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Apple iPhone SE (2022) review: small in size, big in value

The Apple iPhone SE (2022) being held in a mans hand.
iPhone SE (2022)
MSRP $429.00
“The Apple iPhone SE (2022)'s compact design and high performance processor impresses, as does the software and its support, but the phone is let down by its battery life and storage capacity.”
  • Compact and light
  • Very powerful
  • Touch ID works really well
  • Wireless charging
  • IP67 water resistance
  • Poor battery life
  • 60Hz screen
  • 64GB won't be enough

The iPhone SE (2022) is the smallest and cheapest brand new iPhone you can buy. Despite its low price and cutely anachronistic size, the SE has the same processor inside as the much more expensive iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, making it a temptation for anyone wanting to save money but not compromise on performance.

However, you will have to make some compromises if you choose the little iPhone, and we’ve found out if it’s all worth it.

iPhone SE (2022) design

The back of the Apple iPhone SE (2022).
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

If you’re someone who needs everyone around you to know that you have the latest and greatest phone, then the design of the iPhone SE (2022) is not going to do you any favors. Apple’s technique for budget phones is to take an old phone — in this case, the iPhone 8 — and fill it with updated internals. The glass back and rounded aluminum sides are there, there’s only a single-camera system on the back, and it has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the front. In short, the phone looks like an iPhone from many years ago.

It’s not the worst thing. The iPhone SE (2022) has a few advantages over more modern iPhone models, and the most obvious is the size. This is one of the smallest smartphones you can buy today, and as such, it can be used with one hand very easily. It slips into most pockets, and because it’s just 7.3mm thick and 144 grams, you barely notice it’s there. For portability and convenience, there’s no other phone like the iPhone SE available today. I love the curved chassis too; it’s just so comfortable to grip, unlike the iPhone 14’s square, flat chassis.

Apple iPhone SE (2022) Touch ID button being used.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Many people lament Apple’s swap from Touch ID to Face ID technology, and using the iPhone SE (2022) reminds you why. The fingerprint sensor is very fast and reliable, even with damp or greasy fingers, and is usable in all lighting conditions. It’s really easy to locate without looking or even adjusting your grip on the phone. It’s excellent and remains a joy to use. However, its presence comes with a caveat — bezels. Great, big bezels.

The iPhone SE is just so comfortable to grip, unlike the iPhone 14.

It’s the aspect of the iPhone SE (2022) I’ve found hardest to overcome, as the unused space above and below the screen feels completely unnecessary in 2023. The screen’s small as it is, but the bezels make it feel constrictive when typing, and watching video is far from the immersive, enjoyable experience it is on a big-screen phone. You get used to it, but given there are dozens of alternative phones out there which don’t have huge bezels, there’s always the thought that you needn’t put up with it at all.

There are three colors to choose from — the bright Product Red color, Midnight, and Starlight, and its this warm silvery color you see on the phone in our review.

iPhone SE (2022) display

The Apple iPhone SE (2022) being held in a mans hand.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The iPhone SE (2022) has a 4.7-inch Retina HD screen, with a 1334 x 750 resolution and Apple’s True Tone color technology. The small size and modest resolution give it a pixel density of 326ppi, which matches the pixel density of Apple’s next cheapest new iPhone, the iPhone 11. However, it is way down on any of the most recent models, which have a sharper 476ppi pixel density.

It’ll come as no surprise that the screen feels small if you’re used to almost any other modern smartphone, but the quality and excellent color accuracy of the iPhone SE (2022)’s screen ensure it never looks outright bad. It’s considerably better than screens you’ll find on many cheap Android phones. I was also surprised to find it was great for playing games, once you learned to ignore the screen’s size.

The 60Hz refresh rate is perhaps the most disappointing aspect. Many Android phones around the same price as the iPhone SE (2022) have a higher refresh rate, resulting in smoother scrolling and less eye fatigue. It makes a difference, and if you’ve been used to a higher refresh rate, going back to a lower one is jarring. However, if you’ve not had the pleasure of using a 90Hz or 120Hz screen, this won’t be a problem. Finally, the screen doesn’t get very bright and struggles outside in sunlight. It’s fine indoors, though.

iPhone SE (2022) performance and software

The iPhone SE (2022) is fast. It has Apple’s A15 Bionic chip with a six-core CPU and a four-core GPU inside, the same as the iPhone 14. It’s as snappy and responsive as you’d expect, and it makes iOS absolutely fly. You really won’t be left wanting more speed from the small iPhone SE, and it can cope with all the tasks its bigger, more expensive siblings can. If you’re wondering how the iPhone SE (2022)’s small screen is for playing games, I played Diablo Immortal extensively, and was impressed with its ability to cope with the game’s requirements.

