The third generation iPhone SE has recently arrived with several updates that make it an attractive option for first-time iPhone users, or users on a budget. Although it costs a bit more than its direct predecessor, it is the most affordable new iPhone model Apple sells.
In this iPhone SE 3 hands-on video, we take a look at what’s new, compare it to the previous generation iPhone SE 2, and discuss some not-so-good features as well. We’re also considering why it might be better to consider buying the iPhone 11 instead, which can be had for just $70. Be sure to subscribe to 9to5Mac on YouTube for more iPhone SE 3 videos.
Small size and actual home button
The design of the iPhone SE 3 can be considered a negative, but some people undoubtedly prefer the design of this phone because of two things: a smaller form factor and a physical home button with Touch ID. I don’t have to explain why a smaller iPhone would be desirable — my all-time favorite smartphone is the iPhone 13 mini — but the idea of a physical home button might appeal to those who have trouble mastering the gesture-based system that iOS has become. Besides, I think the pandemic has reminded many of us of the value of having Touch ID for biometric authentication.
Video: iPhone SE 3 features
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Following the same pattern set by the previous model, the iPhone SE 3 features the same processor as the current generation of the flagship iPhone 13 lineup. Like the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, the iPhone SE 3 comes with a powerful A15 Bionic system on a chip, which features a hexa-core CPU with two performance cores and four high-efficiency cores.
The A15 Bionic offers a notable upgrade over the iPhone SE2, which included the same A13 Bionic chip as the iPhone 11 which is now two generations old. The A14 predecessor is far from performing, but it does help improve battery life.
But it’s not just about battery life or raw speed. The A15 offers other benefits, such as support for Smart HDR 4, Photography Modes, and Deep Fusion. The A15’s image signal processor also improves video quality, raising the profile of skin tones and reducing noise in low-light scenarios.
If you own a second-generation iPhone SE and are considering upgrading, you certainly won’t notice massive performance improvements, but the A15 is noticeably faster, paving the way for better battery life, and unlocking new photo-centric features.
5G cellular connection
5G cellular connectivity is a welcome new addition to the iPhone SE 3, which lacks excessive millimeter wave connectivity but supports more useful low- and mid-range 5G spectrum. As much as Verizon and mmWave others have done, I’ve never been able to get a connection since the iPhone 12 launched in my local area, as this requires users to be within walking distance of a mmWave cell tower.
But low-band 5G is very useful, especially in rural areas, and the faster mid-range 5G spectrum – the so-called sweet spot of the 5G layer cake – offers greater speed and the ability to travel longer distances and break through walls. In other words, don’t feel like you’re losing the so-called “real” mmWave 5G on the iPhone 13, because in most cases it won’t be available to you anyway.
Longer battery life
Even with the same dimensions and design, the iPhone SE 3 has improved battery life compared to its direct predecessor. Working in tandem with a slightly larger battery with a chemical update, the A15’s efficiency improvements result in an additional two hours of video playback and an additional 10 hours of audio playback.
If you’re coming from an old iPhone, like the iPhone 6s, you’ll be more impressed. Apple notes that the third generation iPhone SE offers four hours more video playback than the iPhone 6s.
Smart HDR 4 and Deep Fusion
The iPhone SE 3 features the same wide-angle camera as the iPhone SE 2, but it nonetheless receives two major upgrades related to shooting with Deep Fusion and Smart HDR4.
Smart HDR 4, Apple’s fourth generation of Smart HDR technology, applies individual adjustments to both subjects and background for contrast, color, and noise. It does this by combining the best parts of separate exposures into a single image.
Deep Fusion, which debuted with the iPhone 11, is powered by the 16-core Neural Engine on the A15 Bionic. An image processing system that uses advanced machine learning, Deep Fusion, unknown to the user, takes nine images and combines them together, picking the best of each. Then it processes the images pixel by pixel for texture, noise, and detail. In most cases, Deep Fusion should result in reduced noise and increased detail, especially in high texture areas such as jackets, animal fur, etc.
