Despite several rumours that Apple’s new entry-level iPhone would be arriving earlier this month, it seems that the one dissenting report of an April 15 launch was spot on — Apple today has launched the new budget iPhone model, and as the several other eleventh-hour reports shared, it has in fact gone with the simple name iPhone SE.
It’s an interesting choice of name, since it takes away any obvious distinction from its 2016 predecessor, which carried the same name with a radically different design. Many expected that it would be called iPhone 9, since it follows so closely on the design of the iPhone 8, or that Apple would at least distinguish it with a moniker like “iPhone SE 2” — as awkward as that may sound.
However, the reality is that the original iPhone SE has been discontinued for long enough that Apple doesn’t really need to differentiate the newest iPhone SE for marketing purposes, and so it can comfortably follow the same trend that has long been established with the iPad, which hasn’t had an actual numeric name since the 2011 iPad 2. Of course, people are still likely to refer to the new iPhone SE as the “iPhone SE 2,” but the official name for support purposes will likely just be “iPhone SE (second-generation)” or “2020 iPhone SE.”
Pre-orders for the iPhone SE will open on Apple’s online store this Friday, April 17, at 5 a.m. PDT, and the iPhone SE is expected to be arriving in stores and in people’s hands by next Friday, April 24. Pricing starts at $399 for the 64GB model, up to $549 for the 256GB capacity, although users who have an iPhone to trade-in could pick up the entry-level 64GB model for as low as $229.
By now there aren’t a lot of other surprises in the new iPhone SE, which follows the same strategy of the original — taking a 2.5-year-old predecessor and upgrading the internals while leaving most of the other specs and the overall design unchanged. Read on for 7 new features in the 2020 iPhone SE.
While the iPhone SE may look like an iPhone 8, under the hood it’s gotten a pretty impressive CPU bump, now sporting the exact same A13 Bionic CPU that’s found in all of Apple’s iPhone 11 models. While Apple never talks about RAM, most reports have said that it will also include a similar bump to 6GB, although we’ll need to wait for tech reviewers to get their hands on the new iPhone SE before we know for certain.
The switch to an A13 Bionic shouldn’t be underestimated, since this is the same chip that powers the advanced computational photography and machine learning features that make the iPhone 11 capable of things like Night Mode and Deep Fusion. While the single-lens iPhone SE won’t be able to pull all of those features off, it does deliver a few new features that the iPhone 8 simply couldn’t handle.
The biggest new photography feature is Portrait Mode, something that simply wasn’t doable on the single-lens iPhone 8 back in the day. Apple actually introduced Portrait Mode with the dual-camera iPhone 7 Plus back in 2016, but it remained the exclusive domain of dual-lens iPhones until the iPhone XR was released in 2018, which featured a more powerful A12 chip and some machine-learning algorithms that enabled Portrait Mode to work with a single lens.
No doubt due to what Apple learned with the iPhone XR, and the even more capable A13 chip, bringing Portrait Mode to the iPhone SE should have almost been expected, and it’s a great new feature for those who still want to maintain the traditional and pocketable iPhone 8 design but take advantage of more advanced photography features. All six Portrait Lighting effects are available, along with the Depth Control feature that allows you to edit the bokeh effects after the fact.
What’s a bit more surprising here, however is that the iPhone SE can also take full portrait mode shots from the front camera, which has previously only been available on devices that feature the TrueDepth camera. Of course, this is also the first time a A13 chip has ever been used in a device that doesn’t have the TrueDepth camera, and if Portrait Mode shots were possible using the single rear camera on the iPhone XR, there’s really no reason that the front camera shouldn’t be able to do the same.
Note that both the front and rear cameras otherwise remain identical to the iPhone 8. The improvements in the iPhone SE come from the A13 chip, rather than changes to the camera sensors themselves.
Improved Video Recording
The iPhone SE also promises a better video recording experience, with the ability to capture audio in stereo along with cinematic video stabilization on the rear cameras in up to 4K at 60fps. The front camera, however, remains limited to 1080p video capture.
While you could capture 4K/60fps video on the iPhone 8, the new iPhone SE will also offer extended dynamic range, much like the iPhone 11, at up to 30fps, no doubt thanks to the more powerful A13 chip. The new QuickTake video feature is also supported on both the front and rear cameras, suggesting that the iPhone SE will also have the same advanced Camera app interface that came exclusively to the iPhone 11 lineup last year.
Dual SIM Support
Apple was relatively late to the game in bringing Dual SIM support to the iPhone — it didn’t arrive until the 2018 iPhone XS/XR lineup — but now it appears that the company is fully embracing the technology, with the new iPhone SE featuring the same Dual SIM with eSIM feature of its higher-end iPhones.
This makes it the first traditional iPhone design to provide the ability to be used with two different service providers, which will be a big boon for frequent travellers, or those who simply want to separate business calls from personal ones.
Wi-Fi 6 and Gigabit LTE, but no UWB
Apple hasn’t pulled out any stops with the wireless capabilities in the new iPhone SE, which are almost a match for the iPhone 11. The new budget iPhone gains full Wi-Fi 6 support, which should help conserve battery life and deal with congested networks better — as long as you’re connecting to a Wi-Fi 6 capable router, of course, and there’s also Gigabit-class LTE.
What does appear to be conspicuously missing, however, is Apple’s U1 chip, which is used to support Ultra Wideband technology for locating objects more precisely and handling features like indoor navigation. This may not be a big surprise, since Apple also omitted the U1 chip from the iPad Pro, but it does suggest that it plans to keep at least some wireless features exclusive to the higher-end iPhone models, and likely means that iPhone SE owners won’t be able to take full advantage of Apple’s AirTags when they eventually launch later this year.
No 3D Touch
As expected, one thing the iPhone SE will lack compared to the iPhone 8 is support for 3D Touch, but for all intents and purposes this should be irrelevant now that Apple has introduced Haptic Touch in iOS 13, which provides enough of the same features that most users are unlikely to notice the difference.
With Apple having moved on from the world of 3D Touch last year, it would have been very peculiar for the iPhone SE to still include the feature, which has now become something of an anachronism.
New Colors and Capacities
Although the iPhone 8 was originally available in a 256GB model, and Apple later released a (PRODUCT)RED version, both of these went away after the iPhone XS and iPhone XR release relegated the iPhone 8 to “older model” status.
The iPhone SE reintroduces both of these, however, although it changes up the other color options a bit, with the new options being Black and White, rather than Silver and Space Gray, and the Gold option going away entirely.