iPhone SE

£359, 16GB; £439, 64GB ap­ple.com/uk

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

Ap­ple re­cently added a new iPhone to its range of hand­sets – the SE. De­signed as a re­place­ment for the three-year-old 5s, the last 4in iPhone, it’s a great-look­ing de­vice that packs quite a per­for­mance punch.

De­sign

The iPhone SE is, in terms of de­sign, the 5s – but that isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. It’s crafted from the same bead-blasted alu­minium as the 5s, pro­vid­ing users with a smooth fin­ish that doesn’t show fin­ger­prints, although it isn’t the strength­ened Se­ries 7000 alu­minium present in the 6s. The blocky, edgy and in­dus­trial de­sign of the 5s, in our opin­ion, at least, was be­fore its time and looks as good to­day as it did when it was un­veiled back in Septem­ber 2013. It’s the small de­tails of the de­sign that make it what it is, from the matte-cham­fered edges to the stain­less steel logo on the rear of the smart­phone.

Many smart­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers are shy­ing away from pointed edges, em­ploy­ing curved edges and even curved dis­plays in some cases, as this pro­vides users with some­thing that’s more com­fort­able to hold, es­pe­cially with a large dis­play. How­ever due to the small di­men­sions of the SE – 123.8x58.6x7.6mm to be ex­act – along with the pointed edges pro­vides us with ex­tra grip, with no real worry about the iPhone slip­ping from our hand, as curved smart­phones like the 6s tend to do. It’s also light­weight at only 113g, mak­ing it 30g lighter than Ap­ple’s flag­ship. In essence, if you’re look­ing for a small and light­weight smart­phone, the SE looks to be a good op­tion.

If you do de­cide to grab your­self an SE, you’ll have a choice of colours to choose from. Along with the fairly stan­dard Sil­ver, Space Grey and Gold you’ll also find a Rose Gold colour op­tion, Ap­ple’s lat­est ‘flavour’ that made its de­but on the iPhone 6s and Ap­ple Watch back in Septem­ber 2015, and re­cently made its way to the 9.7in iPad Pro.

Ru­mours sug­gest that Ap­ple may ditch the 3.5mm jack on the iPhone 7 to make its flag­ship smart­phone thin­ner than ever, which is, of course, bad news for those of us with ex­pen­sive, wired head­phones (and ev­ery­one else, too). Thank­fully the 3.5mm jack is present on the SE at the bot­tom of the de­vice, sit­u­ated next to the Light­ning port and speaker grille. The lock but­ton is in the same place as the iPhone 5s, at the top of the de­vice, which may take some get­ting used to as many man­u­fac­tur­ers now place the power but­ton on the right­hand side of smart­phones. We found our­selves ini­tially reach­ing to the right to lock it, but it’s some­thing you get used to quickly. The cir­cu­lar (op­posed to pill shape with the iPhone 6 and newer) vol­ume but­tons and silent mode tog­gle are in the same place though, on the left­hand side of the iPhone SE. While we love fa­mil­iar­ity, we’re dis­ap­pointed that the Home but­ton houses the same first gen­er­a­tion Touch ID sen­sor as the iPhone 5s did, de­spite the 6s ship­ping with a much faster and more ac­cu­rate se­cond gen­er­a­tion sen­sor.

Of course, the big­gest (or should we say small­est?) fea­ture of the iPhone SE is its small 4in dis­play, al­low­ing the smart­phone to be used com­fort­ably with one hand. Many users weren’t com­fort­able with the 4.7in and 5.5in iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and some even held back on up­grad­ing be­cause they couldn’t, for what­ever rea­son, get on with a large dis­play. We tend to use larger iPhones, so the ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing from an 6s to an SE was strange – but in a good way.

