Impressive performance and camera quality, but battery life and a sluggish 60Hz display mar the iPhone SE 2022’s appeal
- Neat and pocketable
- 5G and superb performance
- Camera is great
- Small screen, big bezels
- Poor battery life
Apple’s 2022 iPhone SE is here and it will almost certainly go down a storm with Apple fans on a budget. It’s the cheapest iPhone in Apple’s range but, despite that, Apple has fitted it with its A15 Bionic processor, meaning it’s just as fast (on paper, at least) as Apple’s more expensive iPhone 13 handsets.
For many, this will be more than enough to justify the asking price of £419, especially if they’ve only ever owned an iPhone. I know this feeling myself, having used iPhones extensively; there’s something about the way the software works and the app ecosystem that encourages you to want to stick with it. Giving up is hard to do.
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Apple iPhone SE 2022 review: What you need to know
But how long will this situation prevail? Apple customers may be famously biddable but the iPhone SE is now looking seriously long in the tooth. Just like last year’s model, the 2022 SE lacks an edge-to-edge display, and the small 4.7in screen is still bordered by a sizeable chin and forehead bezels. Not to mention battery life which, despite improving this year, remains firmly in the stone age as far as modern smartphones go.
So, is there anything, aside from that A15 processor and the Apple ecosystem, to persuade customers to stick with the iPhone SE for one last hurrah? Well, yes, there’s 5G, which means in the places that have a 5G signal, you’ll get a faster connection. Other than that, though, the improvements are marginal.
Apple iPhone SE 2022 review: Price and competition
One piece of good news is that the price hasn’t changed. Despite the fact that the iPhone SE 2022 launched a good two years after the previous model, the cost of the base model with 64GB of storage is still £419 (the 128GB model is £469 and the 256GB model is £569).
Whether you think this is a bit much for a phone that shares a screen size and chassis with the iPhone 8 – a handset that first appeared nearly five years ago – is by the by. With prices rising across the consumer landscape, the fact that Apple is keeping the cost of its cheapest phone the same has to be a good thing.
As for competition, there are plenty of Android alternatives and most at around the same price as the iPhone SE (2022) have larger displays with higher refresh rates, more cameras and bigger batteries. Our favourites at the moment are the OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G – both are significantly cheaper and the OnePlus comes with 128GB of base storage as well.
None, however, comes anywhere near the iPhone SE (2022) for sheer performance and, while this may not be something you appreciate when you first buy the phone, you’ll most certainly be glad of it a few years further down the track when other budget handsets start to creak.
Apple iPhone SE (2022) review: Design and key features
In case you’ve forgotten, let me underline this firmly: the Apple iPhone SE (2022) looks exactly like its predecessor, which in turn looked exactly like the iPhone 8. That’s because all three phones use pretty much the same chassis. Its big black bezels mean the phone looks dated and there’s no Face ID – instead, you unlock the phone using the haptic fingerprint reader/home button below the screen.
In some ways, Apple sticking to the same design is no bad thing. Measuring 138 x 7.3 x 67mm (WDH) and weighing 144g, the SE is among the most pocketable smartphones you can currently buy; the iPhone 13 mini is slightly smaller and has a larger screen but is far more expensive.
The SE looks reasonably attractive from the rear (in white, black or red), and the combination of glass and aluminium makes it feel rather nice in the hand. The edges of the frame are curved radially, which I prefer over the square edges of the more expensive iPhones, and the rounded corners mean the phone won’t catch on the hem of your pocket as you slide it in and out.
You’re not getting the tough, Ceramic Shield glass on the front of the phone to protect from scratches and scuffing so you might want to pop a screen protector on it to keep it pristine, but there’s not much difference in the feel of the screen under the finger. The rear glass is the same as used by the pricier iPhone 13, so it will resist cracks and droppages just as well.
Elsewhere, there’s IP67 dust and water resistance so you won’t need to worry about using the phone in the rain. Charging is done via the Lightning connector (18W) or Qi wireless charging. The buttons, speaker grilles and SIM tray are all in familiar locations (for iPhone users).
Apple iPhone SE (2022) review: Display and audio
With the rest of the iPhone lineup moving to AMOLED technology, the iPhone SE is now the only phone left in Apple’s stable with an IPS display. It’s pretty small at 4.7in, but with a resolution of 1,334 x 750 and a pixel density of 326ppi, it’s sharp enough to be classed as a “Retina HD” screen.
The thick bezels above and below the screen are frankly an embarrassment now, but it’s the slow 60Hz refresh rate that’s the real killer here. It’s noticeably sluggish in comparison to the 90Hz and 120Hz displays we see on many Android phones at this price or below, and it makes the iPhone SE (2022) feel stuck in the past.