The other benefit of the A15 chip is that this phone will last for years, a big selling point for a budget phone, and it goes hand-in-hand with the excellent software. The iPhone SE (2022) should receive major updates for the next four or five years, which means you’ll get most of the new features (but not things like the recent Always-on screen, or features that require new hardware to work), security updates, and design changes for longer than most people would even consider keeping a phone.

It’s as snappy and responsive as you’d expect, and it makes iOS absolutely fly.

Using iOS is a breeze. Set up is simple and quick (even if you’re coming from an existing iPhone), the icons are all uniform and logical, there are widgets to make the multiple home screens more useful, and you get great features like Apple Pay and iCloud. I find iOS reliable, notifications arrive as they should, and even the pre-installed apps are perfectly adequate for most people — such as the Weather app, Voice Recorder, and Apple’s Music and Podcasts apps. It’s less customizable than Android, though, should you like changing the entire look of the software on a regular basis.

The iPhone SE (2022) connects to 5G networks, although it doesn’t support mmWave signals. I’ve had no issues with connectivity (whether it’s Wi-Fi, 4G, or 5G), and call quality is excellent. The phone’s Bluetooth is strong and reliable, and it connects instantly to Apple headphones using a quick and simple system where the phone knows when a device is nearby. It makes living with the phone very convenient, as does the software and overall performance.

iPhone SE (2022) battery and storage

Apple iPhone SE (2020) being plugged in to charge.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

There’s no way around one simple fact: The iPhone SE (2022)’s battery is just too small to keep up with the A15 Bionic chip. It’s by far the biggest consideration for potential buyers. If you need the phone to last an entire day with higher than average use (meaning apps, video, games, photos, and calls, mostly on 4G or 5G), then the iPhone SE (2022) isn’t going to keep up. Games can rob the battery of 20% in less than an hour, and even with moderate use on Wi-Fi, don’t expect any more than a day from the iPhone SE’s battery.

You don’t get a charger in the box, and the phone supports up to 20W wired charging. Apple says its own compatible chargers top the battery up to 50% in 30 minutes, but you’re going to need up to 75 minutes for a full charge. There is wireless charging using the Qi standard, but no MagSafe, and wireless charging runs more slowly than the wired charging.

The iPhone SE (2022)’s battery is just too small.

Storage space is also another major consideration. The cheapest iPhone SE (2022) comes with 64GB of internal storage space, and that’s very small by modern standards. iOS takes up at least 10GB on its own, and games like Diablo Immortal can do the same, so it’s easy to see how quickly 64G would disappear. It’s better to buy one with more storage space, or be prepared to pay for iCloud storage in the future and delete apps, photos, and other content regularly.

I’ve also noticed when the iPhone SE (2022) is close to its storage limit, the battery life suffers even more. There are really no downsides to opting for the 128GB or 256GB version, outside of the higher initial price.

iPhone SE (2022) camera

The Apple iPhone SE (2022)'s camera module.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The iPhone SE (2022) has a single 12-megapixel, f/1.8 wide-angle camera, complete with Apple’s Smart HDR 4 and Deep Fusion technology — plus optical image stabilization. You can record at 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second, and there’s an option to extend the dynamic range at lower frame rates. There’s no night mode, though, and the portrait mode is restricted to adding a blurred background to photos of people. The selfie camera has 7MP and a portrait mode, plus 1080p video recording.

It’s a good example of what a basic smartphone camera should be, as it takes good photos in regular conditions and decent photos in low light. It doesn’t have special features like a wide-angle camera or an optical zoom, so there’s a limit to the creative fun you can have with it. However, we’ve put the camera up against similarly priced Android phones with multiple cameras, and the iPhone SE (2022) more than holds its own.

Smartphone camera technology and ability have moved on a lot since the single-camera setup found on the iPhone 8, and while the iPhone SE (2022) is suitable for sharing photos online and taking photos on days out and on vacation, it’s not designed to compete with the iPhone 14 Pro. Provided a versatile, feature-packed camera is not your number one requirement from a phone, it should be enough. Just don’t expect it to satisfy if your requirements change.