We’d for­got­ten just how com­fort­able it is to hold a phone so small. We’d for­got­ten how easy it was to text and use one handed. We for­got about the magic of a small-screen smart­phone. Sure, there are down­sides to hav­ing a smaller dis­play; text is larger and fills up more of the screen, less in­for­ma­tion is dis­played at once, pic­tures are a lit­tle harder to see and, in our opin­ion, games aren’t as en­joy­able, but there’s some­thing about the 4in smart­phone that makes it a joy to use. It could be the reach­a­bil­ity as we’re eas­ily able to reach every but­ton us­ing our thumb, or it could just be that a smaller smart­phone feels more se­cure and com­fort­able in the hand. What­ever it is, we’re a fan of it.

Dis­play

Let’s talk a lit­tle bit more about that 4in dis­play that so many Ap­ple users were crav­ing prior to the iPhone SE an­nounce­ment. The SE fea­tures a 4in IPS LCD dis­play which Ap­ple mar­kets as be­ing a ‘Retina dis­play’. For those un­sure of what a Retina dis­play is, Ap­ple coined the term to re­fer to de­vices that have a res­o­lu­tion and pixel den­sity of around 300ppi (pix­els per inch) or higher, as the pixel

den­sity is so high that the user is un­able to pick out in­di­vid­ual pix­els at a nor­mal view­ing dis­tance. It’s not to be con­fused with Retina HD ei­ther.

This is in­deed true of the SE – the 4in iPhone boasts a fairly low res­o­lu­tion (when com­pared to An­droid smart­phones any­way) of 640x1136, but be­cause of the small di­men­sions of the dis­play it equates to 326ppi, the same as Ap­ple’s iPhone 6s.

While all that sounds im­pres­sive, what users can see and ex­pe­ri­ence with their eyes is what is most im­por­tant. The iPhone SE dis­play is sur­pris­ingly crisp, but this is most ap­par­ent when look­ing at text. Why? The high pixel den­sity dis­play pro­vides smooth curves and sharp­ness of text that can ri­val printed text, and this makes read­ing ev­ery­thing from text mes­sages to eBooks on the small dis­play a com­fort­able (and en­joy­able) ex­pe­ri­ence.

The same can be said with high-qual­ity pho­tos – as long as the im­age you’re look­ing at is rel­a­tively high res­o­lu­tion, you can pick out tiny de­tails in the photo that may not be vis­i­ble on other, lowres­o­lu­tion smart­phones. Colours are bright and vi­brant too, although we wouldn’t mind see­ing Ap­ple em­ploy a Super AMOLED dis­play on one of its smart­phones in fu­ture to pro­vide the ex­tra ‘wow’ fac­tor that many An­droid ri­vals have.

3D Touch is one of the flag­ship fea­tures of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, al­low­ing the dis­play to mea­sure the amount of force ex­erted in­stead of only reg­is­ter­ing touch in­put. Some claim that this will rein­vent the way that iPhone 6s users in­ter­act with their smart­phones, and we ex­pect the fea­ture to be present in every sub­se­quent Ap­ple flag­ship smart­phone. De­vel­op­ers are in­te­grat­ing ‘peek and

pop’ in­te­gra­tion into their apps and adding short­cuts to the home screen icons, pro­vid­ing users with com­pletely new ways to in­ter­act with their apps. With such an em­pha­sis on 3D Touch, we were hop­ing that the fea­ture would make an ap­pear­ance on the iPhone SE – but we were wrong.

There is no 3D Touch in­te­gra­tion and while this prob­a­bly isn’t a deal breaker for most, it could mean that the iPhone SE may get ‘left be­hind’ sooner rather than later. We’re not talk­ing about iOS up­dates as the SE will be sup­ported for years to

come – we’re talk­ing more about in terms of fea­tures avail­able to them. In the same way that iPhone 5 (and ear­lier) users can’t use Touch ID as a form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in apps, iPhone SE users may not be able to per­form ac­tions that im­prove the over­all app/iOS ex­pe­ri­ence.

