This is the iPhone SE, Apple’s 2022 budget iPhone. Now it’s marketed as the cheapest and most affordable phone to buy right now, but is it actually any good?

Let me tell you if this little phone is worth buying, including the performance it’s packing and the features it’s missing. I’ll even compare it to the iPhone 13 Mini and the iPhone 11 to give you an idea of its capability and whether it’s worth spending a little bit more elsewhere.

Buy the iPhone SE (2022)

Design

So the iPhone SE is based on the 2017 iPhone 8 design. It’s got the rounded edges and the chunky bars at the top and bottom of the screen. When the screen’s off you can’t really tell, but as soon as you turn it on it instantly looks like an old iPhone we’ve all seen before.

There’s the home button or the touch-ID, now this is something we’ve not seen for about 5 years now on the non-SE models. And considering how much we’ve gotten used to Face-ID, I actually quite like having this button back. It’s fast and it’s responsive and there’s definitely something satisfying about pressing a button instead of swiping to unlock or return to the home screen.

But one of the biggest selling points of the iPhone SE, other than price, is the size. This phone is tiny, it’s about the same size as the iPhone 13 mini. Now phones are getting bigger every year, it’s what a lot of us want. Being able to watch movies, take and edit photos or just checking socials. But it’s not what everyone wants from a phone.

That’s what makes this iPhone so appealing. It will easily fit into your pocket and you can use it one handed. Plus, other than the borders on the front, it’s got a pretty nice rear. I’ve got the Midnight colour here which looks really nice, although I think the Red is the best choice.

But like with every phone I’d always use a case with it. I can imagine the rear of this getting scratched easily, as I remember my old iPhones back in the day did too.

Screen

Right, let’s talk about the screen on this. So it’s packing a 4.7” Retina HD LCD display, so it’s not full HD unfortunately. The PPI of 326 is OK though so everything looks sharp and pretty clear for a screen of this size. Looking at it in almost any lighting condition shows that it’s easily viewable. I mean it’s no OLED but the colours look vibrant. 

The brightness does max out at 600 nits though, so viewing it in direct sunlight isn’t great, but then not many phones can handle that anyway. 

It’s got a 60Hz screen which feels responsive, it’s obviously lacking the 120Hz screen but only the latest 13 Pro models have that. Now one of the biggest issues I have found with this screen is the black bars. I don’t mean the top and bottom, I got used to those pretty quickly, but I’m talking about the sides.

If you watch a movie that you’d normally expect to fill the screen, you’re going to see these black bars on the sides too. I thought I could pinch to zoom but it appears I can’t do that either. It means that the 4.7” screen has gotten even smaller when watching content with this aspect ratio. Not a huge issue, but something worth mentioning. 

Over the last week I’ve used it with a handful of different apps, including Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and a few others. Overall it’s not a bad experience. Every app loads and looks good, but you can tell they are optimised for larger screens. I feel like I’m having to scroll more for the same content I’d expect to see on one screen.

Spec

In terms of the performance of this, well you’ll be pleased and maybe even surprised to hear that it’s specced with the latest A15 bionic chip. That’s the same chip as found in the iPhone 13. That’s crazy!

Now that might not sound like a big deal, but it really is. Forget about the screen, forget about the camera, which I’ll get to in a minute, but that means this is packing a chip that will future proof this phone for at least another 3-4 years. It’ll keep getting the latest iOS updates, apps will run fast and it shouldn’t lag or slow down. That’s one of the biggest issues going for the cheapest phone is it’ll slow down and become unusable, whereas this chip will overcome that issue. That’s what makes this, on a performance level, a better buy than say an iPhone 11 or 12 which might pack more features overall.

The fact it’s got that A15 chip means it feels like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It looks old but it’s as fast as the latest iPhone 13. Using it certainly feels that way too. It’s also rocking 5G which is impressive for a budget phone.

Camera

Around the back you’ll notice it’s only got one camera, and that’s a single 12MP Wide lens. It’s got an f1.8 aperture, optical image stabilisation and 5x digital zoom, no optical zoom here. The photos you’re able to take with this are a lot better than I expected. You get the normal modes like portrait and panoramic, but it’s also got the new picture modes, or the photography style mode we saw in 2021.

