Apple iPhone SE review: Small, pocketable, perfect


Apple’s iPhone SE is going to make a lot of people very, very happy. If you’ve been doggedly clinging to a now-battered iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s and steadfastly refusing to embrace the new generation of big-screened 5in phones, then the iPhone SE is your dream made reality, a retro-sized smartphone with all the power of Apple’s high-end handsets – and for less than £500.

Isn’t it just an iPhone 5s? 

For a man who has spent the past few years with an iPhone 6 Plus in his pocket, the iPhone SE looks and feels disconcertingly tiny. Design-wise, Apple has done away with the rounded edges of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus and returned to a more squared-off profile – one that’s more than a little reminiscent of the old iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s. If you were hoping for a carbon copy of the 5s, you’re in luck.

In fact, according to Apple’s specifications, the iPhone SE is literally the same size and weight as the iPhone 5s. At 7.6mm thick, it’s chunkier than any other iPhone in the range, but this is largely a good thing, making it a little more wieldy in larger hands. And, weighing in at 113g, it’s 30g lighter than the iPhone 6s and 25g lighter than the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. 

Frankly, if you thought 2013’s iPhone was the perfect size and shape, you’re probably already clicking through the various options on Apple’s site in another browser window. The only question is whether you want to pre-order it in Silver, Gold, Space Grey or Rose Gold, and whether you want it in 16GB or 64GB. Decisions, decisions.

Okay. Is it a mini iPhone 6s then?

Although the iPhone SE looks like a slightly refined iPhone 5s on the outside, it has the heart of an iPhone 6s. It’s not literally a shrunken iPhone 6s, though. To keep the price below the £500 mark, Apple has made some changes. It has done away with the pressure-sensing 3D Touch technology, and also made do with a first-generation Touch ID sensor. 

If you’ve become accustomed to the lightning-quick fingerprint recognition of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, you’ll have to be a little more patient with the iPhone SE. The other differences are fairly subtle, though; I’ll get into those a little later on.

“The iPhone SE takes a little getting used to if you’ve acclimatised to larger phones”

The iPhone SE takes a little getting used to if you’ve acclimatised to larger phones. I have big hands, and equally outsized fingertips, and there’s no two ways around it – I have to type more slowly to avoid making mistakes. Even after a few weeks with the SE in my pocket, I still have to type very carefully to avoid deleting and retyping every other word several times. To its credit, Apple’s onscreen keyboard is still surprisingly usable even with outsized mitts – and I’ve improved my hitrate over time – but it’s something to consider. 

There are benefits to the small screen, though. One of those is that the iPhone SE doesn’t need the Reachability feature of its larger brethren. For all but the smallest of hands, it’s easy to reach every corner of the screen without having to adjust your grip or stretch your fingers uncomfortably. This makes a welcome change from having to doubletap the home button every time you need to type in a web address, or craning your thumb awkwardly upwards while simultaneously attempting to not drop your pristine new iPhone. Sometimes, tiny is just better.

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