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iPhone SE vs. iPhone 11: The features you miss when you save that extra $300

Apple's 2020 iPhone SE is $300 cheaper than the baseline iPhone 11. Here's exactly what you miss out on when you spend about half.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
4 min read

As the sequel to Apple's 2016 sleeper-hit iPhone of the same name, the new iPhone SE starts at $399 (£419, AU$749). With that price tag, the phone aims to court budget-minded users who may not be able to splurge on $1,000 phones like the iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy Note 20. While that does mean some cuts in hardware (the phone has a smaller 4.7-inch display and a single rear camera, for example) the iPhone SE does include some modern fixings, such as the same A13 processor as the iPhone 11 phones. 

Angela Lang/CNET

With a four-year gap between the new iPhone SE and the older one, Apple brought many upgrades. That includes wireless charging, better camera specs and water resistance. (Unfortunately, for wired headphone users, the new iPhone SE doesn't have a headphone jack.) If you're looking for a new iPhone but want to save as much money as possible, the iPhone SE is your best bet -- you'll save $300 outright compared to the price of the iPhone 11 (which costs $699, £729 or AU$1,199).

Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review.

Angela Lang/CNET

The iPhone 11 costs $300 more than the iPhone SE. Despite having many of the same internal specs, however, its main advantages are twofold: It has a bigger screen (6.1 inches versus 4.7, measured diagonally) and it packs better camera specs all around (a second wide-angle lens and a better selfie camera, for starters). If both are big priorities for you, get the iPhone 11.

Read our Apple iPhone 11 review.

Need more specifics? Here's an in-depth walk-through of how these two models differ so you can learn what exactly the iPhone SE offers at its lower price.  

Size and design: iPhone SE is small and compact

The most obvious difference between the two phones is that the iPhone 11 is larger. The iPhone 11 has a 6.1-inch screen while the iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch display. While you get more screen real estate for your apps and watching videos with the former, the iPhone SE will draw users for its comfortable portability and compact grip. 

Both iPhones have LCD displays, but the iPhone 11 has a "Liquid Retina HD display" while the iPhone SE has "Retina HD." These are branding terms that Apple uses to differentiate its display technology; all you have to know, though, is that the iPhone 11's screen is sharper, although they have the same number of pixels per inch or pixel density.


The new iPhone SE in red.

Angela Lang/CNET

Some users will also like the iPhone SE's home button. Now that Apple is discontinuing the iPhone 8, the iPhone SE will be the only iPhone Apple will sell with a physical home button. In addition to being intuitive to use, it also means you don't have to use swipe gestures to return to the home screen or call up recent apps. The home button will also house the device's fingerprint reader for unlocking the phone and authorizing digital payments (what Apple calls Touch ID). The iPhone 11, however, uses facial mapping sensors on the front-facing camera for biometric security (aka Face ID).

The devices are both IP certified for water protection. But because the iPhone 11 is rated IP68 compared to the iPhone SE's IP67 rating, it means that the iPhone 11 is a tad more durable against submersion (as in, it's certified to withstand longer or deeper immersion in water). On paper, an IP67 level of certification means the iPhone SE can survive in up to a meter (3.3 feet) of water for about 30 minutes.

Lastly, the iPhone SE only comes in black, white and red. The iPhone 11 comes in those three colors, too, but if you want more options, you can also get it in pastel yellow, green and purple.  

Camera: iPhone 11 has the upper hand

If you're not necessarily a camera power user, the iPhone SE's single 12-megapixel rear camera should suffice for posting images on Instagram and casual video recording. But if you care about photography or want more tools at your disposal, the iPhone 11 has a notably better camera setup than the iPhone SE.

The iPhone 11, for instance, has a second wide-angle camera. That means you can take sweeping landscape photos or creative, more dramatic pictures at close distances. The iPhone 11 also has Apple's low-light camera mode, Night Mode. Night Mode reduces things like digital artifacts, graininess and motion blur to capture and brighten up images taken in dim lighting.

As for the front-facing camera, the iPhone 11 doesn't just have a better selfie camera because it has more megapixels (12 megapixels compared to the iPhone SE's 7 megapixels). It can capture 4K video (compared to the iPhone SE's 1080p video) and record slow-motion video, too.

Processor and battery: Both have A13 Bionic

As its main budget phone, Apple could have outfitted the iPhone SE with an older processor. But the device is equipped with the latest proprietary A13 Bionic chip, the same one that's inside the iPhone 11. When we ran processing performance speeds on 3DMark and Geekbench 5, both phones clocked in similar results, which is also to say that the iPhone SE performed comparably -- and at times better than -- the Galaxy S20, Pixel 4 and the OnePlus 8 Pro

Apple's A13 processor in the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max

Apple's A13 processor.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

As always, Apple doesn't disclose the iPhone SE's battery capacity. According to the run times listed on Apple's site, the iPhone SE's battery is similar to that of the iPhone 8, which isn't as long as the iPhone 11. (Unofficial tear-downs from third parties also revealed that the iPhone 11 has a 3,110-mAh battery while the iPhone 8 has a 1,821-mAh battery.) 

When we ran continuous video playback on Airplane mode, however, both phones lasted the same: about 15 and a half hours, give or take. While we have yet to run streaming tests on the iPhone SE, it's promising that the first set of battery runs are similar to the iPhone 11.

iPhone SE (2020) vs. iPhone 11

Apple iPhone SE (2020)iPhone 11
Display size, resolution 4.7-inch Retina HD; 1,334x750 pixels6.1-inch LCD Liquid Retina; 1,792x828 pixels
Pixel density 326 ppi326 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 in.5.94 x 2.98 x 0.33 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 138 x 67 x 7.3mm151 x 76 x 8.3mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 5.22 oz.; 148g6.84 oz.; 194g
Mobile software iOS 13iOS 13
Camera 12-megapixel12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)
Front-facing camera 7-megapixel12-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K
Processor Apple A13 BionicApple A13 Bionic
Storage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM Not disclosedNot disclosed
Expandable storage NoNo
Battery Not disclosedNot disclosed
Fingerprint sensor Home buttonNo
Connector LightningLightning
Headphone jack NoNo
Special features Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless chargingWater resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB)$699 (64GB), $749 (128GB), $849 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB)£729 (64GB), £779 (128GB), £879 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)AU$1,199 (64GB), AU$1,279 (128GB), AU$1,449 (256GB)
Watch this: iPhone SE reminds us how much we missed the home button