iPhone SE 2022 review: A bite-sized beast with BPE (big phone energy), but is it just bravado?

The iPhone SE 2022 has a lot of muscle, but does it have stamina?

Apple iPhone SE 2022 review
(Image: © Future)

Laptop Mag Verdict

The iPhone SE 2022, equipped with the A15 Bionic chip, has plenty of muscle and brawn, but we question its stamina due to its middling battery life.


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    Performance beast

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    Portable, compact form factor

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    Satisfying Touch ID

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    Decent price


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    Obsolete design

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    No Night mode

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    Middling battery life

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iPhone SE 2022 specs

Starting price: $429
OS: iOS 15
Display: 4.7-inch, 60Hz, Retina HD
CPU: A15 Bionic chip
Rear cameras: 12MP wide (f/1.8)
Front camera: 7MP (f/2.2)
Storage: 64GB, 128GB and 256GB
Battery: 7:38
Size: 5.2 x 2.5 x 0.3 inches
Weight: 5.02 ounces

Eek! The iPhone SE 2022 debuted at Apple’s March 8 “Peek Performance” event, and while the economical phone piqued the interests of budget-conscious Apple fans, the unveiling triggered flashbacks of my hardships with its predecessor (i.e. iPhone SE 2020). Its battery life was atrocious. *Shudder*

I can’t tell you how many nights my SE 2020’s battery life plummeted to 0%, damn-near leaving me stranded because Lyft and Uber were my main modes of transportation for returning home — and you can’t order a ride-share service with a dead device! Fortunately, as an occasional phone reviewer, I always had a second device, like the enduring iPhone 13, that outlasted the SE 2020.

Now that Apple released the iPhone SE’s next generation, paired with power-hungry 5G support, surely you can understand my trepidation. Waving my concerns away, the Cupertino-based tech giant assured the masses that the brand spankin’ new iPhone SE has better battery endurance, thanks to the power-efficient A15 Bionic chip, a slightly bigger battery and other internal tweaks. But the question is, do our test results support Apple’s assertions?

I won’t spoil my conclusions at the outset, but I’ll tell you one thing: the iPhone SE 2022 is a dynamite, dazzling phone in a distinguished package. However, it’s not for everybody — it’s for a specific, niche consumer base. The iPhone SE 2022 is not for me, but for you, it may be the most perfect phone to ever “phone” in the history of phones. 

iPhone SE 2022 price and configurations 

What a relief! The iPhone SE 2022 has a sub-$500 price tag, so unlike the pricey iPhone 13 and Samsung Galaxy S22 series, purchasing the pocket-sized phone won’t feel as if you’re setting your bank account on fire.

It starts at $429, and comes with a zippy A15 Bionic chip, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. As I mentioned in the iPhone SE 2022 vs. iPhone 13 mini face-off, 64GB of storage is insufficient for users who often capture photos and videos — and enjoy reviewing their gallery of memories for random bouts of nostalgia. Trust me; I owned the 64GB iPhone SE 2020 and it wasn’t long before I started getting the dreaded, “iPhone storage almost full” message.

Shell out an extra $50 for the 128GB model, or if you want the most space you can get, opt for the $579 256GB variant.

The new SE hit store shelves on March 18 and comes in the following colors: Midnight, Starlight and (Product)Red.

Although the iPhone SE 2022’s $429 price tag may be alluring, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are Android competitors in the same price range that may offer more bang for your buck, including Google Pixel 5a. However, for those who are seeking a budget-friendly entry point to Apple’s enthralling ecosystem, the iPhone SE 2022 is their best (and only) bet. 

iPhone SE 2022 design 

The iPhone SE 2022 is like a 70s-loving chick who adores wearing tie-dye shirts, sweater vests, high-waisted flare jeans and vintage wooden clogs. Are her clothes passé and does she get judgemental stares? Yup! Does she give a monkey’s behind? Nope! 

