Should You Upgrade to the iPhone SE?

Apple's Gregory Joswiak introduces the iPhone SE

Apple’s new iPhone SE | Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to the introduction of the iPhone SE, Apple now offers a full range of modern iPhones: from the 4-inch iPhone SE to the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s to the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6s Plus. But all of those options can make it a little bit harder for Apple fans shopping for a new iPhone to figure out which model to get. So now the question is: Should you upgrade to the iPhone SE?

When figuring out what iPhone to buy, it’s always a good idea to compare the iPhone models that are currently available. That way, you can get the best possible picture of a phone’s specifications and performance relative to the phone you’re used to or the other options you’re considering. To start with, the iPhone SE has the A9 chip and M9 motion coprocessor, the same technology found in the iPhone and iPhone 6s Plus, and a generation better than the chips used in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

Additionally, the iPhone SE is equipped with 2GB of RAM. That matches the RAM included in the iPhone 6s and doubles what was found in the iPhone 6. The iPhone SE also has the 12MP iSight camera that Apple introduced with the iPhone 6s; at the time, it positioned the new camera as a significant upgrade over the 8MP camera used in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The camera can also capture Live Photos and shoot 4K videos.

The specifications of the iPhone SE make it clear that Apple doesn’t intend the iPhone SE simply as a cheaper option for users who wanted a smaller iPhone — though it is, in fact, cheaper than the other models available, starting at just $399 as compared to $549 for the iPhone 6 or $649 for the iPhone 6s — but as a smaller option that’s equipped with the most of Apple’s most recent iPhone technology. That also goes for relatively new features, like Apple Pay. The iPhone SE is equipped with an NFC radio, the Secure Element, and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor to enable you to use Apple Pay both at local stores and for in-app purchases.

As John Gruber notes at Daring Fireball, the iPhone SE effectively has iPhone 6s specs, with the same CPU and GPU performance and similar camera quality. Gruber writes that when you handle the iPhone SE, it’s nearly indistinguishable from an iPhone 5s, with only the matte finish on the chamfered edges and the “SE” designation on the back of the phone to differentiate it. Though some rumors before the event indicated that the iPhone SE would take more cues from the design of Apple’s more modern iPhones, the iPhone SE doesn’t have curved sides or curved glass.

The iPhone SE offers a few compromises compared to Apple’s larger iPhones. It doesn’t support 3D Touch, has the slower, first-generation Touch ID sensor (which was found in the iPhone 6), and its storage capacity tops out at 64GB, not the 128GB you can get with the iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus.

The front-facing camera in the iPhone SE reverts to the 1.2MP FaceTime camera with a maximum aperture of f/2.4 — which means the iPhone 5 selfie camera instead of the iPhone 5s’s f/2.2 camera or the iPhone 6s’s 5MP camera. Additionally, the iPhone SE is equipped with the M9 motion coprocessor, but lacks a barometer, which is used for activity-tracking, for instance, to estimate how many stairs you’ve climbed. Before Apple began equipping iPhones with barometers, it used GPS.

But for many people, those compromises aren’t deal breakers. A more significant tradeoff, one that you might notice in real life, particularly if you’ve already spent time with one of Apple’s larger iPhones, is that the smaller iPhone SE won’t have the battery life of a larger iPhone, like the iPhone 6s Plus, and its smaller screen makes it a little less convenient to play games or read lengthy articles or e-books. But as Nick Statt reports for The Verge, there are plenty of users who miss the days when the iPhone could fit neatly into smaller hands, and didn’t need features like Reachability to make the larger screen easier to use with one hand.

If you’re sold on the screen size, then upgrading to the iPhone SE is a no-brainer. You’ll get access to most of the best features of Apple’s larger iPhones — specifications that will enable the phone to far outpace the iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s that you may still be holding onto — including faster LTE, more LTE bands, and speedier Wi-Fi than the last 4-inch iPhone that Apple introduced. For users who don’t place a priority on the smallest iPhone possible, Apple’s larger iPhones are also worth considering, but for the moment, they aren’t that far ahead of the iPhone SE in the areas that matter most to lots of users.

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