The 2020 iPhone SE


The 2020 iPhone SE is a device where, for a many part, what we see is what we get. The one thing we get that we can’t see is a A13 Bionic chip — although we can see, utterly with Portrait Mode photography, what a A13 creates probable in a SE.

Let’s start with a outside.

Close your eyes and a SE feels matching to a iPhone 8: same materials, same symbol placement, same distance (down to a 10th of a millimeter — the iPhones SE and 8 are 100 percent box compatible), same weight (148 g).

Open your eyes and you’ll notice a coloring is different, if you’re looking during a white model. The white SE has a black front face. There’s some before art for this — the white iPhone 3G and 3GS models also had black front faces. But starting with a iPhone 4,1 white/light-colored iPhones versed with home buttons have had white front panels, solely for a iPhone 5C. we have never cared for those white front panels — I don’t like a approach they emphasize, rather than hide, a elements embedded in a iPhone’s forehead: a speaker, a camera, a flash. It’d be bad adequate if those elements were symmetrically organised yet they’re not — the camera is off center. The black front face is simply a softened look, to my eyes. And it doesn’t harm that when a arrangement is off, a black front disguises a now-dated front and chin above and subsequent a screen.

Apple’s Product Red iPhone 8 was introduced 6 months after a other colors, and it too sported a black front face. It’s a pointy look. My iPhone SE examination section is white, and we cruise it looks many nicer than a “silver” iPhone 8, which, to my eyes, plays as creamy on a behind panel. Pure white looks better, and Apple nailed it with a iPhone SE.

A china iPhone 8 and white iPhone SE, faces down.

There’s one some-more cosmetic improvement: a behind row of a iPhone 8 sported an Apple logo, centered plumb between a volume buttons, and a word “iPhone” during a analogous position toward a bottom.2 Like a iPhone 11 brethren models, a iPhone SE’s behind row markings have been reduced to a essential minimum: usually a Apple logo, ideally centered. Everyone who is going to put their new SE in a box and never mislay it should take a impulse to conclude a virginity of this pattern before they do.

Like a iPhone 5-style 2016 iPhone SE before it, a new iPhone 6-style iPhone SE feels like a authorized ideal of a form cause it embodies.


Because we recently reviewed a updated iPad Pros, we had it in my mind that a A13 system-on-a-chip isn’t that many faster than a A12. Not true.

I had that erring thought in mind given a iPad Pros have a A12Z. Now, it’s unequivocally a box that a new A12Z chips are usually ever-so-slightly softened over a A12X chips in a 2018 iPad Pros — CPU opening is identical, and GPU opening is softened usually by going from 7 cores to 8. And given a A12X and Z chips in iPad Pros have some-more CPU cores than a A12 chip in a iPhone XS and XR models, they perform softened on benchmarks. In my benchmarks for a new iPad Pro, we was comparing a A13 opposite A12X/Z in iPad Pros, not a “plain” A12 in a iPhone XS and XR.

When we examination iPhones to iPhones, it’s utterly apparent that a A13 is remarkably some-more performant than a A12. Geekbench 5 results, averaged over a few runs and dull to comment for variability (single- and multi-core benchmarks exam a CPU, “compute” tests a GPU):

So, yes, a $400 iPhone SE bests a $3,000 top-of-the-line MacBook Pro in single-core CPU performance.


Benchmarks usually magnitude CPU and GPU performance. The biggest alleviation from a A12 to a A13 competence be a Neural Engine, used for appurtenance learning, that in use means AR and photography. You can’t put a elementary series on it like a benchmark score, yet there are discernible facilities it enables, many noticeably with Portrait Mode photography.

Apple is pursuit a new SE camera a “best single-imaging complement ever”. It has usually one rear-facing camera lens and sensor, and that sensor (but not a lens) is apparently a same as that in a iPhone XR.

When Apple’s Portrait Mode initial appeared, it compulsory a dual-imaging system — either dual cameras (on a rear) or a camera and Face ID TrueDepth complement (on a front). This creates discerning sense — we all know that a possess abyss notice is marred significantly if we tighten one eye. Doing it with zero yet a singular camera lens requires what Apple terms “monocular abyss estimation”.

