The iPhone SE 2020 is a device that many people have been waiting for. Has this new entry-level iPhone lived up to expectations? How do you like the improved performance and the camera? In this iPhone SE 2020 review you can read our experiences!
Every year many people look forward to September, when Apple presents the new iPhones . But once in a while new iPhones are also released in between . After the iPhone SE in 2016 , the iPhone SE will be back in 2020. The same name, but an all-new device with super-fast performance, a larger screen, a better camera and much more. The iPhone SE 2020 is certainly not for everyone, but in our opinion it is the best entry-level iPhone that Apple has ever released. You can read why that is in this review of the iPhone SE 2020.
At first glance, the iPhone SE 2020 looks like an average iPhone 8, but the device still offers enough improvements to be enthusiastic about. Especially for the starting price of € 489 . The iPhone SE 2020 blows away many competitors of this price level and is therefore the perfect model for many people. You don’t have the very latest techniques, but how bad is that really? In this iPhone SE 2020 review, we discuss all the pros and cons and you read our final verdict.
Design iPhone SE 2020
- Same design as iPhone 8
- Glass back with aluminum housing
- 4.7 inch size with home button
- Three colors: black, white and red
The 4.7-inch format is described by Apple as ‘our most popular format’. Not surprising, when you know that 4.7-inch iPhones were released from 2014 to 2017. Still, many former iPhone SE users will disagree: they especially longed for a new iPhone in that compact housing. For the time being this is the format we have to do with and that is absolutely no punishment in our opinion. The 4.7-inch format is handy enough to take with you easily and at the same time pleasant to work on. The iPhone SE 2020 can be easily operated with one hand and you simply put it in your pocket. A smaller housing feels a bit cramped in our opinion.
On the other hand, it just applies to what you are used to. If you come from a 4-inch iPhone SE, then the new iPhone SE 2020 will take some getting used to in the beginning. But we think even the biggest proponents of the old iPhone SE format can get used to the new iPhone SE .
The back of the iPhone SE 2020 is made of glass, just like the iPhone 8, so that wireless charging is possible. We still like the aluminum back of the iPhone 7 , for example , a bit more beautiful, but that design is not suitable for wireless charging . The edge of the device is made of high-quality aluminum and immediately feels familiar. We like the shiny stainless steel edge of the Pro iPhones a bit more beautiful, but that also makes the device a lot heavier and more expensive.
The 4.7-inch design also means that there are a lot of black screen edges on the top and bottom of the device. If you’ve been using an iPhone with Face ID for a while, that’s a bit of a shock at first. The design may therefore seem somewhat outdated, but we have no problems with this at all. The design of the iPhone SE is actually still timeless and can still be used in 2020, especially for the target group for which this device is suitable. Apple now has something for everyone in the range.
To conceal the screen edge a bit, all models are equipped with a black front. Even the white iPhone SE 2020 has a black front, for the first time on an iPhone with this design. In our opinion, that is also a bit easier on the eyes than the bright white of the previous models, for example.
In terms of colors, Apple has chosen three variations: black, white and red. It is emphatically not about space gray and silver, as is the case with the iPhone 8, for example. We tested the black iPhone SE 2020 and compared it with a space gray iPhone 8. At the back we hardly see any difference in color, but the aluminum edge of the iPhone SE is considerably darker. It therefore looks more like the colors of the iPhone XR and iPhone 11. We like the red version the most, because it stands out a bit more. Black and white are a bit less exciting in that regard. Especially since the design itself is not that innovative, we like a striking color a bit more.
Another nice detail is that Apple has moved the Apple logo on the back so that, just like on the latest iPhones, it sits exactly in the middle. The word ‘iPhone’ has also been removed, giving the back a much cleaner look. It is a pity that the European version still has a CE mark and a waste bin.
Screen iPhone SE 2020
- 4.7-inch LCD screen
- Retina resolution of 1334 x 750 pixels
- True Tone and Haptic Touch
- Wide screen edges
- 16: 9 aspect ratio (identical to videos)
- No notch, no Face ID
A 4.7-inch screen in a contemporary iPhone may seem small, but the small size is precisely the reason why many people wanted the previous iPhone SE. This time Apple has opted for a slightly larger Retina screen, which is also easy to read outdoors. The screen supports True Tone, so that the color tone automatically adjusts to the ambient light.
