Apple iPhone SE (2020) vs iPhone 8 vs iPhone 7
The storage and battery life per dollar spent metrics of the new iPhone SE aren't beating its older 4.7" brethren still in circulation, but it makes quite the leap in camera and performance prowess. As for the lack of 5G connectivity, well, two years is how long it will take for the next-gen network to become ubiquitous anyway.
Thus, swapping your oldie 7/8 for the new iPhone SE will ensure you have a futureproof iPhone for the next two years at two or three Benjamins expense, depending on your munchkin's trade-in value. That's not to mention the whiff of nostalgia that a powerful small phone duking it out with the 6"+ giants brings with it in 2020.
Remember the good old days when screens were small and phones could still be crafted out of metal? You know, like Apple resurrecting the iPhone SE to mimic the iPhone 7/8? We recently sat for an interview with Huawei's chief P-series designer Quentin Ting, and he advised they aren't planning on a retro phone like the SE because, first, people don't want small screens, they want big screens in small phones.
He also mentioned that he likes metal but it is never coming back as a phone material due to 5G antennas and wireless charging coils, so where does that lead iPhone 7 or 8 owners wishing to upgrade in specs but not in size? To the iPhone SE, of course.
Given that a fifth of all iOS users are brandishing the iPhone 7/8 duo, these folks are the most likely buyers of Apple's new wolf in sheep's clothing, the iPhone SE 2020, so we are comparing the three most compact 4.7" handsets in Apple's lineup to help you decide on an eventual upgrade.
Apple iPhone models in circulation (percentage)
An upgrade from the iPhone 7 may sound like a no-brainer, as we found the iPhone SE 2020 to be superior in the camera department, giving you more speed and storage per dollar spent. The iPhone 8 upgrade advice is a bit murkier, as it comes at the $399 price of the iPhone SE 2020, offers the same 64GB storage, and roughly the same battery life. What will break the tie?
Well, Apple's A13 chipset and the computational photography that comes with it. As found on the SE, it makes it the fastest iPhone for the money, and the most powerful budget handset ever. Moreover, it allows for a superior camera experiences, ushering in great pictures in scenarios where the iPhone 7/8 cameras' dynamic range got tricked, and better 4K video recording exposition. Thus, when comparing the iPhone 8 and iPhone 7 against the iPhone SE, we can wholeheartedly recommend an upgrade based on the camera performance alone, here's why:
Apple iPhone SE 2020 vs iPhone 8 vs iPhone 7 display comparison
3D Touch-less outdoor visibility champ
As we mentioned, while the iPhone 7 is still made out of light aluminum alloy, the iPhone 8 and iPhone SE 2020 use metal for the frame only, and are instead gifted with a glass back so that they can support wireless charging, making them heavier compared with the iPhone 7. This is going to be one of the big upgrades for the folks jumping over from the 7, the ability to top off your iPhone sans cables, as otherwise all three phones comes with Apple's heretofore bog standard 5W charger.
The retro design of the three phones means everything is exactly where you think it is, down to the nostalgic Touch ID home key at the front. In these masked coronavirus times when Apple's Face ID automatically recognizes your face as covered and skips you straight to the pin code, the fingerprint scanner feels like the superior solution. Unless you are also wearing gloves, that is.
The identical design means you also get identical display specs on the iPhone SE 2020, iPhone 8, and iPhone 7. The original 4.7" Retina Display is a breath of vintage air in 2020, and iPhone 7 or 8 owners are exactly the target market for it, as we can't imagine many others clamoring for a sub-5" display this day and age. Well, Apple may also be circling the huge parents-with-kids-market with a cheap, capable and compact iPhone as well, but we digress. Take look at our display quality measurements of the three phones.
Looking at the color chart that shows how well the iPhones represent the standard sRGB gamut, the three handsets fare rather admirably, although it is actually our iPhone 7 unit that is staying within the main hue margins the best. It is also with the lowest minimal brightness, and the closest to the representative 6500 Kelvin white point, while the iPhone 8 and iPhone SE 2020 are on the colder, blueish tinted side of the spectrum in comparison.
The iPhone SE 2020, however, logged the highest contrast and maximum brightness which are the parameters you want higher when using a phone outdoors, so there is a generational improvement in outdoor visibility when it comes to the new SE. We wonder if that has something to do with Apple removing the 3D Touch layer and, respectively, functionality, on the SE but we'd rather have a brighter, more contrasting display than 3D Touch anyway.
