A first look at the new iPhone SE 2: £419 well spent?

First Impressions

The iPhone SE might look and feel like a three-year-old phone, but it’s got a modern heart and a highly tempting price tag. There’s arguably never been an iPhone that offers you as much for your money, and we’re going to have to think long and hard about the true value of all-screen designs and multi-lens camera systems ahead of our review.

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £419
  • 4.7-inch display
  • A13 chipset
  • 12MP f/1.8 camera
  • iOS 13
  • TouchID
The new iPhone SE 2 is only the third ever Apple smartphone that earns the term ‘affordable’. Four years on from the original iPhone SE and six years on from the iPhone 5c, it could well be the biggest iPhone bargain yet.

Repackaging the iPhone 8 with an updated processor might sound like a deeply conservative move on Apple’s part. But when you consider the starting price tag of just £419/$399 for a more or less friction-free iPhone experience, then the iPhone SE starts to make an awful lot of sense.

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iPhone SE 2 price and release date

The iPhone SE 2 is the cheapest new iPhone around, but it’s significantly more expensive in the UK than it is in the US. Here are the iPhone SE 2 UK prices and configurations:

  • iPhone SE 2 (64GB) − £419 ($399 in the US, which is approximately £320)
  • iPhone SE 2 (128GB) − £469 ($449 in the US, which is approximately £400)
  • iPhone SE 2 (256GB) − £569 ($549 in the US, which is approximately £440)

The original iPhone SE was available for just £379 at launch, which sounds scarcely believable next to today’s sky-high smartphone prices. Of course that was way back in 2016, when even the price of the year’s flagship handset (the iPhone 6S) was a mere £539.

The iPhone 8, which has now been discontinued by Apple, originally started at £699 (64GB) in September 2017. However, it’s still available from third-party retailers, and will be cheaper than ever.

The iPhone SE 2 was available to preorder from April 17, and started shipping to buyers on April 24.

iPhone SE 2 design – Familiar…

We told you everything you need to know about the iPhone SE 2 design in two words of the preceding paragraph. It’s an iPhone 8, plain and simple, with the same highly pocketable dimensions (138.4 x 67.3mm), weight (148g), and materials (glass front and back with an aluminium frame).

That shared design includes the same IP67 dust and water resistance rating, meaning the iPhone SE will survive a 30-minute dip into one metre-deep pool. Or, far less glamorously but a lot more likely, a trip into your toilet bowl.

Related: IP67 vs IP68 – Waterproof IP ratings explained

The colour options are a lot simpler this time around. There’s no Space Gray or Gold fanciness here, as you’re given a straight choice of Black, White, or Red, with the same black frontage regardless. Meanwhile, the Apple logo has dropped to the middle of the phone’s back, just like the iPhone 11 family.

iPhone SE 2

There’s something oddly comforting about picking up the iPhone SE 2, like slipping on a brand new pair of the trainers you’ve bought repeatedly over the years.

iPhone SE 2 display – Small, compared to the competition

Around front, you get the same 4.7-inch LCD Retina display as the iPhone 8 and iPhone 7 before it. You’ll notice a big improvement if you’re upgrading from an iPhone 6s or iPhone 6, however. Apple improved its LCD tech from the iPhone 7 onwards, with a significantly higher 625 nits maximum brightness and wide colour gamut support, resulting in a more vibrant picture.

Still, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a screen from a previous generation. The iPhone 11 Pro family comes with a much punchier OLED display. In contrast, all of Apple’s current smartphone range, including the LCD displays of the iPhone 11 and iPhone XR, are significantly bigger.

That last point will go in the iPhone SE’s favour with a lot of upgraders. Smartphones have gotten awfully big, with the likes of Apple’s own iPhone 11 and iPhone XR sporting 6.1-inch displays.

The iPhone SE doesn’t bring us back to the teeny-tiny times of the original 4-inch iPhone SE. But it’s undeniably refreshing to go back to a phone that most people will be able to use one-handed.

iPhone SE 2

iPhone SE 2 specs – Bang up-to-date

So far so 2017. But when it comes to the iPhone SE, all of the important bits are on the inside.

In a move that surprised a lot of people, Apple has fitted its affordable new phone with its very latest processor. The A13 Bionic that powers the iPhone SE 2 is the same chip that runs the £1049/$999 iPhone 11 Pro. True, technical sorts have found it to be an underclocked version of the A13, resulting in lower peak performance. But that doesn’t matter one jot.

What matters is that the iPhone SE 2 is running on a version of Apple’s latest chip technology. On the one hand, this means that it will run any app or task you can throw at it without getting out of third gear (there was an awful lot of headroom in this chip before the SE 2 turned up). But more importantly, for the kind of person who will buy an iPhone SE 2, it will be good for another five years of iOS updates. And quite possibly longer.

In my initial time with the phone, I was unable to make it break a sweat. Top 3D games, multitasking, jumping into the Camera app from sleep – all were executed flawlessly here. It’ll have to be stressed further to see if those underclocking reports have any tangible consequences, but the early signs are good.

Meanwhile, the return to TouchID has been quite an eye-opener. In combination with that A13 chip, Apple’s original biometric authentication method really shows up the slow and unreliable in-display solutions that most Android manufacturers have adopted.

There’s the same 1821mAh battery that you’ll find in the iPhone 8, which in our initial experience will get you through an average day comfortably. With a 12 hour day and 5 hours 30 minutes of screen-on time, we were left with 28% in the tank.

Wireless charging feels like quite a luxury in such a compact and affordable unit, too.

iPhone SE 2

iPhone SE 2 camera – Up to iPhone 11 standards?

From our initial time with the iPhone SE 2’s camera, it’s safe to say it’ll be a pleasant step up for anyone upgrading from an iPhone 7 and older. If you spent £400/$400 or less on your previous phone, the photos you’ll capture here will likely be a downright revelation.

It’s ostensibly the same single 12-megapixel f/1.8 lens that can be found in the iPhone 8, but with the additional image-crunching power of Apple’s A13 CPU. The latter component enables the iPhone SE 2 to offer an impressive approximation of Apple’s Portrait mode, even without the use of a second camera.

While not perfect, efforts yielded crisp subjects, defocused backgrounds, and less of the blurry halo effect present in inferior systems. And as this is all computational, the selfie portraits we took with the SE 2’s 7-megapixel f/2.2 lens were similarly crisp and well defined.

Portrait mode aside, you simply don’t get low to mid-range Android phones that can take photos with this much balance and detail, with the notable exception of the Pixel 3a. In our initial outdoors shots, colours really popped without looking false, while the SE 2 handled areas of high dynamic range very well indeed. Indoors shots were less impressive, with noise starting to creep in during such lower lighting situations, but seemed usable.

We’ll have to put this to the test properly for our review, but with the total lack of a night mode, we’re not expecting the iPhone SE 2 to be as much of a low light champ as the Pixel 3a.

Check out some iPhone SE 2 samples below:

iPhone SE photo sample iPhone SE photo sample iPhone SE photo sample iPhone SE photo sample iPhone SE photo sample iPhone SE photo sample

Related: Best cheap phones

Early verdict

Based on our early time with the iPhone SE 2, we’re expecting it to sell like hotcakes – global retail conditions permitting. Its solid combination of familiar hardware, near-cutting edge performance, and a very good camera at a fraction of the price of Apple’s lead models makes for a compelling proposition.

Is it even worth spending double or triple the amount for a bigger and better display and a more flexible camera? That’s the key question

A ’hands on review’ is our first impression of a product only – it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it’s like to use. We call these ‘hands on reviews’ to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don’t give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think – send your emails to the Editor.

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