Is iPhone SE the 4-inch iPhone you've been waiting to upgrade for?

This isn't your usual iPhone upgrade. If all you wanted was the new Apple A9 processor or iSight camera, you could have gotten that with one of the iPhones 6s. No, when it comes to the newly updated iPhone SE, it's not just about better — it's about smaller. So, if you've been waiting to upgrade, is this iPhone you've been waiting for?

Note: Because anyone who wanted a new iPhone in general could have upgraded already, we'll be focusing this guide on what makes iPhone SE unique — display size and price point. In other words, on people who have an iPhone 5s or earlier and are considering making the upgrade.

Future compatibility

The current version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 9, runs on a wide array of devices, past and present. It's part of what makes iPhones so valuable. Right now, every iPhone from iPhone 4s to iPhone 6s can run pretty much every app made for the platform.

But that'll change. Eventually Apple will flip the 64-bit only switch, and new apps will only support iPhone 5s and later. Moreover, there's a world of difference between running the latest apps, and running them well.

With an iPhone 5s, you're running 2016 — and future — apps on 2013 technology. Fine, but not ideal. With an iPhone SE, you'll be running them on the latest technology, which will carry you forward for years to come.

  • If you have an iPhone 4 you've already fallen out of compatibility and you'll absolutely want to consider upgrading.
  • If you have an iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, or iPhone 5c, you're on the edge and should also strongly consider upgrading.
  • If you have an iPhone 5s and want to ensure compatibility for years to come, you should also consider upgrading.

Display size

iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s all have 3.5-inch 960x640 displays at 326 pixels-per-inch (ppi). Moving to iPhone SE will get you a slightly bigger 4-inch 1136x640 display, still at 326 ppi.

iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, and iPhone 5s already have 4-inch 1136x640 displays at 326 ppi so there's no difference between them and iPhone SE.

But that's the whole point. iPhone SE is for people who still want that 4-inch screen, and not the 4.7- or 5.5-inch screens of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s lines.

  • If you have an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s and want to stay with a smaller display, you should strongly consider upgrading.
  • If you have an iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, or iPhone 5s, and don't want a bigger iPhone, you should also consider upgrading.

Apple A9 and "Hey Siri!"

iPhone 4 has a 32-bit Apple A4 processor, iPhone 4s has an A5, iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c have an A6, and iPhone 5s has Apple's first 64-bit processor, the A7 and motion coprocessor, the M7. All of them represent cutting edge ARM processors of their times. But times change.

Apple's current-generation 64-bit ARM processor is the A9 "Twister". Core-for-core, it's among the fastest and most energy efficient in the world. It also has an integrated M9 coprocessor that, in addition to doing low-power motion tracking, enables hands-free "Hey Siri" voice activation. In other words, it's not just a screamer — it's a walker and a talker.

It also has Apple's latest image signal process (ISP) which makes photos and video better than ever.

  • If you have an iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, or iPhone 5c, the 32-bit days are all but over, and you should strongly consider upgrading.
  • If you have an iPhone 5s and you want "Hey Siri!" you'll also want to consider upgrading.

LTE and Wi-Fi

iPhone 4s tops out at HSPA 14.4mbps and can't access the much faster DC-HSPA+ 40mbps or LTE 100+mbps networks. That means you'll be stuck on dial-up in an increasingly broadband world. iPhone 5 series all support LTE but all top out at 100mbps. They're also limited to 802.11n Wi-Fi.

iPhone SE supports up to 15 bands of LTE Advanced and can go to 150mbps, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. In other words, closer to iPhone 6 than iPhone 6s, but still ahead of iPhone 5s.