In­ter­est­ingly, thanks to an iFixIt tear­down, it was re­vealed that the iPhone SE fea­tures the same front panel as was used with the iPhone 5s. This means that both the dis­play and front fac­ing cam­era are the ex­act same as Ap­ple’s 2013 flag­ship and while this isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing, it ex­plains the lack of 3D Touch in­te­gra­tion.

Per­for­mance and bench­mark­ing

Ap­ple fans called for an­other 4in iPhone be­cause the three-year-old iPhone 5s just isn’t up to scratch any­more, so it was im­por­tant for Ap­ple to make sure that the 4in iPhone SE was pow­er­ful enough to com­pete with other flag­ship smart­phones on the mar­ket. The com­pany seems to have suc­ceeded, as in­side the iPhone SE you’ll find Ap­ple’s A9 chipset paired with an M9 mo­tion co-pro­ces­sor and 2GB of RAM – ex­actly what’s found in Ap­ple’s flag­ship iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

This means, gen­er­ally speak­ing, that the iPhone SE should pro­vide sim­i­lar per­for­mance lev­els to its big­ger and more ex­pen­sive brother, the iPhone 6s. In fact, due to the smaller res­o­lu­tion of the 4in dis­play, it may even per­form slightly bet­ter than the flag­ship Ap­ple smart­phone – in the­ory, any­way. But be­fore we talk about bench­mark­ing scores, let’s first talk about what the iPhone SE is ac­tu­ally like to use in terms of per­for­mance.

The iPhone SE is rapid, there is no doubt about that. Swip­ing be­tween app menus and open­ing apps is al­most in­stant, and the SE doesn’t even stut­ter when open­ing the Cam­era – an area that no­to­ri­ously slows down smart­phones. Even though we men­tioned above that the 4in dis­play of the iPhone SE doesn’t pro­vide the best gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence pos­si­ble, that’s down to screen size and not per­for­mance. We’ve played a se­ries of games on the iPhone SE from rel­a­tively sim­ple plat­form­ers like Crossy Road to more power-in­tense games like Ge­om­e­try Wars 3: Di­men­sions and fu­tur­is­tic racer AG Drive with no sign of lag or un­re­spon­sive­ness.

In fact, we even went out of our way to try and get the iPhone SE to fall over and stut­ter/lag by do­ing things like chang­ing app while load­ing a power-in­ten­sive game, or con­stantly open­ing and clos­ing an app. All our ef­forts were fu­tile, though, as the iPhone SE laughed at our poor ef­forts and didn’t even break a sweat, re­spond­ing to every sin­gle tap. So it’s fair to say that the iPhone SE can match the iPhone 6s per­for­mance in gen­eral, but it’s time to talk specifics.

We ran three sep­a­rate tests – Geek­bench, GFXBench and AnTuTu – to test the per­for­mance of the iPhone SE, and to make sure there were no anom­alies in the re­sults, we ran each test three times and took the av­er­age score of each.

In Geek­bench 3, our first bench­mark test, the iPhone SE scored 2254 in the sin­gle-core test and 4459 in the multi-core test, which ac­tu­ally beat our iPhone 6s Geek­bench re­sults, (although not by much) by scor­ing 2511 and 4404 re­spec­tively. This puts the iPhone SE in line with the likes of the Galaxy S6 (4438) and Moto X Force (4455), two smart­phones with sim­i­lar pric­ing, sug­gest­ing that the iPhone SE per­for­mance is just right for its price tag. It also sug­gests that the iPhone 6s is un­der­per­form­ing based on its price, but that’s an­other story al­to­gether.

