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Call quality


The earpiece of the iPhone SE outputs decent loudness, I'll give it that, but as with all other phones, the actual sound quality when doing calls varies wildly. I had conversations where callers sounded as if they are in the same room... OK, maybe as if they were in the next room; and I had conversations where I could barely hear anything. So it's mostly a combination of network quality, coverage, congestion, etc. – for both you and your caller. If the earpiece can sound good in some conversations, which it does, then it's safe to say the hardware itself is good enough.

The same goes for the way the microphone picks up your voice – Apple typically includes quality mics and components in its iPhones, and the SE isn't an exception. The microphone works great – you can use it to record high-quality sound with little noise and strong volume. Whether or not your callers will hear you well is going to depend on a lot of factors, but the prerequisites for a good experience are there.

Battery life


iPhones have never exactly been battery champions, but they aren't the worst performers either. One can typically expect about a normal day and a half of not too intensive usage. The iPhone SE increases the iPhone 5s battery capacity from 1560 mAh to 1624 mAh, leading us to hope for slightly better battery life than usual.

My experience with the iPhone SE left me pretty much indifferent to any possible changes to the battery life, seeing that I observed pretty much the same results I've always had with iPhones. If the SE does have better battery life, I'd say the difference is negligible. If you're using the phone really heavily, with features such as GPS or 3G/4G video streaming, you shouldn't expect it to last more than a day.

Battery life (hours) Higher is better
Apple iPhone SE 7h 41 min (Average)
Apple iPhone 5s 5h 2 min (Poor)
Apple iPhone 6s 8h 15 min (Average)
Samsung Galaxy S7 6h 37 min (Average)
Charging time (minutes) Lower is better
Apple iPhone SE 155
Apple iPhone 6s 150
Samsung Galaxy S7 88

Conclusion


One of the most unique things about the Apple iPhone SE is that it's in a class of its own: there is no other phone of such size that's even remotely as powerful. It's the only high-end mini phone you can find on the market, safe for the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. So why is that? Is it because people no longer want small phones, or is it because people who fancy small phones today usually don't need them to be fast and powerful?

I think there's definitely place on the market for high-end small phones. I don't know if this place is necessarily for 4” ones, but after returning to the smaller form-factor, I can say there's something valuable in how easy it is to work with a smartphone of such caliber, without sacrificing much of the handheld power we've gotten used to over the last few years.

But aside from the fact that the $399 price tag makes the iPhone SE a great entry point to Apple's premium ecosystem, and that it's expected to sell well in developing markets, do I feel tempted to replace my 'full-size' iPhone 6 with the more powerful and smaller iPhone SE?

The combination of the old and not so ergonomic design, along with the smallish screen and thicker profile make the iPhone SE seem dated next to the iPhone 6/6s. Considering what it could have been, it almost feels like Apple's intentionally restricting the appeal of the SE. Yes, keeping the old design means the piles of cases and accessories iPhone 5/5s users have accumulated over the years will still be compatible, but I think a sleeker, newer design would have made everyone happier.

That said, the iPhone SE is still a great phone, with excellent performance and reliability across the board. If you absolutely can't stand the bigger iPhones, then sure, there are few reasons not to get the SE; but if you find yourself mostly attracted by its more affordable price tag, I'd recommend that you go for the older but sleeker iPhone 6, or look at refurbished options for iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s. The Android-based Xperia Z5 Compact, which is the only other high-end mini smartphone on the market right now, is nowhere near as refined as the iPhone SE. Here's to hoping the advent of the SE will convince other smartphone makers to also return to this lovely, but largely neglected niche.

A warm thanks goes to our friends over at Mobile Fun for providing us with a review unit!



Software version of the reviewed unit: iOS 9.3.1
UPDATE: You can now read our iPhone SE 2020 review!

Pros

  • Super compact and light
  • Glamorous screen
  • Top-shelf performance
  • Intuitive, efficient and reliable software experience
  • Comes with best-in-class earphones

Cons

  • Old design is old and not ergonomic
  • Loudspeaker is not deep enough
  • Base model has only 16 GB memory

PhoneArena Rating:

8.8

User Rating:

8.6
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