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Is Apple's iPhone SE 2020 Still a Good Buy in 2022?

Apple's March 8 event is rumored to reveal a new iPhone SE. We'll help you decide if the current iPhone SE model is still worth considering.

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Apple's iPhone SE was released in April 2020 and it's still on sale for its $399 launch price.
John Kim/CNET

Apple's newest budget phone, the expected iPhone SE 3, might launch at Apple's next event on March 8. (Here's how to watch the event.) The latest rumors indicate that the SE 3 could feature a retro design, 5G support and Face ID. Now that this new version of the affordable iPhone is likely coming soon, you should probably wait until March 8 before considering the 2020 iPhone SE that's on sale right now. But if your phone is broken or you absolutely must get a lower-cost iPhone this week, there are elements of the current iPhone SE that are worth considering.

Read more: iPhone SE 2022 vs. 2020: Every Spec We Know, Compared

At $399 (£419, AU$749), the 2020 iPhone SE remains the most budget-friendly entry into the world of iPhones and iOS. But the iPhone 11 has seen a significant price cut to $499, while the more recent iPhone 13 Mini comes in at $729 (£699, AU$1,199). That's before we even consider the plethora of affordable rivals running Android. 

Let's take a look at how the iPhone SE measures up in 2022. 

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What is the iPhone SE 2020?

It's Apple's attempt at providing an affordable iPhone option, with more cut-down specs than the other phones launched in 2020 but with a much lower price. Those specs include a 4.7-inch display, an Apple A13 processor and a single 12-megapixel rear camera. Storage starts at 64GB, it supports Qi wireless charging and there's no 5G. 

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The iPhone SE 2020 is by far the cheapest iPhone you can buy directly from Apple.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

iPhone SE's $399 price tag

At $399, the iPhone SE is the cheapest new iPhone that's available possible to buy, so if you're simply looking at the lowest cost, this is the way to go. While Apple did try and make its iPhone 13 range more affordable, even the cheapest iPhone 13 Mini starts at $699, a significant price increase over the SE. 

The next cheapest iPhone you can get is the iPhone 11. It was released in 2019, but you can still buy a new one on the Apple store. It uses the older A13 Bionic processor, also starts with 64GB of storage, also has wireless charging and offers an excellent dual rear camera. You also get a much bigger screen with the iPhone 11; 6.1 inches versus the iPhone SE's 4.7 inches. 

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The camera on the iPhone SE.

Angela Lang/CNET

Apple only gave the iPhone SE one camera

While most phones launched last year tended to have multiple cameras on the back, the iPhone SE kept its costs down with just the one. It's likely to be one of the biggest compromises you may need to make, particularly if you enjoy taking photos with your phone. 

While the single camera can take some great photos -- comfortably rivaling the iPhone 11 -- it lacks the flexibility and creative potential of cameras with multiple lens options. I love using the different lenses on the more expensive iPhones. As a photographer, I wouldn't want to go without these shooting options, but they come at an additional price. The iPhone 11 packs a standard camera and an additional ultra-wide lens which is great for capturing a wide scene in front of you. If you're into your photography, that extra hundred bucks for the iPhone 11 might be a savvy spend.

If multilens setups are important but you don't want to spend any more than the SE's price, you'll need to consider an Android phone. Which brings me neatly on to...

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

iOS vs. Android

While the iPhone SE is the cheapest iPhone you can buy, it's by no means the cheapest phone. Many Android brands offer much less expensive handsets and usually come with more attractive specs, including multiple lens rear cameras, bigger displays, more storage and even 5G connectivity. 

The OnePlus Nord N10, for example, has a 6.4-inch display, 128GB of storage, a good-quality quadruple rear camera and 5G for super-fast data speeds. It can be picked up, SIM-free, from OnePlus for only $300. If you're looking for the best bang for your buck then you'll usually find better specs for lower prices with Android. 

Even cheaper is the Samsung Galaxy A13, which for $250 includes a triple-lens camera featuring a 50-megapixel main camera, 5G support and a 5,000-mAh battery.

The flip side of the argument is that Apple's phones tend to age better, with even five-year old handsets like the original 2016 iPhone SE able to run the latest versions of iOS -- complete with security patches to keep them safe. They also hold their value better if you decide to sell your iPhone later on.

Read more: How to Buy a New iPhone or Android Phone

iPhone SE's performance

The iPhone SE shares many physical features and hardware specs with 2017's iPhone 8, except for the processor. The 2020 SE has Apple's A13 Bionic chip; the same hardware found in the more expensive iPhone 11. And it shows, with benchmarks putting the 2020 SE leagues above the iPhone 8 and absolutely crushing the OnePlus Nord N10

It's nippy to use, and powerful enough to handle anything you'd likely throw at it, including most, if not all, of the biggest games to be found in the App Store. It might be a budget phone, but its processor power means you're getting anything but a budget experience. This will also mean your phone will remain usable for longer, being able to cope with new versions of iOS as they arrive. 

Read more: iOS 15.4: The Cool, New Features Coming to Your iPhone

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

5G vs. 4G

The iPhone SE 2020 doesn't have 5G connectivity. That means those exciting potential download speeds you might have seen advertised will be out of reach with this phone. Sure, at its low price that might not seem like a big deal now, but if you plan on keeping the phone for at least two or three years, you may well feel differently later on. 

Rumors suggest that the SE 3 will support 5G. So your decision here is whether or not you definitely want 5G in your life. If you do, you'll need to look elsewhere or wait just a bit longer for the updated iPhone SE. That will mean looking at Android phones if you can't stretch your budget to the iPhone 12 range, which does have 5G.