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The Special Edition iPhone, also known as the cheapest iPhone, or the retro one, has been refreshed, and is now available for purchase. It’s a very minor refresh of the phone with the same name from 2020, most upgrades stemming from the new chipset and its accompanying 5G modem.
Apple really likes recycling. It is proud of its eco-friendly assembly line, recycled materials, PVC-free packaging, thin retail boxes, smaller and smaller e-waste footprint. But it’s also clearly very keen on recycling design as the third-generation iPhone SE has the same exterior as the second-generation iPhone SE from 2020, and the iPhone 8 from as far back as 2017.
The iPhone SE (2022) also keeps the 4.7-inch Retina LCD screen with 60Hz refresh rate from its predecessors. This means large thick bezels on the top and bottom, but also a Home key and an integrated Touch ID fingeprint sensor.
What’s new in the iPhone SE (2022) is the chipset – it uses the same Apple A15 Bionic as the iPhone 13 flagship line. This probably makes the iPhone SE (2022) the most powerful smartphone in the entire world when considering its small display with fewer pixels than any other high-end or mid-range smartphone. There is more RAM, too, now it’s 4GB, up from 3GB on the previous SE model.
The new chipset has enabled 5G connectivity, more computational power for iOS, and Deep Fusion for the front and rear cameras. It came short of adding night mode, however, perhaps for reasons beyond its control.
The iPhone SE (2022) also comes with a slightly larger battery – it’s now 2,018mAh instead of 1,821mAh. Wireless charging is available, just like before and because the battery capacity is so small it tops up pretty quickly even if the phone’s supported charging speeds are far from the highest on the market.
The rest of the iPhone SE (2022) specs are identical to the 2020 model – there is a 12MP OIS camera at the back and a 7MP camera at the front. You also get stereo speakers, Apple Pay support and IP67 rating for dust and water resistance.
Here’s the iPhone SE (2022) cheat sheet.
Apple iPhone SE (2022) specs at a glance:
- Body: 138.4×67.3×7.3mm, 144g; Glass front, glass back, aluminum frame; IP67 dust/water resistant (up to 1m for 30 mins), Apple Pay (Visa, MasterCard, AMEX certified).
- Display: 4.70″ Retina IPS LCD, 625 nits (typ), 750x1334px resolution, 16.01:9 aspect ratio, 326ppi; Wide color gamut, True-tone.
- Chipset: Apple A15 Bionic (5 nm): Hexa-core (2xX.XX GHz Avalanche + 4xX.XX GHz Blizzard); Apple GPU (4-core graphics).
- Memory: 64GB 4GB RAM, 128GB 4GB RAM, 256GB 4GB RAM; NVMe.
- OS/Software: iOS 15.4, upgradable to iOS 15.4.1.
- Rear camera: 12 MP, f/1.8 (wide), PDAF, OIS.
- Front camera: 7 MP, f/2.2.
- Video capture: Rear camera: 4K@24/30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/120/240fps, OIS, stereo sound rec; Front camera: 1080p@30/120fps; gyro-EIS.
- Battery: 2018mAh; Fast charging 18W, 50% in 30 min (advertised), Qi wireless charging.
- Misc: Fingerprint reader (front-mounted); NFC.
The Apple A15 Bionic is among the most powerful chips in the world and it feels wasteful to pair it to such a small, low-res screen that can’t exceed 60Hz. It’s like putting a Ferrari engine into a VW Polo. But we guess Apple needed to refresh the SE with 5G connectivity and it was just easiest to use the chip it already manufactures in the largest quantities.
Still, we would have preferred a larger OLED screen, even if 60Hz. And MagSafe should have been present, too, in fact we were surprised not to see it on this new SE.
Apple is promising 5 years of updates for the SE, just like on its premium iPhones, so that’s another possible reason why it needed to use the current best chipset.
Enough teasing let’s unbox this iPhone and get this review started.
Unboxing the iPhone SE (2022)
The Apple iPhone SE (2022) has the same box as the flagship iPhones – meaning it’s thin, small and lightweight and it contains the iPhone and a USB-C-to-Lightning cable.
The iPhone SE (2022) supports 20W charging, so if you already have the 20W Apple Power adapter, or a similar USB-C PD one, you should be fine.
And while Apple has dropped most of the box contents, you still get one Apple sticker that most people with throw right away. Not that eco-friendly, is it?