In AnTuTu, a gen­eral per­for­mance bench­mark test, the iPhone SE scored 123,981, which by it­self means ab­so­lutely noth­ing. For ref­er­ence, it’s not quite as good as the 6s which scored 134,067, but it is al­most dou­ble the score of the last 4in iPhone, the 5s. The 5s man­aged only 64,901 which, ac­cord­ing to AnTuTu at least, sug­gests that the iPhone SE pro­vides dou­ble the per­for­mance of its older sib­ling. It’s still not enough to beat the Galaxy S7 in this re­spect, though, as the flag­ship Sam­sung smart­phone scored 129,077 in our sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion PC Ad­vi­sor’s test.

How­ever, it’s in the graph­ics de­part­ment that the iPhone SE re­ally shines, and the GFXBench re­sults speak for them­selves. We ran two graphic-in­tense bench­marks in GFXBench (Man­hat­tan and T-Rex) and mea­sured the frame rate of each, and the

iPhone SE scored an im­pres­sive av­er­age score of 58- and 60fps re­spec­tively.

Cam­era

The iPhone SE fea­tures a 12Mp rear fac­ing cam­era which, con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, isn’t iden­ti­cal to the cam­era used in the flag­ship iPhone 6s. While the two cam­eras aren’t the same, the SE does have the same 12Mp sen­sor and fast im­age sig­nal pro­ces­sor as the flag­ship iPhone, pro­vid­ing SE users with higher res­o­lu­tion im­ages. This is es­pe­cially true of panora­mas, jump­ing up to a max­i­mum of 63Mp com­pared to 28Mp pho­tos pos­si­ble with the iPhone 5s. It also pro­vides quicker cap­ture times, which is what we’ve found in our tests – pho­tos were taken al­most in­stantly in our ex­pe­ri­ence.

The SE also fea­tures Live Photo sup­port, a fea­ture that was (up un­til now) unique to the 6s and 6s Plus. When Live Pho­tos is en­abled in the Cam­era

app, you’ll cap­ture a small video clip from be­fore and af­ter the photo was taken which can be played back at any time with au­dio. It pro­vides users with a snap­shot of a mo­ment or mem­ory and is a great fea­ture to have when you’re feel­ing a lit­tle nos­tal­gic.

iPhone pho­tog­ra­phy is a var­ied beast at the best of times – Ap­ple’s smart­phone cam­eras are great in well-lit sit­u­a­tions but tend to fail as the en­vi­ron­ment be­comes darker. The SE takes beau­ti­ful pho­tos in broad day­light, boast­ing de­tailed im­ages with vi­brant colours, how­ever in darker sit­u­a­tions the pho­tos quickly be­come noisy, colours aren’t as vi­brant and the im­ages are slightly dis­ap­point­ing when com­pared to the com­pe­ti­tion.

Even if you zoom into the op­po­site photo of St. Pan­cras, you’ll be able to pick out in­di­vid­ual bricks of the build­ing or pick out fea­tures of those walk­ing by. Agreed, it’s not as great as other flag­ship smart­phones like the Sam­sung Galaxy S7 but it was never meant to com­pete with £600+ flag­ship – if any­thing, it’s an is­sue with Ap­ple’s 6s. How­ever, when com­pared to a photo taken on an 5s, the im­prove­ment is quite ob­vi­ous to see:

The colours are more washed out, and the def­i­ni­tion isn’t there – not even on the side of the build­ing that is prac­ti­cally per­fectly lit. In fact, in cer­tain places the build­ing looks smooth. The colours aren’t as vi­brant as the photo taken by the SE ei­ther, ob­vi­ous with both the colour of St. Pan­cras ho­tel and the sky above it. The 5s’s noise re­duc­tion is also a lot more ob­vi­ous here, with the photo look­ing ‘smudgy’ when zoomed in.