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

With the iPhone SE 2022’s outdated, iPhone 8-inspired design, you’ll have to identify with the aforementioned free-spirited dresser. If you do not give a hoot about arousing “oohs and aahs” over owning a modern, premium phone, and you’re at peace with having an unpretentious, erm, mature-looking device, then the new SE is a top pick for you.

The iPhone SE 2022, like the iPhone 8, has rounded edges that thwart the phone from standing on its own. Conversely, the iPhone 13 line sports flat edges, allowing the devices to stand independently on flat surfaces — without any additional support. Another tell-tale sign that the iPhone SE 2022 isn’t of the iPhone 13’s ilk is its rear camera setup. It has a single camera, a glaring indication of obsolescence (most modern phones have a collection of two to four backside lenses).

The new SE’s screen real estate is also very 2017; it has thick bezels that eat up the display’s space. Plus, there’s a home button, which Apple ditched from its flagship lineup five years ago when it introduced the iPhone X. Despite being an outdated feature, I love the Touch ID-packed home button — it’s one of the most satisfying features. The mini vibrations I get after successfully unlocking my phone or authorizing a purchase are divine. 

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

On the front and back, the iPhone SE 2022 sports the same glass found on the iPhone 13 (sans the Ceramic Shield display). Apple boasts that it's the "toughest glass in a smartphone." On top of that, the new SE has an IP67 rating for top-notch dust and water resistance, so if you get caught in a temporary downpour or a fleeting dust storm, the phone should survive.

The new SE’s petite, weightless stature is one of its best selling points, especially for folks who are turned off by large-and-in-charge phones. Its dimensions are 5.2 x 2.5 x 0.3 inches and it only weighs 5.02 ounces. It’s slightly lighter than its predecessor (5.4 x 2.7 x 0.29 inches, 5.22 ounces). It’s also more lightweight compared to its Android rivals: the Google Pixel 5a (6.1 x 2.9 x 0.30 inches, 6.5 ounces) and the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G (6.3 x 2.9 x 0.30, 6.7 ounces).

 iPhone SE 2022 display

Apple didn’t update the SE’s display; it still has a 4.7-inch, 60Hz, Retina HD panel with an LCD screen. Is it as vibrant and rich as the iPhone 13 or Pixel 5a’s OLED-packed display? Not really, but realistically, some users don’t care about having the most striking display — they just want a decent panel that offers just enough to make one’s viewing experience enjoyable. 

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

Watching the “Jurassic World Dominion 3” trailer, I spotted ultra-subtle shades of rosy pink that added sweet innocence to a young actress’ cheeks, serving as a foil to the snowy, gray, desolate landscape behind her. Construction workers wearing neon orange-and-yellow safety vests looked up in awe at a majestic CGI dinosaur, proving that the new SE reproduces colors well. Still, you must temper your expectations; you won’t get the iPhone 13’s punchiness and vibrancy. Don’t expect a razor-sharp picture at this sub-$500 price point, either. I could make out Chris Pratt’s frown lines and crow’s feet — as well as the tiny snowflakes that settled on his jacket-covered shoulders. However, some textures, such as the dinosaurs’ weathered skin, weren’t as pronounced as I would’ve liked. 

According to our lab testing, the iPhone SE 2022 covers 81% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. This is better than its predecessor (79%), but it couldn’t compete with the average smartphone (91%), the Pixel 5a (85%) and the shockingly impressive Galaxy A52 (143%). We also tested the new SE’s Delta-E for color accuracy; this is where the SE 2022 shines. With a score of 0.21 (closer to zero is better), it’s on par with the SE 2020 (0.2), but outperformed the average smartphone (0.25), the Pixel 5a (0.32) and the Galaxy A52 (0.3). 

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

Unfortunately, the iPhone SE 2022 took a hit with its brightness scores. With Adaptive Brightness on, the new SE output 550 nits of brightness. With the feature off, it radiated 596 nits of brightness. These numbers crushed the Pixel 5a’s 501-nit display, but paled in comparison to the average smartphone (657 nits) and its predecessor (651 nits). The Galaxy A52 can climb up to 708 nits with Adaptive Brightness on, outshining the iPhone SE 2022, but with the feature off, its brightness score dropped to a dim 328 nits.