Because we are used to the larger screens at the iCulture editors, we were curious what it would be like to take a step back to a 4.7-inch screen. Fortunately, that is not so bad. If you hold the iPhone on its side to watch a movie, it doesn’t make much difference with the 6.1-inch screen of an iPhone 11. It is mainly the case that the screen is somewhat less extensive in width than the newer one models. There is a strip on both sides, but you will not notice that because the 16: 9 aspect ratio is exactly identical to that of many films. You don’t miss that slip. You therefore do not get black bars on the sides. Recent iPhones (with Face ID) have an aspect ratio of 19.5: 9 and are therefore somewhat longer. For comparison, the iPhone SE’s 4.7-inch screen measures 104.1 x 58.5mm and that of the 6, 1-inch iPhone 11 measures 139.7 x 64.6 mm. The screen surface is about 33 percent smaller.
Speaking of movies, don’t expect an impressive HD experience on the iPhone SE 2020. The screen has a resolution of 1334 x 750 pixels, which is far from Full HD or 1080p. Rather, it gets close to 720p. However, we have no complaints in terms of brightness and we also think it is fine with regard to the color reproduction.
We understand that there is no high-end OLED screen in this device. The target group of this smartphone are people who are ready for a new iPhone and who do not want to pay too much. An OLED screen would have made the device unnecessarily more expensive; for many people it doesn’t add much. You do have to take into account that this device still has the wide screen edges (bezels). Many people switching from an older iPhone are already used to this, so it shouldn’t be a problem. But if you were ready for a model with narrower edges, you will have to look at the other models.
The fact is that from Android manufacturers in the same price range you can get devices with a larger screen up to 6.5-inch and sometimes even OLED . Only then will you not have the ease of use and long life of an iPhone.
Hardware and performance iPhone SE 2020
- Latest generation A13 Bionic chip, same as in iPhone 11 series
- Third Generation Neural Engine
- Splash, water and dust resistant (IP67)
- Second generation Touch ID
- 64GB, 128GB or 256GB storage
- Wi-Fi 6 and 4G
- No U1 chip
The appearance may date from 2017, but on the inside you get the technology from 2019. Apple has used the same A13 Bionic chip that you also find in the iPhone 11 (Pro). That may be a bit overkill for a budget device, but it also means that you will receive updates for a long time. The SE will also receive all the updates that will appear for the high-end iPhone 11 Pro. It also means that you don’t have to worry about performance: games, photo editing, everything works smoothly.
We’ve been using the iPhone 11 Pro (Max) in the editorial office for a few months now and it didn’t feel like a step backwards in terms of performance to use the iPhone SE 2020. You can install all apps and games, it works perfectly with Apple Arcade and apps load nice and fast. This is a big plus compared to the iPhone 8, which is less future-proof. Android device makers often put an older or weaker processor in their entry-level models, but Apple does not.
In Geekbench 5 we got a score of around 1330 on single-core and 3250 on multi-core. This is comparable to the iPhone 11, yet another proof that you really get the same performance. In terms of performance, this is on the level of the Samsung Galaxy S20, which scores slightly lower with 3,150 points (multi-core).
It is also nice that Apple has put the latest version Wi-Fi 6 in it and that it includes 4G with dualsim and eSIM support. Just make sure you don’t get top 4G speeds. The SE has 2 × 2 MIMO antennas and can handle up to 600 Mbit / s while the iPhone 11 series has 4 × 4 MIMO. Although we wonder how often the average user of the SE will use a network that offers speeds higher than 600 Mbit / s. Not a deal breaker.
That does not mean that you get everything you find on the iPhone 11. You don’t get dual cameras, no Face ID, no U1 chip, and it doesn’t include 5G and LiDAR Scanner , which sources say are coming to the iPhone this fall. Apple apparently does not consider the U1 chip and the LiDAR Scanner necessary. Still, we regret that the U1 chip is missing. This made the iPhone SE even more future-proof.
What Apple did find important is that this device is suitable for its own payment services Apple Arcade and Apple TV + and that may also explain the choice for the somewhat larger screen and the fast processor, compared to the 2016 model. And because the processor has to control fewer pixels, you benefit from a nice long battery life of 13 hours. With 3GB RAM, the device can handle just fine.
We’ve seen it recently on other products like the iPad and MacBook: doubling the storage. You also get more storage for your money with the iPhone SE 2020. In 2016, the entry-level model had a paltry 16GB, now you get at least 64GB and if that’s not enough you can upgrade to the model with 128GB storage for five bucks. If you’ve already hit the storage limits with your current iPhone and plan to do a lot with it, we recommend the 128GB model.
If you previously had an iPhone SE with a fingerprint scanner, you will notice that Touch ID has become a lot faster in the new device. Apple has used the second generation. It is no longer a physically pressable button, but a round surface with a haptic effect, caused by a vibrating motor. This gives a realistic feel, making it seem like you are actually pressing a button. You’ll find the same non-pressable button in the iPhone 7 and 8, so Apple already has a lot of experience with it.
