iPhone SE 2022 review: A whole bunch of phones for $429

iPhone SE is Apple’s budget iPhone that pairs a retro design with the latest hardware. The third generation iPhone SE is now available for pre-order and continues this working formula.

It’s now $429—a slight price increase over previous models—in an identical build with just a home button and one camera lens. But it has been upgraded on the inside with a newer processor and support for 5G. And I spent six days with him figuring out who needs to upgrade and determining the right iPhone budget for them.

iPhone SE gives you the performance of a much more expensive phone in a small size, and it has enough power and features to be future proof for years to come.

Who, what and how

For whom is this: If you’re looking for your first smartphone or stuck to an older iPhone (1st generation SE, 6, 6S, 7, or 8), the iPhone SE offers plenty of performance, the ability to take great photos, and the small size for $429. Those who want a more modern device with a larger screen can look at the $599 iPhone 11 or a refurbished iPhone.

What you need to know: At $429, the iPhone SE gives you the power and performance of the iPhone 13 in a smaller chassis with a 4.7-inch screen and just one camera. It’s not for anyone who wants the most diverse shooting experience or screen to enjoy a TV show season on the go. You get state-of-the-art performance that outperforms almost all budget phones and potentially extends the life of this phone.

How does this compare: The iPhone SE works just like the iPhone 13, thanks to the same processor being used at a fraction of the price. It allows you to complete almost any task on the phone. When compared to another budget phone, like the Pixel 5a with 5G, the SE is faster at opening apps and feels more streamlined for intensive tasks like gaming. The built-in cameras meet the iPhone’s quality level with most shots, but there’s no dedicated night mode which is disappointing. You’ll need to use the flash, which doesn’t deliver the best shots in low-light conditions and can lead to overexposure of shots or additional noise in the image. The Pixel 5a with 5G wins a custom “Night Sight” mode that uses software to get crisp, clear shots in those conditions. R. Despite this, the iPhone SE is a mostly compromise-free experience and delivers what you’d expect from an iPhone at a budget price.

Jacob Kroll/CNN

iPhone SE sticks to the classic iPhone design identical to the second generation and. It honestly looks like the iPhone 8. Front and back are made of glass with aluminum sides. The 4.7-inch Retina HD display is framed with a Home button at the bottom of the screen for easy opening via Touch ID.. Like in the second generation, the Home button is a touch-engine-powered electronic button – so when the phone is dead or off, the button won’t click .

iPhone SE is comfortable to hold and can be used easily with just one finger. That’s refreshing and can’t be said for the iPhone 13 Pro Max. And holding it next to the iPhone 13 Pro Max makes it look quite compact and smaller than the 13 Mini.

The back glass has been upgraded here for added durability. Apple says it’s the same glass in the iPhone 13 and this should help prevent it from cracks and scratches. The SE is rated IP67 against water and dust resistance, and it survives complete submersion in a glass of water.

Apple did not choose to add MagSafe wireless charging support here. This special charging technology first appeared on the iPhone 12 but ensures proper compatibility with compatible wireless chargers thanks to its magnets. While I get Apple using a similar design approach – and likely the same parts – it was nice to see this added to more wireless charging options.

Jacob Kroll/CNN

The 4.7-inch Retina HD display is unchanged and that’s really not a bad thing. The LCD is still a classic, so it won’t offer the same vibrant colors and deep contrast points as the OLED on the iPhone 13 or even the Pixel 5a with 5G. However, it was great for navigating iOS, watching TikToks, typing on the go, and watching shows.

The iPhone SE’s screen is a bit small to take in a full-length movie, however, and it’s hard to fully immerse yourself in it. Especially if you are coming from a larger device. I’m also just a 60Hz refresh rate screen, which means you won’t get the same smooth scrolling experience as you would enjoy on 120Hz phones like the iPhone 13 Pro and Google Pixel 6. The SE screen also looks dated compared to borderless screens. Which choose a slit or a hole.

Finally, since this is the same design, the second-generation iPhone SE cases and iPhone 8 cases fit this device perfectly.

Jacob Kroll/CNN

The 2022 iPhone SE features a 12-megapixel primary lens on the back, and this has not changed from the second generation. With the Apple A15 Bionic chip inside, this lens works with a new image signal processor that speeds up taking photos or recording videos and adds new processing modes (Smart HDR4 and Deep Fusion). Both aren’t necessarily sharp, but they do result in sharper images and allow the SE to better identify what you’re trying to capture in the shot.

