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iPhone SE review: It’s a pocket-size powerhouse

Susie Ochs | April 1, 2016
Good news for fans of small phones: Apple didn't make the 4-inch iPhone SE a second-class device.

The SE is the little iPhone that could. With a 4-inch screen and the body of an iPhone 5s, it fits in my pockets better than my iPhone 6s, and it’s easier to use one-handed. But it doesn’t compromise much over its bigger, more expensive siblings.

If you were waiting for Apple to put out another 4-inch phone before you’d upgrade, you’re probably dancing in the streets right now—and you should be, because this phone is such a huge step up from the iPhone 5s. If you are on the fence between the iPhone SE and the flagship iPhone 6s, the SE’s lower price for nearly as much performance might sway you to the smaller screen.

Deja vu design

In his hands-on, Jason Snell called the iPhone SE a flashback to the iPhone 5 and 5s, and he’s entirely right. Apple points out the “matte-chamfered edges” (the iPhone 5s’s chamfers were, um, less matte, I think?) and “color-matched stainless steel inset Apple logo” (meaning the logo is a separate piece of inlaid metal and not merely stamped on), but that’s just marketing. If a friend asks about your iPhone SE and you triumphantly show off its matte-chamfered edges, you probably deserve the eye-roll you’re about to get.

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Adam Patrick Murray Mmm, so matte-chamfered! 

What is important, then? Apple didn’t move any of the buttons, so you can still use cases built for the iPhone 5 and 5s. The rear-facing iSight camera sits flush with the back of the phone, unlike the slightly protruding camera that the larger iPhones have been plagued with since the iPhone 6. And the SE’s flat edges let you stand it up on its side, in case you want to take a photo or watch a video and you don’t have a proper iPhone stand.

The Touch ID button on the iPhone SE is the “first generation” version from the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 6, not the freaky-fast second-gen Touch ID on the iPhone 6s. But thanks to the iPhone SE’s A9 chip, its Touch ID button unlocks the phone faster than the iPhone 6’s, just not as quite as fast as the iPhone 6s’s.

iphone se review mrv 010 37
Adam Patrick Murray Remember the iPhone 5s? This looks and feels just like it—only now in pink. (Excuse me, rose gold.)

And of course, the 4-inch screen is easier to reach with your thumb while you’re holding the phone one-handed. Size was the biggest deal for me when using this iPhone. Suddenly I could drop my phone into any pocket again (pockets on women’s pants are small, too), and comfortably reach the whole screen. The last time I used my Apple Watch to ping the iPhone SE so I could find it, it was already in my back pocket!


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