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A lot of people were waiting for the new iPhone SE. The names floated on the webs before its launch. Some called it the iPhone SE 3. Some termed it the iPhone SE 2022. Apple, keeping in line with how it names its new iPads, simply calls it the iPhone SE. Or rather the iPhone SE 3rd Generation. Irrespective, what’s in the name? Not much. What matters, or should matter, is what the phone brings to the table. Does it make for a good upgrade for previous iPhone SE users? Or should it be the “affordable” iPhone that anyone looking to get into the Apple ecosystem should buy?

The answers to these questions aren’t exactly cut and dry. There are nuances and they are there because, effectively, the iPhone SE 2022 is similar to the iPhone SE 2020 in form and functionality.

Although, if you head over to the Apple website, or talk to someone at an Apple authorised store, you will see the iPhone SE 2022 in a different light. This is because, on paper, a lot has indeed changed. On paper, the iPhone SE 2022 is a thoroughly modern and current-gen phone. It uses the Apple A15 Bionic chipset, which is the company’s latest and greatest chip. It supports 5G networks, a technology so new that it is not even available in India yet. It uses a couple of glass layers that, according to Apple, are made of the toughest and best glass ever put in its phones. And on the camera side, because of the A15, the new iPhone SE offers support for Deep Fusion, just like the iPhone 13 Series phones.

It does sound a lot and the A15 is a great chipset, better than anything that one can get on an Android phone, but in practical terms, the iPhone SE 2022 doesn’t move the ground much. With this context, let’s take a closer look at the iPhone SE 2022.

iPhone SE 2022 review: Design and screen

Familiar: This is the word that almost everyone who sees the iPhone SE 2022 will think of. This is because the iPhone SE 2022 is not only a copy of the iPhone SE 2020, but it is also a copy of the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 8. The new iPhone SE sports a design that we have been seeing for close to six years now, even if the mainline iPhones — the iPhones that are launched in September — diverged from it with the iPhone X.

It’s not that this is a bad design. Functionally, it is an excellent design. But it is old. The screen is smallish at 4.7-inch. On the thick bezel below the screen, there is still the Touch ID. On the top of the screen, there is an equally thick bezel.

The positives can still be appreciated, though. In a world full of brick-like phones, the iPhone SE 2022 is compact, extremely light at 140 grams, and pleasantly petite with its curved edges. With its shiny piano-like finish and fantastic build quality, it is also an elegant phone.

At the end of the day, there is not much to say about the iPhone SE 2022 design. A lot has already been said. It has all the charm and beauty that we are familiar with, and it has all those dated aspects — thick bezels and a smaller screen — that even Apple no longer uses on mainline phones.

The compactness of the iPhone SE makes it easy to use with one hand. The Touch ID means one doesn’t have to rely on the finicky Face ID in these “masked” times. The buttons are well crafted and have an excellent feel. The aluminum frame feels soft and polished in the hands.

The biggest downside of the design, however, is the screen. Or, as the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you like light and compact phones, you will love the iPhone SE. But you will also have to settle for a smaller screen. The quality of the display is fantastic. It is bright enough to handle the blazing Delhi sun. The TrueTone, although it tends to make colours warmer, works as well as it does on bigger iPhones. The issue, however, is the size of the display. In 2022, when we are used to bigger displays, the iPhone SE screen feels a tad too small. It is “smol”, like they say nowadays. And the small screen is not immersive enough to truly elevate the experience. It is functional but there is no wow factor.

This smaller screen also, in my opinion, puts the new iPhone SE at a disadvantage compared to the phones like the iPhone 11 that are still in the market and are fairly close to the price of the SE.

iPhone SE 2022 review: Performance and battery

Performance is the highlight of the new iPhone SE. It comes with the A15 Bionic chipset, the same chipset that is inside the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13. In theoretical, as well as practical, terms, this makes the iPhone SE one of the fastest iPhones ever released. It also makes it, and rather easily, a faster phone than any Android phone available in the market right now.

