As we made clear in our iPhone SE review, the best feature of Apple’s new iPhone is the price. By essentially taking an iPhone 8 and swapping out its processor for the company’s latest-and-greatest A13 Bionic, Apple is able to profitably sell a $399 phone that gives a lot of bang for the buck.
How good of a value is it, really? Perhaps a few charts will make everything more clear. By taking performance metrics and dividing it by the base starting price for every new iPhone you can buy, we are able to get a measure of performance-per-dollar.
We use current pricing for the base model on all currently available iPhones, without refurbished units: That means the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, and iPhone XR (which now costs $599).
Bear in mind, we are only comparing easily-quantifiable performance here. You should expect to pay more for features like an edge-to-edge display, Face ID, multiple rear cameras, Night Mode photos, a stainless steel frame, and so on. Benchmark scores per dollar spent is by no means a complete picture of a phone’s value.
Let’s start by looking at CPU performance. We’re going to take the popular standby Geekbench 5, and look at the single core and multi core performance, divided by the starting price.
It’s an absolute rout. The iPhone SE delivers nearly double the CPU performance per dollar as the next best iPhone. We shouldn’t be surprised that putting the excellent A13 in a $400 phone would yield such results.
Turning our attention to graphics performance, we’ll use the 3DMark benchmark, which mimics the sort of intensive graphics used in high-end games.
If you recall from our iPhone SE review, we noticed that while most graphics benchmarks perform the same on the iPhone SE as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, there was an exception with the 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme benchmark. For some reason, it ran 10 to 20 percent slower than other iPhones with the A13 chip. Despite this, the $399 price tag still makes it a far better value.
Just for the sake of completeness, we’ll include 3DMark’s older Ice Storm Unlimited test as well. In this test (as with most graphics tests) the iPhone SE runs just as fast as the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro. The same performance for about 43 percent less money!
What about battery life? One of the few disappointments of the iPhone SE is that it still has the exact same 1821mAh battery as the iPhone 8. It lasts just a tiny bit longer than the iPhone 8 does, but more modern iPhones have packed in higher-capacity batteries and last as lot longer.
As a reminder, our battery life test sets the display to 200 nits and runs the Geekbench 4 battery life test, which loops Geekbench 4 benchmark runs until the battery dies. It’s a much more punishing test than your typical daily use.
The life-per-dollar champ is the iPhone XR. With a big 2942mAh battery it lasts a very long time, and now starts at $599. Despite the fact that the battery dies about 35 percent sooner in the iPhone SE, it’s affordable price tag makes its battery-to-dollar value just slightly less than the iPhone XR. The iPhone 11 lasts as long as the iPhone XR, but starts at $699. The iPhone 11 Pro lasts even longer, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max the longest of all, but those sky-high price tags do them no favors here.
Every new iPhone you can buy today starts at 64GB of storage. That makes it really easy to figure out which one is giving you more storage space per dollar. We just divide the price by 64 and get a dollars-per-gigabyte value. Note that here, a lower score is better.
With all phones having the same amount of storage, the least expensive one is obviously the best value. The iPhone SE gives you more the double the gigabytes per dollar as the iPhone 11 Pro, and almost three times as many as the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Apple offers the iPhone SE, iPhone XR, and iPhone 11 with 128GB models for $50 more than the base price, but you can’t get 128GB on the iPhone 11 Pro. For $150 more, you can get 256GB of storage on any iPhone other than the iPhone XR. The iPhone 11 Pro (and Pro Max) can be had in 512GB capacities for $350 over the base price. So storage upgrade costs are essentially even across the iPhone line.
What’s the catch?
The iPhone SE offers the best value in Apple’s lineup by a huge margin, except in battery life where it’s nearly tied with the first-place iPhone XR. So what’s the catch? Why would anyone buy anything else?
Well, these charts are meant to illustrate a point about the exceptional value of the iPhone SE, but they don’t capture everything worthwhile about the phones. Nor do they capture absolute performance.
For example, the iPhone SE has by far the shortest battery life of any current iPhone model, it’s just also the cheapest iPhone, so the life-per-dollar ratio is good. If you’re coming from a four-year-old iPhone, you’ll be plenty happy with the iPhone SE battery life, but it’s still much shorter than the other iPhone models.
You also have to consider all the features that are not as easily to numerically quantify. How much is an Ultrawide rear camera worth to you? Or a telephoto camera? How badly do you want to take Night Mode photos, or Portrait Mode photos of non-human subjects? How about Face ID or the ability to use Memoji and Animoji? What about an edge-to-edge display or an OLED display? Do you care that your iPhone has an aluminum frame rather than a stainless steel one?
The other iPhones are more expensive, and only look like a lesser value when you ignore these other features. While it may not be easy to put a dollar value on any one of them, each one enhances the iPhone in a meaningful way.
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I have written professionally about technology for my entire adult professional life - over 20 years. I like to figure out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.