Apple iPhone SE 3rd Gen Review: Surprise Edition!
I was fascinated by the iPhone SE in 2020 for its value proposition as someone's first iPhone. In fact, I was so spellbound that I bought the 2020 iPhone SE in the shiny Product Red colour, and happily went around carrying it as my daily driver, all the while I was exposed to the modern-day marvels that were the Samsung Galaxy S21, or the iPhone 12. The phone was not perfect by any means and there were countless moments when it had to bear the brunt of my frustration. But my love-hate affair with that tiny iPhone SE continues, considering it was the first iPhone I bought.
Hence, for the 2022 model, I had desperately prayed for all those leaks and rumours to be untrue. After all, most SE users like me wanted it to offer a newer iPhone experience at the same low price. Sadly, that did not happen and we have the “new” iPhone SE as basically a minor spec-bump over the older model. It has 5G now and promises longer battery life, but that is not what existing iPhone SE users had hoped for -- we wanted a "new" iPhone SE.
Casting aside my reservations, I begun my 10-day experience of the new iPhone SE 3rd Gen and in the end, I came back to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, but only because I had tasted the honey. The 2022 iPhone SE 3rd Gen is a surprise package!
iPhone SE 3rd Gen Design
I am in no mood to waste your time here — the iPhone SE looks the same as the old iPhone SE 2020 that I have, which in turn was the same as the iPhone 8, which again was a refinement of 2014's iPhone 6! Only Apple is brave enough to pull off something like this! In an age where we criticise Android phones for having a slightly thicker chin on a near-bezel-less design, the iPhone SE flaunts retro screen bezels like a daredevil. Unless you are used to your old iPhone 7's design, the iPhone SE will always seem outdated right out of the box.
But credits to be given where due — the iPhone SE 3rd Gen is easily the best built smartphone I have seen in the sub- ₹50,000 space lately. Solid metal frame, premium glass on the front and rear, and the same refined curves and lines that were deemed class-leading half a decade ago. The fit and finish till date hasn't been matched either by Samsung or any of the Chinese brands.
And thanks to the compact size, the 2022 iPhone SE remains the most comfortable phone you can use at the moment. The Home button is a luxury you discover after facing the quirks of Face ID on the new iPhones. And, at 144 grams, it seems featherweight to the 200 grams plus heavy phones that is the norm these days.
iPhone SE 3rd Gen Display
The achilles heel of the iPhone SE! A 4.7-inch display isn't enough for modern smartphone duties, especially on the iOS ecosystem. Hence, whether you are browsing Instagram or doing video calls, the 4.7-inches expanse seems too cramped. The keyboard is cramped and you have to scroll a lot more than you actually do on a modern 6.1-inch iPhone, or bigger.
Even if you are fine with the cramped display, the LCD display isn't the liveliest you will see on a modern phone costing upwards of Rs. 40,000. It looks fine but next to the high-refresh rate AMOLED displays, this 60Hz LCD display looks unappealing in comparison. You can certainly get used to it but you always know that the rest of the world has moved 8 years ahead in this regard. Even while playing games, the lower touch response rate seems laggy. On the whole, the display itself is the weakest part of the iPhone SE 2022.
iPhone SE 2022 Performance
What it lacks in the display, it makes up for it with its performance. With the A15 Bionic chip borrowed from the iPhone 13, the new iPhone SE is right now among the fastest iPhones Apple sells. I say among the fastest since the A15 chip has to push fewer pixels on a lower-res display in comparison to the iPhone 13.The supreme performance also is the result of a nicely optimised iOS 15.4, which is the most polished iteration of iOS 15, with only a few bugs present.
On a daily basis, the iPhone SE is always eager to get going. You open the Gmail app and it is there, loading mails quickly. Open Instagram and the same story continues. You can even open an app you used a few days ago from the “recents” window and the iPhone SE loads it up right from where you left. This is not an iPhone SE exclusivity but no other phone at this price can replicate the same performance. For those coming from the iPhone 7 and older models, you will notice the sprightly reactions and swift animations that come as a result of the A15 chip.
If you are in the mood to play some demanding games, the iPhone SE can do that as well. Games such as Call of Duty: Mobile and BGMI run at the highest possible settings on this device with no noticeable frame drop over an hour of gameplay. There's no 90 fps mode though, which is obvious considering the primitive display tech. The lack of a high touch response rate also limits the overall experience.
iOS 15.4 is classic iOS, complete with the new and interactive widgets you see on the bigger iPhones. Everything seems small and cramped but it works exactly like an iPhone should. Yes, the Control Center still comes up from the bottom, and you have to rely on Home button presses instead of swipe gestures to do your business. If you have got an iPad and a Mac, the iPhone SE fits right with these gadgets. AirDrop and iMessage are features you will get to appreciate if your family and friends are within Apple's walled-garden. That said, Apple has been struggling to fix bugs on the iPhone in general and even on the iPhone SE, iOS 15.4 brought a slow Wi-Fi network speed bug that also plagues my iPhone 13 Pro Max. Some have even complained of higher battery drains, which is not a good thing for the iPhone SE's small capacity battery.
