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Apple iPhone SE (2022) review

Apple extends its classic design with one more big component upgrade

iPhone SE 2022
(Image: © Future)

TechRadar Verdict

Pros

  • +

    Classic design still beautiful

  • +

    More affordable than any other A15 iPhone

  • +

    Apple 5G at a sub AED 2000 price

Cons

  • -

    Still starts at 64 GB

  • -

    Screen feeling cramped

  • -

    More expensive with fewer accessories

Two-minute review

If you like your iPhone affordable and retro, Apple's iPhone SE 2022 edition might be your perfect phone.

It moves the classic iPhone design language nowhere from its comfy spot in 2017, the year Apple launched the quite-similar iPhone 8.

Two years ago, Apple took that chassis and upgraded the CPU to an A13 Bionic, the rear camera to a 12MP wide, and introduced "monocular depth estimation," which added Portrait Mode photography to the front and rear cameras. It was a nifty AI-infused trick that worked like a charm on faces, but nothing else.

All those things you loved from the iPhone SE (2020) remain in the iPhone SE (2022). There's been no change to the thin and light body, no reintroduction of the 3.5mm headphone jack, no removal of the Touch ID. The Liquid Retina display is untouched. The cameras - a 12MP rear and 7MP front - are the same, too.

The difference, and it is bigger than you think, is the new A15 Bionic, the very same Apple Silicon you'll find in Apple's iPhone 13 line. It's a powerful mobile CPU that - to date - beats even Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 CPU (in Geekbench scores).

It's a lot of power and headroom for a tiny, 4.7-inch screen smartphone that doesn't even have a depth sensor on the front. Still, the A15 Bionic is up for anything, from shooting and editing 4K videos to playing intense action games like Call of Duty and PUBG.

As a system on a chip (SoC) the A15 also brings with it better image processing. Even though we still have the same camera, the iPhone SE (2022) is now capable of time-lapse night photography (you need a tripod).

There are limits. Even though all the A15 Bionic-sporting iPhone 13 phones support the new Cinematic mode video (bokeh-effect), there's no such video control on the iPhone SE (2022).

Speaking of things missing from this new phone. The iPhone SE (2022) follows Apple's new packing strategy: No more power adapter or wired earbuds in the box.

From an environmental perspective, this makes a lot of sense. It is unfortunate, though, that the price rose AED150 to AED1849 at the same time Apple pulled these accessories. Accounting for inflation, however, the price might be considered roughly the same as it was two years ago. We don't expect that argument to fly everywhere.

Battery life is good for a solid day (12 hours), which is notable considering the more powerful CPU and eye-brow singeing 5G connectivity.

It's hard to wholeheartedly recommend the iPhone SE 2022, when you can spend $200 more for the iPhone mini, which has a bigger, brighter, and shaper Super Retina XDR OLED screen, another camera, FaceID, and a fresher design (or some of the lower-end iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 options). Even so, there is still something charming about the look and feel of Apple's almost decade-old big iPhone redesign (launched with the iPhone 6). And getting all that performance and 5G for under AED 2000 is nothing to sneeze at either.

The throwback

As the only maker of the iPhone, Apple gets to set the pricing and options agenda. It doesn't have to engage in a race to the bottom with low-end Android phones. Apple relishes its position as a purveyor of premium brands. That said, long gone are the days when Apple could offer a single take-it-or-leave-it iPhone model and has spent the last decade or so slicing and dicing the line into variations that cut across performance, size, and, pricing options.

At the base of this inverted model pyramid is the now 6-year-old iPhone SE, a product that pulls from both Apple iPhone's storied past and its future to make something both nostalgic and performant but, most importantly, more affordable.

The iPhone SE (2022), which Apple announced last week and we review in full here, carries on that tradition in mostly fine form. Aesthetically, it changes nothing about the last model (2020) but packs it full of Apple's latest chip and mobile connectivity technology.

It's a loveable throwback with the heart of a mobile lion and you get it all for just AED 1849.

If, by the way, you arrived here by accident to read about the most cutting-edge mobile phones from Apple, allow us to point you to the iPhone 13 series, which includes the iPhone 13 mini (the iPhone SE consistently outsells the mini line), iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 back (Image credit: Future)

iPhone SE price and release date

Apple's iPhone SE may now be AED 1849 but it still qualifies as Apple's cheapest 5G phone. The iPhone 13 mini starts at AED 2999 and the iPhone 12 mini starts at AED2499. However, it is more than a little frustrating that Apple insists on offering a phone with just 64GB of storage to start. The phone shoots up to 4K, 60fps video. Where are all those files supposed to go? Apple's iPhone 13 line now starts at 128GB across the board. That's the standard Apple should've followed here. The issue is compounded because the iPhone SE (2022) tops out at 256GB of storage (AED 2479).

Look, if you're considering a 256 GB iPhone SE at almost AED 2500, you really should start thinking about one of the iPhone 13 phones. 

