iPhone SE (2020) vs. OnePlus 8: Does value beat beauty?

Apple has announced a new iPhone SE. Initially released in March 2016, the first-generation iPhone SE combined an iPhone 5s body with iPhone 6s hardware, making it a smaller and more affordable version of Apple’s flagship smartphone of the time. Now, the new second-generation iPhone SE does much the same. It takes the dimensions and design of the iPhone 8 and adds the A13 Bionic processor from the iPhone 11, making it more powerful than the older model.

Priced at $400, it’s one of the cheapest ways of getting your hands on cutting-edge mobile specs. That said, it isn’t the only affordable-yet-powerful smartphone on the market. One other phone worth a look is the OnePlus 8. It’s $300 more expensive than the iPhone SE, but with more up-to-date hardware and two additional camera lenses, it arguably provides extra bang for your buck.

Is it better than the new iPhone SE? Well, we’ve put both phones head-to-head, comparing how they fare across a number of categories. This should help you decide which is the smartphone for you.

Specs

iPhone SE OnePlus 8
Size 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm (5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches) 160.2 x 72.9 x 8 mm (6.31 x 2.87 x 0.31 inches)
Weight 148 grams (5.22 ounces) 180 grams (6.35 ounces)
Screen size 4.7-inch Retina IPS LCD 6.55-inch Fluid AMOLED
Screen resolution 1,334 x 750 pixels, 16:9 ratio (326 pixels per inch) 2,400 x 1,080 pixels, 20:9 ratio (402 pixels per inch)
Operating system iOS 13 Android 10; OxygenOS 10.5
Storage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 128GB, 256GB
MicroSD card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services Apple Pay Google Pay
Processor Apple A13 Bionic Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
RAM 3GB 8GB, 12GB
Camera 12-megapixel rear, 7MP front 48-megapixel wide, 16MP ultrawide, 2MP macro rear, 16MP front
Video 4K at 60fps, 1080p at 240fps 4K at 60fps, 1080p at 240fps
Bluetooth version 5.0 5.1
Ports USB 2.0 USB 3.1
Fingerprint sensor Yes, front-mounted (on Home button) Yes, in-display
Water resistance IP67 No
Battery 1,821mAh

Fast charging (18W)

Qi wireless charging

4,300mAh

Fast charging (30W)

App marketplace Apple App Store Google Play Store
Network support AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon
Colors Black, white, red Onyx Black, Glacial Green, Interstellar Glow, Polar Silver
Prices $400 $700
Buy from Apple, AT&T, Best Buy, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Walmart, Xfinity OnePlus, Amazon, T-Mobile, Verizon
Review score News 3 out of 5 stars

Design, display, and durability

The iPhone SE isn’t the most attractive smartphone Apple has ever produced. Yes, it recreates a tried-and-true design, but it’s also a design that has been superseded and rendered obsolete by everything from the iPhone X onwards. Like the iPhone 8 before it, it features fairly thick chin and forehead bezels, while its physical Home button now seems like an anachronism. By contrast, the OnePlus 8 boasts a virtually all-screen display that’s interrupted only by the punch hole selfie camera at the top. It simply looks more streamlined and stylish, with a curved screen and edges.

It gets worse for the iPhone SE, since its fairly standard 4.7-inch LCD display isn’t nearly as sharp and as fluid as the OnePlus 8’s 6.55-inch Fluid AMOLED touchscreen. With a resolution of 2,400 x 1,080 pixels, the OnePlus 8 provides roughly 402 pixels per inch, while the iPhone SE can provide a resolution of only 750 x 1334 pixels, which works out at 326ppi. The OnePlus 8 also offers much livelier colors and more definition.

Still, the iPhone SE does a good job at its price range, coming with an IP67 rating. This means it can survive brief drops into water, which isn’t something that can be said for the OnePlus 8, which is only splash-proof.

That quibble aside, it’s not at all controversial to say that the OnePlus 8 is better looking than the iPhone SE and that its screen will delight you more than Apple’s smartphone. For these two reasons, it’s a win for the OnePlus 8.

Winner: OnePlus 8

Performance, battery life, and charging

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends.com

The iPhone SE may not look all that great, but it happens to come with Apple’s A13 Bionic processor. For those who don’t know, this is the processor used in the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, meaning that the sensibly-priced iPhone SE is the smartphone equivalent of a Mini running on a Ferrari engine. Based on the performance of the iPhone 11 range, it’s safe to say that the iPhone SE will be impressively quick.