Apple iPhone SE 2020 vs iPhone 8 vs iPhone 7 camera samples comparison
A13 and auto HDR are a match in budget camera heaven
Needless to say, the biggest advantage of the iPhone SE 2020 before the other popular 4.7-inchers in Apple's stable is not actually the screeching A13 processor, but what it allows the SE to do, and in the camera department it delivers plenty of advantages.
For starters, it allows the iPhone SE 2020 to record smoother 4K video with the same hardware - 12MP main 1/3" sensor with 1.22 micron pixels and F1.8 lens aperture. The front 7MP camera stays the same, too, but the powerhouse of an imaging processor allows for software-based image stabilization now. The proof is in the pudding, though, so let's take a look at some outdoor, indoor, and selfie samples.
It doesn't take a very trained eye to immediately notice the other major advantage of the iPhone SE 2020 before the iPhone 7 and even the iPhone 8 - the way better dynamic range capture, both with stills, and video. Computational photography is where Apple shines at, and for it to work great you need computational power which the SE now has in droves when compared to the 7 or 8.
Indoor or out, things go from worse through good to great from the iPhone 7 to the SE. While the iPhone 7 gets tricked into a dark underexposed indoor photo against a window, the 8 morphs into a better dynamic range of the cloudy sky but it is the pitch-perfect scenes that the iPhone SE is able to capture in the same scenarios that are the most impressive. Seriously, this $399 handset can handle automatic HDR photography better than almost anything in its class that is sold in the US.
Is the iPhone SE worth the iPhone 8 upgrade jump for its camera quality alone?
Well, notice our lounge room picture against the windows. The iPhone 7? It exposed the view outside, but not our actual La-Z Boy wannabes inside that were the object of the photo which are hidden in darkness.
< Apple iPhone 7 iPhone SE 2020 >
The iPhone 8 Plus? It did lit the chairs nicely, but applied the same high exposure to the window, burning everything outside in the process.
< Apple iPhone 8 Plus iPhone SE 2020 >
The iPhone SE 2020? It exposed both the lounge chairs AND the view outside of the window correctly, and that can't be done without some seamless HDR trickery that took a fraction of a second for the processor to stitch together in auto mode. Not many phones in that range can do this, and do it correctly and reliably. If you are mulling between the $349 iPhone 8 and $399 iPhone SE on T-Mobile, for instance, that exposure difference is the $50 that stand between a good and a great photo, take your pick.
Apple iPhone SE 2020 vs iPhone 8 vs iPhone 7 processor benchmarks and performance
Not only is Apple's A13 on the iPhone SE 2020 its first 7nm chipset, but it comes with a quad-core graphics processor that makes circles around the 16nm A10 Fusion of the iPhone 7 or the 10nm A11 Bionic of the iPhone 8. The difference in RAM amounts - 2GB vs 3GB on the SE - also skews the performance benchmarks in favor of the SE in component tests like AnTuTu.
As expected, it's not even close. No matter how light, polished or optimized each iOS version is, heavy apps and games will task the iPhone 7 or 8 systems worse and peak loads may strain their aging batteries into processor frequency hence performance dives.
The iPhone SE, however, is benching on the level of Android flagships with Snapdragon 865 and way more RAM amounts, so it will be futureproof for as far as the eye can see until you decide that 5G networks are finally ubiquitous and worth it even in rural areas... circa 2023.
Apple iPhone SE 2020 vs iPhone 8 vs iPhone 7 battery life and charging speeds comparison
The tiny 4.7" screen of these phones is not really conducing to long browsing sessions and/or media consumption, and the batteries inside aren't entirely supportive of such frivolous uses of your time, either.
While the iPhone 7 has a 1960 mAh battery, the glass back and wireless charging coils addition underneath the housing of the iPhone SE 2020 and iPhone 8 means they use smaller, 1821 mAh packs. On top of that, the connector of those packs is different, so the new SE and the iPhone 8 batteries are not interchangeable.
To wit, the three iPhones will get you through the day with average usage, as long as you don't do a lot of YouTube streaming which took our test to knock down the SE battery cold in just five hours or so, and it lasted a bit over nine in our browsing and scrolling test, or about the iPhone 7 or 8 results.
Apple iPhone SE 2020 battery life
In short, there is almost nothing to gain from the more frugal and swanky 7nm chipset production process of the SE compared to the iPhone 8 when it comes to battery life. Ditto for the charging speeds that, with the 5W brick in the box, take a lot longer than they should, like, two and a half hours, dude, and an hour to hit half-charge, and it's 2020, so you'd better get the faster, 18W charger, you feel me?