Photography Styles, which debuted with the release of the iPhone 13, lets you apply certain styles while shooting while maintaining skin tones, and lets you preview the look before shooting. Users can access four different customizable styles: Rich, Vivid, Warm and Cool Contrast. The tone and warmth settings can be customized for each style, and each setting remains consistent.
Price 429 dollars
Even though the iPhone SE 3 sees a $30 price increase over the iPhone SE 2 released in 2020, I still think it’s a reasonable price for a smartphone with Apple’s latest on-chip and 5G cellular capability. Granted, you can get the iPhone 11 for an additional $70, which offers a dual-camera system with an ultra-wide camera. If you’re into photography, the iPhone 11, at $499, is a compelling choice, as it has a significantly better front and rear camera system with 4K video capture support and a 6.1-inch screen with Face ID.
Moreover, the cheapest iPhone sold by Apple is the iPhone 12 mini at $600. In my opinion, if you’re shopping for the $429 iPhone SE, the jump in price to the 12 mini, a smartphone with a history of battery life issues, isn’t really in the cards.
Same boring design and colors
I’ve included the design in the iPhone SE 3’s best features list because some people really enjoy the smaller form factor and physical home button. But for those who are primarily attracted to the iPhone SE 3 because of its price, the old iPhone 8 design can be considered a negative. The screen, at 4.7 inches, is smaller than the iPhone mini, and really feels cramped to use, while the larger bezels make the device feel ten years old.
Moreover, the colors of the iPhone SE are also boring. The colors might have different names — starlight and midnight — and slightly different hues, but I wish Apple would try with fewer color lanes for pedestrians.
There is no night mode
Of all the remaining camera features of the iPhone SE 3, the Night Mode is the most practical. With longer exposures, Night mode allows you to take photos in low light with less noise. I don’t consider night mode a “pro” feature, or even an advanced one. Anyone who takes photos with their smartphones will benefit from getting better low-light photos, so it’s a pity that it wasn’t included in the iPhone SE 3.
Same front camera with 7 MP
iPhone SE features the same 7MP front camera with f/2.2 aperture as the second generation iPhone SE. While this was a huge improvement over the poor 1.2MP front shooter found in the original iPhone SE, selfie cameras have improved a lot over the past several years.
The iPhone SE 3 is rumored to support Apple’s MagSafe technology, which is one of the best smartphone innovations in years. MagSafe, which debuted with the iPhone 12, is a magnetic quick-link technology used by Apple and third-party accessory makers. There are MagSafe-enabled chargers, which charge faster than standard Qi chargers, MagSafe battery packs, MagSafe-enabled wallets, and of course MagSafe pouches.
It is really disappointing that the iPhone SE 3 does not support MagSafe. Admittedly, this would have resulted in a major design overhaul of the iPhone SE, which in turn would have increased costs, but it’s one of those features I hate being without. As you can see from the images below, the MagSafe Battery Pack and MagSafe Wallet will fit the dimensions of the iPhone SE 3, but in the current iteration, the phone doesn’t have the internal components to make it work.
The iPhone SE follows the tradition of its predecessors well. It gives us the latest and greatest system on a chip within an older budget structure. Performance is on par with the current generation of iPhones, but the iPhone SE 3, despite its adoption of 5G, lacks many of the conveniences of modern smartphones.
iPhone SE 3 will make new iPhone users and people coming from old iPhones happy. But in 2022, that chassis style and small 4.7-inch display look completely outdated. And if photography and videography are important measurement tools for you, the iPhone 11 is a much better device in this regard.
iPhone 11 features a larger 6.1-inch edge-to-edge display, a better true dual-camera system with an ultra-wide camera, night mode support, a higher-resolution TrueDepth front camera, and Face ID authentication support for just $70 more. In this regard, one can certainly make the argument that the iPhone 11 is a better buy, despite the slower A13 system on a chip close to three years old, and despite the lack of support for photography modes or Smart HDR 4.
With the way Apple supports older hardware — the original iPhone SE runs iOS 15 to screaming out loud — I wouldn’t have to worry too much about owning the many-year-old A13 Bionic.
What do you guys think? Head down in the comments with your thoughts.
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