It's finally here. After years of rumors and leaks, Apple's updated iPhone SE has arrived, replacing the iPhone 8 and reviving one of the most beloved iPhones of all time with a new look and upgraded specs. However, while the original iPhone SE was a restyled iPhone 5s, the 2020 version is basically an iPhone 11 in an iPhone 8's clothing for an impressive $399. Here’s why the new SE is more than just a new iPhone 8.
Update 4/21: Apple is reportedly working on an iPhone SE Plus for a 2021 release.
Design, display, and size
The iPhone SE and iPhone 8 are identical in size and shape (138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm) and both weigh 148 grams. They both have a single rear camera and vertically aligned flash along with a glass back. The only difference is the position of the Apple logo, which is lower on the SE to match the iPhone 11. The SE also comes in a (Product) Red color, which replaces the iPhone 8’s gold hue.
The new iPhone SE has basically the same display as the iPhone 8, bringing a 4.7-inch Retina HD 1334x750 resolution at 326 ppi, along with True Tone, wide color, and 625 nits of max brightness. The only major difference is 3D Touch: the iPhone 8 has it and the iPhone SE doesn’t. In its place is Apple’s new Haptic Touch system that can be found on the iPhone 11. Below the display, you’ll find a Touch ID sensor.
What you won't find with the iPhone SE is a larger model. Where Apple offered a "Plus" variant to the iPhone 8 that bumped the display to 5.5 inches, the iPhone SE only comes in a single 4.8-inch flavor. And you might be waiting a while for a larger model to arrive, if it ever comes. Rumors suggest that Apple is indeed working on an iPhone 8 Plus with a larger screen and dual camera, but the latest scuttlebutt pegs it for a mid-2021 release.
Performance, storage, and battery
Here’s where the iPhone SE starts to set itself apart from the iPhone 8. The SE has Apple’s newest A13 Bionic chip, while the iPhone 8 is powered by the A11 Bionic chip. That means the SE will be faster and smarter, thanks to its third-generation Neural Engine. Apple doesn’t divulge the amount of RAM inside its phones, but we know from teardowns that the iPhone 8 has 2GB of RAM. The SE is rumored to have 3GB due to the new chip requirements.
Both phones are IP67 rated for water and dust resistance, meaning you can dunk them in a meter of water for a half-hour. They also both have stereo speakers, Apple Pay support via NFC, and Bluetooth 5. Both the iPhone SE and iPhone 8 are available in 64GB and 128GB varieties, while the SE adds a 256GB tier.
We won’t know the size of the battery until iFixit does its teardown, but Apple says the SE, “lasts about the same as iPhone 8,” so it likely has a similar 1,821mAh battery. They also both have wireless charging capabilities, and fast charging with an 18W adapter or higher, which you’ll need to buy. Finally, the iPhone SE supports Wi-Fi 6 while the iPhone 8 has Wi-Fi 5.
While the iPhone 8 and iPhone SE both have a single 12MP, f/1.8 wide camera with digital zoom up to 5x, the SE is far more advanced than the iPhone 8. Apple VP Phil Schiller says it’s Apple’s “best-ever single-camera system for great photos and videos,” meaning it’s similar but a little better than the one in the iPhone XR from last year.
We’ll need to run it through its paces, but under the sapphire crystal lens cover (a feature not on the iPhone 8), you’re getting Portrait Mode (limited to people), Portrait Lighting, Smart HDR, and QuickTake video, all of which are not available on the iPhone 8. Additionally, you can also take portrait videos with the 7MP, f/2.2 selfie camera. And like the iPhone 8, you can record 4K video on the iPhone SE. So while it's not quite as good as the main camera in the iPhone 11—most notably, it's missing night mode—it should take some great pictures.
Apple offers the same AppleCare+ coverage for the iPhone SE that it does for all of its iPhones, but it's cheaper for the new model. Where Apple charged $129 for coverage on the iPhone 8, AppleCare+ on the iPhone SE is just $79 for two years of service, a 40 percent decrease. Like the other models, it carries a deductible of $29 for screen repair and $99 for all other repairs, with a limit of two instances. You can also get a Theft & Loss policy for $149 ($50 cheaper than before), which allows you to get a full SE replacement for a $149 deductible, a total price of at least $100 less than it would cost to buy a new one outright (or more depending on capacity).
Apple has undercut even the latest iPhone 8 prices with the iPhone SE, making it Apple’s cheapest iPhone since, well, the last iPhone SE:
iPhone SE 2020
Apple has stopped selling the iPhone 8 on its website, but you can still find refurbished models. When available, Apple is selling the 64GB model is now $339 and the 256GB model is $469, which offers some savings over the iPhone SE. But we'd still recommend spending a few dollars more on the SE.