Apple’s $400 iPhone SE Is Back, and Bigger Than Before

When Apple discontinued the tiny iPhone SE back in the fall of 2018, it left people who wanted a smaller, less expensive iPhone without many options, and was seen as part of a larger strategy to push people towards more expensive phones and drive iPhone profits even higher. Now the iPhone SE is back.Apple just launched what it’s calling the second-generation iPhone SE. It’s supposed to check off three boxes in the iPhone lineup —smaller, cheaper, and still performant—but the “smaller” part is what’s changed. Back when the original iPhone SE launched, a four-inch diagonal display was the most popular iPhone screen size. Now as people have gotten accustomed to larger phones, that average has gotten bigger. So this new iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch display, and looks identical to the iPhone 8.

It starts at $399 for a model with 64 gigabytes of internal storage, and goes up from there (128GB and 256GB versions are also available). Pre-orders start April 17, and it starts shipping a week later.

The new iPhone SE is a spitting image of Apple's iPhone 8, except with newer components. Photograph: Apple

The most significant technological feature in this new iPhone is its chip system. Apple has decked out the second-generation iPhone SE with the same chipset that’s in its top-of-the-line, 2019 iPhone 11 Pro phones. That’s the “A13 Bionic,” which has an eight-core neural engine and both a CPU and GPU that is significantly faster than the chip in the original little iPhone SE. This chipset is also a large part of what will make photos captured on the iPhone SE look pretty good. But otherwise, this iPhone SE is a little glass-and-aluminum bundle of older tech—and Apple is wagering that a lot of people won’t mind, given the low price.

Some of the cost-saving elements of this phone are obvious. It has a 4.7-inch LCD, something Apple calls its Retina display, which is not quite as brilliant as the OLED displays on flagship phones. It has an old-school home button with TouchID, but no other bio authentication features—although, the return of the home button isn’t necessarily a bad thing for people who miss the tactile feel of it on phones. It also has haptic touch, a new-ish feature that launched with the iPhone XR back in 2018. This lets you touch and hold an app to access more menu options for that app, and it was considered by some to be a lower-tech replacement for the 3D Touch technology Apple introduced in 2015.
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The new iPhone SE goes on sale April 17 starting at $399.

This new iPhone’s camera system is one of the big differentiators between this new phone and Apple’s flagship iPhones. The front-facing camera, while capable of taking a shot in Apple’s Portrait mode, lacks a TrueDepth camera. This means the phone doesn’t use FaceID to unlock the phone, and any depth effects in photos are applied by software.The iPhone SE’s rear camera is a single-lens camera system, while the iPhone 11 has a dual-camera module and the iPhone 11 Pro, a triple-camera. Similar to how Google made photographic magic happen with limited physical hardware on its older Pixel phones, Apple is wielding its software tools to add Portrait mode, Smart HDR, stage lighting effects, and auto white-balancing to the iPhone SE’s rear camera. But it will still have some of the limitations of other single-camera iPhones; Portrait mode, for example, will only work on photos of people, but not pets or objects.
The phone has a proprietary Lightning connector, part of Apple’s ongoing refusal to add USB-C to its phones. It also charges wirelessly, via Qi technology, and is capable of fast-charging. The phone supports WiFi 6, dual-SIM and e-SIM technology, and fast LTE. But a 5G iPhone this is not, which is not surprising. Apple hasn’t been as fast to roll out 5G-ready phones as some competitors, such as Samsung, and analysts have suggested that Apple won’t introduce 5G phones until late 2020 or even 2021.