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iPhone SE has some of the best iPhone 11 features, including wireless charging

Commentary: Apple wisely designed the new SE to have the same appeal as the original from 2016.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Expertise Apple, iPhone, iOS, Android, Samsung, Sony, Google, Motorola, interviews, coffee equipment, cats Credentials
  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Patrick Holland
4 min read

Apple announced on Wednesday a second version of the iPhone SE. Rumored for months with different names, including iPhone 9 and SE 2, the budget phone essentially crams an iPhone 11 into an iPhone 8 body. We haven't seen it in person yet -- Apple didn't hold a traditional event due to the coronavirus pandemic and instead announced the new iPhone in a press release -- so we'll need to wait until we can review it to determine whether it's a good phone.

But based on what Apple showed off this week, the new SE wisely follows the successful recipe for the original 2016 version, giving it a lot of promise.

Additional iPhone SE retailers:  Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Xfinity Mobile, AT&T, Cricket Wireless, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Spectrum Mobile, US Cellular, Visible, Apple UK, Apple Australia

The $399 iPhone SE is the most affordable Apple phone

At a time when the "value" iPhone 11 costs $699 and the flagship 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max cost $999 and $1,099 respectively, an option more people can afford is welcome. Like the original when it was introduced, the new iPhone SE is the cheapest iPhone you can buy. In fact, it starts at the exact same $399 price as the original SE. 

It's a perfect time for an affordable phone. With shelter-in-place being a daily reality that won't let up anytime soon, millions of us rely more than ever on a phone to stay in contact with friends, a loved one or work. At the same time, millions of people are in financial distress. If you're in the unfortunate situation where you need a new phone or can't fix a damaged phone, today's announcement offers some relief.

Read more: 10 best phones under $500  


The iPhone SE will join Apple's other Product Red devices.


The $399 price of the SE places it alongside a growing crowd of budget-friendly Android phones , which includes the upcoming Moto G Power and G Stylus ($249 and $300 respectively), the $400 Samsung Galaxy A51 and the heavily discounted Google Pixel 4 , which currently sells for $500. There's also last year's Google Pixel 3A , which normally costs $399 and now sells for around $300.

Small phone lovers unite

Though Apple introduced the original SE a few months after the bigger iPhone 6S , its body was based more on the older iPhone 5 and 5S. The SE had an itsy bitsy 4-inch screen (the iPhone 6S had a 4.7-inch display), but its small size was one reason people craved it.

I, like many other people, was hoping Apple might bring back that petite design. Instead Apple took the body from the iPhone 6 , 6S, 7 and 8, along with the 4.7-inch screen on those phones, and revamped it. Though that makes it much smaller than the 6.1-inch iPhone 11 and 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro, I wonder if it's small enough to sway tiny phone lovers to upgrade from their original iPhone SEs.

Apple made smart compromises on features

In 2016, when Apple put the iPhone 6S's A9 processor and camera in the original SE, not every feature followed them over. It's a similar story for the new SE. It has a lot of what the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro has: a True Tone display, fast charging (though you'll need to buy a fast charger) and wireless charging, and it's rated IP67 for dust and water resistance, meaning it can survive being submerged under 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.

The new phone has an A13 Bionic processor, which is the same one used in the 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. The benefit here is that it's faster than the A11 processor found in the iPhone 8, and should be able to run new versions of iOS for years to come. Apple has a terrific record of supporting older devices through software upgrades.

The new iPhone SE comes in black, white or Product Red.


You won't find the double or triple rear cameras from Apple's current flagship devices. Instead, it has a single rear 12-megapixel camera (with a 28-millimeter f/1.8 lens) which is less wide than the main camera (with a 26-millimeter f/1.8 lens) on the 11 and 11 Pro.

The new camera can take portrait mode photos (both on the main and the selfie cameras). There's also Apple's excellent SmartHDR, which helps optimize every detail in your pictures. You can shoot 4K video up to 60 frames per second or with extended dynamic range up to 30fps. There's even cinematic video stabilization for both the front and back cameras.

Apple hasn't confirmed whether the new camera supports Night Mode. And obviously there's not the popular ultrawide-angle camera either. But those are smart sacrifices to get a small version of an iPhone 11 for $399.

Preorder the iPhone SE or wait?

Apple has faithfully replicated the most important aspects of the original SE. But if you're wondering if you should preorder one, well, I can't tell you right now. I'll need to test the new iPhone SE first.

That said, if you're still using an original SE, and are comfortable with a new phone that has a tiny increase in size and an enormous increase in features, functionality and future-proofing, then the new SE is definitely worth considering. And for those of you who want an iPhone 11 but at a lower price, the iPhone SE might be the compromise you're looking for.

Watch this: Apple's new iPhone SE is basically an iPhone 11 in a small package