Asking for AED 150 more for a 5G phone with the newest processor is not a big ask, but consumers will notice the packaging is a bit smaller and lighter. The environment will thank Apple, but some consumers might be miffed that there are no longer wired earbuds and power adapters included with the device. That's the same for the iPhone 13 series, but the omission still might sting for budget-conscious iPhone consumers who now have to buy the accessories separately.

Pre-orders for the phone started on March 11 and the device goes on sale on March 18.

iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 Liquid Retina Display (Image credit: Future)

Design and display

  • You've seen this design before
  • The display can feel cramped if you've been living large
  • Light and super-comfortable to hold

There is familiar and then there is familiar.

Apple's iPhone SE (2022) is such a well-worn look that we instinctually took to it - even though we know it's not what's in now.

The aluminium enclosure is smooth, clean, and our review unit is a rather dull black but if you're going to slap a case on it, it's really not going to matter.

The glass back and front are perfectly smooth. It's almost quaint to see a single relatively tiny 12MP wide-angle camera on the back. The sapphire glass lens cover's distance from the backplane can be measured in a millimeter (maybe two). 

There are almost no edges on the whole 5.44-in. by 2.65-in. by 0.29-in. 144g frame. I know some people still complain about the sharp edges on the iPhone 13 and the new Samsung Galaxy S22 line; you will have no such complaint here. Along one long edge are the volume buttons and a sleep/silent switch. The other side has power and the SIM slot (also supports eSIM). The bottom edge features the speaker grills, microphone, and Lightning port.

iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 long edge (Image credit: Future)

The front features the aging, 1344x750 pixel Liquid Retina Display, which looks great on its own, but literally pales in comparison to, for instance, the iPhone 13 mini's 5.4-inch edge-to-edge Super Retina XDR display OLED screen.

Above the screen is the 7MP FaceTime and selfie camera, which sits next to a wide, shallow speaker grill.

Below all that is your old friend, the Touch ID home button. As someone who adapted to the world of gestures and Face ID as soon as it was out, coming back to the home button was a bit of a shock. That being said, like riding a bike, it all came in an hour or two of usage. The fake press on the expert haptics of a the button is a great trip down memory lane but the feature has definitely reached the end of the line and needs to go. 

For what it's worth, Apple's Touch ID remains one of the most effective biometric authorisation technologies we've ever used. Register a finger once and it will see it every time, in virtually any position.

iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE Touch ID (Image credit: Future)

If you're upgrading from an iPhone 5S, the iPhone SE's 4.7-inch screen might feel like an upgrade, but in a world of monster-sized displays, 2,000,000:1 contrast ratios, and adaptive refresh rates, its 60hz LCD luster might feel out of step.

Comparing it to the best screens out there seemed pointless. If you want more, you will pay more (on any platform and from any handset manufacturer). When looked at on its own, though, across a wide variety of tasks from photography and videography, to web browsing, gameplay, and video, it looked good. 

The screen can struggle in direct sunlight, but indoors, it's still a winner.

I've seen iPhone 8 phones drop to a floor and crack faster than you can say, "screen protector," and you might assume that the iPhone SE, which shares much of the 8's DNA would be similarly inclined, but you could be wrong. 

Both the front and back glass on the iPhone SE (2022) is built from the same glass that's on the back of all iPhone 13 phones. Sadly, the SE doesn't get Apple's Ceramic Shield technology. So, if you do buy it, it still might make sense to spring for that silicon case, too.

iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 side edge with buttons (Image credit: Future)

As I mentioned above, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack on the phone, but it does have that lightning charging port, which could accommodate a Lighting pair of ear pods. They're not included. The phone does work perfectly with wireless AirPods if you have them. There is also a USB-C to lighting port charging cable in the box.

Apple iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 base and ports. (Image credit: Future)

A15 Bionic chipset

  • iPhone 13 power in a sub AED 2000 phone
  • Zip, zip, zip
  • It's more power-efficient, too

Apple's total control over its entire product stack makes it easy to take one bleeding-edge component from its newest products and fit it neatly in a design it cooked up more than three years ago.

The A15 Bionic is Apple's most powerful phone processor (the mobile crown would go to the M1 line) but it obviously fits in the iPhone SE's tiny frame. Imagine taking a Volkswagen Beetle and putting a Ford GT engine in it. It's like that, but without the hood-mounted exhaust system.

To repeat, this is not some stunted or throttled version of Apple's chip. It has the same 6-core CPU and 4-core GPU, as well as a 16-core neural engine.

Geekbench 5 numbers put the iPhone SE (2022) on equal footing with the A15 Bionic in the iPhone 13 mini. It's worth noting that the phone now has almost 4GB of RAM. That can certainly help with performance.