Nonetheless, the OnePlus 8 is no slouch, coming with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 and either 8GB or 12GB of RAM, depending on which version you buy. Even with the smaller 8GB, it still comfortably dwarfs the iPhone SE’s 3GB. However, Android and iOS use RAM differently, so don’t put too much weight on that.

In terms of battery life, it also looks like another narrow win for the OnePlus 8. We haven’t been able to spend much time with the new iPhone SE yet, but it’s reasonable to expect the SE to last about a day without needing a recharge, given Apple’s track record. The OnePlus 8’s battery is much larger at 4,300mAh compared to 1,821mAh. It will last more than a day without recharging, even with fairly heavy use. In addition, it allows 30W fast charging, although only the iPhone SE is capable of charging wirelessly.

Taken together, this all indicates that the OnePlus 8 will offer better performance, despite the iPhone SE’s surprisingly powerful hardware for such an affordable phone.

Winner: OnePlus 8

Cameras

OnePlus 8
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

On paper, the OnePlus 8 trumps the iPhone SE in the camera department. On its rear, it features a 48MP wide camera, a 16MP ultrawide lens, and a 2MP macro camera. The iPhone SE, for its part, can offer only a single 12MP rear camera. To be fair, this is a perfectly good rear camera, having previously served the iPhone 8, which was state-of-the-art in 2017. Compared to the OnePlus 8’s three rear cameras, it doesn’t really cut the mustard, taking photographs that aren’t quite as detailed or as dynamic.

Luckily, the iPhone SE does allow for 4K video recording at 60 frames per second, just like the OnePlus 8. This is quite impressive, really, and with the promise of Smart HDR and other camera software, it might turn out that the SE holds its own photographically when we write up its final review. For now, it’s likely the OnePlus 8 provides a better camera by all objective criteria.

Winner: OnePlus 8

Software and updates

OnePlus 8
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Software is a tough one to call since some people prefer one or the other. As such, the question of whether the iPhone SE or the OnePlus 8 has better software will depend on which operating system you’re more used to.

Having said that, it’s worth pointing out that the OnePlus 8 runs on OnePlus’ own OxygenOS 10.5 system, which is built on Android 10. It’s an excellent system featuring a slick design and interface. However, it comes with a couple of tiny annoyances, such as the lack of a settings search and the absence of an always-on display. If such things are important to you, you may end up liking OxygenOS 10.5 a bit less.

It would be churlish to say that the iPhone SE’s software is better than the OnePlus 8’s because of this. The difference is minimal — which it isn’t where updates are concerned. OnePlus is fast to update, but not as fast as Apple. The iPhone SE is likely to get a lot of updates a lot quicker.

Winner: iPhone SE

Special features

The iPhone SE’s special feature is that it packages a new processor in an old body. In other words, it doesn’t really have a special feature, particularly when it gets rid of the iPhone 11’s TrueDepth selfie camera and Face ID. Don’t really expect anything special about it, other than that it’s the first affordable Apple smartphone in a long time.

Sadly, something similar could actually be said for the OnePlus 8. It’s a very solid, attractive, and reliable phone, but as we wrote in our full review, it also lacks a standout feature. It does everything very well, but without really distinguishing itself from the crowd. For a smartphone that costs either $300 or $400 more than the iPhone SE (depending on how much RAM you want), this is arguably a fatal flaw.

Since both smartphones are basically cheaper versions of more premium models, we’re going to call this a tie as well.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

The OnePlus 8 is currently available for $700 (for the model with 8GB of RAM) or $800 (for the 12GB model). Aside from OnePlus’ own website, it will be available to order on Amazon, T-Mobile, and Verizon from April 29 onwards.

The iPhone SE (2020) is available for pre-order and will be released on April 24. It costs $400 for the 128GB version, while the 256GB model will set you back $550. It will be available from a wide range of outlets, including AT&T, Best Buy, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Walmart, and Xfinity Mobile.

Overall winner: iPhone SE

In terms of sheer performance, the OnePlus 8 is the better smartphone. However, its performance isn’t so far ahead of the iPhone SE‘s that we can safely say it’s the better phone overall, particularly when price is taken into account. Since we’re mostly talking about both phones in terms of the value for money they offer, it has to be said that the iPhone SE is the better choice. It can be bought for $400, while the cheapest you can buy the OnePlus 8 for is $700. This $300 difference will be a big deal to most people, and when you consider the fact that the iPhone SE is basically an iPhone 11 with bezels and a less powerful camera, it becomes even more significant.

If you have an extra $300 to spare, go for the OnePlus 8. If you’re looking to save money, you’d be very hard pushed to do better than the iPhone SE.

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