The iPhone XR does monocular abyss determination with a behind camera. The iPhone SE does it with both a behind and front-facing cameras. The formula are rather amazing, really. Apple’s built-in Camera app usually supports Portrait Mode for tellurian subjects with a iPhone SE (both front and rear) — no unfeeling objects, and, alas, no pets. The reason why, utterly obviously, is that this monocular abyss determination is powered in vast part, if not entirely, by a appurtenance training indication optimized privately for tellurian faces. Using a third-party Halide camera app, however, allows we to fire photos of anything with an concomitant abyss map. Halide also allows we to perspective this abyss map. It’s transparent to me, yet good over a range of this examination to inspect in detail, that a iPhone SE’s rear-facing camera is able of many some-more accurate abyss maps than a iPhone XR’s. Since they’re both single-imaging systems and a same (or really similar) sensors, a SE’s higher abyss mapping can usually be attributed to a A13’s many some-more absolute neural engine.

I find this even some-more considerable with a SE’s front-facing camera. Self portraits regulating Portrait Mode’s modernized lighting effects are utterly allied between a SE and a iPhone 11 Pro. Below are corresponding “Stage Light Mono” examples of yours truly, taken with front-facing cameras on a SE and 11 Pro. In a initial two, we was station subsequent to a window on a balmy day; in a subsequent two, we was in a same balmy room, yet divided from a windows. No modifying was achieved on any of a files, other than to use Photos to trade HEIC originals as JPEGs, and to rescale a versions embedded subsequent regulating Retrobatch.

iPhone 11 Pro (original JPEG file):

iPhone SE (original JPEG file):

iPhone 11 Pro (original JPEG file):

iPhone SE (original JPEG file):

I embody no analogous examples from a iPhone XR given a iPhone XR doesn’t support any of a background-masking Portrait Mode lighting effects — no Stage Light, Stage Light Mono, or High-Key Light Mono.

Update: Whoops, indeed a XR does support those effects, yet only for a front-facing camera, that has a TrueDepth system.

To my eyes a SE does a really convincing pursuit compared to a 11 Pro. You can see a differences many apparently on my shoulders. And remember, a 11 Pro front-facing Portrait Mode is aided by a TrueDepth sensors from a Face ID system. The iPhone SE is doing this with usually a singular camera and a presumably really modernized appurtenance training model.3


Spending a week with a iPhone SE, after dual and a half years regulating an iPhone X, afterwards XS, now 11 Pro, has been, well, a bit frustrating.

A while back, we was articulate with someone during Apple who had worked on a iPhone X. The X wasn’t usually a flare in a iPhone hardware — Face ID instead of Touch ID, OLED instead of LCD, round-cornered edge-to-edge displays instead of sharp-cornered rectangles, etc. — but a fact that it didn’t even have a home symbol during all necessitated a rethinking of a elemental software interface too.

OK, it wasn’t necessary per se. What Apple could have done, in theory, was reinstate a hardware home symbol with a practical on-screen home symbol that worked usually like a hardware home buttons on prior iPhones. Maybe that’s what they would have finished with a iPhone X’s “all screen” pattern if they couldn’t figure out something softened than a home button.

But they did figure out a softened design. An all-new elemental indication for a simple operation of regulating an iPhone: appropriate adult from a bottom to go home, appropriate adult some-more for a multitasking switcher, and spur a user interface as we appropriate to make it demeanour and feel like you’re directly utilizing a apps on screen, not indirectly requesting gesticulate shortcuts as yet a touchscreen were usually a trackpad.

What this source told me is that while building a iPhone X, members of a group would typically lift dual phones with them: a antecedent iPhone X they could use, yet (of course) not while in a participation of anyone who wasn’t disclosed on a project, and an comparison iPhone they could use in front of anyone. These group members would spend time, each day, regulating both phones. They knew they were onto a winning thought with a new communication pattern for a iPhone X when they started instinctively regulating a X-style gestures on a comparison iPhone, and never clamp versa. When a new pattern is clearly softened than an aged one, it’s a one-way travel mentally.