Overall, the iPhone SE 2022’s display is, as the kids say, pretty darn “mid.” It’s average and it does the job.

iPhone SE 2022 performance  

The A15 Bionic chip inside the iPhone SE 2022 is a beast — throw any task at it and it should devour it and leave no crumbs. Apple claims that the new SE 2022’s CPU is “faster than all the competition at any price,” and our test results prove that the Cupertino-based tech giant is right. 

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

I put the powerful processor to the test by firing up Google Chrome with 15 tabs. Next, I opened the Portal app, which whisks you away to different immersive environments using spatial audio tech and retina-quality visuals. Finally, I launched a TikTok live show with Rosalía and Pharrell. Although the phone got toasty, the new SE managed to handle all of my app juggling with ease.

However, don’t be too impressed — you can’t take full advantage of the A15 Bionic’s savage processing prowess on the petite phone. It’s like having a top-of-the-line drone to record gorgeous landscape videography, but being told you can only fly it in your backyard. Still, the iPhone SE 2022, packed with a four-core GPU, should be able to handle intensive mobile games on platforms such as Apple Arcade without any issues. 

It also has a 16-core Neural Engine, which benefits apps that employ machine learning. In other words, developers can harness the power of the A15 Bionic chip to create AI-based apps that can learn and adapt to your behavioral patterns, providing more personalized experiences. 

As expected, when we ran the Geekbench 5.0 overall performance test, the iPhone SE 2022 blasted its rivals into oblivion with an explosive score of 4,482. This beats the average smartphone (3,383), the iPhone SE 2020 (3,108), the Pixel 5a (1,345) and the Galaxy A52 (1,903).

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

The A15 Bionic also showed its propensity for demolishing competitors on the Adobe Premiere Rush benchmark, which tests how well a device can convert 4K video to 1080p. The iPhone SE 2022 completed the task in 27 seconds. This is faster than the average smartphone (57 seconds), its predecessor (43 seconds), the Pixel 5a (1:49) and the Galaxy A52 (1:52). What a bunch of slow pokes! 

iPhone SE 2022 audio  

You may think that the iPhone SE 2022 has two speakers on its bottom, seeing as there is a double-grille setup. However, the left grille is actually a microphone; the right one is a speaker. Apple placed the second speaker on the top bezel. 

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

No, the iPhone SE 2022 isn’t going to win any audio awards, but come on, most people don’t choose a phone based on whether it sounds like a heavenly angel, right? As long as the audio sounds decent, the majority won’t throw a fit. 

 I fired up Spotify and listened to “She Used to Be Mine” by Sarah Bareilles. At a normal volume level, Bareilles’ bold vocals sounded crisp, clear and full, however, when I turned the volume all the way up to its peak, there’s a slight, barely perceptible distortion. Overall, the dynamics of the moody tune sounded balanced — as long as I didn’t push the song to the speakers’ limits. At max volume, the sweet-sounding ballad filled my medium-sized room. 

iPhone SE 2022 battery life and charging 

Owning the iPhone SE 2020 was like having a partner that goes to bed at 8 p.m. every night. Perhaps you have all the energy in the world to go on late-night adventures, but your partner says, “No thanks! I’m tired” and collapses into a deep, snore-filled slumber. In the same way, the new SE’s predecessor just couldn’t keep up with me, often tapping out too early. 

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

According to the rigorous Laptop Mag battery test, which involves continuously surfing the web on a cellular network at 150 nits, the iPhone SE 2020 lasted 9 hours and 18 minutes. However, in my experience, that figure is about two hours too long. I was lucky if I got seven hours out of the ol’ SE. The shiny new iPhone SE 2022 has a bigger battery and a more power-efficient chip, according to Apple, so it should offer more battery life, right? Well, not according to our results.

