12GB or so left for all of a user’s apps, videos, messages, music and photos.

Considering that just three minutes of 4K video will chew up over 1 GB of that storage, anyone planning to actually use the iPhone SE for shooting photos and video (or keeping lots of apps and other content locally) pretty much needs to move up to the 64GB version at $499. And that’s not quite the same bargain.

Of course Apple will make a better profit margin on each 64GB model it makes, so that decision is much more positive from an investor perspective. With the addition of Apple Pay and a modern CPU able to support new versions of iOS, Apple and its partners benefit from the release of the iPhone SE.

And for consumers looking for an affordable or small-screen smartphone from Apple, the iPhone SE is a welcome option. So it’s a win-win all around.

As of this writing, Robert Martin did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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