Using the iPhone SE (2022) in 2023 with iOS 16.2

The iPhone SE 2022 and the iPhone 14 Plus's screens.
iPhone 14 Plus (left) and iPhone SE (2022) (right) Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Returning to the iPhone SE (2022) for a week at the beginning of 2023 has been an interesting experience. Updated to iOS 16.2, I wanted to see if the software had affected the previously poor battery life in any way, and I’m pleased to say it has slightly improved over the last time I used the phone. It’s still not great, and I haven’t gotten it to last longer than a single day, but that’s an improvement on before when I struggled to get to that point even with basic use.

But to be clear, it’s still not a phone suitable for heavy use. For example, if you watch a 30-minute YouTube video at 1080p, the battery drops by about 8%. Stream music and use apps for an hour, and it drops by around 15%. The battery’s tiny capacity means it will never deliver days of use before needing a recharge, but refinements in the software seem to make the most out of its ability. It’s still not a phone for “power” users, though.

The iPhone SE (2022) handles iOS 16.2 without a problem, and it operates just how you expect an iPhone to be: smooth, fast, and reliable. The camera is good, and it performed very well in a test against the iPhone 14 Plus, where I preferred the tone of its photos. It did the same when tested against the Samsung Galaxy A53 with its multi-camera system too. Holding such a small phone is still a novelty, but when so much of modern online life is multimedia-based, the screen’s size is only becoming more of a hindrance. This means it’s not just the battery that stops the iPhone SE (2022) from being a modern, media-friendly phone.

The iPhone SE (2022) certainly has its place and undoubtedly appeals to some, but the short battery life and small screen size continue to be limiting factors for people who want to watch videos and play games on their phones. If Apple decides to continue the iPhone SE line in the future, which rumors call into question, these aspects need serious attention if the phone is to remain relevant.

iPhone SE (2022) price and availability

The Apple iPhone SE (2022) is available now through Apple’s online and retail stores and most carriers. The 64GB version costs $429, the 128GB version is $479, and the top 256GB model is $579. There are no differences between them apart from the amount of internal storage space.

Our take on the iPhone SE (2022)

For some, the iPhone SE (2022) is the ideal smartphone as it’s compact, powerful, and affordable. Those are some seriously desirable qualities. Plus, when you add in Apple’s excellent build quality, long-term software support, and what is still a sleek design, the little phone makes a great deal of sense.

It’s just not a phone for power users. The battery doesn’t have the stamina to match the processing power, and the camera (although acceptable) is basic. Furthermore, the small screen size and 60Hz refresh rate don’t make it a multimedia superstar either. If you’re not worried about these aspects and choose wisely with the storage capacity, the iPhone SE (2022) is good value — and ideal for those who long for a powerful phone that can be comfortably held and used with one hand.

Is there a better alternative?

If you want a cheap iPhone, the iPhone 12 is still sold new by Apple for $599 and it gives you the big-screen experience with Face ID that’s missing from the iPhone SE (2022). The iPhone 13 Mini is also available for $599. If you are interested in an iPhone with a more capable camera and a larger screen, we recommend looking at the iPhone 14, but it starts at $799.

Choose an Android phone, and the choice at less than $500 is larger. We recommend the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G, the Google Pixel 6a, or the Nothing Phone 1 (if you live in a region where it’s sold). Each gives you a larger screen, but the processor won’t be as fast as the iPhone SE’s. Despite having more cameras, the performance of these phones may not always be superior.

How long will it last?

The iPhone SE (2022) is made of glass, so you may want to use a case to protect it against drop damage. The good news is it has an IP67 water resistance rating, so it should survive a dunk in water for a short time, and have no problem with rain or sweat.

Apple supports its phones with software updates for many years, and the processing power inside the iPhone SE (2022) means it’ll have no problems with apps or general performance for a significant length of time. It’s highly advisable to buy a model with as much storage as you can afford, though. Do this, and the iPhone SE (2022) will happily last for two or three years. Just remember the design looks dated now and will look even older by that time.

Should you buy it?

Yes, but don’t expect it to meet all your needs if you’re a power user. The iPhone SE (2022) has the performance and lastability of more expensive iPhone models and is the smallest, most portable iPhone you can buy, but the screen is as small as the battery capacity.

Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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