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Apple iPhone SE (2016) review: The legacy lives on

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £359
inc VAT (SIM-free)

Well-built with a great camera and fantastic battery life, the iPhone SE (2016) was once the small phone to buy


  • Great performance
  • Great battery life
  • Gorgeous build quality


  • Touch ID is slower than on the latest iPhones
  • No 3D Touch

The iPhone SE was once a formidable mid-priced handset. If it was still available to purchase, I’d still recommend it as the best small-sized smartphone. But, alas, the 2016 iPhone SE is no longer in production.

Thankfully, all is not lost. Apple has a new iPhone SE to take its place, almost four years on from the original’s release. Dubbed the iPhone SE – we like to call it the iPhone SE 2 or iPhone SE 2020 – Apple’s new dinky phone is packed with its fastest-ever mobile chipset, the A13 Bionic, which also appears in its premium flagship iPhone offering.

The iPhone SE is iPhone 8-like in its design (complete with a physical Home button) with far superior internals and a fraction of the cost at launch. The new iPhone SE starts at just £419 for the 64GB version.

Want to relive the glory days of a phone long gone? Our original review of the iPhone SE (2016) continues below.

View refurbished deals at BackMarket 

iPhone SE (2016) review

Bigger is not necessarily better. As smartphones have grown to fill ever larger pockets, many people have longed for the days when phones were handy, pocketable and didn’t cost the best part of £800. Someone over at Apple must have had exactly the same thoughts, as the company decided to fly in the face of smartphone fashion with the release of the iPhone SE – a perfectly-proportioned, palm-sized handset.

If you’ve got an iPhone 5s. then the iPhone SE will look startlingly familiar. This pint-sized smartphone shares exactly the same body as the 5s, and the self-same 4in screen, while packing in exactly the same amount of processing power as the latest iPhone 6S. It’s a compact smartphone that comes without compromise, and, best of all, it’s got a lower price to match its tiny proportions.

READ NEXT: The best iPhone and Android phone deals

Since the launch of the iPhone 7, Apple has bumped up the prices across its entire range, but the iPhone SE is still the most affordable of the bunch. The 16GB model is now £379 SIM-free, which is £20 more than its launch price, while the 64GB model is actually £10 cheaper at £429. There are some great contract deals to be found, however, and if you hunt around you can get a 16GB model for £26-per-month with no upfront cost – and that’s for a very reasonable 8GB of data and unlimited calls and texts.

There’s no question that the iPhone SE is a much better bet than Apple’s first attempt at an ‘affordable’ handset, the iPhone 5C – that low-end iPhone swapped the metal build of its pricier stablemates for brightly coloured plastic and made unwelcome compromises on performance. This time around, however, Apple has nailed absolutely everything. With the iPhone SE, it’s managed to bring together its famed build quality, competitive processing power, a long-lasting battery and a capable camera into one compact, classy package.

Best iPhone SE contract and SIM-free deals

Build quality

As a result, anyone that owned an iPhone 5 or iPhone 5S will immediately feel at home with the iPhone SE, as the two handsets are identical from the outside. With the slick metal body and squared edges, the impressive thing is that the design looks as fresh today as it did when it was first introduced.

Weighing 113g and at 7.6mm thick, the iPhone SE is exactly the same size as the 5S and is compatible with the same range of cases and covers. While this makes the SE the lightest iPhone currently available, it’s actually the thickest.

This doesn’t particularly matter, as the thickness makes the handset easier to grip, and it means that the camera sits flush with the rear of the case. Besides, it’s the overall size of the handset that counts here, and the iPhone SE is comparatively tiny by today’s standards, slipping easily into any pocket. There’s plenty of colour choice, too, with the SE available in silver, space grey, gold and rose gold cases; there’s a bit of something for everyone.


Moving back to a 4in screen, Apple has continued with the iPhone 5S’ resolution: 1,136×640. This is one of the lowest resolution phones available, but it’s important to put this into the context of display sharpness. On this display, the pixel density of 326ppi matches that of the iPhone 6S, which has a resolution of 1,334×750. Both phones are definitely sharp enough, and text looks clear and is easy to read.

Image quality isn’t quite as good as Apple’s more expensive iPhones, though, but it’s a close-run thing. In fact, the iPhone SE’s screen performs better than stated: Apple claims maximum brightness of 500cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 800:1, but I measured the phone at 577cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 892:1. While this contrast ratio still isn’t great, its colour accuracy coverage of 94.6% of the sRGB colour gamut does go some way to make up for it.

