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iPhone SE (2022) review: Stale looks, crisp performance
Apple's latest affordable iPhone feels torn between the luster of smartphones past and the demands of present-day consumers.
Rather than repackage the past in a way that challenges the expectations of today, the new iPhone SE settles for the comfort of nostalgia and a bigger battery.
More than flashy features like 5G or foldable screens, recent years have seen the modern smartphone landscape shift in two fundamental ways.
Both of these concern the price associated with buying a new smartphone. First, the more expensive end of the smartphone market got even more-so. Where a recommended retail price of $1,249 once represented the top-end of the market, it now represents the bottom of that premium price-segment.
Then, competition in the mid-tier intensified. Devices like the Google's Pixel A-series and 2020's refreshed iPhone SE shook up the market by bringing flagship features and performance to a price-tier where those things are a rarity. Now, two years later, Apple are looking to repeat this trick with the new iPhone SE. However, while some may find the third time to be the charm, Apple's latest mid-tier masterpiece feels like more of a half-heated rehash than a wholehearted revolution.
Like previous iPhone SE devices, Apple's latest affordable iPhone is tethered to the company's past. However, unlike previous devices, that desire to emulate what was anchors the device far from what it could be.
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How much does the iPhone SE (2022) cost in Australia?
Australian pricing for the third generation iPhone SE is slightly higher than that of its 2020 counterpart, which lines up with the minor but meaningful approach that Apple are offering with this update.
While the starting price is a higher this time around, it's worth noting that the highest-spec model ends up being slightly cheaper. For reference, here's how much the second generation iPhone SE cost in Australia when it launched back in 2020:
- iPhone SE 2020 (64GB): $679
- iPhone SE 2020 (128GB): $759
- iPhone SE 2020 (256GB): $999
Australian pricing for the new iPhone SE starts at A$719 for the 64GB model. Those who need extra storage have the option of paying A$799 for the 128GB model or A$969 for the 256GB model.
Buying the new iPhone SE (2022) on a mobile plan?
If you'd prefer to buy the new device on a postpaid plan, you've got plenty of options. Telstra, Vodafone and Optus all range the new iPhone SE. Check out the cards below for our picks for the best iPhone SE (2022) mobile plans.
Apple iPhone SE (2022) - What's new?
If you tossed one of Apple's brand new iPhone SE into a haystack made of its second-generation counterpart, you'd inevitably have a tough time telling the two apart. When it comes to external design, the two devices are nearly identical.
On one hand, those who prefer a smaller form-factor or the more traditional and "familiar" home button-oriented layout are likely to relish this quality. Rest assured, Apple haven't not tried to fix what isn't broken here.
On the other, the 4.7-inch HD Retina display here isn't quite as charming in 2022 as it was in 2020. What felt like a throwback two years ago feels painfully dated by the standards of today.
For all but the most basic of apps, content displayed on the iPhone SE's screen feels cramped and low resolution. If you're one of those people who claims to not care about the thinness of the bezels or screen-to-body ratios, I dare you to use this phone for a week and put that preconception to the test.
While the two overlap when it comes to look and feel, there are a few key inclusions separating the new iPhone SE from its 2020 counterpart. It's got a faster processor, 5G connectivity and it comes coated the same ultra-tough glass found on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro.
For the most part though, these additions are invisible. You're pretty much looking at all the same perks that Apple smuggled into the mid-tier of the market last time around.
The new iPhone SE features IP67 water resistance, support for wireless and fast-charging via Lightning cable, and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor that's integrated with the home button. None of it is new, even if some of it remains rare among Android smartphones occupying the same price-point.
iPhone SE (2022): Performance & Camera
In some ways, the new iPhone SE breaks the rules that typically apply to sub-$800 smartphone. Never-mind the water resistance and wireless charging, the fact that this thing runs on the latest version of iOS gives the device a leg-up on pretty much anything else the Android market can offer.
If previous iPhone SE smartphones are any indication, you'll probably be able to get a comfortable five or so years of software and security updates for this thing.
However, that's not to say aren't downsides. While Apple's claim that the cheapest iPhone now has a better processor than the most expensive Android device isn't untrue, it omits just how dated the rest of the hardware here is.
The fact that games like Apex Legends Mobile, Genshin Impact and League of Legends: Wild Rift run impeccably smoothly on the new iPhone SE is little consolation when you have to squint at the low resolution screen to play them.
Even as someone who desperately wants to see more powerful small phones in the mix, I found the disconnect between form-factor and processing power of the new iPhone SE really threw me off my game. There's a chasm between the applications and use cases that the processor inside the new iPhone SE can offer and the thorny realities of what unlocking that potential looks like.
