Apple iPhone SE hands-on preview

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 20, 2018

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It hits store shelves in India on Friday and will attempt to prove that size does not matter for performance. It will also be part of Apple's strategy to bite into a larger share of the smartphone pie in price-sensitive markets like India.

It is a well-known fact that Apple's product strategy is planned years into the future. Yet, it is also clearly a company which is nimble-footed enough to adapt and re-work its strategy to meet changing market needs.

When it launched two new gadgets, both smaller versions of existing devices,a couple of weeks ago, one of these two strategies was being played out. The new iPhone SE and the smaller 9.7-inch iPad Pro are both aimed at buyers who appreciate and actually seek out more compact personal gadgets in an era when screen real estate is believed to be a mark of the owner's success (or is it bloated ego).

Given the obvious difficulty in handling a phablet-sized smartphone, we assume that Apple is unlikely to look at a handset that is larger than the 6S Plus. But, the fallback to a smaller handset in the iPhone SE can possibly be explained as part of the two broad strategic principles from above. Either Apple looks well into the future - so bringing in more choice for a varied marketplace is part of the plan. Or, Apple is reacting to the slowdown in sales for the iPhone in the traditional growth markets of the past, including China - so it has created the SE which can help expand its reach in price-sensitive buyer segments and fast growing markets like India.

It is not easy being Apple when faced with the choice of creating a phone that is more affordable, but doesn't take away from its premium image.The iPhone SE built within the shell of the 5S, but with the innards from the 6S is therefore a really good idea. One also gets the impression that this sharing of parts must have helped Apple save quite a bit on development costs making the lower price possible.

Design and build

We were always fans of the iPhone 5S' design. That design with the clean straight lines and chamfered edges gives the 5S and now the SE such unique character, which is also quintessentially minimalist and Apple. For many of us who have gotten used to larger screens, it is easy to forget how the 4-inch screen was more than enough for most of our uses not too long ago. There was one other very important reason why the 4-inch screen was logically the right size for a handset.

While introducing the iPhone 5's larger screen (compared to the 4 and 4S), which was a natural 16:9 aspect ratio, Phillip Schiller, Senior VP Worldwide Marketing, Apple said "what is the design centre for a phone? It is your hand and this magical device we call the horizontally opposed thumb." We completely agree with that logic and it shows when you pick up a handset that has a 5-inch or larger screen. Texting, typing, reaching icons, all of these are inconvenient to do with one hand, since the thumb has only so much reach. Two-handed operation is inevitable for larger screen phones and that is unintuitive for so personal a mobile device as the handset.

So, the 4-inch size is perfect for users who appreciate the compact size. It merges into and becomes part of your everyday life, and doesn't behave like a 'protrusion', an inconvenience you carry all day for that one time you use it as a media consumption device. No wonder there are a lot of takers for the 5 and 5S. Apple claims that it sold more than 30 million 4-inch iPhones last year. The iPhone SE will be the default choice of that segment of the market this year. And the best bit is the fact that the SE doesn't look dated or like a compromise from any angle, now that it is also offered with the rose gold finish.


By now we all know that the SE sports the same 64-bit A9 processor and the M9 motion coprocessor that the 6S is also fitted with. So, the two phones should be able to perform equally well in terms of graphics performance and the straight forward computing required to run games, apps and tasks.

The other ingredient that boosts the performance of the SE is iOS 9.3, which brings all of the Siri features and also the new night shift mode for automatically adjusting the colours on the display to the warmer end of the spectrum if it detects night time based on the clock and geo-location on the phone.

One other piece of hardware that sees a big jump in performance is the camera. The SE gets the same 12-megapixel iSight camera that we've seen in the iPhone 6S. The results produced by this camera and Apple's image signal processor and related software is just a leap compared to the previous cameras. The camera in the SE is also capable of shooting Live Photos and 4K video. There is good news for selfie-addicts too, you can get better pictures from the FaceTime HD camera thanks to the Retina Flash.

Bottom Line

The new iPhone SE goes on sale from tomorrow and is priced at Rs 39,000 for the 16GB variant and Rs 49,000 for the 64GB model. This is not really entry segment pricing, but by keeping the internals at top-spec, Apple has ensured that the new handset stays an extremely aspirational product despite its smaller size.

In a nutshell the iPhone SE is a compact version of the 6S, except for some missing tech like the Force Touch feature in the latter. In a form factor and screen size that will seem very likeable for many users, the iPhone SE should be an excellent upgrade for existing users of the 5S, or be a good buy for users moving into the Apple ecosystem for the first time.

Check out Technophile in a week for a first-hand review of the iPhone SE

Published on April 07, 2016

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