Apple's new 4-inch iPhone, available online and in stores as of March 31.
At A Glance
- The iPhone SE is Apple's new 4-inch iPhone. It looks similar to an iPhone 5s, but has iPhone 6s internal specs, including an A9 processor, 12-megapixel camera, and support for Apple Pay.
- 4-inch display
- A9 chip
- Touch ID
- Apple Pay support
- 12-megapixel rear camera
- Live Photos support, but no 3D Touch
- Metal casing
iPhone SE: Apple's 4-inch iPhone
Apple introduced the 4-inch iPhone SE, its first 4-inch iPhone since 2013, at a media event on March 21, 2016, with the official launch following on March 31. Described as the "most powerful 4-inch iPhone ever," the iPhone SE marries the design of the iPhone 5s with many internal components from the iPhone 6s, resulting in an affordable, highly capable device that's available in a small package.
Design wise, the iPhone SE uses the same body as the iPhone 5s, but it includes a color-matched inset stainless steel Apple logo and matte chamfered edges, contrasting the shiny chamfered edges and standard logo of the iPhone 5s. The iPhone SE is available in Silver, Space Gray, Gold, and Rose Gold.
An A9 chip with integrated M9 motion coprocessor, also used in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, powers the iPhone SE, enabling always-on "Hey Siri" functionality. Its efficiency results in longer battery life with up to 14 hours of talk time and 13 hours of Internet use.
Also adopted from the iPhone 6s is a rear-facing 12-megapixel camera which has faster focusing, better noise reduction, improved tone mapping, and a new image signal processor for sharper, more detailed photos. The iPhone SE can shoot 4K video and capture 63-megapixel panoramas, and it can take Live Photos, but there is no 3D Touch support.
The FaceTime HD camera has not been upgraded, continuing to support 1.2-megapixel photos and 720p video recording. Retina Flash, which lights up the iPhone's display for illumination, is included.
Other iPhone SE features include faster LTE with support for up to 19 bands at speeds of up to 150MB/s, plus it has fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 support. A first-generation Touch ID sensor and an NFC chip are available in the iPhone SE, enabling Apple Pay functionality.
The most appealing aspect of the iPhone SE is its low price, which starts at $399 for 16GB of storage and goes up to $499 for 64GB of storage.
How to Buy
The iPhone SE became available for order from Apple's online store on Thursday, March 24. Deliveries and in-store availability started the following week, on Thursday, March 31.
Apple is offering the iPhone SE in two configurations: 16GB of storage for $399 and 64GB of storage for $449, following a price drop on September 7, 2016. With a two-year contract, the iPhone SE is available with $0 down, and using carrier financing, pricing starts at $13.30 per month.
A number of early iPhone SE adopters have had audio issues with Bluetooth calls when the device is paired with a car or a wireless headset. Calls placed over Bluetooth are distorted, staticky, or inaudible for many iPhone SE users. A cause is not clear, but some customers who have spoken to Apple have been told the company is working to fix the problem.
The iPhone SE shares a design with the iPhone 5s, the 4-inch aluminum iPhone that debuted in 2013. While the iPhone 6 adopted rounded edges and a curved display, the iPhone 5s and SE have a boxier design with a thicker body, chamfered edges, flat display, round volume buttons, glass antenna inserts, a power button located at the top of the device, a flush camera, and a pill-shaped rear flash.
Able to share cases, the iPhone 5s and the iPhone SE are hard to distinguish at a glance, but there are three distinctive indicators that denote an SE. The iPhone SE, instead of having the shiny chamfered edges of the iPhone 5s (which were easily scratched), adopts matte chamfered edges. It also has an inset Apple logo made from a separate piece of stainless steel, a feature adopted from the iPhone 6, and it has an "SE" labeling on the back of the device.
Size wise, the iPhone SE measures in at 4.87 inches by 2.31 inches, measurements shared by the iPhone 5s. It is 7.6mm thick, a good deal thicker than the 7.1mm thick iPhone 6s or the 7.3mm thick iPhone 6s Plus, and it weighs 3.99 ounces - lighter than any other iPhone. With a 4-inch display and compact body, the iPhone SE is easily pocketable and it can be easily used with one hand.
While the iPhone 6s is made of 7,000 series aluminum that's resistant to bending, the iPhone SE continues to be made of earlier 6,000 series aluminum. In a series of damage tests, the iPhone SE did not perform as well as Apple's newer iPhones. The iPhone 6s is also more water resistant than the iPhone SE, but neither phone should be exposed to liquids.
The iPhone SE is available in the same colors the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are available in, including Silver, Space Gray, Gold, and Rose Gold, the newest color in the iPhone and iPad lineup.
Since the iPhone 4, all of Apple's devices have included a Retina Display, and the iPhone SE is no exception. It features an LED-backlight Multi-Touch IPS Retina Display with a resolution of 1136 x 640 at 326 pixels per inch.
While the iPhone SE adopts many features from the iPhone 6s, 3D Touch is not one of those features, instead remaining limited to Apple's flagship iPhones. It does not include some recent advances in display technology either, like dual domain pixels, an iPhone 6 and later feature that improves the display when viewed at an angle.
The display is protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass, which is resistant to scratches and other damage, and there's a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating.
The iPhone SE uses the dual-core 64-bit A9 chip that was first introduced in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, so it is as powerful as Apple's more expensive flagship devices. With the updated chip, the iPhone SE offers CPU performance two times faster than the iPhone 5s and GPU performance three times faster.
A Geekbench test revealed the A9 chip in the iPhone SE runs at 1.85GHz, so it is able to perform at the same level as the iPhone 6s. On the Geekbench benchmark, the iPhone SE received a single-core score of 2538 and a multi-core score of 4421, on par or slightly better than tests conducted on the iPhone 6s.
