Why I'm excited to leave my big iPhone behind and pick up an iPhone SE

App Store on iPhone 8
App Store on iPhone 8 (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz /iMore)

Some people have been clamoring for a new smaller phone from Apple for a while now. Complaints about big phones being too hard to handle with one hand have had people hoping Apple would release something more manageable. Not to mention how $1000 flagship iPhones have been the norm for a few years now, making people who want an iPhone without spending a lot of money out of luck. Now that Apple has announced the iPhone SE (2020), that's all changed.

The new iPhone SE is exactly what the people ordered, a small and affordable iPhone. I never thought I would be interested in the second-generation iPhone SE, but now that it's been announced, I'm pretty sure it's going to be my next phone.

The A13 Bionic chip is insanely powerful

iPhone 11 Pro

iPhone 11 Pro (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

When the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max launched last year, the A13 Bionic chip that was inside of them was more powerful than the Snapdragon 865, which is the chip that Samsung's flagship phones use. While it makes total sense for Apple's flagship to have a processor that rivals the best around the market, putting that same processor in the $399 iPhone SE almost seems crazy.

The $399 iPhone SE has a more powerful processor than the $1,400 Galaxy S20 Ultra — that's insane. Of course, processing power isn't everything, and obviously there's a ton of differences between the iPhone SE and Galaxy S20 Ultra in functionality and features, but when it comes to pure processing power, the iPhone SE wins out.

I miss Touch ID more than I thought I would

Multiple iPhones are stacked showing the Touch ID sensor. (Image credit: iMore)

Back when the iPhone X was first launched, I wrote about how I was happy that I went with the iPhone 8 Plus instead, and a huge reason for that at the time was Touch ID. Now, after using FaceID on the iPhone XS Max for almost two years, I am excited to be reunited with the Home button and Touch ID once more.

I don't hate Face ID, but as someone with glasses, I have experienced quite a few problems with it. I often can't get FaceID to work when I take my glasses off, and yes, I've tried setting up an alternate appearance without my glasses on and still fails most of the time. This makes it extremely annoying to use my iPhone when I'm lying in bed before I go to sleep, or when I take my glasses off to shave, or any other time my glasses my not be on my face. I don't want to have to struggle with my phone to open it, I want it to work, and TouchID is more reliable and faster than FaceID has ever been.

The price can't be beat

I jumped on the $1,000+ phone train without much hesitation, accepting that this is just where we know when it comes to flagship phone prices, but admittedly paying that much money for a phone is a lot to ask. I have always been slightly jealous of the decent options for low-cost Android phones in the past that Apple hasn't provided as frequently; however, Apple has dipped into the budget phone market before.

The original iPhone SE, the iPhone XR — and even the iPhone 11 to some extent — were all made as lower-cost alternatives to their flagship counterparts. Each of those phones went on to sell pretty well because there's a big market for good low-cost phones. The iPhone SE (2020) is the cream of the crop right now in terms of budget phones, clocking in at $300 less than the iPhone 11 (the cheapest model of the iPhone 11 series), and $600 less than the iPhone 11 Pro.

Yes, there are compromises. You don't get multiple cameras, you won't have an OLED screen, and you won't have the TrueDepth camera, but all of those features are add-ons and not necessary for a phone to be reliable and useful.

A few minor concerns

iPhone 8 Product Red Camera View Finder (Image credit: iMore)

The iPhone SE returns to the small form factor of the iPhone 8 and that does leave me a little concerned about the battery life. There are reports that the iPhone SE has a 1,821mAh battery, which is the same size battery the iPhone 8 had, it's a big step down from the iPhone XS Max I'm currently using as my daily driver.

I use my phone pretty heavily throughout the day, but I'm also around power outlets at all times (since I work from home), so I'm not too concerned. Plus, Apple has been doing a great job of optimizing battery performance with iOS, and iOS 13 (which the iPhone SE will ship with) has made battery on older devices perform slightly better, so it really shouldn't be a big issue.

Camera shock

Since I'm coming from the iPhone XS Max and not the iPhone 11 Pro series, I don't anticipate going back to one camera being a problem for me. The iPhone SE (much like the iPhone XR) can still use Portrait Mode and Portrait Lightning through the use of the software, so I'm not missing much other than the 2X zoom of the telephoto lens. I don't find myself using the Telephoto lens that often when I'm snapping pictures with my iPhone, and I practically never use the front-facing camera on any phone.

Are you excited for the new iPhone SE

Are you going to buy the iPhone SE (2020), let us know in the comments down below!

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.