The iPhone SE 2022 lasted only 7 hours and 38 minutes (on the T-Mobile network with 5G on). Our sister site, Tom’s Guide, re-ran the test and recorded a battery runtime of 9 hours and 5 minutes (also with 5G on). Those runtimes are still less than the average smartphone (9:44), the Pixel 5a (9:45) and the long-lasting Galaxy A52 (10:19).

I tested the SE’s battery life, too, mimicking my typical phone-usage routine (max brightness on Verizon FiOS Wi-Fi). I scrolled through my favorite news websites, watched some YouTube videos, uploaded files onto Google Drive, enjoyed a mindless TikTok session, played a mobile app game, and listened to a podcast via Spotify. The petite phone ran out of steam at around 8 hours and 27 minutes, which is disappointing in a market where many phones offer 10-hour runtimes — even in the sub-$500 price range.

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

The iPhone SE 2022’s new 5G radio could be the culprit behind the device’s power inefficiency. For example, 5G, in addition to the shrunken battery, was a huge battery drain on the iPhone 12 line, making it less enduring compared to the iPhone 11. Fortunately, there’s a way to turn off 5G to squeeze out more “life” out of your device.

On the plus side, the iPhone SE 2022’s charging speed is pretty zippy with a 20W charger. After 15 minutes of charging, the device climbed to 31%. In a half hour, the new SE jumped to 61%.

If you want an Apple phone with the same portability, but can’t get with the so-so battery life, I’d look into getting the iPhone 13 mini. 

iPhone SE 2022 cameras  

The iPhone SE 2022, like its predecessor, has a bare-bones camera array: a f/1.8, 12MP rear wide-angle camera and a front-facing, f/2.2 7MP lens for selfies. 

I took the cameras for a spin around my Long Island, New York neighborhood, and the cameras perform impressively well in daylight, but due to the absence of Night Mode, dimly lit environments are their weaknesses.

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

To provide some perspective and better picture analysis, I took photos with the iPhone SE 2022 and the iPhone 13 mini.

Wide camera

If you were to look at the iPhone SE 2022’s pictures on their own, you’d be impressed by how well it can reproduce your subjects’ colors, tones and hues in true-to-life fashion. I took a picture of a schoolyard, filled with bold, colorful playsets. The wide-angle camera accurately captured the dull, weathered yellow portions of a tiny toy home as well as the ruby-red tones of the humble abode’s ice-topped, faux red-brick roof. 

However, when compared to the iPhone 13 mini’s sample, you’ll see that the iPhone SE 2022 doesn’t offer the same clarity and sharpness as its more expensive counterpart. The chalk on the asphalt looks grittier and more granular on the mini. The delineation between the school building’s brick and mortar is more striking and conspicuous. Still, as mentioned, the iPhone SE 2022’s color reproduction is excellent; the mini’s colors, though, are slightly richer.

As the sun was setting, I snapped a photo of the Valley Stream Community Center inside Arthur J. Hendrickson Park. The miniature device perfectly captured the peach-colored horizon with the light-blue sky. However, if you look at the iPhone 13 mini’s photo, you’ll see that the iPhone SE 2022 is lacking the deep, rich blacks that make up the pond’s reflection. Despite this, both photos look postcard perfect.

I also tested the wide lens’ zoom. The iPhone SE 2022 offers digital zoom up to 5x; the iPhone 13 mini offers the same. I stood about 20 feet away from a jungle gym inside the park and zoomed in, all the way to 5x, on a sign that reads, “Welcome! This playground has been designed for children 2-5 years old. Adult supervision is recommended.” Interestingly, I could read the sign better on the iPhone SE 2022 than the mini. However, to be fair, this is likely because I was running out of daylight, and by the time I took a photo of the sign with the mini, day was already turning into night. As such, the SE had more light to work with.

Night Mode

I returned to the schoolyard to take nighttime photos, and this is where the SE 2022 falters. It doesn’t have a Night Mode feature to help compensate for the lack of light, so the pictures are less than impressive. The shot is neither clear nor sharp; the red-and-yellow toy house looks more dull than usual. The loud-and-proud words on the private property sign seem more muted. On the mini, however, wow! What a difference! 