The iPhone SE doesn’t do a bad job of tak­ing pho­tos in poorly lit en­vi­ron­ments, but we do be­lieve

there are smart­phones on the mar­ket that can do a bet­ter job – although maybe not at the same price of the SE. As you can see in the above photo, colours are gen­er­ally more washed out than in a well-lit photo, and the de­tail has largely dis­ap­peared. While you can still make out the var­i­ous ob­jects in the photo, zoom­ing in re­ally show­cases the loss of de­tail. Ev­i­dence of Ap­ple’s noise-re­mov­ing al­go­rithm is more ap­par­ent here too, with the de­tails be­com­ing smudged in­spected closely – take a look at the be­low crop to un­der­stand what we mean:

You may have no­ticed that we haven’t re­ally talked about the front fac­ing cam­era, and that’s be­cause it’s the same 1.2Mp cam­era fea­tured on old Ap­ple smart­phones like the iPhone 5s. There isn’t much to say about it re­ally – it’s enough to use for

the likes of FaceTime and Snapchat, but not much else. To give you an idea of the qual­ity avail­able on other Ap­ple de­vices, the iPhone 6s fea­tures a re­cently up­dated 5Mp cam­era.

The iPhone SE has 4K video record­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and like the 6s, you can also take 8Mp stills while record­ing. Of course, if that’s not your style then you can record 1080p HD at ei­ther 30or 60 frames per se­cond (fps), as well as hav­ing ac­cess to 1080p at 120fps and 720p at 240fps for slow-mo ac­tion. The 1080p at 60fps video op­tion pro­vides gor­geous, smooth video but due to the higher frame rate, it falls flat on its face in dark en­vi­ron­ments. It’d make sense for Ap­ple to of­fer some kind of tog­gle in the Cam­era app to quickly change be­tween video modes, but this isn’t avail­able at present and makes chang­ing video for­mats a much more long-winded process than need be.

Un­like the 6s, there is no op­ti­cal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion for pho­tos or videos but Ap­ple claims it fea­tures “cin­e­matic video sta­bil­i­sa­tion” – soft­ware that’ll au­to­mat­i­cally sta­bilise your pho­tos. While we were ini­tially scep­ti­cal about soft­ware based sta­bil­i­sa­tion, we were quite im­pressed by just how sta­ble it was. While the video isn’t com­pletely static, it has this beau­ti­ful smooth­ness to it that when com­bined with the 60fps frame rate is gor­geous.

Bat­tery life

Bat­tery life is an im­por­tant fac­tor of any smart­phone, and the iPhone SE doesn’t dis­ap­point – although of­fi­cial bat­tery life tests seem­ingly dis­agree. The iPhone SE fea­tures a 1624mAh bat­tery, which is slightly big­ger than the 1560mAh bat­tery fea­tured

in the iPhone 5s, and boasts with a more ef­fi­cient pro­ces­sor, sug­gest­ing that the iPhone SE would have bet­ter bat­tery life. Ap­ple it­self claims that the iPhone SE will man­age up to 14 hours of 3G talk time or 13 hours of In­ter­net brows­ing on Wi-Fi and while we found it hard to con­firm th­ese claims, we found the iPhone SE bat­tery life to be gen­er­ally quite good.

We un­der­stand that ‘good’ isn’t the best word to use when de­scrib­ing the iPhone SE bat­tery life, so it’s best to give real-world ex­am­ples based on our time with the smart­phone. We, like many other com­muters, use our iPhone to lis­ten to mu­sic dur­ing our morn­ing com­mute. When us­ing our iPhone 6s, we usu­ally get to work with around 80- to 85 per­cent bat­tery re­main­ing how­ever when we used the SE, we found that it only drained by 8- to 10 per­cent. While it’s not a huge dif­fer­ence when in use, the SE in standby lasted an im­pres­sively long time – we man­aged to go al­most two days straight with­out charg­ing the smart­phone, although our us­age was ad­mit­tedly limited.