The iPhone SE (2022) is the cheapest iPhone you can buy from Apple and that’s all that matters to a certain group of buyers. We are not sure those are the people to care about the addition of 5G pr a faster chipset, but it is what they will be getting anyway. The new SE model keeps the iconic even if dated design, it is quite lightweight and waterproof, and offers commendable experience across the board.
Of course, the iPhone SE (2022) is a very minor upgrade over the iPhone SE (2020) so we doubt anyone will be looking to upgrade. In fact, the only major change is the chipset swap and the resulting 5G connectivity. If you do not need 5G, then you’d be perfectly fine with the second-generation iPhone SE. It is literally the same phone, even the color options are identical.
So, while stocks last the previous iPhone SE is the first model to consider. Apple has discontinued the model from its website, but the SE (2020) is still available for purchase across various retailers worldwide. And it costs about €260, which is half the iPhone SE (2022) price, making it incomparably better value.
The iPhone 12 mini is officially available, and its base model can be found at about €680 or €180 more expensive than the iPhone SE (2022). It is a smaller phone yet has a larger OLED screen with faster touch response time, which makes operations look smoother. The 12 mini offers Ceramic Shield glass, it has an extra 12MP ultrawide camera on the back and a better 12MP front camera with 4K video capturing. There is also Face ID and better battery life to consider. If you can stretch your budget that far and care about the user experience we really think the mini is the far better value for money.
We are not including the iPhone 13 mini as it is a further €120 more expensive and doesn’t offer nearly enough upgrades to justify that. Unless perhaps you are looking for 128GB of storage, which is the base for the 13 mini, but an expensive upgrade on the SE (2022) and the 12 mini.
If Apple‘s ecosystem is not a must, maybe you will like the compact Asus Zenfone 8. It is about €100 more expensive than the iPhone SE (2022), but it comes with a 5.9-inch AMOLED with 120Hz refresh rate and a superb dual-camera system on the back. Its front camera is also an excellent choice for its 12MP sensor and AF capabilities.
Finally, last year’s Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is also a good choice for its compact shape, a great 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X with 120Hz refresh, powerful hardware, and a triple camera with an ultrawide and a telephoto in addition to the main shooter. It has much better battery life, too, and Samsung’s ecosystem and line of accessory has become as good as Apple’s. The S21 5G is about €80 more expensive than the iPhone SE (2022), still reasonably compact but with a much larger screen.
Apple iPhone SE (2020) • Apple iPhone 12 mini • Asus Zenfone 8 • Samsung Galaxy S21 5G
If you are dead set on buying an iPhone, but want to spend as little as possible the iPhone SE (2022) is your default option and nothing this review says will change your mind. Then again you probably won’t be reading reviews in the first place.
Apple‘s sequels rarely change much to make you jump on the next generation and the iPhone SE (2022) is just another example of that. Despite taking two years to arrive it only has the newer Apple A15 chip with a 5G modem to show for it. The rest is the same, in fact – similar to what the iPhone 8 had back in 2017.
It is not a phone you’ll hate to use, don’t get us wrong. A good if tiny display, excellent speakers, reliable camera, and a very compact body.
The iPhone SE (2022) can do a lot of things well and that might be enough to justify its €520 base price in the eyes of many people.
Of course, it looks retro, and it has a small display of low resolution and slow refresh with huge black bezels. There’s only a single camera on the back and one that hasn’t had a sensor or lens update since 2017 – hence the lack of Night Mode.
So this really is a phone for two groups of people. The first one wants the cheapest entry into the iOS ecosystem. The second are those looking for a powerful compact phone with the same requirement of spending as little as possible. If you fall in either of those the iPhone SE (2022) will perform reliably enough so you won’t regret getting it. In any other case you should either stretch you budget to an iPhone 12 mini or explore the endless Android market instead.
- Solid glass build, IP67-rated, very compact body
- Good brightness, decent contrast screen, great color accuracy
- Loud stereo speakers, good audio quality
- The screen on battery endurance is actually okay
- The most powerful chipset; does not throttle much
- Dependable photo and video cameras
- Touch ID
- Very few upgrades over the iPhone SE (2020), but costs more
- No Night Mode.
- The display is too small for a lot of tasks
- 60Hz screen refresh, 60Hz touch sampling rate
- No charger in the box
- iOS (with its limitations) remains a love it or leave it affair