Here's What We Thought After One Week With The iPhone SE

Photo: Courtesy Apple.
"Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue."

A bride could check off three out of the four items in this old wedding rhyme simply by carrying Apple’s newest iPhone in her pocket. The phone marries the old iPhone 5 and 5s design with the speedier innards of the iPhone 6s for an entirely new handset: The iPhone SE.

Announced at an event in California last week alongside a new iPad, the iPhone SE doesn't tout any major new features. (In fact, it doesn't have any at all.) Instead, it fills a hole in Apple's product lineup. It's a smaller-sized phone with the company's fastest phone chips and best camera inside. Similar to how there used to be an iPod in every shape, color, and price point imaginable, there's now an iPhone for every budget and size preference.

But now you have a question to answer. If you're still holding onto an iPhone 5 or 5s, or an older model iPhone, or you have a newer iPhone 6, you may be wondering: Should I upgrade now, to the iPhone SE? Or should I wait until the iPhone 7 comes out?

Read on for our take.
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The Hardware

On the outside, the iPhone SE is almost exactly the same as an iPhone 5s. The only noticeable difference are the so-called "chamfers" (the diagonal detailing) along the side edges of the phone. On the 5s, these are buffed to a shining metallic gold or silver (or black). On the SE, it's left in the same brushed aluminum hue as the rest of the rear case.
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As someone who doesn't have a lot of clothes with large pockets, I immediately appreciated the SE's familiar, smaller size, with one exception: With a larger 6s or 6s Plus, you know it's in your pocket or if you've left it somewhere. With the SE, I'd leave the house, have a momentary panic thinking I'd forgotten it, and then realize yes, it was in my pocket after all.
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Does it fit your old 5 or 5s case? Yes, yes it does. The SE has exactly the same dimensions as the 5s (4.87 x 2.31 x .30 inches), but it weighs an imperceptible amount more: .04 ounces.
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Here's what they look like side-by-side — the iPhone SE comes in rose gold, while the older 5s doesn't.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
The Screen Size

While I liked the smaller, palm-friendly size overall, coming from a larger phone to the SE, I did miss the screen real estate. I can barely see two messages in a thread on the screen; the keyboard takes up half the display. This meant I was doing a lot more scrolling to catch up on group chats than I was on a larger 6 or 6s.

But if you're coming from a 5 or 5s, this is exactly what you're used to, so it shouldn't be a problem.
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The Camera

The iPhone SE sports the exact same camera — and the exact same camera features — as the iPhone 6s that Apple debuted last fall. It can take 63-megapixel panorama images, Live Photos, time-lapse videos and slo-mo video.
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The 12-megapixel shooter is equally adept at capturing up-close details indoors, or broad landscapes outdoors.
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The camera app itself opens extremely quickly, so you're able to whip it out and capture a shot with a moment's notice. The shutter is also super fast, capturing high-speed movement without any sort of motion blur. (Pressing and holding the shutter button for Burst mode shots is a good way to make sure that your finger-tapping speed doesn't get in the way of action-packed shots.)
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GIF: Courtesy Lively.
Sometimes even the snappiest camera shutter can't prevent a blurry shot though, and for those times, there's Live Photos. I pretty much never take a normal photo of my cat anymore — Live Photos, every time. By capturing a three second window of video around when you hit your camera button, these GIF-like moving images are perfect for pets, kids, and anything else that moves.
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The iPhone SE can also take (and handle editing) 4K video. This isn't a feature you may use excessively now — you can switch it on in the phone's settings — but in the next few years, as more TVs, laptops, and smartphones have 4K displays, it may prove quite useful.
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The Selfie Camera
So the rear-facing camera takes good photos, yes, but how about that selfie camera?

As we mentioned before, it's the same as what's in the iPhone 6s, but if you currently have an iPhone 5s, this is how your selfies would compare in a room with uneven lighting. The 5s (left) snaps images with a pinker undertone, and ends up slightly blurry and more pixelated than its newer counterpart. On the SE, the Retina flash automatically kicked in to even out the lighting situation, resulting in an overall much more usable shot.
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Some selfies are perhaps better left in the unilluminated darkness of the iPhone 5s.
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Battery Life

Maybe I was using the phone differently. Maybe I switched on fewer notifications. Regardless, I had amazing battery life on the iPhone SE. I could consistently make it more than a day without needing to charge (that is, finishing the day with close to 50% battery life). While I have not updated my older iPhone 5s to iOS 9.3, I'm fairly certain that if both phones were running the new OS, the SE would experience better performance and better battery life, given its faster A9 processor, M9 coprocessor (which tracks stats like your steps), and its larger battery.
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Performance

I didn't experience any lag or hang-ups in loading apps or webpages, nor any stutters when playing or loading games. Like the iPhone 6s (and non-Apple competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S7), its performance is top-of-the-line.

The only thing the SE lacks compared to the 6s is 3D Touch, the feature that lets you press an app icon or button in an app to pull up a secondary shortcut menu. While convenient at times, if you're not used to the 3D Touch already, you won't miss it.
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Conclusions

Is the iPhone SE right for you to buy? That depends on a few factors. If your budget is tight, and you want a good, new Apple phone, the iPhone SE makes sense. It starts at $399 off contract for a 16 GB model (but practically speaking, you should spring for the $499 64 GB model); on contract, you can pay less than $20 per month for the handset. It's also a logical upgrade if you have a smaller iPhone 4 or 5 currently — it has almost every feature of the current flagship, for a cheaper price, and in the size you're comfortable with. It also makes sense if you have an iPhone 6, but don't really dig the size.

If you do decide to go with the iPhone SE, just be sure to sell or recycle your old phone responsibly.
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