Last year, Apple launched the iPhone SE. It’s the company’s last remaining 4-inch device, and it uses the same chassis as the iPhone 5s, but packs iPhone 6s hardware into the form factor. The diminutive smartphone was reviewed extremely well, but for one aspect of its design: Its low-end model was limited to 16GB.
Now, Apple has removed that restriction and bumped the basic storage to 32GB, while keeping the same $399 price tag. In doing so, it’s transformed the iPhone SE into the best iPhone on the market, in my personal opinion, even if the guts of the chip are now 18 months old. Here’s why:
First, the iPhone SE is still the easiest iPhone to grip and use with one hand. The iPhone 6, 6s, and 7 may only technically be slightly larger, but that small difference is increased when you add a protective case. It may not be a huge difference (in fact, it can’t be when you consider we’re talking about millimeters) but every millimeter counts. I am aware, of course, that there are plenty of people who love giant phablet phones, and some won’t be happy until the skit below becomes reality:
Nonetheless, as a person who likes the ability to answer a call, type a text, or flip through menus while securely gripping my phone, the original iPhone 5’s chassis is superior to anything Apple has built since.
Second, there’s battery life. Despite being built on older technology, the iPhone SE’s battery life beats the iPhone 7, as shown in the chart below, from Ars Technica’s review of Apple’s latest hardware.
The only Apple device that manages to beat the iPhone SE is the iPhone 7 Plus, which wins by a whopping 3 percent. In gaming tests, the iPhone SE is tied with the 7 Plus and 6 Plus as the longest-lasting smartphone, at ~374 – 377 minutes.
Third, there’s price. True, the iPhone SE isn’t as fast as either the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, but it’s also a heck of a lot cheaper — and you may never notice the processor difference since it’s pushing fewer pixels than the two larger phones. A 32GB iPhone SE is $399, an iPhone 7 starts at $649, and the 7 Plus is $769. That’s the base price for 32GB of storage for all three phones. You may not be getting quite as much overall performance, but even the iPhone 7 is 1.62x more expensive than the SE.
Fourth, you get to keep your headphone jack. I won’t belabor this point; you either care about having a headphone jack or you don’t.
Fifth, while mobile benchmarks are great for showing big numbers on devices, they aren’t so great at actually capturing the experience of using the device. My personal phone today is the iPhone 5c (16GB). It’s built on iPhone 5 hardware, which means I’m “rocking” a smartphone effectively built in 2012. I’m not going to tell you that I don’t notice the speed difference between an iPhone 7 and my poor 5c. Of course I do. It’d be stupid to claim otherwise. But the relative experience of using the 5c has degraded much more slowly than the discount iPhone 3G I bought in 2009 and was painfully waiting on by 2011. My 5c is effectively a year older than my 3G was when I replaced it, but it’s far more useful to me at this point in its life cycle than the 3G was. Smartphones, like PCs, don’t age as quickly as they used to. (I might love the SE, but I also find the video below to be hilarious).
If you love huge screens and cutting-edge tech, this opinion piece won’t change your mind. If you’re an Android user, well, I don’t expect us to see eye-to-eye, either. But one of the reasons I’ve stuck with Apple is because it continues to make a small phone that suits my preferences at a time when most of the Android market has been chasing larger devices. The only reason I didn’t upgrade to an SE already is because the 16GB capacity stuck in my craw, and bumping up to 32GB removes that problem. If the screen size doesn’t trip you up, it’s arguably the best iPhone you can buy today.