So why don’t of­fi­cial bat­tery tests sup­port our real-world us­age claims? We’re not quite sure. We ran two bat­tery life tests on our SE and ac­cord­ing to the re­sults, the smart­phone lasted around four hours be­fore it ran out of charge. In com­par­i­son, a de­cent An­droid smart­phone can last from any­where be­tween six and nine hours on a sin­gle charge. We’re not quite sure why this is hap­pen­ing and it may be down to dif­fer­ent meth­ods of bat­tery life bench­mark­ing on iOS and An­droid, but we refuse to stand by the re­sults and claim that the iPhone SE should go most of the day (if not all day, with nor­mal us­age) with­out need­ing a charge.

Soft­ware

The iPhone SE comes run­ning Ap­ple’s lat­est op­er­at­ing sys­tem, iOS 9 – more specif­i­cally, it should ship with iOS 9.3. While Ap­ple’s iOS mo­bile op­er­at­ing sys­tem is es­sen­tially the same across all its de­vices, there are a num­ber of fea­tures unique to a hand­ful of smart­phones in­clud­ing the iPhone SE. The big­gest soft­ware fea­ture of the iPhone SE is ‘Hey Siri’ sup­port, some­thing only avail­able on the lat­est Ap­ple prod­ucts in­clud­ing the iPhone 6s, 6s Plus and 9.7in iPad Pro. What is it? iPhone SE users can teach Siri to recog­nise their voice, and from that point can ac­ti­vate Siri hands-free sim­ply by say­ing “Hey Siri”. Siri, for those un­aware, is Ap­ple’s vir­tual as­sis­tant that can han­dle a va­ri­ety of re­quests, from mak­ing calls to find­ing out the mean­ing of ob­scure words like ‘can­tan­ker­ous’.

Along with Hey Siri, iOS 9 also in­tro­duced a con­tex­tu­ally in­tel­li­gent, pre­dic­tive as­sis­tant that Ap­ple refers to as ‘Proac­tive’. No, this doesn’t mean

that Siri will start hav­ing hu­man con­ver­sa­tions about your day – in­stead, you’ll be of­fered a se­ries of short­cuts to var­i­ous con­tacts and apps de­pend­ing on your habits. Say, for ex­am­ple, you call your other half every day af­ter work at 5.30pm. Proac­tive will learn this habit over time and at around 5.30, it’ll of­fer a one-tap short­cut to call your part­ner. It’s the same with apps, and it’ll even of­fer a Mu­sic app short­cut on the lock screen when­ever head­phones are plugged in. As with Ap­ple’s de­sign phi­los­o­phy, it’s the lit­tle things about iOS 9 that make it what it is.

iPad & iPhone User’s buy­ing ad­vice

It was about time Ap­ple up­dated its 4in iPhone line (and there re­mains a few of us whose small

hands and pock­ets will ap­pre­ci­ate this more por­ta­ble de­sign), and this is a sen­si­ble re­fresh of a much-loved prod­uct. We’d for­got­ten about just how nice it was to hold a 4in smart­phone, and just how com­fort­able it was to han­dle one-handed. It’s as fast as an 6s thanks to the A9 chipset and as por­ta­ble as an 5s, so if you’re in the mar­ket for a new 4in smart­phone then this is a very good choice. While the lack of 3D Touch, a barom­e­ter, se­cond-gen­er­a­tion Touch ID or a 128GB stor­age op­tion are all ir­ri­tants, that’s a com­bi­na­tion that will be enough to con­vince a lot of Ap­ple fans. Es­sen­tially, it’s good. For those that need it. Lewis Painter

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

iOS 9.3 4in (1136x640, 326ppi) Retina dis­play A9 chip with 64-bit ar­chi­tec­ture Em­bed­ded M9 mo­tion co­pro­ces­sor 12Mp iSight cam­era with 1.22μ pix­els 4K video record­ing (3840x2160) at 30fps 1080p HD video record­ing at 30- or 60fps 720p HD video record­ing at 30fps 1.2Mp FaceTime cam­era Touch ID Ap­ple Pay GPS and GLONASS Dig­i­tal com­pass Wi-Fi Built-in recharge­able lithium-ion bat­tery Nano-SIM 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm 113g

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