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The iPhone SE (2020) is still one of the best iPhones — here’s why

iPhone SE (2020)
(Image credit: Future)

“No way. The battery on that thing sucks” is the immediate reaction I got when first pitching my ideas on how the iPhone SE (2020) is the ideal iPhone for most. After trying to wrap my head around a logical comeback to justify why I’d bring up Apple’s “so last year” low-budget smartphone in an era of iPhone 13 models, I ended up feeling like Papa Doc after Eminem left him to choke in the final rap battle in 8 Mile — lost for words.

Apple’s latest ensemble of iPhone models can easily gloat over the iPhone SE’s shortcomings with their blazing-fast A15 Bionic chips, smooth Super Retina XDR displays (OLED), 120Hz refresh rates, multi-camera setups with support for Cinematic Mode — you get the picture. With these features in the mix, who in their right mind would opt for an outdated iPhone with bezels? 

(Image credit: Omdia)

Well, as it turns out, quite a few of us. According to research from global technology company Omdia, the iPhone SE (2020) was the second most-shipped smartphone worldwide in 2020, just behind the iPhone 11. More units shipped means more sales, and you’ll find it even beat the iPhone 12. “But those are last year’s results,” I hear you retort, and just because a smartphone received impressive launch sales, it doesn’t mean it's a phone worth your hard-earned cash.

But I look over at my iPhone SE and admire one key detail over all the other perks it offers; I spent under $350 on this phone thanks to a wicked deal. And I now get all the advantages of being inaugurated into Apple’s unrivaled ecosystem and software support. Plus, who said the Home button was out of style?

After using the iPhone SE (2020) over the past month, it’s my mission to defend Apple’s low-cost iPhone from all the naysayers and prove how worthy it is to deserve a spot in your pocket. 

iPhone SE (2020) advantages

Just like Eminem dissing himself in front of the crowd, let's look through the iPhone SE (2020)’s faults. First and foremost, its 4.7-inch Retina LCD screen is tiny compared to virtually every smartphone on the market: flagship or not. The large bezels at the top and bottom of the display only make it seem smaller, and it makes me question how anyone could type with speed on anything pre-iPhone X. 

(Image credit: Future)

If you’re keen on taking beautiful ultra-wide shots of amazing landscapes or are a selfie-fiend, the iPhone SE’s 12MP f/1.8 wide-angle rear camera and 7MP f/2.2 front-facing camera won’t give you the satisfying snaps you’re after. And you can forget about taking a satisfactory low-light photo, as pictures end up looking grainy. Speaking of cameras, you won’t find Face ID either, which is initially jarring when coming from phones that unlock as soon as you look at it. However, with facemasks being

Here’s a question: what if you don’t take a copious amount of pictures on a daily basis or care about a smaller-sized screen with a 60Hz refresh rate because you only use a smartphone to scroll through social media and to stay in contact with friends and family? If you’re like me, I find it difficult to tell myself I need to spend around $700 to get the entry-level iPhone 13 mini or any other flagship smartphone to get features I personally will rarely use.

As Laptop Mag’s smartphone expert, Sean Riley, points out, at $399, the iPhone SE is a phenomenal option for those who want an iPhone without spending $700 or more. While the iPhone 13 may boast some enviable specs, this is a sub-$400 phone with the same processor as the relatively recent top-of-the-line iPhone 11 models that cost around $1,000. 

(Image credit: Future)

Oh, and about that battery. The iPhone SE (2020) outshines nearly all of the iPhone 12’s lineup. A recent survey noted that battery life was one of the most important features customers are looking for in the iPhone 13, and Apple made it a point in its September “California streaming” event that the latest generation of iPhone models would get a boost in battery life. However, the low-budget iPhone SE (2020) was already leading the charge in that department. Except for the iPhone 12 Pro Max (10 hours and 53 minutes), our tests showed the iPhone SE floor all the other iPhone models by around an hour, with 9 hours and 18 minutes. Sure, it takes forever to charge my iPhone SE compared to Android phones, but that’s a problem all iPhone models have.

For fans of the old-school size of smartphones, the iPhone SE delivers. This is a phone that neatly fits in the palm of my hand. It isn’t a cumbersome device that I have to cram into my pocket. And putting a case on it won’t make it as chunky as the behemoth-sized smartphones that have become the norm. Plus, you can spend the extra money saved on a fancy phone case — such as Apple’s overpriced “tanned European leather” cover that supports wireless charging. 

