Apple iPhone SE (2022) review

₹ 58,900


Keen to keep the grains of time firmly planted in your palms, Apple is refusing to kill the iPhone 8. At least in physical terms. Picking up the iPhone SE (2022) is like a time machine, replete with curved edges, Touch ID, and even the 4.7in LCD screen. So in essence, the iPhone SE has been given a heart transplant to overcome its natural, age-related obsolescence. Under the same charming and light body, Apple has now shoehorned the mighty A15 Bionic SoC that also does duty on the flagship iPhone 13 series phones.

Design: Comfortably old

It might sound like cramming a V12 under the hood of a hatchback, and it behaves like one too. So what exactly is the iPhone SE you ask? Well, it is essentially the iPhone SE from 2020, which was essentially the iPhone 8 from 2017, which is essentially how all phones were before human hands suddenly evolved into baseball gloves.

At a mere 144gms, the iPhone SE feels almost weightless in the hand after moving from gigantic phones that feel like tablets in disguise. It sports the same 4.7in Retina HD screen that has always been the benchmark in its class in terms of colour accuracy, but with 625 nits of brightness and a “mere” 1400:1 contrast ratio, it pales in comparison to the modern competition, both literally and figuratively.

Using the iPhone SE’s tiny keyboard is an exercise in renewing your muscle memory too, but it’s still accurate and makes for perfect one-handed use and the QuickPath swipe keyboard becomes a precision tool to input any kind of text, all while using chopsticks with your free hand. As always, the trusty Touch ID works flawlessly too and is quicker than using Face ID with a mask on, even after the iOS 15.4 update.

Camera: Turbocharged

Elsewhere, not much has changed besides the “all-new” camera system front and back. Although the resolution and physical size of the lens remain identical to the last gen SE, it’s the power of the A15 chip that brings to fore many new features like Smart HDR, Deep Fusion, Photographic Styles and the ability to adjust the computational aperture in post too. 
While all of these work as you’d expect them to (or experienced them on the iPhone 13), ultimately, it lacks the pop and fizz of the larger iPhones’ display. Of course you could argue that it’s also half the price of the iPhone 13 and you wouldn’t be wrong.

In daytime shots, it comes ridiculously close to the iPhone 13 Pro in terms of detail and resolution, information in the shadows is amazing, and it can hold its own against any multicam Android competitor. The colour balance is more subdued compared to the iPhone 13 range, with slightly less saturation and a different temperature, but this is a matter of taste and can even be tweaked with Photographic Styles, without affecting the skin tones. Where it starts showing its age is in macro, zoom and low light modes, all of which can be bettered by Android phones with multiple lenses for a lesser price tag than the iPhone SE. 
Even though the front cam is only 7MP, it turns out acceptable results, thanks to the Smart HDR 4 being deployed by the A15. It doesn’t have the same naturalness to its bokeh as the more expensive iPhones, but it does manage to capture enough detail and without another iPhone for comparison, you won’t mind the results. It’s fairly middle of the road as far as overall selfie performance goes.
The A15 is fast to focus, blistering in burst mode, and as with all iPhones, absolutely jaw dropping on video with its optical stabilisation. But, there are limitations. For example, you can’t blur out your pictures for an arty background for anything but humans, so you will have to hold back that temptation to frame your pet in an award-winning leap shot. You also can’t get within a whisker's distance since the single camera doesn’t allow for macro mode. Switch to video mode and you’ll notice that even the Cinematic mode has been given the boot here. But, at the same time, the A15 unlocks conveniences like Live Text and SharePlay more readily than it would on older gen iPhones.

Performance: Still the gold standard

Apple is also touting the SE as a gaming phone, thanks to the abundant horsepower offered by the quad-core GPU in the A15 Bionic chip and sure, it does handle Asphalt and CoD without a stutter, but the small screen size means your eyes and the contorted position of your thumbs will give way before the iPhone SE does. 
Battery life has been improved and it is evident that the new A15 chip is keeping everything on a tight leash. Even after a five-minute 4K/60fps recording run, we only saw the battery drop by 3% and overall, you should be able to get a day’s use out of it unless you’re shooting a short film on it.

The SE also gets the strongest glass on its front and back, adding confidence in going commando, sans a protective case. It sure does put a smile on your face with its perfectly sized dimensions, smooth sides, and second-to-none build quality. No seams or joints can be felt anywhere, making it a joy to hold with the perfect “hand feel”. Even the haptics are more refined than any Android phone at its price and adds to the premiumness of the package. It also gets improved water and dust resistance thanks to an IP67 rating, bringing it ever closer to the more expensive iPhone 13 range in resilience. 
In theory, the idea of the A15 in a small chassis sounds like a pocket rocket. But in reality, it’s hard to justify a six-year-old design with a 4.7in display, and single rear-cam that costs as much as the SE does. Our 256GB top-shelf test variant sells for an MRP of ₹58,900, making the iPhone 13 Mini look like a meaningful stretch and the better value iPhone in the whole line-up!

Verdict: Should you buy?

Ultimately, the iPhone SE is an awkward proposition that struggles to identify its target audience. Keeping the older design could’ve worked better if Apple would have reintroduced the 3.5mm jack and branded this as a supercharged iPod for the Apple Music Lossless generation (perhaps with a high-impedance headphone out). 
Or started with a base 128GB storage instead of the 64GB variant which won’t do justice to its 4K video recording capabilities. So if you really like the charming dimensions and the massive power under its hood, look for exchange deals online along with cashback on credit cards, both of which can make the iPhone SE the “great deal” it ought to be. 

Stuff Says

Could’ve been the killer budget iPhone for beginners, but needs to be better priced.
Good stuff
Bad stuff
  1. Build quality and size still induce a smile

  1. Camera quality in daylight is superb

  1. A15 makes most Android competition feel slow

  1. Screen lacks contrast and brightness for 2022

  1. Single lens related photography limitations

  1. Starts at 64GB only and gets more expensive

Display: 4.7in LCD Retina HD
Resolution: 326ppi (1334x750 pixels)
Processor: Apple A15 Bionic SoC
Camera: 12MP rear, 7MP front
Capacity: 64/128/256
Weight: 144g