Bottom line: The iPhone SE is the only iPhone that still retains a Home button. But with this iteration, Apple brought it up to speed with 5G connectivity and an A15 Bionic chip that makes Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 4, and Photographic Styles possible.
Has Home button with Touch ID
Small and lightweight form factor
A15 Bionic chip
Software camera improvements
No Face ID
Uses LCD display
Single lens camera system
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The iPhone SE has always been the only way to buy an iPhone on a budget, and in 2023 it's no different. The iPhone SE 2022 is now over a year old, and remains Apple's best option for those who want a budget iPhone that really does just work. While it might not be the phone for you, it's the phone you'd buy a parent, or an elderly relative, or a "my first iPhone" for a young teenager.
It's the only iPhone that still offers the classic chin and forehead design, and the only iPhone that offers a physical Home Button with Touch ID, which makes it a much more accessible phone for those who aren't so tech literate.
So how does the iPhone SE stack in 2023? With the iPhone 15 just around the corner, the answer is still quite well. Pushing the boat out for a good deal could get you a much better phone for slightly more money, but for those who want consistency and simplicity, the iPhone SE remains the number one contender.
iPhone SE (2022): Price and availability
The iPhone SE is a year into its lifespan, and there are a couple of excellent older iPhones to choose from that mean the choice isn't quite as clear cut as it used to be. Apple sells the iPhone SE for $429, but stretching will get you a 64GB iPhone 12 for $599. That's a lot more money in fairness, but it's worth considering now that there are always great iPhone deals poking around, especially through carriers.
The iPhone SE offers three storage capacities in a diminutive form factor. If you like a small iPhone that is easy to carry and hold, the iPhone SE is definitely for you, although the iPhone 13 mini is a potent, if more expensive alternative.
The A15 Bionic chip is a year old now, but it's the same chip Apple ships in the iPhone 14, so there's no danger of it slowing down or losing software updates anytime soon.
The iPhone SE has a competent camera system, but it's definitely not the iPhone to buy if photography is a top priority, with the iPhone 12, 13, and 14 range offering more comprehensive camera configurations. With its LCD display measuring 4.7-inches, battery life isn't going to be a worry, especially when those eyeing up this device likely aren't into heavy, resource-intensive tasks like gaming and photo editing.
In all honesty the iPhone SE is starting to get a bit long in the tooth, especially given that older design language. I think the iPhone SE is due a big refresh, but rumor has it there might not be one on the horizon in the near future. If you're considering an iPhone in the summer of 2023, I'd recommend waiting for the iPhone 15 and seeing where the chips fall in terms of pricing of the older models.
iPhone SE (2022): Price and availability
The iPhone SE (2022) is available directly from Apple in-store or online, as well as most major retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, and more, including your preferred cellular provider. However, if you are looking to purchase the iPhone SE unlocked, your best bet is direct from Apple, as most other retailers sell it carrier-locked.
There are three colors for the iPhone SE: Midnight, Starlight, and PRODUCT(RED). You have three capacities to choose from as well: 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB, and the price is $429, $479, and $579, respectively.
iPhone SE (2022): Hardware and design
The third-generation iPhone SE still retains the same exact design as the previous iteration. This means it still has the old iPhone 8 body: a 4.7-inch Retina HD LCD display, glass front and back with aerospace-grade aluminum, a single-lens 12MP camera system in the back, and a 7MP FaceTime HD camera in the front. The Home button is still there so you have Touch ID for biometrics, instead of Face ID. The dimensions are exactly the same as the phone before it, which means that iPhone SE 2 cases will still fit the new iPhone SE, as well as any older iPhone 8 or even iPhone 7 cases. If you opt to not use a case, be aware that due to the glass material used on the back, it's glossy and thus, a fingerprint magnet.
