Apple iPhone SE (2022) review: The bare necessities
Introduction, design, and features
Note: This review was first published on 14 March 2022.
Entry-level only in name
We all know Apple does things differently, but nowhere is this more obvious than their take on an entry-level phone. The iPhone SE may be Apple’s most affordable new phone but it’s powered by the flagship mobile chip – the A15 Bionic - the same as what you'll find on the iPhone 13. Additionally, it has features more commonly found on mid to high-end phones like an all-metal body, 5G connectivity, and a camera system that employs advanced computational photography techniques and has 4K video recording. But is that enough to overcome the lack of certain features and dated looks?
Design & display
The 2022 iPhone SE looks identical to the model it replaces. And that is perhaps its biggest problem. The last-generation iPhone SE was already criticised for the way it looked. Its large bezels and small screen made it look like a relic from the past. In fact, that’s not far from the truth since its design was based on the iPhone 8 from 2017 – that’s nearly five years ago if you can believe it. It doesn’t help also that it’s available in roughly the same colours: Starlight, Midnight, and PRODUCT(RED). Basically fancy names for white, black, and red. The unit I have is Midnight and it's a rich gloss black.
Still, there are some positives. Unlike other phones in its price range, the iPhone SE has an all-metal and glass body. The front and back are glass – the same “toughest glass in a smartphone” that’s also used for the iPhone 13 series, while the sides are aerospace-grade aluminium. In other words, as dated as it may look, its construction is decidedly premium.
The Retina HD display is unchanged. That means 4.7 inches in size, a resolution of 1,334 x 740 pixels, and a pixel density ratio of 326 pixels per inch. Like its pricier siblings, the display has True Tone technology and supports the DCI-P3 colour space. But no, there's no ProMotion (the feature that enables high dynamic refresh rates on the display).
There’s no hiding the fact that it’s small compared to most phones today, so typing on it can be tricky at first especially if you are coming from a larger phone. But at least it’s sharp, crisp, vivid, and gets bright enough even when outdoors. Obviously, it can’t hold a candle to the Super Retina XDR displays of its siblings – it’s noticeably less vibrant and punchy, and more washed out – but it’s adequate and good enough for its class.
The iPhone SE doesn’t have Face ID, so below the display, you have the familiar Touch ID button. In case some of you have already forgotten, Touch ID relies on your fingerprints for authentication. The consolation is that it works quickly and reliably even if you are wearing a mask. Elsewhere, the iPhone SE has the usual power and volume rocker buttons and it’s worth noting that doesn’t have a headphone jack.
Perhaps one of the most useful features of the iPhone SE is that it has IP67 water and dust resistance rating, which means it can survive being submerged in 1 metre of water for up to 30 minutes so a splash of water isn’t going to freak it out. It also supports wireless charging, which is something that’s missing from a lot of Android phones in this price range. While both are nice to have features, note that it's not new for the iPhone SE (2022) and it was present in the earlier iteration. MagSafe, however, is reserved only for the iPhone 12 and 13 series phones.
However, the headline feature has to be support for 5G – which was missing from the last generation iPhone SE. Obviously, there’s only support for sub-6GHz 5G and while I don’t think it’s a must-have killer feature, it’s certainly something that will ensure the longevity of the phone as we gradually transition to 5G phone plans.