The iPhone SE 2020 takes the design of the iPhone 8 and integrates the processor of the iPhone 11, with a little more RAM. All for a price below 500 euros. What is this new proposal from Apple worth? Here is our full test!
In 2016, Apple unveiled the iPhone SE, its first iPhone launched outside of annual and "canonical" releases. Its strengths lay in three aspects: its compact design inherited from the iPhone 5S, its aggressive price / performance ratio for an iPhone, and an emphasis on the environment with many recyclable or recycled components. Four years later, Apple is renewing this model with the iPhone SE (2020). What are its strengths now? Is this model still relevant today? That’s what we’ll see with this full test.
This test was carried out using a copy purchased by us.
With its borders, is the iPhone SE really compact?
On paper, with a 4.7 inch 16/9 screen, you could say that the iPhone SE is a particularly compact phone, at a time when smartphones all have screens larger than 6 inches. It was, however, one of the big markers of the 2016 iPhone SE. However, the iPhone takes up the design of the iPhone 8 with its very wide borders all around the screen. Is it really that compact after all? Yes, it is. Even comparing it with an iPhone X yet not much bigger, but totally borderless, the difference is noticeable in hand.
It's simple, I have no trouble reaching the top of the screen, even with my thumb. Especially for the first time in a long time, the phone was easily forgotten in my jeans pocket. After several years of seeing many large smartphone formats in the newsroom, it's really refreshing to come back to something more reasonable.
Size put aside, the design of this iPhone SE really got old in 2020 with its wide borders. The screen is found on a fairly small part of the front panel, which can have consequences quite harmful to use. We will come back to this later. We would be curious to discover an iPhone with the same format, but a screen with finer borders, with a design closer to the iPhone X.
Finishes and connectors
For the rest, Apple offers us here a phone with excellent finishes, but we expected no less from the brand. Everything is perfectly balanced, with a Lightning port exactly in the middle of the bass section, surrounded by two perfectly symmetrical speakers. Design of the iPhone 8 requires a 3.5mm jack port point on this new phone. The old iPhone SE still had it. On the other hand, we find the plastic antenna strips on the sides, which have been more discreet in recent years.
The camera pops out of the phone slightly, but not to the point of making it totally wobbly. The placement of the sensor in the corner of the back requires a little adaptation so as not to spend your time covering it with your index finger, when you hold the smartphone on its side.
Good point inherited from its design, it is resistant to water and dust with an IP67 certification. It’s quite rare in this price segment.
Touch ID and the Taptic Engine
The user is identified by a fingerprint reader located under the screen. No we don't mean under the screen surface, like most borderless smartphones in 2020, but on the front of the phone, below the screen. Apple reuses here its good old Touch ID that we had left with the iPhone 8. If the sensor still works as well, even when wearing a mask unlike the first versions of Face ID, it necessarily takes up space in the front. Personally, I have always preferred Touch ID over Face ID, but I hope that Apple will one day find a way to integrate it properly under the surface of the screen.
Note that this sensor does not really hide a button. Since the iPhone 7, Apple has indeed replaced its "home" button, which often fails over time, with a Taptic Engine vibration motor hidden under the Touch ID sensor. After a period of adaptation, you end up having the impression of actually pressing a button. This is a detail, but this vibration motor is really of very good quality and there are few Android smartphones to offer this experience unfortunately.
The LCD looks like OLED
Apple is one of the last manufacturers on the market to use the LCD as much in its smartphones, especially considering their prices. OLED technology is now widespread, and the announcement of a new iPhone with an LCD screen still leaves a mixed impression. However, the brand has shown with the iPhone 11 that it can offer excellent quality LCD and perfectly calibrated.
The iPhone SE incorporates a 4.7-inch screen with a resolution of 1334 x 750 pixels. It is a flat screen, protected by Gorilla Glass and which offers the True Tone, which adapts the white balance to the lighting of the environment around the smartphone. We passed our smartphone under our colorimetric probe with the help of Calman software. It delivers a maximum brightness of 520 cd / m² for a contrast of 1500: 1. The color temperature of 6568K is very close to ideal. The screen covers 72% of the DCI-P3 spectrum with very good calibration. The deltaE recorded is on average 2.9, this is below the difference perceptible by the human eye estimated at 3.