Viewing the photos you’ve taken on the phone look OK, but viewing the same photos on another display, now that is where you can see the full image quality. Again for a camera of this size and pixel count, I’m impressed with it. The clarity won’t be as good as the latest Pro models, obviously, but for its price range it’s decent.

With the right lighting conditions it performs well, even in low light it looks good. However it doesn’t have night mode, so taking photos in the dark won’t get the results you’d hope for.

Video

Now as I’ve mentioned before, I film all videos on this channel with an iPhone, so I was interested to see what the video capability was like on the SE. It does support up to 4K video recording and up to 240 FPS, depending on the mode you’re using. The mode I shoot in is 4K 30.

Now it doesn’t have the latest cinematic mode or HDR video recording, but the image quality at 4K is really good. I mean, I’ve said this for years that if you want to start a channel, just use the phone in your pocket. And you could definitely use this iPhone SE to make content with.

Battery

Another huge talking point about these phones are the batteries. You kind of want or even need a phone to last you from morning to night. You don’t want to be worrying about charging it midday. 

So over the last week I’ve been using the SE to see how long it would last me under normal conditions. Nothing too heavy. And here are the results. 

So I’ve averaged around 6-7 hours of daily use. That’s included checking emails, social media and using the camera to record videos with. I’m happy with that for such a small phone. Apple suggests around 10-15 hours of video playback, which I reckon I’d struggle with. But if you wanted to use this for more demanding tasks like gaming or watching content, I imagine the battery would drain very quickly.

When it comes to charging it, it’s got a lightning port at the bottom and it does have wireless charging. Not magsafe though, I tried this and it’ll just slide off.

Storage and Price

Looking at the available storage options and prices, it comes in 64, 128 and 256GB. The budget buy is definitely the 64GB, but if you were planning on using it for storing games, movies or music on, this will fill up fast. So upping it to the 128 or 256 would make more sense, but then with that comes the increased cost. But if you just need a phone to make calls, send messages, check social media, the base model is perfect.

Versus 13 Mini?

So how does the iPhone SE compare to some of the other cheaper iPhones, such as the iPhone 11 and 13 Mini.

The iPhone 11 starts at £489 for the same 64GB storage. That’s £70 more than the SE. It’s bigger, has an Ultra Wide lens, larger battery, Face-ID and the newer and more modern phone design. It also has a larger and better liquid retina display. But it is missing two things, 5G and the latest A15 chip as it’s still got the 2019 A13 chip.

Then there’s the 13 Mini. This is technically smaller than the iPhone SE, but it’s got a larger OLED screen, better lenses, the same A15 chip, better battery and Magsafe compatibility.

But with these extra features it’s going to cost £679, now this is for the 128GB version so like for like it’s £210 more than the SE with the same storage.

If you want the cheapest iPhone that lets you get into the Apple ecosystem, take videos, check your socials and listen to music and message your friends, the iPhone SE is great. It’s also fast and it won’t feel like an old slow phone.

But if you want a small phone that’s packing everything you could need, including an OLED screen, multiple cameras, the same A15 chip and 5G, the 13 Mini is a great choice. It will cost you more but overall it’s better. Ultimately it comes down to budget and what you need from a phone though.

Box

If you were wondering what we get in the box, it comes with the phone, the USB C to lightning cable, a SIM card remover and the Apple stickers. Just like with previous iPhones there’s no power brick or plug, so you’ll have to buy that separately if you need one.

Conclusion

So I think the iPhone SE is a great budget phone. It’s the cheapest 2022 iPhone you can buy and it’s packing the same A15 chip as the 13 range. That means it’s a powerful phone at an affordable price.

The only thing that really lets this phone down, in my opinion, is the front. The black bars and the 2017 design. If they’d gone for the XR design, this would be the perfect budget phone that looks nice and is rapid too. 

If you’re upgrading from an older iPhone, such as an iPhone 8 or older, this will feel like a huge step up in terms of performance. It could make the perfect phone for children too, where the larger and more expensive iPhones might not be suitable. Plus not everyone needs the extra features such as multiple cameras, OLED, MagSafe and HDR. And some do actually want a physical home button too.

And what about you? Would you recommend the iPhone SE to someone looking for the cheapest phone to buy? Or would you go for an older model such as the iPhone 11, or something else instead?