Using the iPhone SE (’16) in 2021 | An Eye-Opening Trip Down Memory Lane

Original iPhone SE 2016 2017 Credit: Karanik Yimpat / Shutterstock
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Sometimes bigger is better. Sometimes, it’s not. If you’re like me, then you remember exactly how stunning Apple’s little 3.5-inch iPhone 4 looked when it launched and how impressive it was overall. The iPhone 4’s gorgeous flat-edged design later carried over to the iPhone 5 and 5s in spirit but was improved even further with room for a taller 4-inch display.

Apple’s iPhone 5 and 5s models were attractive, still very pocketable, powerful, and easy to use. They were small, and people adored them (especially me).

Ultimately, some heralded the four-inch iPhone 5’s design as the best Apple has ever produced. That’s why people were delighted once Apple announced the company was bringing that petite design back with the iPhone SE in 2016, featuring the (then) ultra-powerful A9 processor – the same one used in Apple’s headlining iPhone 6s models.

Unfortunately, I traded in my original iPhone SE in 2017 and had missed it ever since. But when I saw one of these renowned iPhone SEs listed on eBay for as little as $50, and in excellent condition, I pounced on the opportunity to buy it.

The plan was to use the miniature SE as my daily driver. Well, that lasted a week.

It’s now resting peacefully in a drawer.

What went wrong?

The iPhone SE’s Performance Is Hit and Miss, Sometimes Too Hot to Handle

Surprisingly, I was impressed with the overall performance of the aging iPhone SE. Yes, apps in general were pretty snappy, and I faced only a few issues getting done what needed to be done.

However, it’s obvious at times that the A9 processor was metaphorically screaming in the background, like an old Honda Civic racing on low-octane fuel at redline RPMs. The phone begins to boil while operating some third-party apps or games and will make you question whether you really want to push the SE any further, or just put it away.

Like an old four-banger in need of an oil change, the iPhone SE will get you from point A to point B, but you’ll want to drive slowly for fear of combustion.

The iPhone SE Is Missing Critical Features and Doesn’t Meet Standard Expectations

I knew going into this that the iPhone SE wouldn’t feature all of the creature comforts found in Apple’s newer models – but I just didn’t realize how far I’ve grown used to them. Sometimes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

Night Mode, wireless charging, fast charging, rated water resistance, etc., the list goes on and on. You won’t find any of these features on the original iPhone SE.

It does have a couple of cameras. Though, you usually won’t like what you see.

The iPhone SE’s rear camera packs 12 megapixels, the same as Apple’s latest models – however, its single lens and image processing is rubbish, relative to today’s standards.

Although, I do find the rear camera’s unintentional “vintage effect” quite charming. The same cannot be said for its selfie camera.

The SE’s speakers aren’t good, and the microphone isn’t good either. Those are critical features for a phone that you’d expect to work well, but don’t, and so you won’t be able to ignore these glaring imperfections for long.

We often forget how fast technology has advanced, and it’s clear that we can take these improvements for granted. That becomes very obvious when using the original iPhone SE.

Horrible Battery Life

Even at 90% Battery Health, the tiny 1,624 mAh battery in the original iPhone SE isn’t physically large enough to hold much juice.

Scrolling through Instagram is enough to kill the phone in a few hours – forget about making or watching TikToks on battery power.

With regular use, you might find yourself charging an iPhone SE three times a day. Not to mention this phone charges SLOWLY. So topping up before heading out for the evening is nearly pointless.

It Lacks Usable Storage (My Fault)

The iPhone SE I bought comes with a massive 16GB of onboard storage. Sarcasm aside, this is by no means enough usable storage in 2021. Of course, that’s my mistake, as I should’ve just ponied up the dough for a 64GB (or even 128GB) model.

iOS 15 alone takes up 9GB of storage, and iOS’s mysterious “Documents and Data” takes up another 3GB of space. You do the math.

On top of that, Health data takes up 700MB, even after deleting everything, as well as Music data taking up another 600MB. Backing up and restoring the phone did nothing to alleviate the data issue, either.

These may be problems resulting from iOS 15, but still, the phone only had enough for about seven of my favorite (or essential) apps and about 40 photos at a time. That just doesn’t cut it.

Final Thoughts on the iPhone SE

The original iPhone SE served as a splendid trip down memory lane. Holding the SE reminds me of why I love Apple’s devices in the first place and I’m very happy having put one back in my collection at such an affordable price.

It still works pretty well, all things considered, and the fact that Apple still supports the iPhone SE with iOS 15 is exciting in its own right, making this nostalgic trip even more enjoyable with today’s newest operating system.

Unfortunately, though, not everything about this journey was fun. The iPhone SE holds a very special place in my heart – but in the process of actually using one in 2021, I learned to appreciate my larger, more powerful, and more efficient iPhone 11 Pro more than ever before.

Should you own an iPhone SE? Yes! Should you use one? No.

In this case, bigger did end up being better. But in the future, I’ll certainly have my wallet open and ready for the next iPhone SE, with 5G and more, built for the modern era.

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