  • If you need the additional LTE bands and live in an area with LTE advanced 150, you should strongly consider upgrading.
  • If you have an 802.11ac router and want to make use of the faster speed, you should strongly consider upgrading as well.


iPhone 4 has an outdated iSight and FaceTime camera. iPhone 4S has an okay 8mp/1080p rear iSight cameras but a poor front FaceTime camera. iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c have decent iSight cameras, and iPhone 5c has a slightly better but still aging FaceTime camera as well. iPhone 5s has the same slightly improved FaceTime camera and a good iSight camera, with support for burst mode and 120fps slow motion video. None of them, though, are cutting edge any more.

iPhone SE has an up-to-date, really good iSight camera — pretty much on par with iPhone 6s. It's 12 megapixels and can shoot 4K video. There's also the much improved Apple A9 image signal processor (ISP), focus pixels for faster image acquisition, and Live Photos, which lets you capture movement and sound along with the moment. The FaceTime camera is the same resolution as iPhone 5s, but benefits from the new iSP and from the Retina Flash for low light selfies.

  • If cameras are at all important to you, you'll absolutely want to upgrade.

Lightning connector

iPhone 4 and 4S have the old 30-pin Dock connector. While there remain legacy accessories for that connector, all new iOS devices now use the Lightning connector. That means no new accessories for those old devices.

iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, and iPhone 5s all already have Lightning connectors, so that means any accessories you have for any of them will also work with iPhone SE.

  • If you have an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s, you'll absolutely want to consider upgrading.

Touch ID + Apple Pay

If you have an iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, or iPhone 5s, you can't use Apple's Touch ID fingerprint identity sensor. That means if you can't unlock your iPhone or apps, and can't authorize iTunes or other purchases at the touch of the finger.

iPhone 5s has Touch ID, but can't use Apple's mobile payment platform, Apple Pay, unless paired with an Apple Watch.

iPhone SE has the same first generation Touch ID sensor as the iPhone 6. Not as fast as iPhone 6s, but every bit as enabling.

  • If you have an iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, or iPhone 5c, and want Touch ID, you'll want to upgrade.
  • If you have an iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, or iPhone 5s, and want Apple Pay without having to use an Apple Watch, you'll also want to upgrade.

Should you upgrade from iPhone 4s (or earlier)? Absolutely!

The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s were introduced in 2010 and 2011 respectively. While iPhone 4s can run iOS 9 and iOS 9 apps, it can't take advantage of all the features, and will likely fall out of compatibility sooner rather than later.

With no Touch ID, no Apple Pay, and outdated processors and cameras, if there's any way for you to upgrade, you absolutely should.

Should you upgrade from iPhone 5 or iPhone 5c? Seriously!

The iPhone 5 was introduced in September of 2012 and the slightly updated iPhone 5c in September of 2013. They can both run iOS 9 and iOS 9 apps, but neither has a 64-bit processor so it's entirely possible they'll fall out of compatibility some time soon-ish.

Neither has Touch ID and neither can use Apple Pay without being paired with an Apple Watch. Likewise, neither has the improved processor or cameras. So, if you've been waiting for a better 4-inch iPhone, this is the upgrade you've been waiting for.

Should you upgrade from iPhone 5s? Probably!

History of iPhone 5s: The most forward thinking iPhone ever

The iPhone 5s was released in September 2013. It has Touch ID needs to be paired with an Apple Watch to use Apple Pay. The camera was amazing in its day but is no longer top-of-the-line. It has a 64-bit processor, but Apple's first generation A7 and not the current A9.

iPhone 5s likely has a couple more years of life to be squeezed out of it, but if you want a smoother, faster, more modern experience, you'll want to upgrade.

Rather upgrade to an iPhone 6s?

If you thought you wanted to stay with the smaller 4-inch iPhone size but are now finding yourself drawn to the big 4.7-inch iPhone 6s or bigger 5.5-inch iPhone 6s Plus, we have everything you need to know about those models as well!

Still undecided?

If you're still not sure about upgrading to an iPhone SE , ask questions below or jump into our iPhone SE discussion forums and the best community on the net will happily help you out!

Are you upgrading to an iPhone SE? Let me know why — or why not — in the comments so everyone can benefit from your insight!