Apple's A9 chip includes an embedded M9 motion coprocessor, enabling always-on "Hey Siri" functionality in the iPhone SE. With the always-on feature, Siri can be activated at any time by saying "Hey Siri." In older iPhones, "Hey Siri" hands-free capabilities are only available when the device is charging.
The M9 motion coprocessor also powers the iPhone SE's accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope, so the device can measure steps, track distance traveled, and keep an eye on other fitness-related metrics.
Apple does not announce the RAM in its devices, but testing on the iPhone SE has revealed 2GB of RAM, putting it on par with the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus, both of which also include 2GB RAM.
Compared to the iPhone 5s, which has just 1GB RAM, the iPhone SE is able to keep more apps and data in recent memory, something that has significant benefits when doing tasks like browsing the web with multiple tabs.
With an efficient processor, a small display, and room for a decent-sized battery, the iPhone SE offers battery life that outperforms the iPhone 6/6s and is nearly on par with the iPhone 6/6s Plus.
iPhone SE battery life is significantly better than the battery life of the iPhone 5s with up to 14 hours of talk time, up to 13 hours of Internet use, up to 13 hours of video playback, and up to 50 hours of audio playback.
For a 4-inch iPhone that starts at $399, the iPhone SE has an amazing camera. It adopts the camera module from the iPhone 6s, featuring a 12-megapixel camera and a number of upgrades to improve picture quality over the iPhone 5s.
With more megapixels, the iPhone SE is able to capture more detail in photos for crisper images, and an Apple-designed image signal processor offers better noise reduction and improved tone mapping, while autofocusing improvements make focusing to get the perfect shot much faster. Combined, all of these camera features result in clear, detailed images with rich, true-to-life colors.
Like the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus, the iPhone SE can capture and edit 4K video at 30 fps, 240 fps Slo-Mo video (720p at 240 fps or 1080p at 120 fps), and Time-Lapse video. It can also record 1080p video at 30 or 60 fps and it supports taking 8-megapixel still photos while recording 4K video.
Live Photos can be captured with the iPhone SE, but without 3D Touch, they are played back on the iPhone using a long press. Live Photos are a new feature that add life and vitality to a standard still photo by capturing an extra 1.5 seconds of movement before and after a shot. The extra footage is used to animate the photo with movement and sound, similar to the animated photos shown in the Harry Potter movies.
Live Photos can be taken with the iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, and SE, but can be viewed with iOS devices running iOS 9 or later and Macs running OS X El Capitan or later.
Other photo features include 63-megapixel panoramas, auto HDR, Burst mode and Timer mode.
The iPhone SE uses the rear-facing camera from the iPhone 6s, but the front-facing FaceTime camera is an older module from the iPhone 5s. It features an f/2.4 1.2-megapixel camera capable of 720p video recording, while the iPhone 6s has an f/2.2 5-megapixel front-facing camera.
It does adopt one front-facing camera feature first introduced in the iPhone 6s -- a Retina Flash. With the Retina Flash, the display of the iPhone flashes brightly just ahead of when a picture is snapped, improving selfies in low light. It is three times as bright as the standard display and it has been engineered to match ambient light.
Apple implemented a second-generation Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 6s, but the iPhone SE continues to use the first-generation Touch ID fingerprint sensor found in the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 6. The first-generation Touch ID sensor is just as secure as the sensor in the iPhone 6s, but it is not as fast at registering fingerprints to unlock a device.
Touch ID is used in place of a passcode on iOS devices, allowing users to unlock their phones, approve purchases, and open passcode-protected apps using a fingerprint instead of typing in a numeric code.
LTE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth
Compared to the iPhone 5s, the iPhone SE features faster LTE that can reach speeds of up to 150MB/s, but it does not include the iPhone 6s LTE Advanced feature, which enables LTE speeds up to 300MB/s. There are two iPhone models supporting up to 19 LTE bands:
A1662: bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 29
A1723: bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28 and TD‑LTE bands 38, 39, 40, 41
The iPhone SE supports fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi (speeds up to 433MB/s) and Bluetooth 4.2, the same as all of Apple's latest devices. Voice over LTE and Wi-Fi calling are supported for high-quality phone calls and the option to make calls over Wi-Fi when cellular connections are poor.
There's a built-in NFC chip in the iPhone SE, enabling Apple Pay. The iPhone SE is the first 4-inch iPhone to support Apple Pay on a standalone basis, joining the iPhone 6, 6s, 6 Plus, and 6s Plus. With Apple Pay, payments approved using Touch ID can be made in apps and stores through a credit or debit card linked to an iPhone.
The iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c can be used with Apple Pay, but only when paired with an Apple Watch.
The iPhone SE includes a three-axis gyroscope, an accelerometer, a proximity sensor, and an ambient light sensor, but it does not include a barometer, a feature added in the iPhone 6. Without a barometer, the iPhone SE can measure steps taken and distance traveled, but it cannot determine elevation.
With the iPhone SE positioned as a new device in Apple's iPhone lineup, its upgrade schedule is not yet known. Apple could decide to update the 4-inch iPhone on a regular basis like its flagship devices, but its internals are also powerful enough that it could remain a capable phone for multiple years without an upgrade.
According to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple will not introduce an iPhone SE in the spring of 2017, meaning it will go beyond one year without an update. Kuo does not mention whether or not the device will see an upgrade later in 2017, so an updated version could potentially be introduced later in the fall alongside larger flagship iPhones if Apple decides to continue offering a 4-inch model.