Apple iPhone SE 2022 Editing 4K video

Apple iPhone SE 2022 Editing 4K video (Image credit: Future)

iPhone SE (2022) Benchmarks

  • Single-Core Score: 1695
  • Multi-Core Score: 4021
  • Metal Score: 11047 

iPhone 13 mini Benchmarks

  • Single-Core Score: 1744
  • Multi-Core Score: 4027
  • Metal Score: 10585

Basically, everything that's good or better about this phone (4K video shooting and editing, console-level gaming, AI-enhanced photography), with the exception of 5G (different chip) is better because of the A15 Bionic. It pushes the boundaries of what's possible with 2017 technology.

iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 12 MP camera (Image credit: Future)

Cameras

  • 12MP wide takes lovely photos
  • The 7MP is no slouch, either
  • Thank the A15 Bionic

Our phones are our cameras, and any handset that skimps in this area is no better than disposable trash. Even though the iPhone SE (2022) is graced with just two lenses and ones that are no different than the photographic array found on the SE 2020, it manages to take photos that are pleasing to the eye, color-accurate, and often beautiful.

The rear 12MP, f/1/8 wide lens is now backed by the A15 Bionic's image single processing and supported by Smart HDR 4 and Deep Fusion (introduced with the A13 Bionic and present in the last iPhone SE). 

Taking the phone out for a spin around Dubai for the past few days, the camera was the most impressive part of this 'old but new' smartphone experience.

Day-time shots turn out colour accurate and the camera is snappy, so you're not going to miss a moment either. Thanks to the new chip and updated OS, the camera also gets the photographic styles offered on it's more expensive siblings. 

Portrait mode works better that it used to. Even with my bushy long hair, the single lens does a good job with separating hair from the background. It doesn't do it as well as triple and quadruple lens competitors, but considering it's aging body, it does a good job. Unfortunately Portrait mode is still limited here to only people. 

The iPhone SE 2022 now also gets Night Timelapse mode, for which you need a tripod. Apart from that the phone can shoot up to 4K 60fps on video along with 1080p 240 fps slow motion. Funny enough, to enjoy your videos and images you'd be better off checking it out on a TV or laptop, since the 1334x750 display definitely won't do it justice.

Unfortunately, even with the A15 Bionic, there's no support for the Cinematic mode video which you'll find on the entire iPhone 13 line.

Battery life

  • Battery life to survive the day
  • Chipset efficiencies help offset 5G power suck
  • Wireless charging is always welcome

While we don't know the size of the iPhone SE battery (Apple never announces mAh), it's a fair bet that it hasn't changed much since the iPhone SE (2020). Even so, we expected some serious battery fall-off from the more powerful A15 Bionic and that tasty new 5G.

The reality is, even with 5G running all day and non-stop activity across a wide range of functions, we got 12 hours of battery life. Apple claims 15 hours of video playback (not streaming), and we can believe that, too. Nice work on power consumption and management, Apple.

When it's time to recharge, you can do so with the included cable (go find your own USB-C power adapter!) or by placing it on a Qi-compatible charging base. The phone does not support Apple's new MagSafe chargers.

By the way, the iPhone SE (2022) is also water and dust-resistant. We dropped the entire handset in water and it survived. We mention this here, though, to remind you that you should never plug the phone in right after it's taken a bath. Let it dry out for an hour or so, or use a wireless charger.

iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

Should I buy the iPhone SE (2022)?

iPhone SE 2022

Apple iPhone SE screen outdoors (Image credit: Future)

The iPhone SE 2022 is a worthy purchase, from a certain perspective. As an entry into the Apple ecosystem or an affordable smartphone with a good wide lens, or even a phone that will last for years to come and were on an extremely tight budget, I would suggest the SE 2022 whole-heartedly. 

But buying it still might not be the best idea. Assuming you're looking at a higher storage than the measly 64GB, spending just another AED 500-900 can get you into the 13 series and whole host more features on a smartphone. 

For just another AED 200, you could also consider the iPhone 11. A device with an older processor and no 5G but a modern shape and more cameras. 

The point we're making is that if your budget is flexible, you might have more options available to you, but at this exact price range, the iPhone SE 2022 is a great bet if you need an Apple quality product. 

Buy it if...

You want today's processors and 5G

A 5G smartphone that does not skimp on performance is just what the technologist ordered.

You hate change

This is a classic design that, if we're being honest, holds up. Even the Touch ID is like welcoming back home a dear old friend. Better yet, none of it acts or works like yesterday's technologies. The Touch ID is still an impressive technological feat. 

Big is not you

This is not only Apple's thinnest phone, it's basically the same weight as the iPhone 13 mini but without the edges. We love holding this device.

Don’t buy it if...

You want a great screen

The iPhone SE (2022) has a lovely 4.7-inch display that reminds us of bygone days and not necessarily in a good way. It's too small and struggles in direct sunlight. If you want big and bold, this is not for you.

You want touch-free unlocking

Touch ID means what it says, you must put a digit on the button to unlock the phone. If you want FaceID for AED 2099, look to the iPhone 11.

You want more lenses

The photography here is good but limited. No zoom, no ultra-wide, no Portrait Mode shots of your dog. 

Lance Ulanoff
Lance Ulanoff

A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.


Lance Ulanoff (opens in new tab) makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show (opens in new tab), Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.