Of course, in order to keep the cost down, the SE doesn’t have the fancy 3D Touch features of the iPhone 6S. It’s the one feature that I found myself missing, as 3D Touch adds that extra dimension of interaction, and the shortcuts it gives you can make some jobs a lot quicker. That said, the lack of 3D Touch isn’t a deal breaker here, and I can still use iOS perfectly well without feeling too hampered.


Apple has fitted a 12-megapixel camera into the iPhone SE, which is the same resolution as on the iPhone 6S. There are a few minor differences in the sensors used, but the results are extremely similar.

As with Apple’s previous cameras, the iPhone SE is a great all-rounder, ably adapting to most situations to produce well-exposed shots with plenty of detail in them. In particular, the HDR mode manages to capture an excellent dynamic range, without over-processing the final shots, as you can see in the image below.

^ In low-light, the iPhone SE struggles a little more (as do most smartphones), with noise starting to creep into the images

Fortunately, the phone has a True Tone LED flash, which measures the ambient light and then fires the flash at the same colour temperature. The result is that images taken with a flash don’t have the hallmark tell-tale signs of a regular flash. Of course, you get all of the other modes that the iPhone 6S has, including panoramic shots and the same range of video modes: 720p (30fps), 1080p (30fps or 60fps) or 4K (30fps), plus slow-motion video (1080p at 120fps or 720p at 240fps).


Performance is one area that I can’t find any fault with, as the iPhone SE has the same 1.8GHz A9 processor and 2GB of RAM as the 6S line-up. In GeekBench, the iPhone SE scored 2,550 in the single-core test (the same as the iPhone 6S) and faster than the 2,115 scored by the Samsung Galaxy S7. In the multi-core test, the S7 takes the lead with a score of 6,437, but that’s a phone with four processors: the iPhone SE has a dual-core processor and still scored 4,444.

As with all of Apple’s phones, the slick combination of the processor, iOS and Safari make web browsing a super-smooth experience: the PeaceKeeper browser benchmark score of 4,761 makes the SE one of the fastest phones that Expert Reviews has tested.

Battery life

Battery life is the one thing that people always wish would last longer on their phones, but the iPhone SE absolutely delivers on this front. Its 1,624mAh battery might sound pretty tiny compared to the 3,000mAh+ batteries found on Android phones, but its smaller screen requires a lot less power.

As a result, in the Expert Reviews battery test, which plays a video while running the screen at a brightness of 170cd/m2, the iPhone SE lasted an incredible 16h 46m. This is just shy of the Galaxy S7’s run time and 1h 48 minutes longer than the iPhone 6S lasted.

iOS 9.3

The iPhone SE can now be upgraded to iOS 9.3, the latest version of Apple’s mobile OS. It’s every bit as good as we’ve come to expect from Apple: its smooth, slick and works brilliantly with the phone’s processor. New features include Night Shift, which tones down the blue in the display at night to hep you sleep, and password protected Notes, which you can unlock with Touch ID.

TouchID and Apple Pay

Apple has installed an older TouchID sensor in the iPhone SE, rather than the newer, faster model in the iPhone 6S. This meant I had a couple more errors than I’m used to and had to re-adjust my grip occasionaly, but it wasn’t too much of an irritation. As well as for unlocking your phone, TouchID can be used with Apple Pay, either in app or, thanks to the built-in NFC chip, in store.


There are all of the wireless standards that you’d expect in a modern phone, including 802.11ac Wi-Fi (up to 433Mbit/s) and 4G LTE (up to 150Mbit/s). In other words, no matter what type of network you connect to, you’ll be able to get the highest speeds.


There are only two models of iPhone SE: 16GB (£359) or 64GB (£439). By today’s standards, 16GB is really too small and I would have preferred a 32GB entry-level model. As such, I recommend buying the 64GB model. It’s still excellent value, as a 64GB iPhone 6S costs £619 by comparison.


Apple has surpassed all my expectations for the iPhone SE. Before it launched, I was expecting a plastic handset with an older processor; instead, we’ve got a metal handset with the latest processor and a top-notch camera. In fact, the only thing that the mini phone doesn’t have, which the larger iPhone 6S does, is 3D Touch, and that’s something you can easily live without.

For anyone that didn’t want to upgrade to the larger iPhone 6S or iPhone 6S Plus but still hanker after a powerful 4in phone, the iPhone SE is an amazing choice and nothing else comes close to it at this screen size.

See all of the best iPhone SE deals on uSwitch

ProcessorDual-core 1.8GHz Apple A9
Screen size4in
Screen resolution1,136×640
Screen typeIPS
Front camera1.2 megapixels
Rear camera12 megapixels
FlashLED (True Tone)
Storage (free)16GB/64GB
Memory card slot (supplied)None
BluetoothBluetooth 4.1
Wireless data4G
Operating systemiOS 9.3
Battery size1,624mAh

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