DT Debate: Is the iPhone SE genius or microwaved garbage?

dt debate is the iphone se any good

Sometimes, we here at Digital Trends have strong opinions. And when that time comes, we take to the Internet and fight. For this debate, we’re talking all about the new iPhone SE, Apple’s big return to small iPhones. DT Mobile Editor Malarie Gokey defends Apple’s new phone against Computing Editor Matt Smith, who isn’t impressed.

Question: Is the iPhone SE genius or microwaved garbage?

matt-smith-bwMatt Smith
Computing Editor at Digital Trends

The iPhone SE is lazy.

There are many ways Apple could’ve introduced a new phone to appease fans who thought its latest iPhones too wide (a group I’m a part of). It had a choice – a wealth of choice, an embarrassment of choice, even — and it has more money and more experience than any competitor. What it did do?

Not a damn thing.

Instead, it went back to the parts bin. Apple didn’t even bother to add 3D Touch, the iPhone line’s latest headline feature. Apple could only do less by announcing a plan to put the iPhone 5S back on store shelves.

The “new” phone is reminiscent of Apple’s neglect towards the MacBook Air and Pro. The company has only updated the internals of each for years The result? They’ve become unimpressive, and a bit fat. A similar fate awaits the SE.

Malarie-Gokey-picMalarie Gokey
Mobile Editor at Digital Trends

The iPhone SE was never meant to be Apple’s flagship phone! It’s a budget device that costs $350 less than the iPhone 6S, even though it sports nearly all of the same specs. Every other 4-inch phone on the market has mediocre specs. In contrast, the iPhone SE is just as powerful as the company’s current flagship device. That’s awesome! Apple could have put an older processor in the SE and slapped that $400 price tag on it, but it didn’t. Performance and camera quality are the two areas that matter most to phone users, and the SE delivers on both counts with the same 12-megapixel rear camera and the same A9 processor as the 6S.The only specs on the SE that aren’t on par with the iPhone 6S are the fingerprint sensor, which is older (but still works fine); the front camera, which is lower resolution; and the screen tech, because 3D Touch isn’t supported. Is it a shame that the SE doesn’t have all those features? Sure, but none of them are essential. For a budget phone, the iPhone SE is incredibly powerful, and at nearly half the price of the iPhone 6S, it’s an absolute steal.

Is it still pricier than Android budget phones? Yes. But it’s cheap for an iPhone. People will look at this as the high-powered 4-inch iPhone they’ve wanted for the past 3 years, and feel ecstatic. And when they see that it costs half the price of the iPhone 5S they bought back in 2013.

Final Remarks


I don’t dispute the SE is fast, but arguing it’s okay because of its specifications seems odd, given Apple’s insistence that specs can be misleading. And, in fact, the SE is a great example why this is true.

What a benchmark won’t tell you is that the iPhone SE has significantly less screen space than Android phones of similar size and weight. The difference is rather incredible. The Sony Z5 Compact is barely larger than an iPhone SE, and literally tenths of an ounce heavier, but somehow equips a 4.7-inch display (the same size as the iPhone 6S) and a battery that’s a third larger. The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is almost as efficient, though it came out two years ago. Placing them next to the SE makes the age of its design obvious.

Both Android alternatives also come standard with 32GB of storage, which is the least any modern smartphone should have. The Android phones aren’t as quick, perhaps, but they’re more modern. And much cheaper than the $500 iPhone SE 64GB you really have to buy, since the 16GB model is inadequate.

You’re right that many will buy the iPhone SE because it’s the only Apple product they can afford. Many buy the MacBook Air for the same reason. Apple has the option to be lazy, and took it. I don’t think that’s worthy of praise.


The entire point of the iPhone SE is its small screen size. This is a phone for the people who want a smaller screen and a smaller device. The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is the only example of a competitive alternative to the iPhone SE. However, there are two huge problems with it: You can’t buy it on any U.S. carrier, and the U.S. version doesn’t have a fingerprint sensor.

The Z5 Compact also has the dubious honor of sporting a year-old processor that’s known to overheat and cause issues with battery life. That knocks it down in terms of security and functionality. There’s also the issue of Sony’s bloated UI, unremovable apps that you don’t want, and the worry that it won’t get timely updates to the latest version of Android (and rest assured, it won’t). And since you brought up design, it’s important to note that it doesn’t get more old-fashioned and boxy than a Sony phone. The glassy design of them also picks up fingerprints, which destroys the aesthetic. The iPhone SE doesn’t suffer from any of these drawbacks.

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha isn’t even worth considering at this point. The aging hardware will continue to fall behind more rapidly than the iPhone SE with its brand-new chip. It’s two years old at this point, and mid-range Android phones rarely age well after a that long — especially when they don’t get updates. That’s hardly “modern.”

It’s not lazy to pop high-end components in a new phone. Samsung, LG, and Sony have all done the same, launching a variety of phone series that use the same processors, screen resolutions, and cameras. It’s not lazy to reuse the iPhone 5S’ popular design, either. The slightly chunkier profile allows for a bigger battery, which by all accounts, is getting a day and a half of battery life. That’s not just impressive for an iPhone; it’s on par with the Galaxy S7 and the LG G5, both of which cost double the price. The 5S’ look is also widely considered one of the best iPhone designs of all time.

The people who buy an iPhone SE aren’t just buying it because it’s cheaper. They’re buying it because they want a powerful 4-inch smartphone, and the iPhone SE delivers speed and style in spades.

Who’s side are you on? Are you for the iPhone SE or against it? Let us know in the comments below.

So what do you think of the iPhone SE?

Posted by Digital Trends on Tuesday, March 22, 2016