iPhone SE 2022 review: Bringing a classic hot rod back to life

Enlarge / The iPhone SE 2022.

Samuel Axone

the iPhoneSE is the classic iPhone, the iPhone OG, the Mazda Miata of smartphones. It works well, and its design is iconic and familiar, even comforting, though it’s dated and devoid of modern frills and comforts. But the SE is still one of Apple’s best products.

While the flagship iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro emphasize screen real estate and quality, battery life and monster cameras, the iPhone SE focuses on simplicity, comfort in your hand and, yes, cost savings.

Most people don’t need the iPhone 13’s excellent OLED display, though you might say more would be less want to its improved cameras. But for some users, the smartphone is an indispensable tool and nothing more. They want something affordable and reliable, something that will last them many years, so they don’t have to think about the rat race of smartphones at all.

The iPhone SE is ideal for these users, even if its classic design gets noticeably long in the tooth. Because for longevity, it’s the inside that counts.

Specifications

The design, screen, dimensions, camera hardware and storage capacity options have not changed here. That means the 2022 SE still has essentially the iPhone 8 chassis, and it still has a 4.7-inch LCD screen and a home button. You can get the new OS in 64GB ($429), 128GB ($479), or 256GB ($579) configurations.

The iPhone SE’s system-on-chip jumped two generations with this update, from A13 to A15.

The Lightning port returns.
Enlarge / The Lightning port returns.

Samuel Axone

The A15 is the same chip found in the iPhone 13 range, so you get top performance in a budget phone. That’s one of the most remarkable things about the iPhone SE: no other phone at this price offers anything close to this kind of performance. (We’ll get to landmarks a bit later.)

Apple claims slightly different battery life figures for the 2022 iPhone SE compared to the 2020 model. Namely, the 2022 claims 15 hours of offline video playback through the 13th of 2020, 10 hours of offline video playback streaming until the 8th of 2020 and 50 hours of audio playback until the 40th of 2020. This is probably due to the increased efficiency of the A15 compared to the A13.

The other major new feature here is 5G support. 5G can make a noticeable difference in download speeds and latency if you live somewhere with great coverage. But most places in the world don’t have coverage yet, so be sure to check what your carrier offers where you are before you go for that phone on that basis alone.

Cameras

The 2022 SE has a 12MP rear camera and a 7MP front camera, and it can record 4K video at 60fps, just like its predecessor. But thanks to the A15, it supports new computational photography features.

The iPhone SE camera.
Enlarge / The iPhone SE camera.

Samuel Axone

The new phone offers Deep Fusion and Photographic Styles. With the Deep Fusion feature, iPhone SE takes multiple images in quick succession, then composites the best elements of each image to enhance the overall result in a single image. We’ve talked about it extensively in previous iPhone reviews, and it does its job well.

Photographic Styles are computational photography presets that result in enhanced images similar to what some of the iPhone’s competitors offer (think Samsung Galaxy, with its unrealistic but eye-catching photos).

Some people will like Styles, some people won’t. Fortunately, you can choose the mode that suits you best. Just be aware that unlike some other computer photography features on the iPhone, you can’t change the photography style preset for an individual photo after the photo is taken, only before.

Design

There’s nothing new about the iPhone SE design, but we still love it. It’s telling that this design – which, despite some tweaks over time, dates back to 2014’s iPhone 6 – has remained in the lineup for so long. It’s the most iconic iPhone design.

With rumors that Apple may discontinue the iPhone mini when the iPhone 14 arrives later this year, the 2022 SE could be the last iPhone suitable for one-handed use. So if that’s your top priority, this might be the only iPhone for you, unless you’re picking up an iPhone 13 mini before this fall.

Of course, a lot of people want big phone screens. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in movies or video games, check out the iPhone 13 instead.

This phone still has Touch ID even though the rest of modern iPhones use Face ID. But Touch ID still works great most of the time. Seeing an iPhone with such huge bezels in 2022 is strange, but it will bother some people more than others. You probably know just by looking at the pictures if bezel size really matters to you.

Apple says the 2022 iPhone SE uses stronger glass for the front and back than the 2020 model. In fact, the SE uses the same glass as the back of the iPhone 13. However, we don’t We’ve put our SE through no durability tests to verify this.

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