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The 2020 Apple iPhone SE: An innovative model priced for the rest of us

Written By | Apr 27, 2020
iPhone SE, new iPhone SE

Image and PR for Apple’s newest, low-cost iPhone SE. Courtesy of Apple’s web site.

WASHINGTON – Amidst all the current market speculation and chaos, Apple (trading symbol: AAPL) had a surprise announcement. They unveiled the long expected successor to the original iPhone SE: The all-new iPhone SE.

Apple launched its original SE some years back as a cheaper but still good alternative to the other inexpensive cellphones on the market. Given that those cheaper models were cutting into Apple’s normal iPhone margins, the original SE was put together primarily by adding up-to-date hardware into older iPhone 5 models. What you got for your money was an older form factor spiffed up with nearly state-of-the-art hardware, including the processor.

The original SE wasn’t exactly a barnburner in the cellphone market. But it bolstered Apple’s net iPhone sales rather nicely by courting less wealthy and / or less upgrade-happy purchasers with more limited budgets into the heretofore too-expensive iPhone universe.

Having discontinued sales of the old SE some months ago, Apple prepared the way to introduce the new SE model earlier this month. It’s getting positive buzz and it may well be worth a look. That’s true even though Apple is likely to introduce its first 5G-capable iPhone soon, likely sometime early to late autumn 2020.

New iPhone SE offers quite a lot for the price

Launched officially last Friday, the new iPhone 8 is just the model for cheapskates like me and for cellphone users who use the device as a phone and a camera and aren’t much interested in festooning the thing with a whole bunch of memory-hogging apps.

Why introduce the new iPhone SE during our current Wuhan Chinese novel coronavirus disaster when millions of Americans are currently out of a job?

Well, why not? If you need a new cellphone or iPhone, this is the perfect upgrade device for, say, stodgy old iPhone 6s customers like me as well as those on a stricter budget than usual. Such customers can still resist the siren-song of the promised 5G-friendly models presumably coming out this fall. Not only will they cost too much money for those whose budgets are busted. Worse, America’s 5G deployment is happening as fast as molasses flows in January, to coin a cliché.

So what’s the hurry, even for state-of-the-art tech freaks that need the latest gadget? It won’t do them much good for a year or three. In the meantime, the new iPhone SE will work just fine.

What’s so exciting about a cheap iPhone in the current economic environment?

Quite a lot, actually. With a cheaper model of any cellphone, you generally get crappy, nearly obsolete processor chips, ancient cameras and over-all slow performance. That keeps the cost down. But such limitations can get old, even for undemanding cellphone users.

But the new iPhone SE model takes a different approach. One that’s actually similar to how they created the old SE model. They put iPhone 6s guts inside the already out-of-date carcass of an old iPhone 5. That saved Apple a lot of money, reducing the SE’s price.

The company does essentially the same thing with its new SE by stuffing its considerably spiffed up iPhone 11 hardware into its old, already-designed iPhone 8 cases.

The big surprise is the processor

Yes, you still get the old 4.7-inch form factor. But for many users who still like to put their iPhones in their shirt pocket, that’s a feature, not a bug. Biggest surprise: The new SE gets the same A13 Bionic Processor chip that you can find in its latest iPhone 11 models, still on sale today. This is one fast processor. And for the low, low price of just $399 for the entry level SE model, you’re ready to compete with all those smug iPhone 11 Pro dudes. They paid $1,000 and up. You didn’t. Who’s the smart guy now?

This chip upgrade alone means you can do all the stuff that iPhone 11 users at all price points can do right now, including taking advantage of the latest iOS operating system, playing the latest games, downloading the most popular apps, etc., etc.

Also Read: Apple introduces its latest iPhone models during its 2019 Apple Event

Aha! But what about the camera in the new iPhone SE?

Okay. With the new SE, you don’t get one of those super-fancy 3-eyed cameras you get in the current most-expensive iPhone models. But Apple claims its new, cheap iPhone builds in the best single-sensor camera the company has ever offered. Better even than the one you get in the costlier iPhone XR.

You also get nicely upgraded photo features like portrait mode and several value-added lighting effects that work on both the front and the back cameras. Plus, reviewers tell us that the photos they’ve taken look really good.

The catch? The fancier stuff, like wide-angle lenses and zoom features available on the iPhone 11 models are what you don’t get. But then, you didn’t spend over $1k on the phone either, did you?

On the other hand, you do get some other currently state-of-the-art features like water and dust resistant cases. And reviewers who received sample iPhones in advance claim the speakers on the new SE seem a cut above what you currently find offered on lower priced models from other vendors. Although most users who listen to music on their phones use ear buds or mini-headphones anyway.

Other stuff, good, bad or indifferent

The new SE’s screen isn’t current top-of-the-line quality like you get on the iPhone 11 models. But it’s probably better than what you have right now. Except that it still comes in that old-style 4.7-inch form factor. Which doesn’t matter to me, at least. The SE still fits in my shirt pocket. A plus in my book.

I figure if you want a bigger screen, you can always invest in one of the new, blazing-fast iPad models. As for me, I still use the somewhat heavy but still trusty old MacBook Pro I bought way back in 2011. Right, I can’t upgrade the MacOS beyond High Sierra. But why worry about that right now?

Further upgrades for long-time upgrade resisters?

Try wireless charging and fast charging abilities. But to get the latter, you’ll need to pony up a few more of today’s scarce bucks ($29 of them) to buy an 18-watt fast charger plug. You’d swap this out for the slower 5-watt charger that comes with the phone.

Oh, and battery power and life? Well, let’s put it this way. Nearly anything is better than the battery life and runtime I get after charging my current iPhone 6s. The new SE is supposed to be way better, though I haven’t seen that for myself. On the other hand, the only way battery runtime and longevity could go from the 6s is up. Reviewers tell us that the only way you can run the new SE’s battery down fast is to indulge yourself by constantly playing power-hungry games or streaming 3-hour movies.

I never do this, so I don’t view this as a minus. Although you might.

So where’s the headphone jack?

It’s nowhere, man. But maybe we don’t need it any more. I’m told you’ll be the laughingstock of your neighborhood if you’re not using AirPods with your iPhone. But if you’re like me and are not used to being the Popular Kid on the block, who cares?

Besides, the new SE does provide somewhat less than top-line wired earphones in its package, and you plug these into the provided charger port. If you don’t like them, you can use the wired earbuds or headphones you already have (and presumably like). Simply pick up a cheap adaptor plus and plug it into the SE’s charging port.

To Buy, or Not To Buy?

Apple’s entry-level iPhone SE already comes with 64 GB of memory, plenty for me. But if you love movies, apps and other assorted downloads, or listen to music on your phone all day, you can shell out another $50 to get the 128 GB memory upgrade.

Bottom line: If you want or need a new iPhone, don’t like to pay a lot of money on an upgrade and still want a phone that fits in your shirt pocket, why fall for the iPhone 11 models’ still sexy new form factors and feature sets?

Products that were “good enough” made Microsoft a fortune. With the new iPhone SE, Apple answers the call with a new phone that does “good enough” one better by offering a far better camera, notably better battery life and a still top-line, super-fast processor for what today is notta lotta money.

I’m tempted. But I’d rather wait until our local Apple Store opens back out so I can play with one first. Once a tire-kicker, always a tire-kicker.

— Headline image:Image and PR for Apple’s newest, low-cost iPhone SE. Courtesy of Apple’s web site.
And no, neither this columnist nor CDN got any remuneration or free iPhones for this review.


Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17