Apple sells two iPhones that start below $500: The $499 iPhone 11 (now two generations old), and the just-released $429 third-generation iPhone SE. You might be temped to buy the new iPhone SE…after all, it’s newer, less expensive, and has a better processor.
But it’s not that simple! The phones are actually quite different, and many parts of the iPhone SE are actually much older than the iPhone 11. Picking the one that fits you best depends on your priorities, so this guide will help you buy an affordable iPhone you’ll be happy with.
iPhone SE vs iPhone 11: Size
The iPhone 11 is definitely a bigger phone, but it’s not really what most people would call “big” by today’s standards. While the iPhone SE’s body is a little smaller and easier to hold, the display is much smaller, thanks to the large bezels above and below it.
The iPhone 11 is a half-inch taller and a third of an inch wider, but the display is 6.1 inches vs. the iPhone SE’s 4.7 inches. It’s a massive difference in screen area. Whether you prefer a small phone enough to deal with the tiny screen is a matter of personal taste, but you should look at them both in person to help you decide.
Both displays are LCDs of similar quality (P3 color, True Tone, 625 nits maximum brightness), so the choice here is all about how much screen you want.
iPhone SE vs iPhone 11: Colors
The iPhone SE comes in three colors: white (“Starlight”), black (“Midnight”), and ProductRED, while the iPhone 11 comes in six colors: white, black, ProductRED, purple, yellow, and green.
It’s all the same colors as the iPhone SE, plus three more. If you like variety, there’s only one winner, here.
iPhone SE vs iPhone 11: Processor and specs
The iPhone SE has a better processor, hands-down. The A15 is extremely fast…faster than you’ll need for almost anything. The A13 found in the iPhone 11 is still very good…as good, in fact, as the processor found in most premium Android phones. Elsewhere, both phones have 4GB of RAM, a Lightning port for charging, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth 5.0.
For a budget phone, you’re not likely to notice any real difference between them in day-to-day use. But in three or four years, you might find that the A15 is still supported by the latest iOS updates while the A13 is not.
iPhone SE vs Phone 11: Touch ID vs. Face ID
Some people prefer Touch ID, others prefer Face ID. There’s no doubt that Face ID is much more convenient if you live in a climate where you’ll be wearing gloves often. Most users prefer Face ID (or at least are fine with it) after a short period of adjustment, but there are Touch ID diehards who simply don’t ever want an iPhone without it.
If you prefer Touch ID and a physical Home button, the iPhone SE is the last iPhone to have it and the only one to buy.
iPhone SE vs Phone 11: Cameras
The iPhone SE’s newer processor means better computational photography features (such as Deep Fusion and Photographic Styles), but it’s still rocking an ancient iPhone 8-era 12MP rear camera and 7MP front camera. You can take portraits and 4K video.
The iPhone 11 has a much newer dual-camera system pairing a 12MP wide lens with another 12MP Ultra-Wide one with 2x optical zoom out, and a vastly superior 12MP front camera that is capable of 4K video recording. It also supports Apple’s stellar Night mode, which the iPhone SE does not. So if you take a lot of photos, the choice is clear.
iPhone SE vs Phone 11: Battery Life
We don’t have final battery life test results for the new iPhone SE yet, but we feel confident in saying that the iPhone 11 will last a lot longer. Apple agrees: It says the iPhone 11 should last for 17 hours of video playback, while the iPhone SE should last for 15.
In our tests, the iPhone 11 ran our intensive battery rundown tests for 333 minutes–about 5.5 hours. The second-generation iPhone SE ran only 217 minutes or 3.6 hours. Even if the third-gen iPhone SE lasts 20 percent longer than the one it replaces, it won’t get close to the iPhone 11’s battery life.
iPhone SE vs Phone 11: Cellular connectivity
In simple terms, the new iPhone SE has 5G, while the iPhone 11 does not. But there’s a catch! Those super-fast mmWave bands you always see advertised (Verizon has branded it Ultra Wideband) that give speeds in excess of a gigabit per second? Well, it doesn’t support those, only the sub-6GHz bands that LTE networks use.
You’ll still get better performance with 5G using those sub-6GHz frequencies, but the iPhone 11’s LTE is not going to be that far behind.
iPhone SE vs Phone 11: Other features
Both phones support Qi wireless charging up to 7.5 watts and fast-charge up to 50% in 30 minutes with a 20W power adapter. Neither phone supports MagSafe for magnetically-attached accessories and faster wireless charging.
The iPhone 11 supports Dolby Atmos audio playback while the iPhone 8 does not. It also has a U1 Ultra Wideband chip that allows it to precisely locate AirTags or recognize when it’s right next to a HomePod mini. It also has slightly better water resistance: IP68 (submerged up to 2 meters for 30 minutes) vs. IP67 (submerged up to 1 meter for 30 minutes).
iPhone SE vs Phone 11: Our recommendation
The iPhone SE has a faster processor, but you’re not likely to notice much of a difference in day-to-day use. It’s also a bit smaller, if you really care about having a small phone, and has Touch ID if you just can’t stand Face ID. It has 5G but doesn’t support the mmWave bands that give you crazy-high speeds.
The iPhone 11 has a much larger display, Face ID if you prefer that, better cameras (especially on the front), longer battery life, and a handful of other small features like the U1 chip and more color options. Now that the iPhone SE starts at $429, the price gap between it and the $499 iPhone 11 isn’t all that big, and we think most people would be a lot happier with the slightly more expensive, albeit older model.