For what it’s worth, the shots I took in daylight of my corgi, Max, on the SE looked just as good as similar shots with the iPhone 11 and other phones on the market, like Google’s $399 Pixel 3A. They came out crisp with natural-looking colors and nice shadow detail.
Let’s talk about that screen and home button
The other feature that makes the SE cheaper is the first thing you will look at: the screen.
At 4.7 inches, the display is smaller than the jumbo 6.1-inch screen on the iPhone 11. But that may be a benefit. The 4.7-inch size is better suited to one-hand use, so it’s easy to use your thumb to reach from the home button to each corner of the screen. Also important, the phone’s smaller body fits more comfortably in a pocket.
The SE’s second big cost saver is the use of a home button for unlocking the device, rather than the face scanners seen on modern smartphones. The iPhone fingerprint scanners have always worked quickly and reliably, and so does this one.
It might be nice to have a face scanner, but many of us will probably be happy without the feature if it means saving some money. For comparison, I have given big minus points to $1,000 phones, like the Samsung Galaxy S10, for a lousy fingerprint reader and a subpar face scanner.
Putting the iPhone SE’s value in perspective
To fully understand the SE’s value, it’s important to note that this isn’t Apple’s first rodeo with a cheaper iPhone. Those past models were not as compelling when compared with their pricier counterparts. To wit:
The $549 iPhone 5C, introduced in 2013, came in colorful plastic and felt cheaper and slower than the iPhone 5S, the model with a sleek aluminum body that cost $100 more.
The $399 iPhone SE from 2016 had the design of older iPhones, with the same computing power as newer ones at the time. Yet that SE had a notably inferior camera and dimmer screen than its $649, bigger-screen counterpart at the time, the iPhone 6S.
This time, the new SE’s trade-offs seem trivial. No face scanner, shooting photos in the dark or humongous screen? Those are minor inconveniences when you are paying 40 percent less than for an iPhone 11.
I will note one big downside: The SE has significantly shorter battery life than the iPhone 11.
After a day of shooting photos and juggling work tasks, the SE battery needed to be replenished by dinnertime. With the more expensive phone, I had more than 25 percent battery by bedtime. So people who work long hours and rely on their phones would probably be happier with a high-end one.
So who is the expected buyer?
I’m not the target demographic for the SE since I’m willing to pay for fancier features. I splurged on the $999 iPhone XS two years ago because I loved taking portrait photos of food and my dogs.