New iPhone SE: 9 things you have to try as soon as you unbox it

It has an iPhone 8 body with an iPhone 11 Pro brain, which add up to a combination of features never seen on a 4.7-inch iPhone before.

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
5 min read

The 2020 iPhone SE has an iPhone 8 body with an iPhone 11 Pro brain. But it's more than just an iPhone 8S or 9 with an internal spec bump. The powerful A13 Bionic chipset transforms the phone and brings new features never before seen on a 4.7-inch iPhone. 

The mix of old design and new power means you can unlock the new SE with Touch ID, which is handy now that face masks are a must. You also have the processing power to support future iOS software updates longer than an iPhone 8, with its two-and-a-half-year old A11 processor, will manage.

Here are nine things you should try with your new iPhone SE.

Read: 8 steps to setting up your new iPhone SE

1. Transfer your old phone's date without iCloud or iTunes

Probably the absolute first thing you're going to want to do is get your stuff off your old iPhone and onto your new one. If it's been a while since you transferred data, you have a few options.

The first would be to back up your old phone to iTunes and then restore the backup on your new iPhone. You can also do this using iCloud, but you might not have enough storage and may not want to buy more from Apple .

So the third way may be the ideal: You can transfer your data directly from your old iPhone. Check out this article that takes you step-by-step through the process of moving from your old iPhone onto your new iPhone SE.

I should note that the direct data transfer method might be the easiest of the three, but it will take longer than restoring from an iCloud or iTunes backup.

2. Take a portrait mode photo

If you owned an iPhone 6 , 6S, 7 or 8, then you've never experienced the joy of taking a photo with a shallow depth of field, also known as Portrait Mode. It can turn your mundane background into a creamy, blurry wonderland. The iPhone SE uses processing to separate your subject from the background and then it blurs it to make it look beautiful.


A portrait mode photo blurs the background to make your subject pop.

Patrick Holland/CNET

To try it out, go into the Camera app, swipe to Portrait and then center your subject and take a photo. Before you take the photo, you can preview what it will look like by tapping and holding on the portrait mode dial at the bottom and spinning through the different looks. You can even adjust the amount of background blur by tapping on the aperture button in the top right corner of the screen. Use the slider at the bottom to make it more or less blurry.


You can adjust the aperture slider to change the amount of background blur in your portrait mode photo.

Patrick Holland/CNET

If you took a portrait mode photo, but still want to make adjustments, you're in luck. Find a portrait mode photo that you want to adjust and tap the edit button. To adjust the amount of background blur, go to the top left side of the screen and tap on the aperture icon. Use the aperture slider that appears at the bottom of the screen to make the background more or less blurry.

You can also change Apple's portrait lighting after the fact by going to the top left corner of the screen and tapping the portrait mode icon. Swipe through the various modes using the dial that appears at the bottom.


The iPhone SE gets all the same portrait lighting effects as the iPhone 11. 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max.

Patrick Holland/CNET

If the face of your subject is too dark, go back into edit mode and then rotate the portrait mode dial up to any lighting effect other than Natural Light. A slider will appear below and you can adjust it to increase or decrease the lighting effect on your subject. 

One last portrait mode tip: The iPhone SE can only capture portrait mode photos of humans. Sorry, but your cat photos won't have beautiful blurry backgrounds.

3. Take a portrait mode selfie

Remember all the stuff I just shared about Portrait Mode? Well, lucky for you it applies to portrait mode on your phone's rear and selfie camera. That means you can take epic and artistic selfies using portrait lighting effects.


The Apple logo is now in the middle of the back of the iPhone SE.

Angela Lang/CNET

4. Admire the centered Apple

The new iPhone SE is almost identical to the 2017 iPhone 8. But there's one way to tell the difference between the two. Look at the Apple Logo on the back. On the iPhone 8, it's higher up. But on the new iPhone SE, it's right in the middle. This matches the logo's placement on other new iPhones. Take a moment and admire the centered logo on the back of your iPhone SE. (OK, your mileage on this tip may vary.)

5. Use Quick Take to record video

Another cool thing you can do on the iPhone SE is start recording a video even when you're not in video mode. From the Camera app, simply press and hold on the shutter button to start recording (kind of like Instagram or Snapchat). When you let go, it will stop recording. If you're filming a long video that you started with Quick Take, simply drag your finger from the shutter button to the lock on the right side.


Press and hold the shutter button to record a video. Slide the shutter button to the right to lock so you don't have to constantly press the screen.

Patrick Holland/CNET

6. Put a case on it

I'm a non-case person, but I'm told most normal people put cases on their phones . Now, if you're wondering if an iPhone 8 case will fit on your iPhone SE. The answer is yes it will. But there will be new cases for the phone as well. I still prefer no case. Why would you cover up that beautiful centered logo?

7. Take a photo with SmartHDR

One of the SE's most amazing features is also one of the least flashy. It's SmartHDR photo processing. There have been a few flavors of Apple's computational high dynamic range software but the one on the iPhone SE does an impressive job of capturing a scene with lots of shadows and bright lights. Check out the photo I shot below of a tree against a bright blue sky. 


SmartHDR is impressive in keeping the sky from blowing out and the shadows relatively free of image noise.

Patrick Holland/CNET

8. Connect AirPods and AirPods Pro via iCloud

Like other recent iPhones, the new SE has no headphone jack. Look, it's natural to be upset, but I don't think that will change anything. Fortunately, if you own a fancy pants pair of Apple or Beats wireless headphones, there's some redemption in the form of iCloud.

Read: Apple AirPods: The best tips and tricks for your wireless headphones

If you already have your AirPods, AirPods Pro or Beats wireless headphones paired to an Apple device that using the same iCloud account, they should automatically pair to your new iPhone SE.

All you have to do is connect them. To do so, from Bluetooth settings select your headphones from the list and tap connect. If your other Apple devices are off, your headphones might automatically connect when you place them in your ears.

Read: You're 10 tips away from mastering your new AirPods Pro

9. Try out games and AR apps

Your iPhone SE has the most powerful processor currently found in any phone. See what it can do by playing a game like Children of Light or an Apple Arcade game like Doomsday Vault or Sneaky Sasquatch. But if you really want to experience something impressive, checkout an AR app such as Wonderscope. It transformed my room into a mansion where I can train to be a ghost.

The 29 best AR apps for iOS that you need try

See all photos

If you have any tips or features you think people should try, throw them in the comments.

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