However, one thing there’s no doubt over is that image quality remains superb. Colour accuracy is great – in sRGB mode I measured an average Delta E colour variance of 0.54, which is very, very good – the display will reproduce the P3 colour space when playing back HDR video, and it measures up well in other areas, too.
I measured peak brightness at an impressive 637cd/m², so readability in all but the most searingly bright conditions will be fine, and the contrast ratio is 1,342:1, lending photos and moving images plenty of pop. If you can get past the slow refresh rate and tiny size, you won’t be disappointed.
Apple iPhone SE 2022 review: Performance
Just like the screen, there are elements of the iPhone SE (2022)’s performance that are impressive, too. Look at the benchmark numbers for a start. Not only is this phone faster than its predecessor and its Android rivals by a significant margin but it’s also quicker than the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, which is the best Android phone on the market at the moment.
With numbers like these, you can be reasonably sure that the iPhone SE (2022) is going to feel sprightly for years to come – long after you feel the need to upgrade to the next one, anyway – and combined with the new 16-core neural engine, it’s capable of impressive feats of AI such as Live Text, where the camera detects text in the viewfinder and offers to copy it so you can paste it into another app, or even translate it on the fly.
However, there’s one major caveat to this: despite all this power, the phone doesn’t feel particularly quick to use, and this is entirely the fault of that 60Hz display.
Scrolling through menus, panning around Apple Maps and homescreen transition animations all lack the snap and smoothness of the more expensive Apple handsets. Perhaps more critically, even cheaper Android handsets from the likes of OnePlus and Xiaomi feel slicker thanks to their higher-refresh-rate displays.
This might not bother the crowd of people for whom only an iPhone at the lowest possible price will do – but trust me, this is a phone that just doesn’t feel as quick as it should.
Moreover, the 2022 iPhone SE is a handset whose battery life, unlike its raw performance, lags significantly behind most of the competition, lasting a mere 12hrs 3mins in our video-rundown test. Apple has improved this over the previous generation thanks to the A15 Bionic chip and revamped battery chemistry, but it needs a much bigger battery to compete.
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Charging is another area in which the SE could improve. Despite support for fast charging, which brings the phone up from empty to 50% in around 30 minutes, this is nowhere near as quick as the Android competition. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G, for example, can charge to 100% in not much longer.
Apple iPhone SE (2022) review: Camera
The iPhone SE (2022)’s camera doesn’t look all that impressive on paper, either.
There’s only one on the rear and you’re getting the same hardware as on the previous iPhone SE: a 12-megapixel (f/1.8) shooter that can capture 4K video at up to 60fps fully stabilised.
There’s also no night mode, which is weird because the A15 Bionic processor brings other features across from the iPhone 13, including Photographic Styles (colour presets that don’t affect the reproduction of skin tones), Deep Fusion and Smart HDR 4, which enables the camera to detect and adjust exposure for each face in group shots. The 2022 iPhone SE also lacks the iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode.
Yet, despite the disappointments, the camera is one area where the iPhone SE (2022) stretches out a lead over its cheaper Android rivals. For the most part, especially in good light, it captures images with impressive levels of detail, a great balance of colour and, when the light gets tricky, it balances exposures superbly well.
Its HDR mode brings up just enough shadow detail to keep images looking natural. Portraits look great, and 4K video captured with the camera looks sumptuously steady and smooth, with well-balanced exposure.
Compared with shots captured at the same time with the iPhone 13 Pro, the SE’s shots lack a little contrast, and fall slightly short when it comes to shadow details. In portraits, skin textures aren’t captured with quite the same level of fidelity, either. However, you do have to zoom in pretty close to see the differences and, in most respects, the iPhone SE (2022)’s camera is a clear step better for everyday shooting than the OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G’s.
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Apple iPhone SE (2022) review: Verdict
As with most Apple products, there are plenty of things the Apple iPhone SE (2022) does well. Its camera is great, the display looks lovely (as long as you’re not bothered by the slow 60Hz refresh rate) and the high levels of performance the A15 Bionic processor delivers will ensure the phone will still perform well long after the battery has given up the ghost.
However, it’s becoming increasingly hard to justify recommending a phone that looks so dated and one that delivers such mediocre battery life. If you really can’t stretch to an iPhone 13 mini and just can’t face moving away from the Apple ecosystem, then at £419 the iPhone SE (2022) is your only choice – unless you don’t mind buying secondhand or reconditioned. However, it’s very hard to get enthused about it this time around.