In other words, the A15 offers a lot of benefits to its users. The issue, however, is that most users are unlikely to notice this speed. This is because the iPhone SE 2020 too is a fast phone. And so are the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 12. For several generations now, Apple has produced A series of chipsets that offer incredible performance. And while people notice when they move from a vehicle going at the speed of 20kmph to one moving at the speed of 60kmph, they are unlikely to notice if they switch from a car that goes at 60kmph to a car that can manage 70kmph.

It is the same with iPhones nowadays. They are already so fast and offer such a smooth and fluid interface that from generation to generation the speed change is not noticeable.

In use, I found the new iPhone SE to be a capable phone. It is fast, renders web pages quickly, switches between apps without hiccups, and renders games flowingly.

The real benefit of the A15, however, is not in the performance it offers over the A13 or even A12. Instead, it is in the upgrade path on it opened. In other words, there is a fair chance that the iPhone SE 2022 bought today will be supported until 2026 or 2027. The iPhone 11 or the iPhone SE 2020, meanwhile, may see the support end around 2024.

This future support is also the area where 5G, another new feature on the iPhone SE 2022, comes into the picture for Indian users. Right now, in India 5G is not available. Chances are that 5G in India is unlikely to be available before the middle of 2023 and that is the optimistic estimate. But if you do get the new iPhone SE, next year or in 2024 when you are trying to get onto the 5G network, you will be able to do so without buying a new phone.

Apple says that compared to the iPhone SE 2020, the new SE offers slightly more battery life. The specified figure is 15 hours of video playback compared to the 13 hours that the previous SE offers. In regular use, I don’t think there is any significant change in the battery life of the SE. It is a small phone with a small screen but also a small battery inside. It is not a road runner like the iPhone 13 Pro Max, although it does last one full day with ease. Like other iPhones now, the SE too comes without a charger. If you already have an iPhone charger, you will be able to use it with the new SE. If you don’t, you will have to purchase one from Apple and that will cost Rs 2000.

iPhone SE 2022 review: Camera performance

There is one new feature in the iPhone SE 2022 camera: Deep Fusion. But for all practical purposes, I can confidently say that the iPhone SE 2022 uses a camera system that is essentially the same as the one in the iPhone SE 2020. The phone has a 12-megapixel rear camera, and a 7-megapixel front camera. But cameras click great photos in a good light. In particular, I like how the phone captures colours in their right and true vibrancy.

I also like the speed at which the phone clicks photos, with no lag and no focus delays. In photos clicked in good light, there are plenty of details (the photo of the flower, for example) and while the white balance is mostly on the warm side, it is also technically the right side.

In low light, both rear and front cameras struggle to capture adequate details. Although, the photos shot in low light aren’t bad. The iPhone SE manages to keep the noise levels down and colours to have the necessary contrast. Metering is also spot on (the lit stadium, for example). But I wish the detailing was better in low-light photos.

Overall, I find the iPhone SE 2022 camera capable but limited. It would have been nice to see an additional camera (preferably ultra-wide) or so for more versatility. It would also have been nice to get features like Night Mode on it.

iPhone SE 2022 review: Conclusion vs the iPhone 11

Since Apple moved to a bigger screen from 4 inches, there have been no bad iPhones. The iPhone SE 2022 too is a good phone. It is an extremely fast phone with a good — but small — screen and a slick design. Its camera system doesn’t have many tricks, but it is a capable camera system, particularly in good light. The question then is: should you get the iPhone SE 2022? I feel the dated design, relatively smaller screen and lack of some camera features like the ability to shoot ultra-wide photos or night mode, limit the appeal of the iPhone SE 2022. They also make the phone slightly overpriced at Rs 43,900.

Essentially, the iPhone SE 2022 is for people who don’t want to get into a mess called high-end Android — and it is a mess right now — but at the same time, also don’t want to spend Rs 60,000 or Rs 70,000 on an iPhone. If you too are someone looking to get a fast and future-proof iPhone at the lowest possible price, you can’t go wrong with the iPhone SE 2022.

But if you just want a good iPhone and don’t care much about the 5G support, I feel a better option is the iPhone 11, which sells at a price similar to that of the iPhone SE. With iPhone 11, not only do you get a bigger screen, but also a more versatile camera system.

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India today