Tech

Is the iPhone SE worth buying? Upgrades to Apple’s cheapest phone could be coming in 2022


Apple’s iPhone SE was released in April of 2020 and it’s still on sale for its $399 launch price.


John Kim/CNET

A new version of Apple’s budget-friendly iPhone, called the iPhone SE 3, could be coming early next year with 5G and an A14 bionic chip from the iPhone 12 lineup. Although we don’t know the exact price for the upgraded iPhone SE 3, it’s rumored that that new iPhone could have a similar size, display and design as the earlier SE model

Read more: iPhone SE 3: 5G, release date and all the other rumors we’re hearing

Apple launched its updated iPhone SE in 2020 and at $399 (£419, AU$749) it remains the cheapest iPhone you can buy new, directly from Apple. But the older iPhone XR ($499, £499, AU$849) is also still being officially sold, as well as the more recent iPhone 12 Mini ($729, £699, AU$1,199), along with a plethora of affordable rivals running Android. So is the iPhone SE 2020 still worth your time? 

Let’s take a look.

Read more: How to buy a new iPhone or Android phone in 2021

What is the iPhone SE 2020?

It’s Apple’s attempt at providing an affordable iPhone option, with more cut-down specs than the other phones launched in 2020 but with a much lower price. Those specs include a 4.7-inch display, an Apple A13 processor and a single 12-megapixel rear camera. Storage starts at 64GB, it supports Qi wireless charging and there’s no 5G. 

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The iPhone SE 2020 is by far the cheapest iPhone you can buy directly from Apple.


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

iPhone SE’s $399 price tag

At $399 the iPhone SE is the cheapest new iPhone it’s possible to buy so if you’re simply looking at the lowest cost, this is the way to go. While Apple did try and make its iPhone 12 range more affordable, even the cheapest iPhone 12 Mini starts at $699 — a significant price increase over the SE. 

The next cheapest iPhone you can get is the iPhone XR. It was released back in 2018, but you can still buy a new XR on the Apple store. It uses the older A12 processor, also starts with 64GB of storage, also has wireless charging and also has a single rear 12-megapixel camera. That extra hundred bucks does get you a much bigger screen though; 6.1 inches versus the iPhone SE’s 4.7 inches. 

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Angela Lang/CNET

Apple only gave the iPhone SE one camera

While most phones launched last year tended to have multiple cameras on the back, the iPhone SE kept its costs down with just the one. It’s likely to be one of the biggest compromises you may need to make, particularly if you enjoy taking photos with your phone. 

While the single camera can take some great photos — comfortably rivaling the much more expensive iPhone 11 — it lacks the flexibility and creative potential of cameras with multiple zoom options. 

I love using the zoom lenses on the more expensive iPhones, along with the ultrawide lenses to capture much more of the scene in front of me. As a photographer, I wouldn’t want to go without these shooting options, but they come at a price. If multilens setups are important but you don’t want to spend any more than the SE’s price, you’ll need to consider an Android phone. Which brings me neatly on to…

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

iOS vs. Android

While the iPhone SE is the cheapest iPhone you can buy, it’s by no means the cheapest phone. Many Android brands offer much less expensive handsets and usually come with more attractive specs, including multiple lens rear cameras, bigger displays, more storage and even 5G connectivity. 

The OnePlus Nord N10, for example, has a 6.4-inch display, 128GB of storage, a good-quality quadruple rear camera and 5G for super-fast data speeds. It can be picked up, SIM-free, from OnePlus for only $300. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck then you’ll usually find better specs for lower prices with Android. 

The flip side of the argument is that Apple’s phones tend to age better, with even five-year old handsets able to run the latest versions of iOS — complete with security patches to keep them safe. They also hold their value better if you decide to sell your iPhone later on. 

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Angela Lang/CNET

iPhone SE’s performance

The iPhone SE shares many physical features and hardware specs with 2017’s iPhone 8, except for the processor. The 2020 SE has Apple’s A13 Bionic chip; the same hardware found in the much more expensive iPhone 11 Pro. And it shows, with benchmarks putting the 2020 SE leagues above the iPhone 8 and absolutely crushing the aforementioned OnePlus Nord N10. 

It’s nippy to use, and powerful enough to handle anything you’d likely throw at it, including most, if not all, of the biggest games to be found in the App Store. It might be a budget phone, but its processor power means you’re getting anything but a budget experience. This will also mean your phone will remain usable for longer, being able to cope with new versions of iOS as they arrive. 

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

5G vs. 4G

The iPhone SE 2020 doesn’t have 5G connectivity. That means those exciting potential download speeds you might have seen advertised will be out of reach with this phone. Sure, at its low price that might not seem like a big deal now, but if you plan on keeping the phone for at least two or three years, you may well feel differently later on. 

Some rumors suggest Apple might release a 5G version of the iPhone SE in its next iteration, but that may not happen until next year. And it’s possible the iPhone SE 3 will come with a bigger price tag if it does include 5G.

So your decision here is whether or not you definitely want 5G in your life. If you do, you’ll need to look elsewhere (or wait for the iPhone SE 3). That will mean looking at Android phones if you can’t stretch your budget to the iPhone 12 range, which does have 5G.



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