|Category||iPhone SE (2022)|
|Operating System||iOS 16|
|Materials||Glass front and back, Aerospace-grade aluminum|
|Display||4.7 inches, 1334x750 (326 ppi) resolution, Retina HD LCD display|
|Dimensions||138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm, 144g|
|Water Resistance||IP67, one meter up to 30 minutes|
|Rear Camera||12MP Wide camera, ƒ/1.8 aperture|
|Front Camera||7MP FaceTime HD, ƒ/2.2 aperture|
|Battery Life||Up to 15 hours|
|Charging||Qi wireless charging up to 7.5W|
Fast wired charging over Lightning with 20W power adapter
While the iPhone SE looks the same on the surface, it's what's inside that really matters. Apple has packed the powerful A15 Bionic chip, which is what is currently in the best iPhone, the iPhone 14 series, into the iPhone SE. This means that although the iPhone SE is pretty much the budget iPhone, it is still blazing fast and is just as zippy as its more powerful siblings. The A15 is also what makes the new camera improvements possible, which are Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 4, and Photographic Styles, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Another big addition to the iPhone SE is 5G connectivity, bringing it up to speed with modern iPhones and even competing Android devices. However, it's important to note that while the iPhone SE does have 5G, it only supports the broader, but slightly slower, sub-6 5G connection instead of the narrower but faster mmWave 5G. While this may seem like a negative, it's actually not — mmWave 5G is already quite hard to come by, and it's very limited in availability compared to sub-6. For most people, sub-6 5G is more easily accessible and plenty fast, so it's not necessarily a bad thing that the iPhone SE only supports this 5G spectrum. For the average user, which the iPhone SE is aimed for, sub-6 5G will work just fine.
iPhone SE (2022): Software and performance
When you purchase the iPhone SE, it comes equipped with iOS 15. And thanks to the A15 Bionic that powers it, the same chip in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 lineup, the iPhone SE runs iOS 16 nicely. With A15, Apple packed in a 6-core CPU with two performance cores and four efficiency cores, a four-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine. Compared with the previous iteration A13 that had the same specs except for an 8-core Neural Engine, the A15 in the iPhone SE gives it a noticeable boost in performance.
For the average person, who again is what the iPhone SE is targeting, they won't notice too much in everyday use. They will just see that the iPhone SE is speedy with performing things like email, checking social media, listening to music, and watching videos. I found the iPhone SE to be most comparable to my iPhone 13 Pro (minus the display) that I've been using since launch day, so the A15 is definitely plenty for most folks. This also means that iOS 17 will be well-supported come September.
The real test for the A15 and performance lies in playing mobile games on the device. I honestly don't do a lot of gaming on my iPhone anymore; all I've done recently is play Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel. But I did try that game out on the iPhone SE, and it was buttery smooth with no hiccups or performance issues during play. And honestly, since there's no notch on the iPhone SE, the graphics aren't awkwardly cut off on the edges.
Honestly, I think those who are serious about mobile gaming should consider an iPhone 13 Pro or iPhone 13 Pro Max instead, just because of the dynamic 120Hz refresh rate on the OLED display. But for the average user who plays a simple game or wants to try out something more intense, the iPhone SE is fine. Definitely not the best, but for most people, it's good enough.
The main area that the A15 affects is the camera. Because of the bump in power, the iPhone SE is now capable of Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 4, and Photographic Styles, despite the fact that there were no major changes in the camera hardware itself. All of the improvements for the iPhone SE camera are done computationally through software, which is possible because of the A15 chip. While it's not perfect (it's still software, after all), it's definitely a step up from the last generation.
iPhone SE (2022): Battery
I don't have the previous iPhone SE (2020) to compare with, but the battery life on the iPhone SE (2022) is only okay. Coming from an iPhone 13 Pro, the iPhone SE has a tiny battery due to the slimmer and more lightweight form factor. However, the new iPhone SE does have a bigger battery than the previous generation at 2018mAh versus the paltry 1821mAh from the 2020 model.
Apple claims about 15 hours of video playback on a full charge, so while it should theoretically get you through most of a day, it really depends on your usage level. And having 5G on does drain the battery faster, so if you're really pushing the iPhone SE through its paces, then you definitely might need to charge it up at some point mid-day. Honestly, this phone just doesn't even come close compared to my daily driver, the iPhone 13 Pro. But I do miss that battery percentage in the status bar (c'mon Apple, bring it back!).
