Apple announced the iPhone SE (second generation) in April 2020 to act as the new budget iPhone. It comes with 4K video, a 7MP selfie camera, wireless charging, and A13 chipset, and three colors. This phone completely replaces the iPhone 8, and offers great specs for its cheap price.
● 4.7-inch screen
● Black, white, and (RED) colors
● Touch ID
● A13 chipset
● 12MP rear camera
● 7MP Selfie camera
● Starts at $399
Apple rarely goes for the budget side of a product line, but when they do, it always comes with some surprises. The 2020 iPhone SE is everything you’d expect in an Apple flagship, packed into a great value.
iPhone SE (second generation) Features
There is nothing remarkable about the budget iPhone’s design, but for good reason. It is built to look like the iPhone 8, which had a similar design all the way back to the iPhone 6. Users who do not want Face ID or a larger phone will now have a modern option going forward.
The aluminum frame with a glass front and back, single camera, and Touch ID all make a return. By including the older design, and the older camera sensor from the iPhone 8 generation, Apple was able to push the price even lower.
Apple's website lists that only cases made for the iPhone SE are compatible, despite having the same design as the iPhone 8. This is likely due to changes in microphone or light sensor placement, but has not yet been confirmed. Leaks from case makers before release suggested that cases made for the iPhone 8 would be compatible, though they were likely guessing.
The phone comes in three colors, red, black, and red. Regardless of what you choose, however, you will have a black glass on the front of the phone, even the white one. This is likely to follow the design trend of the "X" series iPhones that have Face ID.
A teardown of the budget iPhone revealed an almost identical configuration to the iPhone 8. Component locations were similar, and could even be moved between the cases without issue. The only notable difference is the label distinguishing the A11 and A13 chipset.
A second teardown confirms some parts are interchangeable between the devices.
The 4.7-inch Retina HD display makes a return with True Tone and Night Shift built in. It has the same 326ppi density as the XR, so the screen should look identical to the iPhone XR. AppleInsider did a comparison between the latest budget iPhone and the iPhone XR and iPhone 11 to see exactly how the specs stacked up.
The P3 color gamut means HDR content can be displayed on screen with no issue, and Apple supports the latest codecs in iTunes including HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
The A13 Bionic from the iPhone 11 is here in the iPhone SE. That means you get all the computational power of a flagship smartphone in a device that costs half as much. Things like exporting a video edit, playing games from Apple Arcade, and using an Augmented Reality app will all be faster and smoother because of the chip.
Even as a budget device, running the latest chipset means you get around five years of iOS updates. Apple's competitors cannot offer the same power or longevity at this price point, and most cannot even compete at their high end with this budget iPhone.
The front facing camera is 7MP, which will record in 1080p at 30 FPS. Even without a Face ID sensor, you can take portrait selfies using advanced algorithms.
The rear camera is the same module as the iPhone 8, meaning you can take 4K video and capture 12MP photos. While night mode needs the newer device sensors, you can still make use of other new software features like QuickTake video. Portrait mode works here too, and even has the same options for lighting effects and depth control.
Unique to this iPhone is a new portrait mode system that relies entirely on machine learning. It is called "Single Image Monocular Depth Estimation," and uses the power of the A13 to process depth maps of images entirely on device. This is a major step forward in Apple's photography initiatives and will likely lead to vast improvements on its more advanced camera systems too.
This device continues Apple's trend of adding dual-Sim support to all of its phones. This means you can have multiple phone numbers attached to the same device, be it for business or travel.
Even though it is a budget model, you'll still get WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. The LTE antenna is stronger than pre-2019 devices too, meaning if you're coming from an iPhone 8, you'll still get up to 60% better cellular speeds.
Further examination of the specs show that there is no Ultra-wide-band chip in this device, despite it being new. That makes two devices released in 2020 without the chip, including the iPad Pro, and leaves the question open over the usefulness of the chip if it is not ubiquitous.
iPhone SE Pricing
The iPhone SE starts at $399 with 64GB of internal storage. You can get 128GB or 256GB of storage for $449 or $549 respectively. Apple is also offering trade-in options that can reduce the cost to as little as $229. The iPhone upgrade program will get you this phone for the price of a 4K Netflix subscription, $16.62/mo.
Release and reception
Years of rumors surrounding a new budget iPhone circulated before anything concrete emerged from Apple. From calling it the elusive "iPhone 9" to speculating over Face ID vs Touch ID, the rumor cycle was varied and long for this device. Speculation about such a product releasing began all the way back in 2017, only a year after the first iPhone SE launched.
Ming-Chi Kuo had the whole device pinned down back in October 2019, with the price, colors, and storage all in a note to investors.
Leaks surrounding the actual product began ramping up in early 2020, with Apple even leaking the name of the product on its website. Ultimately the release was still somewhat a surprise, considering the modern A13 chipset and low entry price.
One thing that makes the iPhone SE special is its release took place in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. To mark it's significance, Apple will be donating a portion of what is earned from sales of the (PRODUCT)RED model directly to the Global COVID-19 Relief Fund.
iPhone SE (first generation)
The original iPhone SE was introduced in 2016 as Apple’s first attempt at a budget iPhone. Its design mimicked the old iPhone 5s design, but had some bells and whistles thrown in.
The flat sides, 4-inch display, and button-on-the-top design was one of the most popular designs ever for an iPhone. As the iPhone 5s aged, people began to worry that there would be no successor, and everyone would be forced into the new soap-bar iPhone design of the iPhone 6 and later.
Apple finally revealed the iPhone SE with modern chipsets and a 12MP camera. It launched with 16GB of internal storage at $399, and 64GB at $499.
The revamped handset also included better LTE coverage and “Hey Siri” support.
The following year, Apple upgraded the base storage to 32GB and bumped the second tier to 128GB for the same prices.
Since the storage update in 2017, rumors circulated about a refreshed iPhone SE, only to finally come to fruition in April 2020.