As Nothing launches its $199 budget Android phone with tons of RAM and a 120Hz display, it's high time Apple's iPhone SE found a way to compete

iPhone 14 Review
(Image credit: iMore / Stephen Warwick)

The current iPhone SE has been around since March 2022 which means that it is now more than two years since Apple's budget phone was refreshed. Back in 2022, the new model was a reasonable upgrade over the previous one, albeit one that immediately looked out of date beside the best iPhones of the year thanks to the use of a Home button. Two years later, that Home button is just one reminder that the iPhone SE isn't getting any younger. And it's high time that changed.

It was already time for a new iPhone SE before today's launch of the CMF Phone 1, but it's a launch that has once again proven just how much Apple needs to show its budget offering some love. CMF is a budget sub-brand of Nothing, a company that already offers relatively cheap Android phones compared to the likes of Samsung and other bigger names. The Phone 1 starts at $199, less than half the price of the current iPhone SE.

So given that price disparity you'd expect the CMF Phone 1 to be terrible, wouldn't you? But at first blush it's anything but. Let's dive in.

A modern budget device

The first glimpse of the Phone 1 shows a device that looks thoroughly modern in a way the iPhone SE just can't manage. It's an all-screen affair with a hole-punch camera. The display is a huge 6.67-inch Super AMOLED offering that has a 2,000-nit peak brightness and a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate. That's iPhone 15 Pro-like buttery-smooth and a huge improvement over anything the iPhone SE could even dream of.

Things are impressive on the inside, too. There's a pretty nondescript Mediatek Dimensity 7300 chip inside, but it's paired with 8GB of RAM plus an "8GB RAM booster," whatever that means. But over at the Apple Store, you'll need to buy an iPhone 15 Pro to get 8GB of RAM. Yes, Android needs more RAM because of the way it works but still, that doesn't change the fact that the chips are there.

The specs continue with a 50-megapixel Sony camera around the back and a 16-megapixel camera up front while a 5,000mAh battery means you won't run for the charger too often. And it, dare I say, looks nice as well. It's no monolithic slab of titanium and glass, to be sure. But it comes in some colors that aren't gray and has a robust design that gives me iPhone 5C vibes. I like it. I like it a lot.

But there's a 'but'

That isn't to say it's all rainbows and unicorns with the Phone 1, though. First, there's the obvious problem – it runs Android. Sure, it's Android 14 so the latest that Google has to offer, but it's still Android and if you're reading this, you're probably an iOS kinda person.

Then, there are the corners that have been cut. One that stands out immediately is the 5G modem that sorta-kinda supports 5G but not really, at least not in the United States. And you can't really use it on Verizon, either. So there's that.

Other caveats include the lack of wireless charging although you do get 33W fast charging which is more than the iPhone. There's no NFC, either, which would no doubt put some buyers off.

But to quibble is to miss the point here. This phone costs just $199 and even if you threw an NFC chip and a proper 5G modem in there the iPhone SE's $429 would still be considerably more expensive than the CMF Phone 1. And it's thought the iPhone SE 4 could see a price hike as well.

So, here we are. Would I buy the Phone 1? Probably not, but it would be nice to have something comparable in the Apple ecosystem for those who would. Or if Apple really does want to stick to a price point of around $400, it could at least sell an iPhone that doesn't look like it came from 2016 with similarly outdated features.

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iPhone 15 Pro Max | $0.01 via Boost Infinite at Amazon

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Price check: $1,099 at Best Buy | $1,199 at Apple

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.