Since the iPhone SE is using a recycled design, it didn't add MagSafe like people were hoping for. Instead, the iPhone SE still uses a Lightning port, but like its predecessor, it can Fast Charge (50% charge in 30 minutes) as long as you use a 20W or higher adapter. As far as wireless charging goes, the iPhone SE is Qi-charging compatible with a maximum output of 7.5W.
If you're looking for the best iPhone for battery life, then the iPhone SE isn't what you're looking for. But it has a lot of other things going for it, such as the most comfortable form factor to use single-handedly, the only iPhone still with a Home button for those who don't want change, 5G connectivity, A15 Bionic, and a pretty decent camera, all things considered.
iPhone SE (2022): Cameras
Since I'm coming from an iPhone 13 Pro, the camera on the iPhone SE is definitely a downgrade for me, but that's because I have been using a triple-lens camera system for the past six months. However, for the average person, the iPhone SE still takes some pretty darn good photos, at least in well-lit environments. Since it does not have LiDAR, it is not able to do Night mode, unfortunately, and there is no Ultra Wide or Telephoto lens. The iPhone SE (2022) is still using the same camera hardware as the iPhone 8, which means just a Wide angle lens with a 12MP, six-element lens, and sapphire glass cover. It even has the same ƒ/1.8 aperture. All improvements to the camera in the iPhone SE are done on the software side.
I took the iPhone SE for a test outside at the park. For the most part, the photos I took with the iPhone SE were pretty comparable to the standard iPhone 13, and even the iPhone 13 Pro. Since the A15 Bionic allows the iPhone SE to now do Deep Fusion, textures have a ton of detail in them. Smart HDR 4 also provides vibrant but true-to-life colors in photos without washing them out. I was able to get bright blue skies in my pictures without the sky being a faded blue. And while Photographic Styles is now possible on the iPhone SE, I personally do not use the other styles besides Normal, as I prefer to do my own editing later. But it's still great to have the option for that if someone wants to use it without having to cough up for a flagship iPhone.
Now, if you want to take photos with the iPhone SE in low-light situations, then you might struggle a bit. While it's possible, images will have quite a bit of grainy noise, and you do lose detail. For example, I took this photo of Space Mountain at Disneyland at night, and you can see that the iPhone SE image appears duller, with blurrier texture in the trees. The colors are also less vibrant as well. The same can be said for the Sleeping Beauty Castle comparison below.
If you've been wanting to use your iPhone to take photos at night in dimly lit environments, then the iPhone SE is not the iPhone to get — for this particular area, you should get an iPhone that is capable of Night mode instead, which includes the iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and iPhone 13 series, all of which are still sold by Apple. However, for the average person who doesn't care for all the bells and whistles, who are Apple's target demographic with the iPhone SE, the photos are good enough. After all, if one is looking to take amazing low-light photos, they won't even consider the iPhone SE.
Now, the front-facing camera on the iPhone SE (2022) is still the same measly 7MP FaceTime HD camera from the iPhone 8. When testing out some selfies outside, the iPhone SE is pretty good with the color of my skin tone, but it washes out the sky so that it is white instead of a vibrant blue. But if you are just planning to use the front camera for FaceTime calls or simple selfies, then it should be fine. It can even do Portrait mode selfies with Portrait Lighting if you want to get fancy. Just expect slightly less detailed images with the FaceTime HD camera versus the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone 11, 12, and 13.
iPhone SE (2022): Competition
The biggest competition for the iPhone SE (2022) is Apple's own iPhone 13, specifically the iPhone 13 mini. One reason people may consider the iPhone SE is because of the size, and the iPhone 13 mini is the smallest offering from Apple at the moment, though it's a little more expensive, as it starts at $599. It also doesn't have the Home button so it has Face ID for biometrics and a larger display with 5.4-inches instead of 4.7-inches. The iPhone 13 mini also has the Super Retina XDR OLED display instead of LCD, the Ultra-Wide camera, Night mode capabilities, and the higher megapixel TrueDepth front camera.
