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2022 iPhone SE review: Revving up a classic hot rod


The 2022 iPhone SE.
Enlarge / The 2022 iPhone SE.

Samuel Axon

The iPhone SE is the classic iPhone, the OG iPhone, the Mazda Miata of smartphones. It performs well, and its design is iconic and familiar—even comforting—despite being dated and devoid of modern frills and comforts. But the SE is still one of Apple’s best products.

While the flagship iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro go all in on screen real estate and quality, battery life, and monster cameras, the iPhone SE focuses on simplicity, comfort in your hand, and yes, keeping costs down.

Most people don’t need the iPhone 13’s excellent OLED screen, though you could argue that more would at least want its improved cameras. But for some users, the smartphone is an as-needed workhorse and nothing more. They want something affordable and reliable—something that will last them several years, so they don’t have to think about the smartphone rat race at all.

The iPhone SE is ideal for those users, even if its classic design is getting noticeably long in the tooth. Because for longevity, the inside is what matters.

Specs

The design, screen, dimensions, camera hardware, and storage capacity options haven’t changed here. That means the 2022 SE still essentially has the iPhone 8 chassis, and it still has a 4.7-inch LCD screen and home button. You can get the new SE in 64GB ($429), 128GB ($479), or 256GB ($579) configurations.

The iPhone SE’s system-on-a-chip jumped ahead two generations with this update, from the A13 to the A15.

The Lightning port returns.
Enlarge / The Lightning port returns.

Samuel Axon

The A15 is the same chip found in the iPhone 13 lineup, so you’re getting cutting-edge performance in a cheap phone. This is one of the most remarkable things about the iPhone SE: No other phones at this price point offer anything close to this kind of performance. (We’ll get into benchmarks a bit further down.)

Apple claims slightly different battery life figures for the 2022 iPhone SE compared to the 2020 model. Namely, the 2022 claims 15 hours of offline video playback to 2020’s 13, 10 hours of streaming video playback to 2020’s 8, and 50 hours of audio playback to 2020’s 40. This is likely due to the increased efficiency of the A15 over A13.

The other major new feature here is 5G support. 5G can make a noticeable difference in download speeds and latency if you live in a place with great coverage. But most places around the globe don’t have the coverage yet, so make sure you check to see what your carrier offers where you’re at before springing for this phone on that basis alone.

Cameras

The 2022 SE has a 12MP rear camera and a 7MP front camera, and it can record 4K video at 60 fps—just like its predecessor. But thanks to the A15, it supports some new computational photography features.

The camera on the iPhone SE.
Enlarge / The camera on the iPhone SE.

Samuel Axon

The new phone offers Deep Fusion and Photographic Styles. With the Deep Fusion feature, the iPhone SE takes several images in rapid succession, then composites the best elements of each image to improve the overall outcome in a single image. We’ve written about it at length in past iPhone reviews, and it does its job well.

Photographic Styles are computational photography presets that result in heightened images similar to what some of the iPhone’s competitors offer (think of the Samsung Galaxy, with its unrealistically vivid but attention-grabbing photos).

Some people will like Styles, and some won’t. Fortunately, you can choose which mode suits you best. Just know that, unlike some other computational photography features on the iPhone, you can’t change the Photographic Style preset for an individual photo after the photo has been taken—only before.

Design

There’s nothing at all new about the iPhone SE’s design, but we still like it. It’s telling that this design—which despite a few tweaks over time dates all the way back to 2014’s iPhone 6—has stayed in the lineup so long. It’s the most iconic iPhone design.

With rumors swirling that Apple may discontinue the iPhone mini when the iPhone 14 hits later this year, the 2022 SE might be the last iPhone suitable for one-handed use. So if that’s your top priority, this might be the only iPhone for you unless you nab an iPhone 13 mini before this fall.

Of course, plenty of people want huge phone screens. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in movies or video games, best look to the iPhone 13 instead.

This phone still has Touch ID even though the rest of the modern iPhones use Face ID. But Touch ID still works great most of the time. Seeing an iPhone with such huge bezels in 2022 is strange, but that will bother some people more than others. You probably know just by looking at the photos whether bezel-size really matters to you.

Apple says the 2022 iPhone SE uses a sturdier glass for its front and back than the 2020 model did. In fact, the SE uses the same glass as the back of the iPhone 13. We didn’t subject our SE to any durability tests to verify this, though.



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