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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.

Excellent camera

Apple gave the iPhone SE the same rear-facing camera as the iPhone 6s: It takes 12-megapixel stills, 4K video, and even Live Photos. Since the screen doesn’t have the pressure-sensitive 3D Touch feature, you just press and hold to make a Live Photo animate. The camera launches fast, and takes photos fast. Here are some side-by-side shots taken with the iPhone SE (left) and the iPhone 6s (right)—I was very pleased with the camera’s performance.

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Susie Ochs iPhone SE (left) captured all the detail and colors as the iPhone 6s (right) did.

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Susie Ochs Since the iPhone SE supports Live Photos and all the same photo features as its bigger siblings, you’re not giving up much. 

The front-facing camera (which Apple calls the FaceTime HD camera) is the same as on the iPhone 5s, however. It takes 1.2-megapixel stills, compared to the 5-megapixel FaceTime HD camera on the 6s. So if you are a real selfie nut, you might want the extra pixels of the flagship phone. But the FaceTime HD camera can use the SE’s screen as the flash, and doing so tended to smooth out some of the noise, so those photos look pretty good too. Since I only take a fraction of my photos with the front-facing camera, its weaker specs didn’t bother me at all.

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Adam Patrick Murray No protruding camera bump, hooray! 

No 3D Touch? No big deal

3D Touch is probably the biggest tradeoff. On the new iPhone 6s, 3D Touch lets you “deep press” the screen for more options. Deep-pressing an icon on the home screen can reveal Quick Actions, which are shortcuts into different parts of an app. Once inside an app, deep-pressing controls the “peek” and “pop” maneuvers: You can “peek” at an image, email, or search result without opening it all the way, and then press a little more on that preview to “pop” it open into a full-screen view.

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Adam Patrick Murray I only missed 3D Touch very briefly, and if you’ve never had it, you won’t miss it at all. 

It’s fun when you get the hang of it, but it’s also one of those things I use to demo the iPhone 6s to people, and then promptly forget about the rest of the time. So I didn’t think I’d miss it on the iPhone SE, and for the first couple of days I really didn’t. I found myself trying a couple Quick Actions a few days into my test, and being temporarily confused that they didn’t work. I was only a little bummed when I remembered the SE doesn’t support 3D Touch, but at the end of the day, that feeling only served to remind me that the SE is such an all-around powerful performer that I just forgot it didn’t do everything my iPhone 6s can do.


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