CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. How we test phones

How to set up your new iPhone SE the easiest way possible

If you're upgrading from an older iPhone to the shiny iPhone SE, this tool makes transferring everything a breeze. We walk you through what you need to know.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
3 min read

Apple's iPhone SE is a steal of a deal. 

Patrick Holland/CNET

Getting the new iPhone SE? It's a heck of a deal at $399. If you're upgrading from an older iPhone, your new phone's camera tricks, faster performance and improved battery life mean you're in for a treat. With orders starting to arrive, we want you to be prepared for one of the first tasks you'll need to do -- transfer all of your information from your old iPhone to the new SE.

This can be a problem if you realize you're out of iCloud storage or your phone hasn't been backed up in weeks. Ugh. Don't sweat it. As long as your old iPhone is running iOS 12.4 or newer (you can check in Settings > General > About), you can forget about all that iCloud nonsense and use Apple's newest transfer tool. 

With a quick scan of a code and a couple of taps on your phone, you'll transfer all of your contacts, photos, messages and the rest of your most important info from your old iPhone to your new one. It sure beats paying for extra storage (just make sure you're regularly backing up your iPhone using a computer).

Using the new data migration tool is simple, just make sure to set aside some time to allow for everything to transfer over.  

What you need

You'll need two iPhones -- your old one and the new one you're setting up -- both running iOS 12.4, and access to a Wi-Fi network. 

Go to Settings > General > Software Update on your old phone to make sure you're running the latest version of iOS 12. 


Setting up your new iPhone has never been this easy. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

What's transferred

By the time you've eventually finished setting up your new phone (step-by-step instructions below), it will essentially be a direct copy of your current phone. Apps will be in the same place on your home screens, settings will be the same, email accounts... everything. 


iOS 12.4's new data transfer tool eliminates the need to worry about iCloud backups. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Using the new transfer feature

With your old and new iPhones powered on, unlocked and next to each other, your old phone should display a prompt asking if you want to set up a new phone. Tap Continue and then point the old iPhone's camera at your new phone's screen. 

Follow the prompts on your new phone, completing tasks like entering a passcode, setting up Touch ID or Face ID and agreeing to Apple's terms and conditions. Eventually, you'll end up on a screen asking if you want to transfer data directly from one phone to the other, or if you want to restore from iCloud. 

Select Transfer from iPhone and follow the prompts, after which your iPhones will take care of the rest. Make sure you leave the two phones near each other, otherwise the transfer can slow down or stall. 


Pour yourself a cup of tea and let the transfer process do its thing. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

It will take some time for the transfer to complete, depending on the speed of your Wi-Fi network and the amount of data you're transferring. Naturally, 2,000 photos will take longer to transfer than 500. If you have a lot of apps and photos, be prepared to be patient -- it's going to take a while. It took me about 25 minutes to transfer all of my data, which is exactly the amount of time the tool estimated it would take. 

The default method is to use a wireless connection for the transfer. Alternatively, if you have a Lightning-to-USB 3 camera adapter and a spare Lightning USB cable, a wired transfer is possible and should be faster. But it's not worth going out and buying the adapter just to save yourself a few minutes. 

After the transfer is complete, your new phone will reboot and your apps will finish downloading. All of your photos, emails, contacts, appointments and messages will be there. 

After you've set up your new phone, take a few minutes to get familiar with iOS 13 and its hidden features, then make sure to do these things first

Watch this: iPhone SE reminds us how much we missed the home button