iOS 13 on the iPhone SE: Is It Worth It?

Iphone Se Ios 13 Credit: Brandon Butch
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The iPhone SE is pretty far from Apple’s latest and greatest smartphone. While it debuted in 2016, its overall form factor is around seven years old. So how does iOS 13 run on the older device?

In a nutshell, it runs really well. While there were reports that iOS 13 wouldn’t support the iPhone SE, that isn’t the case. And if you still use the 4-inch smartphone as your daily driver, you’ll probably be happy to know that iOS 13 breathes new life into the aging form factor.


It may not look like it at first glance, but the iPhone SE is still a fairly capable device. It packs Apple’s A9 chipset — the same processor that powers Apple’s iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus devices from 2016.

But while the internals are still capable, iOS 13 boosts the iPhone SE’s performance — even beyond the speed bumps in iOS 12.

Apps open noticeably faster in the latest iOS 13 beta and using Touch ID to unlock the device happens in what seems like a split second. In other areas of the operating system, the performance is just as zippy and responsive.

Even with an aging battery in our own iPhone SE test unit, the update made the three-year-old smartphone feel like a brand new device.

“3D Touch”

Apple’s 3D Touch feature first debuted on the iPhone 6s — a device that debuted concurrently with the iPhone SE. Despite having the same internals however, the iPhone SE could never take advantage of the handy feature.

iOS 13 doesn’t technically add 3D Touch to the iPhone SE, but it does bring quite a bit of the feature’s capabilities to the 4-inch form factor. In other words, you’ll get access to features that have never been available on the SE.

Want to access the Quick Actions menu on an app? Just long press on it. You can also Peek at the notifications in a folder with a similar long press. For the iPhone SE, it’s basically revolutionary. Just make sure you’re long-pressing and not holding down (for too long) on an app, since tapping and holding still activates the “wiggle mode.”

Text & Keyboard

The iPhone SE isn’t the first device that comes to mind if you want to work with text. And truthfully, editing and tapping out messages just seems a bit clunkier on the tiny 4-inch display than on Apple’s other devices. But iOS 13 does quite a bit to help in this area.

As with iOS 13 on other devices, you can now pick up and place the text cursor anywhere without needing to tap on a location with pinpoint accuracy. The double- and triple-tap shortcuts to select words and sentences also work like a charm.

Speaking of working with text, the new QuickPath keyboard is excellent on the iPhone SE. There’s absolutely no noticeable lag or sluggishness to the feature on the aging form factor.

Native Apps

Apple has refreshed a handful of its native iOS applications in iOS 13, including Reminders and Messages. Those apps are now much more powerful and capable — and they’re no different on the iPhone SE.

Working with the first couple beta versions of iOS 13, Messages, Reminders, the new Health app and Safari all work exceptionally well on the iPhone SE. Aside from the display size, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between those apps on an iPhone SE and a newer device.

You even get support for local storage and generic media, just like on iPadOS. Combined with the download manager in Safari, iOS 13 on the iPhone SE does away with some of the more common critiques from Android fans.

Other Features

Before you ask, yes: Dark Mode is available on the iPhone SE in iOS 13. And Apple hasn’t made any compromises with the feature. It looks and functions just as great as it does on an OLED device like the iPhone XS.

Some of the more notable features you may have heard about, like Silence Unknown Callers and the new optimized battery charging, are available on the SE. The latter feature is sure to come in handy for users who are holding onto their 4-inch iPhones for any length of time.

And while the iPhone SE doesn’t come with Animoji or Memoji support (due to its lack of a TrueDepth camera), you can still create your own Animoji and Memoji stickers to use in Messages.


Based on our testing, we can highly recommend upgrading to iOS 13 on your iPhone SE when it drops in the fall.

The 3D Touch-like capabilities and the overall performance boosts are worth the upgrade by themselves. But you’ll also get Dark Mode, refreshed apps, and a suite of other handy and fun features.

Of course, if you use your iPhone SE as a daily driver, it’s probably still smart to hold off until the official public release. The iOS 13 betas have been stable in our own testing, but they’re still betas and things could still go wrong.

But when iOS 13 is officially released, don’t hesitate to download it to your iPhone SE. If you’re still interested in the iOS 13 beta, you can learn how to install it here.

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