I've only been using Apple's new iPhone SE for a few hours, but it already feels like exactly what the company needs to upstage Android rivals (AAPL)


iPhone SE Side

  • Apple’s $400 iPhone SE is a new smartphone that has the same processor as the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, but in a compact, 4.7-inch design like the iPhone 8. 
  • The launch comes just as rival smartphone makers like Samsung and Google have been introducing less expensive alternatives to their own flagship smartphones.
  • I’ve only spent a few hours with the iPhone SE so far, but its speedy performance and compact design should make it a compelling option for Apple fans on a budget. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s only April, but Apple has already unveiled a new iPhone. And no, it’s not the rumored 5G-enabled iPhone 12 you’ve probably been hearing so much about.

Rather, it’s the $400 iPhone SE, a revival of the special edition iPhone Apple introduced back in 2016.  Unsurprisingly, the 2020 model comes with a number of improvements over its 4-year-old predecessor, particularly when it comes to performance. The device officially launches on April 24 and is currently available for preorder. 

The new iPhone SE features a 4.7-inch screen with a Touch ID home button and a glass and aluminum design, making it very similar to 2017’s iPhone 8. But most importantly, it runs on Apple’s A11 processor — the same chip that powers the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. That gives the iPhone SE an advantage over other similarly priced smartphones, like the $400 Google Pixel 3a, which runs on a less powerful chip designed for less expensive smartphones.

I’ve only been using the iPhone SE for roughly a couple of hours, but I can already tell it fills an important hole in Apple’s lineup. At a time when rivals like Google and Samsung are introducing more budget-friendly options, Apple had been lacking an inexpensive smartphone that still feels new until now. 

The iPhone SE may not have a borderless screen like the $400 Samsung Galaxy A51 or a camera that can see in the dark like Google’s $400 Pixel 3a. But it does pack as much power as Apple’s latest flagships — a sign that Apple intends to give Android device makers more competition when it comes to targeting shoppers on all budgets. 

Here’s a closer look at my brief first impressions of the new iPhone SE.

SEE ALSO: Apple’s newest iPad Pro has all of the makings of a great computer, but it’s still not ready to replace my laptop

In terms of design, it looks and feels almost identical to the iPhone 8.

The iPhone SE should look very familiar to anyone who has used an iPhone 8. The phone’s screen size, physical dimensions, and weight all match those of the 4.7-inch iPhone Apple released in 2017.

The biggest physical differences between the iPhone SE and the iPhone 8 are in their colors. The iPhone SE comes in black, white, and red, while the iPhone 8 was available in silver, space gray, and gold. 

The Apple logo on the back of the phone is also located much lower near the center of the device compared to the iPhone 8. The “iPhone” branding is also gone from the back of the device, as shown in the photo above. 

Since the iPhone SE is hundreds of dollars less expensive than the iPhone 11 and even 2018’s $600 iPhone XR, it’s not necessarily surprising that it lacks the modern edge-to-edge screen found on other recent iPhones.

However, the design does feel a bit antiquated when you consider that companies like Google and Samsung have managed to design $400 smartphones with bezels that are significantly thinner than those found on the iPhone SE.  

The iPhone SE is also a welcome return for Touch ID.

Apple hasn’t released a new smartphone with its Touch ID fingerprint sensor since the iPhone 8, and it’s making a welcome comeback on the new iPhone SE. 

That’s because Apple’s newer phones use facial recognition instead since they no longer include a home button. While Face ID is a promising and secure alternative to Touch ID,  I sometimes still prefer using a fingerprint scanner over Apple’s Face ID.

For example, Touch ID is more convenient at times when I want to unlock my phone without having to pick it up. Using a fingerprint scanner is also usually faster when unlocking my device while wearing sunglasses as well. 

It’s nice to see that that those who prefer Touch ID over Face ID no longer have to compromise by purchasing an older iPhone with a less powerful chip.  

Even though I’ve only spent a short amount of time with the iPhone SE so far, it does feel a bit faster than the iPhone 8.

The iPhone SE should bring notable performance improvements over the iPhone 8, but without using the phone for a longer period of time it’s difficult to tell exactly where those enhancements will be noticeable.

Still, I immediately noticed that the iPhone SE felt a bit snappier when launching apps compared to the iPhone 8 I’ve had since 2018. When launching apps like the Messages app, Google Maps, and Seamless, the iPhone SE beat the iPhone 8 every time. I also felt like the iPhone SE was a bit quicker and more accurate at finding nearby surfaces when using Apple’s augmented reality measuring app compared to the iPhone 8. 

Overall, the iPhone SE doesn’t come with any exciting new changes — but that’s probably why its intended audience will like it.

The iPhone SE is the opposite of what you’d expect from an Apple product launch. There aren’t any groundbreaking new features like a triple-lens camera or a brand-new chip. Even the design feels old and unchanged.

But that’s precisely why it will likely appeal to some people. The iPhone SE isn’t for early adopters or camera enthusiasts. It’s for iPhone users that want a new phone but are hesitant about spending $700 more on a new smartphone. Or Apple fans that are very much in need of an upgrade but aren’t interested in switching to a phone with a larger screen and no home button. Or parents looking for a relatively inexpensive first smartphone for their child. 

For legacy iPhone owners, there’s nothing new to learn with the SE — no new gestures to replace the home button, no facial recognition, no new key combinations for taking a screenshot. And that’s probably very important to some shoppers.

With so many high-quality, inexpensive Android phones in the market — like Samsung’s Galaxy A151 and Galaxy S10, Google’s Pixel 3a, and TCL’s upcoming 10 Pro, Apple couldn’t afford to not come out with a new budget option of its own. Even if the iPhone SE doesn’t have all the bells and whistles found on those rivals, Apple at least has a new affordable iPhone that’s fit to compete when it comes to performance.