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Apple iPhone SE (2016) review: The legacy lives on

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
359
inc VAT (SIM-free)

Well-built with a great camera and fantastic battery life, the iPhone SE (2016) was once the small phone to buy

Pros 
Great performance
Great battery life
Gorgeous build quality
Cons 
Touch ID is slower than on the latest iPhones
No 3D Touch
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The iPhone SE was once a formidable mid-priced handset. If it was still available to purchase, I'd still recommend it as the best small-sized smartphone. But, alas, the 2016 iPhone SE is no longer in production.

Thankfully, all is not lost. Apple has a new iPhone SE to take its place, almost four years on from the original's release. Dubbed the iPhone SE – we like to call it the iPhone SE 2 or iPhone SE 2020 – Apple's new dinky phone is packed with its fastest-ever mobile chipset, the A13 Bionic, which also appears in its premium flagship iPhone offering.  

The iPhone SE is iPhone 8-like in its design (complete with a physical Home button) with far superior internals and a fraction of the cost at launch. The new iPhone SE starts at just £419 for the 64GB version. 

Want to relive the glory days of a phone long gone? Our original review of the iPhone SE (2016) continues below.

iPhone SE (2016) review

Bigger is not necessarily better. As smartphones have grown to fill ever larger pockets, many people have longed for the days when phones were handy, pocketable and didn't cost the best part of £800. Someone over at Apple must have had exactly the same thoughts, as the company decided to fly in the face of smartphone fashion with the release of the iPhone SE – a perfectly-proportioned, palm-sized handset.  

If you've got an iPhone 5s. then the iPhone SE will look startlingly familiar. This pint-sized smartphone shares exactly the same body as the 5s, and the self-same 4in screen, while packing in exactly the same amount of processing power as the latest iPhone 6S. It's a compact smartphone that comes without compromise, and, best of all, it's got a lower price to match its tiny proportions.

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Since the launch of the iPhone 7, Apple has bumped up the prices across its entire range, but the iPhone SE is still the most affordable of the bunch. The 16GB model is now £379 SIM-free, which is £20 more than its launch price, while the 64GB model is actually £10 cheaper at £429. There are some great contract deals to be found, however, and if you hunt around you can get a 16GB model for £26-per-month with no upfront cost – and that's for a very reasonable 8GB of data and unlimited calls and texts. 

There's no question that the iPhone SE is a much better bet than Apple's first attempt at an 'affordable' handset, the iPhone 5C – that low-end iPhone swapped the metal build of its pricier stablemates for brightly coloured plastic and made unwelcome compromises on performance. This time around, however, Apple has nailed absolutely everything. With the iPhone SE, it's managed to bring together its famed build quality, competitive processing power, a long-lasting battery and a capable camera into one compact, classy package. 

Best iPhone SE contract and SIM-free deals

Build quality

As a result, anyone that owned an iPhone 5 or iPhone 5S will immediately feel at home with the iPhone SE, as the two handsets are identical from the outside. With the slick metal body and squared edges, the impressive thing is that the design looks as fresh today as it did when it was first introduced.

Weighing 113g and at 7.6mm thick, the iPhone SE is exactly the same size as the 5S and is compatible with the same range of cases and covers. While this makes the SE the lightest iPhone currently available, it's actually the thickest.

This doesn't particularly matter, as the thickness makes the handset easier to grip, and it means that the camera sits flush with the rear of the case. Besides, it's the overall size of the handset that counts here, and the iPhone SE is comparatively tiny by today's standards, slipping easily into any pocket. There's plenty of colour choice, too, with the SE available in silver, space grey, gold and rose gold cases; there's a bit of something for everyone. 

Display

Moving back to a 4in screen, Apple has continued with the iPhone 5S' resolution: 1,136x640. This is one of the lowest resolution phones available, but it's important to put this into the context of display sharpness. On this display, the pixel density of 326ppi matches that of the iPhone 6S, which has a resolution of 1,334x750. Both phones are definitely sharp enough, and text looks clear and is easy to read.

Image quality isn't quite as good as Apple's more expensive iPhones, though, but it's a close-run thing. In fact, the iPhone SE's screen performs better than stated: Apple claims maximum brightness of 500cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 800:1, but I measured the phone at 577cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 892:1. While this contrast ratio still isn't great, its colour accuracy coverage of 94.6% of the sRGB colour gamut does go some way to make up for it. 

Of course, in order to keep the cost down, the SE doesn't have the fancy 3D Touch features of the iPhone 6S. It's the one feature that I found myself missing, as 3D Touch adds that extra dimension of interaction, and the shortcuts it gives you can make some jobs a lot quicker. That said, the lack of 3D Touch isn't a deal breaker here, and I can still use iOS perfectly well without feeling too hampered. 

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