iPhone SE Australian review: Great features in small package
AN old iPhone 4 in my drawer at work reminds me how tiny phones once were.
With a 3.5 inch display (or 8.9cm), it's about half the size of the display of the latest 'big boys' like the iPhone 11 Pro Max or Samsung's Galaxy S20 Ultra.
So Apple's new iPhone SE with its 4.7 inch display is almost a nostalgic walk down memory lane - but with some very big exceptions.
It's designed for those who don't want a big, bulky, expensive phone. And after testing it for the past couple of weeks, I can see why.
This is a phone which takes great photos and gorgeous 4K video, does beautiful portrait images with blurred background of people, and has the grunt to run high end games and even augmented reality (AR) applications.
But it does have some limitations.
Its battery might not last the distance if you're a heavy user and the camera doesn't offer optical zoom and ultra wide images like its more expensive rivals.
It also won't take bokeh or portrait images of things - including your pets or flowers.
But it's also $1000 cheaper than phone which do that - and decidedly more comfortable to carry around at just 148 grams.
While it doesn't have the triple cameras or 6.5 inch display of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, the SE has become my new favourite for long walks with the dog, checking my social feeds, emails, text messages as well taking photos and videos on the move.
The iPhone SE is powered by Apple's latest A13 bionic chip which is the real miracle worker in making this phone so attractive.
A lot of the great features of the camera, including HDR and portrait modes which include the ability to change the depth of field or degree of background blur after you have taken the photo, are reliant on the A13.
The iPhone SE has a 12 megapixel camera which produces more natural looking colour than its Android rivals but if you want to up the colour, you can easily do that through the range of inbuilt filters.
Like its more expensive iPhone cousins, Portrait Mode is where the SE really shines.
You can take a picture of a friend, blur the background and then adjust the style of portrait including natural light, contour light, stage light, stage light mono and high key mono, creating very different results.
Beyond than you can also change your 'F stop' or depth from 1.4 through to 16, varying how much you blur the background. It's pretty clever tech.
Smart HDR helps you overcome the problems of more challenging shots such as backlit scenes but intelligently relighting the subject.
4K VIDEO AT 60 FRAMES PER SECOND
The SE is one of the best around for video as well.
You can shoot 4K up to 60 frames per second while the cinematic video stabilisation is still among the best being offered by cameras.
I shot a few slow-motion videos of my dog hurtling towards me in the park and was pretty impressed with the results.
The lack of an optical zoom is limiting but the results were pretty decent even using the digital zoom when shooting video.
Shooting at 4K obviously gives you the ability to 'crop in' on your video in editing to produce a 1080 HD video. And you can do it all on your phone.
QuickTake allows you to quickly switch to video in Photo mode by just holding the button down.
There's an extended dynamic range for videos shot at up to 30 frames per second to allow more highlight details, while the SE records audio in stereo like its more expensive counterparts.
The selfie camera is only 7 megapixels but also offers Portrait mode and QuickTake videos.
WHAT'S POWERING THE IPHONE SE?
Apple says the 6-core A13 Bionic Chip CPU is up to 2.4 times faster than the first generation iPhone SE and 40% faster than the iPhone 8. To give you an understanding of its firepower, the A13 Bionic is capable of five trillion operations a second.
So when you launch an application like Night Sky or a game like Sky: Children of Light, you will be blown away by what comes out of the 4.7 inch Retina display.
DESIGN AND DISPLAY
The iPhone SE has an aluminium Retina HD display which features True Tone, great colour accuracy, and Haptic Touch just like the iPhone 11 series. It has Touch ID via the familiar home button rather than Face ID. On the downside, the bezel at the top and button of the display is still too big.
APPLE TV, NEWS AND MUSIC
One of the big selling points of the SE is that's it's the cheapest way to get into Apple's great line-up of entertainment, including a year's worth of Apple TV+ for free. As well as its own great content, the platform showcases movies, TV shows and other series from other platforms including Australian TV channels.
As well as gigabit-class LTE and Wi-Fi 6 to let you download content faster, the budget friendly SE even comes with dual SIM capability (Nano and e-SIM) so you can use it for a work and private number.
Apple's iPhone SE has a 1821 mAH battery which offers up to 13 hours of video playback time, compared to 20 hours from the 3969 mAH battery in the iPhone 11 Pro Max. You can get up to 50% charge in 30 minutes with 18W adapter or higher (sold separately) The SE can also be wirelessly charged.
It comes with 64GB, 128GB or 256GB storage.
PRICING IN AUSTRALIA
iPhone SE starts at $749 for the 64GB option, the 128GB version is $829 and one with 256GB storage costs $999.