Welcome to the garden of Apple

If you’re already trapped in Apple’s walled garden after getting an iPad, AirPods Pro, or Apple TV and want to take it a step further, the iPhone SE (2020) is simply the best way to get the most out of Apple’s ecosystem. I previously talked about why you should get the Apple AirPods Pro, going over how marvelous it is opening the lid, pressing connect on your iOS device and jamming out to beats in spatial audio as soon as you put the earbuds in your ears. 

(Image credit: Future)

With each iOS update, every Apple device becomes more dependent on each other and it all revolves around the iPhone. For those focused on fitness, the Apple Watch is by far the most successful and advanced wearable in the industry, but it's useless unless you’re an iPhone user. The latest Apple Watch Series 7 will set you back at least $399, which is no small cost considering you’ll need an iPhone to make it work. If you’re like me and will get more use out of a high-spec wearable than a smartphone, the iPhone SE (2020) becomes a hot contender.

Throw in an Apple TV and you’ll find the iPhone SE (2020) is the best remote control — forget Apple’s TV remote. Going from messaging on WhatsApp to fast-forwarding through the intro of TV shows all on the same device is an absolute delight. It’s the little things like this that make the Apple ecosystem work well. And if you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money just to experience the small conveniences the ecosystem offers, the iPhone SE is the right way to go. 

No 5G? No problem

Without a doubt, 5G is taking over. 5G-ready devices can also offer ultra-low latency, reliable connections to a massive network of devices, and much more. But the next generation of wireless connectivity isn’t just for smartphones, it’s designed to connect everything with a cellular pulse. So, with Google fitting 5G connectivity into their most popular budget-friendly smartphones, including the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5a 5G, it doesn’t bode well that the iPhone SE (2020) lacks 5G connectivity, especially for those looking to future-proof their smartphone.

(Image credit: Future)

However, when it comes down to it, unless you’re in dire need of superfast data transfer speeds and instant connections, you may not require 5G connectivity...yet.

While it can also be used in the healthcare sector and help improve transport networks, 5G is still in its infancy for the general consumer. 5G aims to offer near-instant access to cloud services, multiplayer cloud gaming, better augmented reality, and real-time video translation and collaboration. But you’ll find a 5GHz Wi-Fi connection from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) can offer the same.

(Image credit: Future)

For many of us spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wi-Fi networks have become our main source for connectivity. As you’ll find in our iPhone 12 review, 5G in its current state is a battery-devouring monster, and its potential can’t be fully realized unless you live in an area that delivers its mind-bending speeds.

With the iPhone SE’s 4G connectivity, I could still join work calls in Google Meet, jam to tunes on Apple Music, watch one-too-many YouTube videos without interruption, and work on documents online while travelling in and around London. Until 5G can be fully realized, a 4G connection will do just fine. However, when it inevitably does, don’t count out the iPhone SE just yet.

Make way for the iPhone SE (2022) and beyond

If you’re not convinced the iPhone SE (2020) is impressive enough to be a worthwhile purchase today, what Apple might have in store down the pipeline may twist your arm. Earlier this year, display analyst Ross Young teased that multiple iPhone SE models are in the works, and we can expect an update as soon as 2022.

(Image credit: Future)

According to rumors, the next update to the iPhone SE will come sometime in the first half of 2022. While it will feature the same 4.7-inch display found in the current model that traces back to the iPhone 8, we can expect the SE model to finally make the jump to 5G. By then, 5G will hopefully be the worthwhile upgrade mobile carriers make it out to be. Next year’s iPhone SE model is still expected to sport the same specs as the current edition, but the A13 Bionic will still be a formidable chip in its own right.

The rumor mill has churned out one more interesting detail: the iPhone SE 2023. According to Ross, that model will boast a newly designed with a hole-punch display instead of a notch, which is something Android phone users will be familiar with. Bezels are one of the iPhone SE’s biggest shortcomings, and getting rid of them means Apple’s budget smartphone will become that much more enticing. These are rumors, however, so take this all in with a helpful serving of salt. 

Bottom line

Look, I get the iPhone SE (2020) is a hard sell with 2021 already drawing to a close. The iPhone 13 has been announced, the best budget smartphones today boast a full screen and 5G for around the same price, and SE models sport a design from a bygone smartphone era. But for under $400, the iPhone SE is still one of the best phones money can buy, and will be for some time.

This smartphone has been made to last, as Apple’s constant iOS updates and support means this device will keep running for at least another four to five years. If you can’t be bothered with investing in flagship capabilities you barely take advantage of in the first place, but still want a powerful iPhone that acts as a central hub to other devices, forget the next-generation iPhone and give in to the iPhone SE (2020).