Apple therefore once again offers an excellent LCD screen, albeit lacking a little resolution, but the competition now offers very good OLEDs at this price level.
iOS is no longer perfectly suited
We are not going to present again iOS 13 which animates all the mobile products of Apple since the end of 2019. Let us rather insist on the strengths and weaknesses of the OS when it is specifically about the iPhone SE. If you already have an iPhone, smartphone initialization takes place very quickly, and in fact it is enough to approach your old phone during installation to transfer data quickly from one device to another. It was here that I spotted a first small software defect, a detail in itself insignificant, but questioning on my part.
The interface of the data transfer system was not displayed as well on the iPhone SE 2020, as on the iPhone X. These small details, I found in several places: the Control Center which allows to manage quickly some phone settings are truncated on the iPhone SE, and some apps don't display perfectly. For the time being, this is never restrictive to use, unlike the old iPhone where certain applications had completely become incompatible with the telephone on the small screen. Navigation in the system is done with the central button, and Apple does not offer to activate gesture navigation offered on its iPhone borderless, which would relegate the button to the simple use of a fingerprint reader, but would facilitate the transition from one device to another when you are already used to new navigation.
This still raises the question of support for the 4.7 inch screen by Apple and developers in the coming years while the rest of the range offers larger diagonals. In the same vein, iOS does not really take advantage of the space offered by the screen in the status bar and for good reason, this location is covered by the notch on other iPhone today. The screen is also a little small for reading content on the web, and the virtual keyboard is also necessarily a little more compact.
That was for fears. Among the qualities we must mention the very long follow-up offered by Apple on iPhone. It's simple, the old iPhone SE dating from 2016 is still up to date and functional today, except for the few problems mentioned above. In any event, the new iPhone SE should benefit from the same excellent tracking that is today one of Apple's great strengths.
Unsurprisingly, the iPhone SE fits perfectly into the new ecosystem pushed by Apple. You can access Apple Arcade games, but also Apple TV + content, which is available for one year on the phone at the time of purchase.
Apple A13 has it under the elbow
The big "novelty" of this iPhone SE 2020, when compared with the iPhone 8, is therefore above all its Apple A13 SoC. It’s simply the powerful chip that we already know in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. Here, the iPhone SE has the advantage of offering a screen with a low definition, which should have a positive impact on the performance of the device. However, it should be noted that it has less RAM (only 3 GB) than the iPhone 11 (4 GB).
|Apple iPhone SE (2020)||Apple iPhone 11||Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max||OnePlus 7 Pro||Huawei P30 Pro (perf ON)|
|SoC||Apple A13||Apple A13||Apple A13||S855||Kirin 980|
|3DMark Slingshot Extreme||3990||4,664||5,258||5,577||4,243|
|3DMark Slingshot Extreme Graphics||4516||6,127||5,783||6,228||4,374|
|3DMark Slingshot Extreme Physics||2833||2,540||3,989||4,084||3,841|
|GFXBench Aztec Vulkan / Metal high (onscreen / offscreen)||60/30 FPS||60/29 FPS||48/28 FPS||15/16 FPS||16/13 FPS|
|GFXBench Car Chase (onscreen / offscreen)||60/63 FPS||60/60 FPS||48/61 FPS||21/42 FPS||29/33 FPS|
|GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 (onscreen / offscreen)||60/156 FPS||60/156 FPS||60/156 FPS||55/101 FPS||59/89 FPS|
|Sequential read / write||nc||nc||nc||1,436 / 388 MB / s||903/232 MB / s|
|Random read / write||nc||nc||nc||43k / 7.2k IOPS||43.4k / 66k IOPS|
I had no problem running the most demanding games in the App Store. We of course tested Fortnite Battle Royal, which runs at 100% 3D resolution, details set to the maximum, and at 60 frames per second. I noticed a little warming up of the phone after a good gaming session, but nothing to get below 50 frames per second. Same sound for Call of Duty Mobile which runs perfectly on this iPhone.
