Apple iPhone SE (2020) vs iPhone SE full review

Four years ago - back when we were able to go outside without fear of coming into contact with another human - Apple launched an iPhone that took the components of the 4.7in iPhone 6s (announced the previous September) and squished them into a smaller 4in handset modelled on the iPhone 5s.

The result was the iPhone SE: a compact iPhone that offered the same specs as Apple’s flagship model of the time at a more affordable price. It was a popular choice with consumers until Apple discontinued it in September 2018 when it launched the iPhone XR.

There had been rumours suggesting that there would be a new affordable iPhone coming from Apple, but at £749/$799 the iPhone XR was not that phone. So for the past year and a half the only option for those looking for a low-cost iPhone was to buy one of the previous-year’s handsets - until recently the iPhone 8. Now the iPhone 8 is no more and in its place sits the brand new iPhone SE. The second coming of Apple’s Special Edition iPhone (if you'd forgotten, that's what SE stood for).

Home Sweet Home

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iPhone SE packs the most powerful chip into the most popular size at the most affordable price.

In this comparison we’ll be looking at how the old iPhone SE compares to the new iPhone SE. As you would expect the two phones are worlds apart - a lot has changed in the past four years - but there are some ways in which the two phones are the same. Most prominently the retention of the Home button, which Apple introduces on its website as the “Home Sweet Home Button” a sentiment shared by many who struggle with the swipes required to navigate those iPhones equipped with Face ID.

The 2020 iPhone SE is the ONLY iPhone now sold by Apple that has the Home button. If you want an iPhone with a button then this is your only option. That’s not the same Home button as the 2016 iPhone SE though - second generation Touch ID was introduced with the iPhone 6s the previous year, but didn’t make it into the original iPhone SE.

iPhone SE 2020

Display, dimensions and design

When the 2016 iPhone SE launched the main thing that set it apart from the other iPhone handsets of the time was its 4in display. If you were hoping that the new iPhone SE would retain that small display you’ll be disappointed - it’s screen is 4.7in, like the iPhone 8.

We’d suggest that you accept that it’s not a bad thing that the 2020 iPhone SE has a bigger display than its namesake. While you may consider that a smaller display will mean that your iPhone is smaller - which might appeal if you have small hands and small pockets - there are many more downsides to a small screen: you’ll be able to see less information, pictures lack detail, less text fits on the screen, and games crammed on to the smaller screen are less enjoyable to play.

But if a small phone is what you are after then there’s no denying that the 2016 iPhone SE was smaller:

  • 2020 iPhone SE: 138.4mm x 67.3mm x 7.3mm (4.45in x 2.65in x 0.29in)
    148g (5.22oz)
  • 2016 iPhone SE: 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm (4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30 in)
    113g (3.99 oz)

The new iPhone SE is a fraction thinner though, so it’s not all bad.

iPhone SE 2020 colours

There’s another thing that will disappoint you if you were a big fan of the old iPhone SE design. Back in 2016 Apple’s iPhone SE came in Space Grey, silver, gold, and Rose Gold. This time round the iPhone SE 2020 comes in white, black and red.

The black and white options will probably remind you of the iPod. If you pick the red version Apple will donate some money to the Product (RED) charity - combating AIDS in Africa.

The phones are constructed from the same materials though - glass and aluminium, no plastic finishes here.

Flagship specs at a low price

As we mentioned above, in 2016 the iPhone SE shared its components with the iPhone 6s, which launched in September 2015. This time round the iPhone SE shares its specs with the iPhone 11. That’s actually pretty good going considering many expected the 2020 iPhone SE to be a rebadged iPhone 8, kind of like when Apple took the year-old iPhone 5 and popped it in a plastic case to sell as the 2013 iPhone 5C.

Apple has taken the components of the iPhone 11 (and the 11 Pro and the 11 Pro Max), which launched in September 2019, fitted them in a more compact handset, and is selling it at almost half the price. We’re not going to go into a lot of detail about how the 2020 iPhone SE compares to the iPhone 11 as we will look at that in a separate article, but we will say that it compares very favourably in pretty much every way that matters.

Like the iPhone 11 the iPhone SE features the A13 Bionic chip and third generation Neural Engine and offers all the benefits for photography and augmented reality offered by that chip. This means that the iPhone SE 2020 has a better processor than the iPhone XR, which is still sold by Apple, and costs more. We’ll also discuss how the iPhone XR and iPhone SE 2020 compare elsewhere on our website.

Original iPhone SE

It seems pointless to discuss the specs of the iPhone SE 2016 here. Of course the 2020 iPhone SE Is better - four years have passed! Back then we had a A9 chip with the M9 motion co-processor. That’s the same processor as the iPhone 6s - if you have an iPhone 6s or an iPhone SE from back then upgrading to this new model will be a huge boost for you! The picture above shows what the iPhone SE looked like in 2016 - it's definitely dated!

There are a few other high-end features that you’ll find in the iPhone SE 2020 that obviously weren’t a feature of the original iPhone SE, these include:

  • iBeacon microlocation
  • Wireless charging
  • Fast-charge capability (Up to 50% charge in 30 minutes)
  • Water resistance to 1 meter for 30 minutes

As for the price, it's not at all bad. Here's how the price in 2020 compares to the price when the iPhone SE launched in 2016:

2020 iPhone SE prices:

  • 64GB: £419/$399
  • 128GB: £469/$449
  • 256GB: £569/$549

2016 iPhone SE prices:

  • 16GB: £379/$399
  • 64GB: £429/$449

The iPhone SE did get a storage boost in 2017, with 32GB and 128GB versions replacing the 16GB and 64GB options.

As you can see, the starting price of the 2020 iPhone SE is the same in the US as it was in 2016 - and given that it's a better phone with more storage that's great. The price doesn't look as good for the UK but that's more to do with currency fluctuations than Apple deciding to make us pay more for the handset.

Camera and battery

Four years have passed but one thing hasn’t changed: the camera on the iPhone SE in 2016 was 12MP and the camera on the iPhone SE 2020 is also 12MP. There’s a world of difference between the kinds of photos you’ll be able to take though thanks to the capabilities of the iPhone SE 2020 processor and other additions, such as the ƒ/1.8 aperture rather than ƒ/2.2 aperture.

For example, the iPhone SE 2020 offers Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting & depth control features, so you can take portrait photos of friends and family with a blurred background. Other new camera features that have arrived over the four year interval include LED True Tone flash with Slow Sync, Autofocus with Focus Pixels, and stereo recording for video.

iPhone SE 2020

One significant change is to the front facing camera - the one you use for selfies and FaceTime. On the new iPhone SE that is a 7MP camera, on the old iPhone SE it was a 1.2MP camera.

Finally, we’ll touch on battery life. Apple says that the new iPhone SE offers 13 hours of video on a single charge. The video playback on the 2016 iPhone SE was also 13 hours. However there are some ways in which the battery life is worse than the iPhone SE when that phone was new (you’d be lucky to get a decent day’s battery life out of a four year old phone now). For example, Apple notes that the 2020 iPhone SE offers 40 hours or audio compared to the 50 hours it promised for the 2016 model. Interestingly Apple doesn’t quote a talk time battery life for the iPhone SE 2020.

Verdict

It’s no surprise that the 2020 iPhone SE shares little with the 2016 iPhone SE, four years has passed and a lot has changed in the world of iPhones. But one thing hasn’t changed: the new iPhone SE combines the features of the flagship phones in a more compact and cheaper iPhone just as the iPhone SE did in 2016. It’s likely to be just as popular as the iPhone SE was four years ago - especially in these tough economic times.

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