  • "The return to the small form factor of the iPhone 8 on the new iPhone SE" This doesn't make sense.
  • More like return of the bezels lol.
  • Lol it's cheap because its a 3+ year old design with more ram and a beefier processor. They market this to sheep like you. Not to mention I would call it far from small form factor. It is barely smaller than the 11 pro which has a much larger screen on it. (SE- 5.45x 2.65 x .29, 11 pro- 5.67 x 2.81 x .32)
  • Ha ha. The real sheep buy the new stuff when it does nothing better than the older stuff. Touch Id is way ahead of face Id. That is the reason new patents have been filed to bring it back to the iPhone sooner than later.
  • There are just as many use cases the touchID won't work as FaceID so in no way is it "way ahead." Not to mention you are still getting a 3+ year old design (and parts) with a new processor.
  • So. Your iPhone 11 is now almost 3 generations old too. And no. Touch Id is proven more reliable, and better in many use cases. Unlock your farce Id phone on your desk without picking it up. Unlock your phone in your pocket so that Apple pay is up and ready to go. Unlock your phone while in a car cradle without aiming it at your face. Please. It's not as good as touch.
  • The only one it can't do is the in the pocket. Clearly you haven't used faceId enough to actually see how it works. Not to mention the difference between the 11 series and the 8 series is one looks like a phone from 2010, the other looks like a modern phone. But hey, keep drinking the apple Kool-aid and buying those recycled parts.
  • So you have to stand up then to unlock your phone when it's flat on a desk. Give me a break. Ha ha. Liar
  • Lol you clearly never used faceID. it works sitting flat on a table with being in a chair. Nobody has to stand up. Maybe actually know what you are talking about before you try to act like you know what you are saying.... Nice try though.
  • It's a case of YMMV, some people prefer Face ID, some people prefer Touch ID, both have flaws. The only really valid criticism there is the unlocking on a desk, there's no issues with how it works for Apple Pay
  • Didn't upgrade from the iPhone 8 to the iPhone 11 because I loathe FaceID. I'll only go for a newer iPhone if it brings back TouchID. Otherwise, in September / October I'll buy the new SE.
  • What problems do you have with Face ID?
  • The same problems lots of people have with it. It's not as reliable and not as useful. Everyone don't have sweaty gams like yourself and most people use their phones as I stated above
  • Are you sat next to him or something? I want to hear his view, I already know yours. And you know I wish I didn't have "sweaty gams", the same way a person might wish they could use their legs again and get out of a wheelchair, but we can't help the way we're born, so technology needs to try and support as many people as possible. It's called accessibility and you believe in it because you support the autism help
  • I do. I don't consider sweaty hands a disability other than you having to wipe your hand to unlock a phone. It's a huge difference than being actually disabled. Being a wheelchair is one thing. Having to wipe your mitt to unlock a phone is something different entirely.
  • It does actually make it difficult to unscrew caps and lids off things, more than just Touch ID problems. Anything that makes a normal "ability" to do something harder is a disability, although a fairly minor one in comparison. Besides, you could have sweaty hands from doing exercise, or another reason. I was just looking up about the ultrasonic fingerprint scanner on Reddit, apparently a few people there have the sweaty palm issue too, it's much more common than you think: https://www.reddit.com/r/galaxys10/comments/baq5ti/i_love_the_ultrasonic... I'm not saying Apple should get rid of Touch ID, just have both Face ID and Touch ID, that way you're happy and I'm happy. Everyone's happy as they can use what works best for them
  • I agree on the phone should have both. Pretty well every mid to high end android phone has both now. Time for apple to step up.
  • Gams are legs. Not sure what they would have to do with unlocking an iPhone, sweaty or not.
  • I just assumed it was some slang, but he meant hands. I have sweaty hands and it makes Touch ID hit and miss, most of the time it's ok, but the times it doesn't work is frustrating, and sod's law usually means it stops working at the worst times. I had various occasions where I went to pay for something with Apple Pay, and had to apologise to the cashier and type my pin in, not a great experience, but I have the iPhone XS Max now and Face ID has been fantastic, although understandably some people prefer Touch ID, if my hands weren't sweaty I would probably prefer it too
  • Gams means hands where I live.
  • Nothing in particular; it works for some people as an innovation but not for me. I just think that the new iPhones could have it AND TouchID. Other far smaller brands do it, why not Apple? Between a bezel-less phone and a phone with TouchID I'll take the latter any day.
  • Agreed. Apple should have both.
  • Both would be perfect, that way everybody's happy
  • It's coming. They (apple) have the patents filed for full screen finger print scanning. When that happens make an iPhone 8 sized body, full screen no notch with the best of camera and internals on board. I will fork out lots of dough
  • I’ve considered going back to a small form factor phone given that we have other Apple products to access the ecosystem. However, Apple doesn’t make it easy given their desire to put the latest and greatest tech in the flagship iPhone. I’d love to be able to use my iPad Pro for everything my iPhone 11 Pro can do, but let’s be honest - the camera is inferior. Even in the newest “upgraded” iPad Pro. Like it or not, the flagship iPhone is the best Apple has to offer every year.
  • The iPhone is Apple's #1 product, it makes sense that the best goes to the flagship, the SE is designed to be a cheap model rather than a small one (at least now anyway) so it's going to lag behind. The iPads generally don't have as good of a camera because far fewer people use them for taking pictures
