iPhone SE 2020: Long-Term Review


So, it’s now been about four months since the launch of the new iPhone SE 2020 edition and I’ve been using it on and off for a while, and now around the iOS 14 launch I got to use it again, and here is what strikes me about this tiny little phone that I still consider among the best budget phones you can buy in 2020, but with some footnotes.

Back when I first reviewed the iPhone SE in May, I said it was a perfect device to buy for your grandparents or a kid, but probably not a great choice for your main phone, especially if you happen to be a tech enthusiast. So now that I myself have been using it, I still find that to be mostly true, but there are also many things I appreciate about it. So let’s get started with this long-term review of Apple’s cute and tiny SE.

But first, let me just quickly remind the nitty gritty about this iPhone SE. It comes in the same design as the iPhone 8, iPhone 7 and even iPhone 6 from way back in 2014. Yes, that’s a six year old design. So this means big bezels on the top and the bottom, so none of that edge to edge screen experience, but it also means something else and back then phones were super lightweight and compact, and that’s what’s striking about this here iPhone SE from 2020. It just weighs close to nothing and you don’t feel in your pocket, it’s super comfortable to carry around, and that’s a big plus. Now, I appreciate large phones for all they can do, but I have used the iPhone 11 Pro Max and it’s a giant brick that you have to carry in your pocket, and it’s not comfortable at all.

iPhone SE: small edition!



So yes, the SE is small and lightweight, and that’s great, but unfortunately small also means a small screen, and that has been kind of a stumbling block. I do wish the screen was a bit bigger, for example, the Google Pixel 4a is a phone of a similar size but it has an edge to edge design and that extra screen space comes very handy, especially if you use your phone a lot.

The screen on the SE is just 4.7 inches, and it’s an LCD one, not the newer AMOLED kind. LCD screens and this one in particular appears dim if you look at it at an angle and it’s also lower resolution so you see some jagged edges in letters when reading text. Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s a bad screen. Look at it directly as you would do most of the time, and colors are well balanced, the screen gets bright enough for comfortable use and it looks good, it’s just not modern and doesn’t have those super punchy AMOLED colors.

By the way, if you are worried that with a small screen like this one typing would be a problem, it’s not, and I expected the small screen would be a problem, but it wasn’t, the Apple keyboard is really well optimized and typing was just fine on this small screen.

iPhone SE 2020: Battery Life


The other big thing about the new SE is the battery size. It comes with an 1,800mAh battery, which sounds really really bad considering most other phones have 3,000mAh batteries and bigger. And sometimes it is, but it really depends on how you use your phone. Just doing regular stuff, phone calls, social media, and chats, I had no problem going a full day with it. If you start watching a lot of YouTube videos, or Netflix, or play games, however, the battery just melts.

hours Higher is better
Apple iPhone SE (2020)
9h 5 min
Google Pixel 4a
9h 27 min
Samsung Galaxy A51
11h 35 min
Samsung Galaxy A71
11h 32 min
Motorola Moto G8 Power
15h 54 min


So the number one upgrade that I did soon after switching to the SE is replace the super outdated 5W charger that comes in the box with a Apple’s much faster 18W power adapter, which by the way you have to buy separately for $30. But that is just a necessary upgrade that will save you so much trouble. With the small battery, the fast charger is really able to juice it up quickly and give you that extra power when you need it. You also have wireless charging on board! That’s a nice extra to have on a budget phone, and it is also particularly helpful here.

And oh my god, I had forgotten how convenient and fast and accurate those classic-style fingerprint scanners were. Touch ID is just a god-sent for these mask-toting times, and I have gotten back to my old cowboy style routine of whipping out the phone, spinning it and then quickly placing my thumb on the Touch ID sensor as if pulling the trigger.

Camera



Next up the camera, so this is basically the same main camera as on the $1,000 iPhone 11 Pro Max, just without the Night Mode. However, it’s a bit hard to appreciate how good it really is on that small screen which just doesn’t do photos justice. If you send the photos to a larger screen though you see they are just excellent, nice colors, nice dynamic range, plenty of detail. Did I miss not having an ultra-wide camera and a zoom lens? Uhm, that’s a tough one, but the short answer is not really all that much, at least for my personal use. I just don’t often have to zoom on things, and the main camera is usually wide enough for the type of shots that I usually take. Plus, many times, you can adjust with your feet. And again, having just one camera helps the phone stay thin and lightweight.

For everything else, this phone has been top notch. Performance has been excellent, everything just flies thanks to the Apple A13 chip inside, and I haven’t really had problems with this phone having just 3GB of RAM.


Should you buy the iPhone SE 2020?



So is this the right phone for you? Should you buy it? Uhm, that’s a tough one because I really really love how tiny and lightweight, and how sleek it is, and how it performs just fine for daily tasks, and even the small battery has not been a big issue for me. The big deterrent for me is just the screen size, which feels too cramped and I just want a slightly larger screen to properly enjoy my social media, my photos and videos. If there was a slightly larger screen size, I would not hesitate to recommend this phone in a flash. As it is, though, it’s definitely a bit too small.

But there is something else too: a smaller screen phone like the SE is great for a bit of a digital detox. We are bombarded with emails, and notifications, and this smaller screen, while not great to enjoy media, did push me a bit to limit my phone use, and strangely, that’s a thing I actually liked.

So these are my long-term impressions with the iPhone SE 2020 edition. Have you been using it and how do you like it? Would you recommend it?

Related phones

iPhone SE (2020)
  • Display 4.7 inches 1334 x 750 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP (Single camera) 7 MP front
  • Hardware Apple A13 Bionic 3GB RAM
  • Storage 64GB, not expandable
  • Battery 1821 mAh
  • OS iOS 13.x

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