I believed that then, yet we trust it some-more now after spending a final week with a iPhone SE. I’ve used it exclusively for hours during a widen and we never stopped awaiting it to act like a post-iPhone-X device. we appropriate adult from a bottom to go home or multitask. we pattern it to arise adult usually by drumming anywhere on a display. we lift down from a tip right dilemma awaiting to see Control Center. we can’t stop doing any of these things unless I’m consciously meditative about a fact that I’m regulating an old-style iPhone. Even if we sealed my personal iPhone 11 Pro in a drawer and overwhelmed no phone other than a new SE for a week or two, we still wouldn’t shake my iPhone X communication habits unless we deserted my iPad Pro too.

Once we get used to a post-iPhone-X communication model, there’s no going back. A week with a new SE has not jarred my faith that a X-style communication pattern is superior. Not one iota.4

But that’s OK. The new iPhone SE is not dictated for anyone who has already switched to an iPhone X or later. It’s not a phone for enthusiasts, unless your unrestrained is for a smallest phone we can get, or if cost is a poignant concern. The users a SE is targeting are upgrading from an comparison Touch ID iPhone or an Android phone.

It’s utterly conspicuous that a $400 iPhone SE significantly outperforms — and to a obtuse yet still conspicuous degree, out-photographs — the $600 iPhone XR, both of that prices are for 64 GB bottom models. It’s even some-more conspicuous that we can ascent all a approach to a 256 GB iPhone SE for $550, that is still reduction than a XR bottom model. But a XR has one apparent advantage: shade genuine estate. With a same content size, a XR shows significantly some-more straight content:

An iPhone SE subsequent to an iPhone XR, both arrangement a Settings → Display and Brightness screen.

But no one deliberation an iPhone SE is unknowingly of a size. SE buyers are possibly shopping one notwithstanding a smaller distance or given of it.

The iPhone SE is an glorious value if you’re excellent with a smaller arrangement and Touch ID instead of Face ID. It’s an astoundingly good value if we flat-out cite a smaller form cause and informed Touch ID experience.5

  1. The white indication of that valid to be surprisingly formidable for Apple to manufacture — it didn’t start shipping until 10 months after a black models. That check was startling during a time, yet seems officious bananas now. Can we suppose if, say, a midnight immature iPhone 11 Pros still weren’t shipping now, and wound adult not shipping until this entrance July? ↩︎︎︎

  2. Long left are a several regulatory indicia and small-print cruft like indication numbers and “Designed by Apple in California / Assembled in China”. Apple changed many of that things to program in a Settings app starting with a iPhone 6S. But a initial iPhone that didn’t have those regulatory outlines on a behind was a Verizon iPhone 4, one of my favorite iPhones of all time. What an peculiar savage that was. It debuted 7 months after a unchanging iPhone 4, and was an wholly opposite indication given Verizon’s 3G network was CDMA, not GSM. It sported a 4S receiver lines over 8 months before a iPhone 4S was unveiled. ↩︎︎︎

  3. These Portrait Mode effects all have a live preview in a Camera app, yet a live previews are wanton approximations. we consternation how many people don’t worry perplexing these effects given a previews demeanour so rough. Once we snap a mural regulating these effects, it takes a brief impulse to be processed, and while a finish outcome can still be hit-or-miss, it’s always approach softened than a live preview would suggest. ↩︎︎

  4. I contingency indicate out here that Touch ID works usually excellent while wearing a face mask, and Face ID doesn’t work during all. That’s been a care for medical professionals and adults of countries with a enlightenment of face-mask-wearing ever given Apple introduced Face ID with a iPhone X in 2017. Now it’s a care for literally billions of us around a world. That’s not adequate to even vaguely make me, personally, cruise switching to a SE as my personal phone. But your mileage competence vary, generally if a inlet of your work requires we to wear a face facade all day, not usually while out of a residence on brief excursions. (But such jobs competence also need gloves.) ↩︎︎︎

  5. If you’re in that camp, we strongly advise shopping an iPhone SE while a removing is good. we would wager, heavily, that this is a final iPhone Apple will ever make with a home symbol and a old-style user interface. ↩︎︎︎

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