The speakers are located at the bottom and top and sound loud enough to watch a short YouTube video. Stereo is also supported. Spatial audio, a feature that Apple introduced with the iPhone 11 series, is missing. If you want to watch a little longer, you will usually do so via earplugs. This is possible with the included EarPods, equipped with a Lightning connection. There is no longer a 3.5mm headphone jack on this smartphone, something that Apple has already stopped with the iPhone 7 . If you want this, you have to rely on an adapter or Android devices.
Finally, the water and dust resistance. It has now been upgraded to IP67, which means that your iPhone is not immediately water damaged if you accidentally throw it in the water – a good development.
Camera iPhone SE 2020
- Single rear camera: 12-megapixel wide-angle lens
- 7-megapixel front camera
- Portrait mode via software (front and rear)
- 4K video films in 60 frames per second
- Support for QuickTake and Smart HDR
The iPhone SE 2020 has almost the same camera as the iPhone 8, but Apple has nevertheless managed to improve some aspects. At the back we find a single camera from 12 megapixel. So you don’t have an ultra-wide-angle lens or telephoto lens to zoom in or out with. We did not expect that either, because for the target group of this device that is a bit too much of a good thing. With the single camera, the iPhone SE takes excellent photos. In normal daylight, the photos are comparable to those of the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro, although the iPhone SE has a bit more trouble with light. This may be due to the lack of Deep Fusion, the technology that we only find on the iPhone 11 series thanks to the powerful A13 chip and Neural Engine. Despite the fact that the iPhone SE 2020 has the same chip, it does not contain Deep Fusion. This technique analyzes every pixel of a photo and produces images with more texture, detail and reduced noise. The lack of Deep Fusion is mainly noticeable in photos with less good lighting.
Everything about Deep Fusion: Apple’s smart calculation technique for even better photos
Deep Fusion is a new technique on iPhones to take even better photos. Deep Fusion has also been further improved on the iPhone 12, but what is it really? We explain what it is and how it works!
Speaking of which, the iPhone SE also does not support night modeof the iPhone camera. On the iPhone 11 series, you can take better photos in a dark setting, and that often produces very beautiful pictures. That means that photos in the dark look a lot less beautiful with the iPhone SE and often contain noise. If you often want to photograph in the dark, the iPhone SE is not for you. Why Apple has not equipped the iPhone SE with a night mode is unclear to us. It may have to do with lesser sensors, because it is not the processor. We are sorry that this mode is missing, because this really makes the difference for a good night photo. For average use, the iPhone SE takes excellent photos. If you don’t care about the very best specifications and you only take pictures sporadically, then you can work with them just fine.
This is partly due to support for Smart HDR , which is not available on, for example, the iPhone 8. The processor combines the exposure of multiple photos into one more beautiful image. One downside to this is that this is only available on the rear camera.
For the front camera, Apple uses the same 7-megapixel camera as in the iPhone 8 . Photos are quite disappointing, especially if you compare this with the iPhone 11 series. The extra wide viewing angle is also missing, for example when making group selfies.
Portrait mode on both lenses
Apple has succeeded in adding portrait mode to both the front and rear camera. This allows you to take beautiful portraits of people, where the background becomes blurred and the person comes into focus. You can choose between multiple lighting effects. That often results in some strange cut-out images, although we also find that with the iPhone 11 series. A LiDAR Scanner could make this a lot better, but we don’t find it on the iPhone yet.
The portrait mode on the iPhone SE makes full use of the Neural Engine and the A13 Bionic chip. The depth effect is simulated with the help of software. An analysis of the iPhone SE’s portrait mode shows that the Neural Engine is capable of estimating depth and clearly identifying objects in the foreground, without the need for additional camera lenses. In practice, that also produces pretty nice pictures, even with the front camera. Because Apple wants to give the best results with the resources provided by the iPhone SE, the portrait mode is limited to people. If you also want to take a portrait photo of animals and objects with this device, you can use the nice camera app Halide, for example.
For video films, the iPhone SE 2020 makes beautiful videos. The camera supports 4K video films up to 60 frames per second. Videos therefore look smooth, even at the highest possible resolution. Editing a video is also a piece of cake, although we noticed that this costs the iPhone SE a lot of power and energy.