Another competitor for the iPhone SE (2022) is the Google Pixel 5a. It's a budget Pixel phone that's about the same price range as the iPhone SE with the $449 cost, but it has an even more advanced dual-camera system with an Ultra Wide and Wide angle lens, 8MP front camera, as well as a larger display. It has a significantly larger battery, starts at 128GB with 6GB of RAM (the iPhone SE only has 4GB), and it runs the latest version of Android 12. If you want more bang for your buck and don't mind being on the Android side of things, then the Pixel 5a is a good choice. But keep in mind that you only have one storage capacity size, a slightly slower processor (A15 is faster than Snapdragon 765G), and no wireless charging capabilities.
iPhone SE (2022): Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
You want modern internals for less
The iPhone SE (2022) is Apple's most affordable iPhone, making it the perfect entry point into iOS, especially for someone new. If you're coming from an older iPhone, then the iPhone SE is an affordable upgrade that gets you most modern features for a fraction of the cost of the flagship iPhone 13 series. You get the A15 Bionic, which is currently in the iPhone 13 series, and powers software-side camera improvements like Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 4, and Photographic Styles.
You still want an iPhone with a Home button
Some people still like Touch ID over Face ID, and that's okay. The iPhone SE (2022) is currently the only iPhone that Apple sells that retains the Home button. If you prefer using it, then this is the only iPhone you can buy that still has it. Who knows if Apple will continue to sell an iPhone SE with a Home button several years from now.
You want a small and lightweight phone with 5G
The iPhone SE (2022) is probably the best iPhone to use one-handed due to the compact and lightweight form factor. If that's what you've been wanting, then this is the best iPhone for the job. Plus, it now has sub-6 5G support, so you get the fastest data connection possible with your carrier.
You should not buy this if ...
You want Face ID and a larger display
As much as some people love the Home button, the iPhone SE (2022) has a very dated design. Plus, I often find Face ID to be faster and more convenient to use overall. Another benefit of having Face ID is the fact that your display is larger, because there are no more bezels for a Home button, giving you an edge-to-edge display.
You want the best cameras on an iPhone
If you primarily use your iPhone for photos, the iPhone SE (2022) is lacking, despite the improvements Apple made. You only get a single 12MP Wide lens here, and it's basically the same hardware from the iPhone 8. While A15 gets you Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 4, and Photographic Styles, you won't have LiDAR for Night mode, nor will you get an Ultra Wide and Telephoto lens. If you just want the Ultra Wide, it's best to get the iPhone 13, and if you need a Telephoto for optical zoom, then go for the iPhone 13 Pro. And don't forget about the measly 7MP FaceTime HD selfie camera — even the iPhone 11 has a 12MP TrueDepth camera, which would give your images more detail.
You want an OLED display
Since the iPhone SE (2022) is recycling the iPhone 8 chassis, you still have a 4.7-inch Retina HD LCD display, versus an OLED display that started arriving with the iPhone 12. For the average user, an LCD display is fine. Most people won't know or see the difference between an LCD and OLED display, to be fair. But if you want the absolute best and most vibrant color quality with the inkiest blacks, then you have to go OLED. And the Pro series devices are the only ones with the dynamic 120Hz ProMotion display — if you're using an iPhone SE next to an iPhone 13 Pro, yes, you can tell the difference if you have a sharp eye.
The iPhone SE (2022) is an iPhone that isn't for the techies or power users like you and me. It's an affordable iPhone for someone who is looking to purchase their first iPhone, or someone who is upgrading from an older model and wants something that just works. It's for people who want a small form factor that's still comfortable to use single-handedly, while also getting a modern processor and connectivity with 5G. And with the improved performance from the A15 Bionic, the camera can do more than its predecessor due to impressive computational software, despite having the same camera system from years ago.
If you want the latest and greatest from Apple, with all of the bells and whistles, then the iPhone SE (2022) is not for you. It recycles an old, dated design from five years ago, though the internal spec bump at least brings it up to modern standards. You won't have Face ID or an edge-to-edge display because you have large, thick bezels around the screen. The camera is good for photos in brightly lit areas, but if you want the best camera, regardless of day or night time, you're better off with an iPhone 11, 12, or 13 device. I mean, the iPhone SE is so affordable because it doesn't have all of the great features of the flagship devices. If you're willing to make some sacrifices, then you can't beat the iPhone SE for the price, especially just to get into the iOS ecosystem.
Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.
- Stephen WarwickNews Editor