The benchmark scores that the new iPhone SE might be consistent with that of Apple's flagship smartphone, but the lack of practical perks like a larger screen, better speaker setup or Face ID security are likely far more impactful on your day-to-day.
In the months since the start of the pandemic, I've been spending less and less time on my phone, but the new iPhone SE was a sobering reminder that today's homogeneous handset landscape didn't happen by accident.
Where every other new Android phone shamelessly draws on breakthroughs seen elsewhere, Apple are content to dance to the beat of their own drum. Sometimes, as in the case of the iPhone 13, that approach works wonders. Here, it doesn't.
There's no better example of this than the camera on the new iPhone SE.
Like the 2020 model, the new iPhone SE uses software trickery to eke out more from modest camera hardware. It features a single-lens 12-megapixel rear camera and a 7-megapixel selfie shooter.
While the image processing here is surprisingly adept, especially given the price-point, the lack of a dedicated night mode or alternative lenses leaves the new iPhone SE's camera defined by its limits rather than the areas in which it leads.
If you're looking to take a quick pic of a meal or anything else in decent lighting, you're probably safe to share what the iPhone SE's camera can do within your group chat or Instagram feed. However, what's on offer here is a far cry from the image quality offered by the rest of the iPhone lineup.
When the bar for smartphone photography has been set so high and the iPhone SE has such a reputation for overperformance, it's hard not see what Apple's latest affordable iPhone offers and come away a little disappointed.
If you're the kind of person who isn't usually too bothered by the quality of their camera on their phone, this specific shortcoming might not matter to you that much but the lack of progress or improvements here relative to the last iPhone SE is a clear knock against it.
How good is the battery life on the new iPhone SE?
While initial reports suggested that the new iPhone SE would feature the same 1821mAh battery as that of its predecessor, teardowns have since revealed that the battery is actually 2,018mAh in size.
Given that battery life was a rare weak link in the otherwise-delightful 2020 iPhone SE, this is a welcome improvement that yields predictable results. I found that I'd usually make it through a full day of regular usage with this device, though I will admit that discomfort associated the display probably did the new iPhone SE a few favors here.
Typically, I'd end up with around 4.5-5 hours of screen time per charge. Burned down with streaming video, the new iPhone SE took 12 hours and 30 minutes to go from 100% to 0%.
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Is the Apple iPhone SE (2022) worth buying?
While there's something to be said for a smartphone that focuses so intently on nailing the basics that it doesn't need to bother with trying to raise the bar or push the envelope, the new iPhone SE largely fails to satisfy on either front.
Apple have taken a few obvious wins here by adding a bigger battery and 5G connectivity, but it's not quite enough to mimic the appeal that previous SE devices have had.
If earlier efforts at making an affordable iPhone preyed on the weaknesses of the Android-based competition available at the time, Apple's latest attempt ends up doing the opposite.
When 2022's mid-tier Android devices offer so much, an iPhone with this many compromises ends up a victim of its own limited appeal.
How does the Apple iPhone SE (2022) compare?
If you're looking to choose between the standard iPhone 13, the new iPhone SE or the 2020 iPhone SE, the table below lays out all the most important specs and details you'll want to know about before you make your final decision.
iPhone SE (2022)
iPhone SE (2020)
|Price (RRP)||From $679||From $1,349||From $679|
|Display||4.7-inch LCD Multi‑Touch||6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED, HDR10||4.7-inch LCD IPS|
|Resolution||1334x750||1170×2532||1334 x 750|
|Refresh rate (max)||60Hz||60Hz||60Hz|
|Max brightness (nits)||625||1200||625|
|Battery capacity||2,018mAh||3,227 mAh||1,821mAh|
|Charging||Fast Charging 20W, Qi 7.5W||Fast Charging 20W, MagSafe 15W Qi 7.5W||Fast Charging 20W, Qi 7.5W|
|Front (selfie) camera||7-MP (f/2.2)||12MP (f/2.2)||7-MP (f/2.2)|
|Rear cameras||12MP, f/1.8 (wide)||12MP, f/1.6 (wide), 12MP, f2.4 (ultra-wide)||12MP, f/1.8 (wide)|
|Memory (RAM)||4GB RAM||6GB RAM||3GB RAM|
|Internal storage||64 GB / 128 GB||128GB / 256GB / 512GB||64 GB / 128 GB|
|Processor||Apple A15 Bionic||Apple A15 Bionic||Apple A13 Bionic|
|Operating System||iOS 15||iOS 15||iOS 13|
|Wireless||WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.1||WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.1||WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5|
|Water and dust resistance||IP67||IP68||IP67|