  • Perhaps you meant inexpensive and not cheap.
  • I live in the UK, cheap and inexpensive are basically the same thing here. Cheap as in the amount of money, not the quality of the product
  • Thinking of trading my X in for this. Just want the chipset really. thoughts?
  • Go for it.
  • Too small for me, but no doubt it will sell very well. Many people want a smaller, less expensive iPhone. Not everyone has big hands for a 6.5” phone.
  • Phones mainly went larger to increase battery life, since we're still stuck with the same Li-on technology that was used on the original iPhone. Otherwise, it makes sense for a phone to be smaller; easier to fit into pockets, and can be used with one hand. I buy the bigger phones, but solely for battery life, I have the original SE as a backup phone and it's much more comfortable to use
  • I don't agree with that. Phones went bigger for screen real estate, which actually took a hit on battery life. People were using them way more for media consumption, photography, videography. People wanted bigger screens to play games, watch movies.
  • Most people I know still don't like to watch movies on a phone, even if it's the Max size, it's still a relatively small screen, and unless you want to hold your phone for 2 hours you'll need to prop it up somehow, which will most likely result in the phone being further away. I know people who watch movies on tablets, but on phones most people will just cast to a TV. The bigger phones have better cameras so people who want to do photography will buy them primarily for that reason
  • Now that the iPhone SE (2020) is out and it's pricing and specs are available I'm strongly considering switching from my iPhone Xr to an iPhone SE. The biggest drivers being size and price and ultimately some of the key reasons for going iPhone 11/11 Pro aren't as important to me. The biggest trade off for me would be going from a 6.1" screen to a 4.7" screen. The actual screen quality should be the same since they have the same PPI. Though, if I was to go SE then I'd just change my work flow and when I needed a bigger screen swap from the SE to the iPad Pro more often than I would now. Most my daily use on my phone is simple browsing, Twitter, etc... so I don't necessarily need a monster screen. The smaller and lighter SE will make my hands happier and less achy. Since the SE appears to have the same camera as the iPhone Xr and it gets the extra processing power of the iPhone 11's A13 chip it seems the SE would be a minor upgrade on the camera side. What I'm missing in the 2nd/3rd lense I can partially make up for with Moment lenses (though I do miss out on some functionality). So, trading FaceID and a 6.1" screen for TouchID and a 4.7" screen + internal upgrades (A13, Wifi 6, etc...) seems like a deal to me. I can either sell my Xr or trade it in and only have to pay $99 for the SE. I'll probably wait for the reviews but I think I'm going to go this route.
  • "I've tried setting up an alternate appearance without my glasses on and still fails most of the time." Did you try turning off the "Require Attention" option? I had trouble with it recognising when I was wearing sunglasses but when I turned that option off it worked perfectly
  • I also found that the reason I had trouble with FaceID with my glasses off is because I would hold the phone too close my face for the camera to see all of it. I'm on the cusp of legally blind so once I realized that I had to hold my phone further away in order for it to see me, everything works fine.
  • Exactly. My guess is that, like me, the author is nearsighted and middle aged. Starting around age 40., our eyes gradually lose the ability to read small text. Those of us with nearsightedness can delay buying reading glasses by putting our phones closer to our eyes. But Face ID doesn’t work at those close distances.
  • Face ID is only for unlocking the phone, so as long as you just get used to moving it further away when unlocking, you can continue to use the phone at any distance once unlocked
  • I haven't had any issues with glasses and I regularly switch between none, distance, reading and sunglasses. Face masks are a different issue.
  • I used to wear glasses but since I emptied my bank balance on laser eye surgery I don't wear any anymore. It was the first time I used Face ID on holiday where I was wearing sunglasses (cheap ones) where it stopped recognising my face. At some point it occurred to me that there was a setting which checks if your eyes are looking at the sensor as well, so I turned that off and it worked great again, but I know Face ID is supposed to work with certain glasses/sunglasses regardless of that setting so I guess it just depends on the type. As for face masks, Apple couldn't have predicted that a pandemic was going to hit the world and everyone was going to start wearing masks, so I don't think it's a bad thing that it doesn't work with face masks. Plus most people should be staying at home, negating the need for a mask, unless you're an essential worker. When this is all over, people won't be wearing masks, so the issue is only temporary, except in asian countries where wearing a mask is more common, but that would've been an issue from when Face ID was introduced
  • To use a Quote from a work Colleague when she had bought an iPhone 6 Plus and I an iPhone 6
    on why she would buy the bigger phone when she said how expensive it was, and I questioned her on this by saying she should have save some money and bought the iPhone 6 instead.
    Her reply "David, I'm not getting any younger, and thus my eyesight is not getting any better"
    So the motto is while portability might be important to some, so are the two organs that you use
    each and every day to interact the phone and that is your eyes, so for me the bigger the better
  • I think it's always good to have a big and a small phone. You can increase the text size on any iPhone but it can get cramped on smaller sizes. The smaller phones are not just good for portability but are a lot easier to hold and be able to use one-handed.
  • I prefer a small iPhone and an iPad combination.