The SE is only a centimetre or so shorter than the 14, but the screen is smaller (61 millimetres versus 90 millimetres) owing to the massive old-fashioned bezels and Home button. It’s a comparatively dull LCD panel with no HDR and a sub-HD resolution, which was great on the 2014 iPhone 6 but doesn’t really suit the latest iOS and apps.
Camera-wise things aren’t much better, with the 2016-era single shooter taking nice enough shots thanks to the modern processing and software in the SE. But you won’t be getting up close, zooming very far or taking photos in low light.
The battery on the SE is a tiny 2018 mAh compared to the iPhone 14’s 3279 mAh, which in real usage does mean it doesn’t last as long. However, its tiny screen means it uses a lot less power, so the SE does generally last all day.
The SE does use a processor that’s very similar to the iPhone 14, meaning performance is quick and compatibility with apps and services is excellent. In years past, this parity would be a point of difference in favour of Apple’s budget phone, but these days, Google does this as well. And despite the horsepower (Apple’s A15 is plainly more powerful than Google’s Tensor G2), the SE still lacks some features that all other current iPhones have, like Atmos sound, an ultra-wideband chip for finding things, Memoji, night photography and audio zoom.
iPhones, of course, are more expensive in general than Pixels; the Pixel 7 is $1000, while the iPhone 14 is $1400. So you could argue that the iPhone 12 or 13, which Apple still sells at $1130 and $1230, is the company’s equivalent of the Pixel 7a.
Indeed, you could even make an argument that Google selling the 7a for a bit less than the 7 is like Apple discounting the price of last year’s iPhone when it introduces a new one; Google’s just doing it a few months before the Pixel 8 arrives, and has tweaked the older phone to cut costs. But no matter how you justify it, there’s no getting around the fact that Apple’s older phones look overpriced, and its SE looks ridiculous, in the wider context of smartphones in 2023.
Originally, the iPhone SE seemed like a concession to older users who didn’t like the new full-screen design of the iPhone X, but needed newer hardware to make use of Apple’s newest software and services. But today it seems a bit like an insult; if you want a new iPhone below $1000 you can either get a 2019 iPhone 11 from a retailer, or settle for the retro SE.
Today, Pixel users can pay $750 for a new device that’s more or less last year’s flagship Google phone. That doesn’t feel like a compromise. If Apple decides to make a fourth generation iPhone SE it could stand to follow suit, with a screen, cameras and features that not only look like they belong in the 2020s, but can become a default for users with moderate smartphone needs.
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