Battery and battery life
- Same battery life as iPhone 8 (13 hours of video playback)
- Suitable for wireless charging at 7.5W
- Supplied with standard 5W charger and Lightning to USB cable
With the iPhone 11 series, Apple managed to extend the battery life by a few hours. Did that also work with this device? Unfortunately not, because the iPhone SE 2020 lasts about as long as the iPhone 8. In figures, that means 13 hours of video or 40 hours of audio playback. We expected a bit more, especially considering the optimizations in the A13 Bionic chip. Although you can get through the day without problems with the iPhone SE 2020 with average use, we did notice that the battery drains faster during heavier tasks. All in all, we are satisfied with the battery life of the new iPhone SE, but think it is a pity that Apple has not given it another notch.
You can charge with the included 5W charger and Lightning cable. Even for such an affordable iPhone, we find the included charger on the weak side. The iPhone SE is suitable for fast charging and it hardly costs Apple anything to just deliver it right away. Currently, they only do that with the iPhone 11 Pro , so it’s no surprise that the iPhone SE doesn’t have that. Despite that, we are a bit disappointed in this.
For those who want to charge completely without a cable, you can also use the iPhone SE with a wireless Qi charger . Any Qi charger is suitable, up to a maximum speed of 7.5W. That is as fast as with all other iPhones that support wireless charging, including the iPhone 11 series. In our opinion, that speed can be increased to a minimum of 10W in 2020, especially since many wireless chargers can handle this without difficulty. Nevertheless, it is nice to have the convenience of wireless charging at hand, although you have to buy a separate charger for that.
Who is the iPhone SE 2020 suitable for?
It is not difficult to predict who will be most charmed by this entry-level iPhone: people who do not switch to another device that often, but are now really ready for a new one. Apple has made some serious performance improvements while keeping the cost of this phone as low as possible, using existing components. It will therefore mainly appeal to the no-nonsense iPhone user, who pays attention to the money and wants to have a good device that will last for years to come.
Of course there are always people who want the best and the newest, but for all other people (and that could be the vast majority) this is the ideal device. We would immediately recommend the iPhone SE 2020 to family and friends who are looking for something new and do not find the slightly smaller screen a problem.
There are certainly alternatives, also at Apple itself. You could opt for the iPhone 7 or iPhone 8, but they are a lot older in terms of technology and will receive updates for less time. Plus, we didn’t see any really good deals yet. At the time of writing, you still pay around 530 euros for a 64GB iPhone 8 (from 2017). For less money, you have an iPhone SE 2020 that looks exactly the same, but is much newer inside.
You could also opt for the iPhone XR if you want a slightly larger 6.1-inch screen with Face ID . You can find it in the store for around 600 euros, also with 64GB storage. Also check our iPhone comparison with all models in a row.
Alternatives to the competition
If we look at the competition, the Google Pixel 3a comes close, an Android phone for the smaller stock market. This has a larger screen and is available for around 350 euros, more than a hundred euros less than you pay for the iPhone SE 2020. However, the iPhone is faster and has a better camera. You could also wait for the Google Pixel 4a, which hasn’t been announced yet and probably has a better camera. But we can already say with certainty that Google is not going to beat the performance of the A13 Bionic. This also applies to all other Android devices that you see in the store for less money.
The iPhone SE is a device that you will use for about five years. Updates will continue to arrive for much longer, because if the device is ever removed from the store, Apple will continue with updates for another five years. Keep in mind that after about three years you want to have the battery replaced (this will only cost you € 55), because in a few years it will not be the performance but wear of the battery that will be your biggest problem.
This is a great device for people who want to buy a device and do not want to think about it anymore. If the iPhone is just an ordinary tool for you, then the SE is really something for you.
- Affordable without sacrificing performance
- Powerful processor
- Great camera
- Years of support with software updates
- Nice screen
- Battery life could have been longer
- Night mode for camera is missing
- Not the best choice for everyone
- Mediocre selfie camera
The iPhone SE is made for a clear target audience: anyone looking for a reliable and affordable iPhone that lasts a long time and does not need triple camera lenses and spectacular techniques such as Deep Fusion and Face ID. The iPhone SE 2020 is not the device that is bursting with innovation, but it is not necessary at all. It fills the gap in the line-up left by the discontinuation of the earlier iPhone SE. The iPhone SE 2020 is lightning fast, familiar and of a quality that you expect from Apple at this price. We do not mind that the device resembles an older model. The iPhone SE 2020 may not appeal to everyone, but that’s not what this iPhone is meant for.
We do think it’s a shame that Apple has dropped a few stitches. Even at this price, the lack of night mode on the camera is a shame and a longer battery life would certainly have been welcome. Nevertheless, the whole package makes this the best entry-level iPhone that Apple has ever made. In terms of price-quality ratio, it is therefore quite right.