Similar to the iPhone 8, you get a pair of stereo speakers on the iPhone SE 2022. They sound good enough and are loud but the audio quality is nowhere near as meaty as that on the iPhone 13, or its Pro variants.
5G is the highlight on the iPhone SE 2022 and as of now, we can only admire its theoretical presence. Note that the iPhone SE does not support mmWave 5G and speeds will be reduced to sub-6Ghz 5G speeds. Is that good or bad? Only time will tell. For now, performance on 4G networks has been rock solid, with the iPhone SE consistently delivering fast and reliable internet speeds on Jio's 4G networks. Wi-Fi speeds have been low with the iOS 15.4 update and I hope Apple releases a patch to fix it soon.
iPhone SE 2022 Cameras
Or rather, I should say the camera. Because even in 2022, the iPhone SE is now the only phone above Rs. 40,000 I know of that offers just a single rear camera. The 12MP camera still uses the same sensor from the iPhone 8 and its upgrades are courtesy of software tricks made possible by the A15 Bionic chip. Is it any good?
In short, very! The iPhone SE may have dated camera hardware but the tuning makes this a very good and reliable camera for photographers to play with. Compared to Android phones in its price range, the iPhone SE's rear camera maintains a neutral and natural colour tone, with great details and nice exposure balance. That infamous yellow cast seen on older iPhones is gone and during my short vacation, I was happy to go around clicking some of the nicest photos in both daylight and low light. The same can be said of its video quality — whether you shoot in 4K at 30 for, or 1080p at 30 fps, the footage quality is unmatched.
Photographic Styles from the iPhone 13 gives this single camera a bit more versatility with regards its colour science. Weirdly, Apple still couldn't figure out a way to bake a functional Night mode into the iPhone SE's camera. Third-party camera apps can take the long-exposure photos on the same phone but Apple's own camera app can't! Oh Apple!
Selfies out of the 7MP front camera are good. As long as there is good lighting, the selfies contain ample details, great colours, brightened up facial details, and a good portrait mode to play with.
iPhone SE 2022 Battery
“Up to 2 hours of extra video playback over the iPhone SE 2nd Gen” — that is what Apple claims on its website. A little digging around on the internet revealed a gain of 200mAh of extra capacity over the iPhone SE 2nd Gen's battery. The real world result? It is still no battery champ like the iPhone 13 but it now crawls into the “full-day battery” territory — “when used in 4G network all day”. Note this, since 5G networks are bound to offer higher battery drain.
With my moderate use pattern involving the usual social media browsing, taking 2 hours of calls on an average daily, music streaming, and some good amount of still photography, the iPhone SE 3rd Gen can now easily make it to the end of the day, with 20-25 percent battery left. On my 2nd Gen iPhone SE, it needed a mid-day refill under the same use case.
You will need the 20W Apple charger to fill up its battery the fastest, and a 0-50 percent recharge can be done within 30 minutes. From 50-100 percent, you will need to wait at least an hour. This is not the fastest charging mechanism but it does the work. I still recommend keeping a power bank handy while venturing outdoors for a whole day.
As I said earlier, I have a love-hate relationship with the iPhone SE 2nd Gen and after living with this one, the new 2022 iPhone SE 3rd Gen maintains that same love-hate relationship. The new chip and slightly enhanced battery life are two crucial upgrades that I adore. I am also happy to see the upgraded camera performance and the versatility the Photographic Styles feature brings to the table. Would I upgrade? Nah, I will be happy carrying my 2nd Gen iPhone SE, since there isn't enough to warrant an upgrade right now.
Now, the objective POV. The iPhone SE 3rd Gen is vintage in the way it delivers its smartphone experience. The compromises are aplenty and someone coming from modern-day sub-Rs. 20,000 Android smartphones could have a tough time adjusting to this phone. The display is among the biggest reasons for us to not recommend it to anyone spending this sort of money on a 2022 phone. It limits the iOS experience too, which may make you upgrade to a bigger iPhone 12, or even the iPhone 13.
But that is what Apple wants at the end of the day — to sell you a phone that gives you a taste of its walled-garden but gives you enough reasons to invest more into Tim Cook's cash registers. It is the lure of the famed Apple logo and the ever so desirable “iPhone experience” that will make most of you buy the iPhone SE 2022, despite its glaring shortcomings. And mark my words, the iPhone SE 2022 will sell in good numbers as soon as the price drops after a few months.
Now, time for the big question: Should you buy the iPhone SE 3rd Gen? If you know the compromises you are making with this one, go ahead and buy it; you will be surprised by what it can do. The 2022 iPhone SE 3rd Gen is a solid smartphone overall with nice cameras, sublime user experience, and a decent battery life. And don't forget at least 6 years of OS updates (the original 2016 iPhone SE also runs on iOS 15.4). If you seek more, spend extra and get the iPhone 12.
- Superb build quality
- Flawless performance
- Great camera performance
- Cramped display
- Inadequate battery life
Display4.7-inch IPS LCD 1334x750 pixels
ChipsetApple A15 Bionic
Rear Camera12MP f/1.8 lens
Battery Charging20W wired, Qi-standard wireless