iPhone SE: Smaller, but not necessarily much better

Visvaksen P | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on April 20, 2016



iPhone SE is representative of the state of innovation at Apple, with incremental changes taking the place of radical progress

There can be no clearer indication of the stagnation in the smartphone industry than the fact that Apple, a company regarded as the bellwether for tech and design innovation has launched a new device that essentially packages one-year-old hardware in a two-year-old shell.

The review

To be fair, the iPhone SE is a perfectly good smartphone. It’s got top of the line specifications, the latest version of iOS and features one of the best designs that the iPhone line has ever seen. Besides the 4-inch form factor, it is nearly identical to the larger iPhone 6S. This means that it will offer stellar performance and an exhaustive feature set including one of the best cameras available on the market today.

There are a few tradeoffs and missing features, but the list is short and easy to overlook. 3D Touch hasn’t made the cut and the selfie camera packs fewer megapixels into an image than you might be used to. More significantly, the smaller size of the SE means that the WiFi and cellular radios used in the device aren’t as powerful as the ones in its larger siblings, resulting in slightly reduced throughput and signal retention.

The iPhone SE is considerably cheaper than the 6S and the 6S Plus, but if price is your primary concern and you absolutely must have an iPhone, the 5S just got a steep price cut and is still a very competitive offering despite its weaker specs.

The only real reason to choose the SE over any other is the size. There are those who swear by the 4-inch-and-under form factor and the ease of use it offers and others who like the space afforded by larger screens. We at Technophile were firmly on the side of smaller devices, but we have to admit that when the SE landed in our hands after a long line of large-screened devices, it felt cramped and unusable. A week’s usage however, was all it took to reacclimatise our fingers with its compact contours.

The verdict

Unless you have poor eyesight, fat fingers, or watch a lot of videos, 4-inches is a great size for a smartphone, even if initially it doesn’t seem so. It allows you to use your phone with a single hand without having to constantly alter your grip and the extra inch or two of display that the battery doesn’t have to power adds a couple of hours to the uptime of your device.

Having said that, 5 inches – the de facto acceptable size for a smartphone these days – isn’t exactly unusable either. Maybe if the SE had come out two years earlier, it would’ve kept the love for small screens alive, but most of the world has moved on and gotten fairly comfortable with bigger screens. The iPhone SE might find acceptance among a small niche of bargain hunters and diehard fans of the older design, but it simply doesn’t offer enough to set it apart from the competition.

The context

Which brings us to the real problem with the iPhone SE and the iPhone brand in general. A decade ago, Apple was a company that forced trends into being and demolished existing standards with effortless ease at the command of its demigod-CEO Steve Jobs.

User opinion was often ignored as decisions were made with long-term technological evolution in mind. But now, the same company that made digital music commonplace and killed off CD drives and Flash, is flailing about trying to feel for the infamously fickle and elusive ‘pulse of the user’.

The Jobs era development philosophy that sometimes left users ignored and frustrated was a double-edged sword that also allowed the company’s engineers unlimited license to push the envelope.

It resulted in Apple establishing a unique position in the market with an exceedingly simple product portfolio that consumers aspired to.

Now, incremental improvements take the place of revolutionary changes as the company aspires to occupy more of the market and in the process, abandons its core values and becomes like every other company.

It might seem unfair to criticise Apple for not innovating enough when the whole industry is stagnating, but the burden of expectation weighs heavier on the company simply because it set the standards so high.

The iPhone SE is a perfectly good smartphone that also puts a full stop on an era of breakneck innovation at Apple. Loosen those belt buckles, because the ride is going to be pretty slow from here on out.

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Published on April 20, 2016
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