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iPhone SE — Screen sizes and interfaces compared!

After going big and bigger with the 4.4-inch and 5.5-inch iPhones, Apple has returned to the 4-inch screen size with iPhone SE, which concentrates down all the power of an iPhone 6s into a body that looks just like an iPhone 5s. That makes it the smallest iPhone of this generation... in every way.

So, how does reachability and pocketability balance against visibility and scalability? Let's find out!

Display sizes

All modern iPhones have a 16:9 aspect ratio, the same as high-definition television (HDTV). Here are the screen sizes:

  • iPhone SE: 4 (3.48 × 1.96) inches .
  • iPhone 6s: 4.7 (4.1 × 2.3) inches .
  • iPhone 6s Plus: 5.5 (4.79 × 2.7) inches.

Pixel counts

The amount of pixels you get on each screen works out to:

  • iPhone SE: 1136 x 640 (727,040 total) at 326 ppi.
  • iPhone 6s: 1334 x 750 (1,000,500 total) at 326 ppi.
  • iPhone 6s Plus: 1920 x 1080 (2,073,600 total) at 401 ppi.

iPhone 6s Plus is actually 2208x1242 internally (2,742,336 total) but scaled down for display. That makes it, internally, almost iPad big:

That internal pixel count makes designing easier. It's exactly 3x the base iPhone resolution compared to iPhone SE's 2x. Aside from needing to drive and scale down all those pixels, though, they're not very meaningful to us right now.

Interfaces

What is meaningful is how they all work. Here's how text and the keyboard look in portrait mode:

And here are photo collections:

Because of the extra space, there are a few cases where you get an expanded interface in portrait mode:

It's in landscape where the differences become... more different. The keyboards on the bigger iPhones get more keys as well.

Tabs get a special treatment in Safari.

And on iPhone 6s Plus, there's support for iPad-style split view layout, which means two columns side by side.

How important that ends up being to you will depend on how often you use your iPhone in landscape, of course.

Where the smaller size helps enormously, however, is one-handed ease of use — reaching across the screen to reach any area on the screen.

Hands-on

The big and bigger iPhones 6s offer more information — or bigger information in zoom mode — but they're not as easy to use one handed. iPhone SE doesn't give you as big a window into apps and the web, but wow but it's easy to handle.

So it all comes down to what's most important to you, the small, super-convenient size, or the big, super-powerful screen.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

19 Comments
  • Rene is on fire this month!
  • I love the design of the iPhone 5 or se it's called now but since I had a 6 a bigger phone grew on me that I am evenvthinking of switching to a 6s plus
  • Very thorough and helpful!
  • Yeah, it's very interesting to see this side by side. I appreciate this. I never use my phone in landscape unless I feel like watching something, which is also rare.
  • The SE is just too small for me now. I have a 6s Plus and I love the extra screen. However, that is not to say I miss the iPhone 5/5s design. It'd be nice to have the ergonomics of having a small phone in a big phone. Not really 100% possible, even though they should slim down the next 5.5 inch iPhone. Basically, I wish I had bigger hands. I can't have my cake and eat it too.
  • Can you pull up this exact post and scroll to the same starting spot on all three sizes of the phone and show us how much content we see in the same spot at the same time across all platforms? It would make it clearer how much content you do or do not lose when using the four inch screen. Sent from the iMore App
  • I found 4.7 to be perfect size for phone. 5.5 is way too big for me, if I want big, I go iPad.
  • Looking at this post, I see why you say that. It doesn't make me change my mind about the SE, but I get it.
  • This is great, so glad that you did this! Seeing the phones side by side has been interesting but not enough. This post really allows us to see a view of how the experience can be with doing the same things. Rene's last sentence is perfect. Small size wins since I love one handed usage (without straining). Coming from a Nexus 5x to a 5s (5.2" to 4.0" btw) has made me realize that even though I can use the 5x one handed (I have long fingers), it just doesn't feel as good as it does for the 5s. I find that to be more important that I realized. I could probably also use the 6s one handed, but I prefer the smaller, one handed package.
  • 4.7, not 4.4
  • This is the greatest explanatory article I have ever read. Thank you, Rene. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I used to have a 6"Lumia 1520. I found it a bit cumbersome with one hand, especially trying to take pictures.
    I spent several years with the iPhone 5. I thought the screen would be too small, but once you get used to it, it doesn't really matter, unless you do a ton of reading.
    I am currently in between iPhones, and using a Galaxy s5. Screen size is just about right for reading and games.
    But, really, the 4 inch on iPhone 5 is easily adjusted to. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I find it interesting that you say that about reading on it. I read quite a bit (ebooks, feedly, mobile nations forums, Kindle) on my 5s and it works for me. It doesn't seem difficult or hard on my eyes, even though I'll admit that I have adjusted the font on the book apps. I have to wear glasses all the time, so I'm indifferent I guess lol.
  • "iPhone 6s Plus is actually 2208x1242 internally (2,742,336 total) but scaled down for display." I don't understand that. Is that means actually the pixels on the iPhone 6s Plus display is 2208x1242, but the OS software/driver (whatever you call it) scaled down the display resolution to 1920 x 1080?
  • I would like an elaboration on this as well. Why not just throw in a 2208x1242 display instead, and get 1:1 pixel mapping? I suppose the answer lies in display availability and keeping the costs down, since 1080p displays is a common standard, whereas 2208x1242 isn't.
  • I can't wait to get my hands on the new SE. My 6s plus is for sale on eBay if anyone wants to help make that happen ;)
  • When you say the iPhone 6S Plus is INTERNALLY a higher pixel count, what do you mean?
    Like does it actually have more pixels than advertised? Or does the software just say it does so that apps can display differently?
    I'm a tad confused here.
  • This is a good article. It was informative and did not mention Samsung at all.
  • I love this article! So great! :)