In addition to these excellent performances, the choice of this chip is a good sign for the lifespan of the smartphone. Apple should continue to support it for several years, and the performance of the A13 chip should hold up for a long time. The longevity of iPhone is generally quite good on this point.
One camera in 2020?
We are now used to seeing smartphones with 2, 3, 4, even 5 photo sensors on the back. The iPhone SE is therefore a small homecoming, with a single-megapixel 12-megapixel wide-angle photo module, with a f / 1.8 focal aperture. You will therefore not be entitled to zoom madness, or a super ultra wide-angle, but a simple versatile camera.
Without qualifying as one of the best smartphones of the moment in photos, the iPhone SE 2020 is doing very well during the day, even in slightly more complex conditions such as backlighting. In this photo, the HDR is rather successful, with nice contrasts, clouds not too burnt, a sun necessarily burnt, but which does not degrade the photo, and especially a road and vehicles despite everything well defined. Few smartphones in this price range succeed on all these elements.
The second photo illustrates that you shouldn't go into too much detail by zooming in, at the risk of quickly discovering the limits of the 12-megapixel sensor. However, we can once again salute the quality of the shot in terms of light and color management.
At night, of course, the situation is a little more complex. However, the iPhone SE 2020 is doing quite well. The street lights are burnt as expected, but the rest of the photos are pretty good. Compared to daytime photos, the iPhone can no longer capture as much detail and the contrasts are lost a little. This remains suitable for a device at this price, but we have already seen better elsewhere, especially on the Pixel 3a range from Google. We particularly regret the complete absence of night mode, mysteriously reserved for the iPhone 11 family.
On the front of the phone, there is the good old 7 megapixel sensor from Apple already used on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8. Once again, the algorithm for processing Apple's photos is pretty good, but cannot totally catching up with the technology of an aging sensor. In particular at night, the pictures lack sharpness, we are most often left with photos that lack precision once opened on a computer. It will be enough for quick snapshots to share on social media, but not much more. We will console ourselves at least with this beautiful balance of colors offered by Apple.
Average autonomy and slow charging
Apple does not officially reveal the battery capacity of its devices. Consumers should not be able to discover a battery of only 1,821 mAh at a time when even a smartphone with a battery of 3,000 mAh is considered light on this point. Obviously, with such a capacity, Apple does not repeat the excellent autonomy of its iPhone 11, and rather offers something very mediocre. Here we have the real weak point of our smartphone. Allow half a day of somewhat intensive use. You will have to be very careful to be sure that you can stay away from an outlet until the end of the day, and be careful not to consume too much data or games, two fairly energy-consuming uses.
Some smartphones with poor autonomy catch up with a very fast recharge, this is not the case with this iPhone. Apple still offers its simple 5W charger with its phone. This charger takes more than 2 hours and 30 minutes to fully charge the phone. Fortunately, it is still possible to charge the smartphone faster, up to 18W, but this will require an optional charger. In this case, the full charge time is increased to approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.
Wi-Fi 6, but no 5G
To everyone's surprise, Apple’s new mid-range smartphone is not its first 5G-compatible iPhone. The firm actually offers the same level of connection to mobile networks as on the iPhone 11 with 4G LTE capable of going up to 1 Gbit / s and compatibility with most of the 4G frequencies used in the world. For a smartphone whose strong point should be the lifespan, this incompatibility with 5G is still notable, and regrettable.
Conversely, we can highlight compatibility with Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.0, respectively the latest standards in terms of wireless transmission. The NFC is also there, with all the limitations imposed by iOS. Above all, it will allow compatibility of the phone with Apple Pay, the brand's contactless payment system.
Price and availability
The iPhone SE 2020 is available from 489 euros in France for the 64 GB version. The price goes up to 539 euros for 128 GB of storage and 659 euros for 256 GB of storage.
By taking a little care to save storage, by saving your photos online for example, the 64 GB version is now more than enough for everyday use of the smartphone.