The iPhone mini, thanks to its Night Mode feature, maintained the striking reddish hue of the toy dwelling. The various shades of orange and red that make up the face of the brick-built school building also stand out (despite the low-light setting).

The same could be said for the photos I took of a nearby church. The mini’s Night Mode preserved the photo’s clarity and sharpness, capturing the running-bond pattern of its gray, brick steeple. The photo is also much brighter and illuminated compared to the SE’s shot, which appears more lackluster and drab.

Selfie camera

Currently, my daily driver is the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and I dig taking selfies with it because it produces photos with warmer tones. The iPhone SE 2022 outputs true-to-life hues, which tends to be on the cooler side. However, like the Ultra, there are ways you can tweak photos to your liking, including playing around with different Portrait modes.

Check out the gallery above to see samples. I have a preference for Studio Light because it makes my complexion appear less ashen and lifeless. No, Apple didn’t upgrade the new SE’s cameras, but I’m not complaining. The selfie camera’s 7MP is sharp — almost too sharp — capturing every crevice and wrinkle on my face that I can’t see with my naked eye. The iPhone SE 2022’s cameras will accentuate your best features, but the downside is that it will also highlight your worst imperfections.

It’s worth noting that the cameras got an upgrade via the SE’s new A15 Bionic chip, which introduces Smart HDR 4 (refines contrast, lighting and more with the latest software) and Deep Fusion (optimizes for texture and detail). It also adds the iPhone 13’s Photographic Styles feature (preset filters that tweak tone and warmth while preserving the subject’s complexion). Personally, I’m not a fan of Photographic Styles because I enjoy adjusting skin tones for deeper, richer, duskier hues. 

iPhone SE 2022 software 

As of this writing, the new SE 2022 runs on iOS 15, which comes with many praiseworthy features, including Live Text, which lets your device intelligently recognize text in photos.  

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

For example, if you want to save a specific quote you spotted on a physical, real-life document, you can launch the Notes app, tap the Camera icon, position the viewfinder to target the words you want to memorialize, and bam, the SE will extract those words into digital text and paste them directly into your Notes. Voila!

Focus is another standout iOS 15 feature that lets busy, easily distracted worker bees minimize distractions. It can temporarily silence interruptive notifications (or only allow certain authorized notifications). This mode can also let other people (and apps) know that you’re plugging away and being productive.

One of the most beloved iOS 15 perks is SharePlay, which lets iPhone users co-watch content (e.g. a TV show) with loved ones via FaceTime. As a cherry on top, you’ll get complimentary iOS updates for years to come, ensuring that the SE 2022 remains current software-wise.

Bottom line 

The iPhone SE 2022 is ideal for a specific consumer: a budget-conscious homebody seeking a portable, powerful, unpretentious phone. Emphasis on homebody because the iPhone SE 2022’s battery life pales in comparison to other higher-priced iPhones, so on-the-go busy bees need to temper their expectations as to how long they can remain untethered with the new SE. 

On top of that, nightlife lovers may frown at the SE’s Night Mode deficiency. Plus, exchanging contact information with new friends you meet while socializing becomes damn-near impossible while your phone is dead. If you don’t mind going the Android route, the Samsung Galaxy A52 is less than $400 and lasts more than 10 hours.

Still, this pocket-friendly powerhouse is a good buy for anyone who puts blisteringly fast chips, incredibly useful mobile OS features and portability at the top of their list.

Kimberly Gedeon

Kimberly Gedeon, holding a Master's degree in International Journalism, launched her career as a journalist for MadameNoire's business beat in 2013. She loved translating stuffy stories about the economy, personal finance and investing into digestible, easy-to-understand, entertaining stories for young women of color. During her time on the business beat, she discovered her passion for tech as she dove into articles about tech entrepreneurship, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the latest tablets. After eight years of freelancing, dabbling in a myriad of beats, she's finally found a home at Laptop Mag that accepts her as the crypto-addicted, virtual reality-loving, investing-focused, tech-fascinated nerd she is. Woot!