All this makes this 12MP camera a shooter. You’ll need to work to set up your shot properly – since it’s just a wide lens, if you want to capture more, you’ll need to physically go back. And although it has digital zoom, we recommend getting really close to an object to avoid blur. It’s quick to shoot, generally able to snap a picture in less than a second in most conditions.

The iPhone SE can still shoot portrait mode with a single lens, but it’s just for people. This means no pictures of dogs, cats, or inanimate objects. It still performs well on the SE, and it’s getting better at figuring out when to start affecting it. There is a marked improvement over the second-generation SE snaps, and the latest iPhone SE is on par with the Pixel 5a with 5G for these shots.

First introduced on the iPhone 13, Photography Modes feature on the iPhone SE, allowing you to customize how your iPhone shoots, whether you want to increase vibrancy or decrease contrast. It is a filter on steroids and does not slow down the SE. It’s easy to take a picture the way you want it and in some cases it’s faster to take a picture in a photographic style than iPhone 13.

The latest iPhone SE is faster to determine focus (or multiple points) to be ready to take a picture in an instant. Processing is faster than the second generation, but coming from the iPhone 8 or even the original iPhone SE will offer some pretty big boosts.

Although it doesn’t have all the features – there is no night mode on the iPhone SE, and it shows off with low-light photos. Instead of extending capture time and using AI to enhance scene lighting, iPhone SE uses software and a standard LED flash to light up the scene. This results in longer capture times and is not instantaneous for night shots. You can still get a good result, but it’s not as good as other phones even in this price range. The Pixel 5a with 5G does a much better job of capturing these shots. It extends the capture time in its Night Sight mode and uses software to dynamically make it appear lighter without reducing image quality.

Above the screen on the front is a 7MP FaceTime camera that gives selfies with accurate color and crisp detail. It can even take selfies in portrait mode and is excellent for video calls.

Jacob Kroll/CNN

The iPhone SE is powered by Apple’s A15 Bionic chip, the same processor in the iPhone 13 line. The $429 iPhone opens apps quickly, edits photos and multitasks without heating up or slowing down the device. It’s the uncompromising iPhone experience, and that’s an important sign to meet at this price.

I had no problems with FaceTiming while completing other tasks, whether playing a game or even editing a photo in Afterlight. I can also take advantage of Live Text within the camera. If you’re holding an iPhone SE at a sign in front of a store, you can quickly get the name, address, and phone number. You can click on it, highlight it and interact with the text. Don’t slow down at all.

I’ve also run the premium flagship with Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance. The latest iPhone SE watches run 1,727 single-core and 4,680 multi-core, which is superior to the previous iPhone SE and compatible with the iPhone 13 family.


GeekBench 5 Single Core

GeekBench 5 Multicore

iPhone SE of the third generation Apple A15 Bionic 1,727 4680
iPhone SE second generation Apple A13 Bionic 1,330 2434
iPhone 13 Apple A15 Bionic 1,667 4,465
iPhone 13 Pro Max Apple A15 Bionic 1,739 4,675

Unlike other Android phones or even the Pixel 5a with 5G, which uses an older and slower Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, the SE is powered by the one used in flagship smartphones. It runs iOS 15.4 very smoothly and will likely handle any future version of iOS quite well. I would also like to state that the original iPhone SE (released in 2016) is still receiving iOS updates and running iOS 15.4, so you should be able to count on the new model being supported for many years to come.

Jacob Kroll/CNN

The A15 Bionic’s efficiencies extend to its battery life. Apple says it has a bigger battery in the third generation iPhone SE and you can expect 15 hours of video playback. That’s five hours more than Apple promised for the second generation, which lasted nine hours and 20 minutes in our test.

I managed to get past that a full day before my iPhone SE gave me a low battery warning. That averaged about 6 hours of screen on time, which is pretty solid, but it doesn’t come close to the 13 or more hours we got from the Pixel 5a with 5G. In our battery test — a 4K looped video — the third generation iPhone SE lasted 11 hours and 20 minutes.

Jacob Kroll/CNN

The affordable iPhone now supports 5G bands offered by AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon widely across the United States. The 3rd generation iPhone SE supports 5G Sub-6 – a network that’s easy to deploy, but offers speeds closer to 4G LTE with more room for the device to stay on the network. A good comparison is a highway with more lanes: 4G LTE is a 4-lane highway and 5G Sub-6 is a 6-lane highway. I got into Sub-6 and found it perfectly fine, but nothing remarkably crazy. 5G also didn’t do much damage to battery life here.

While I haven’t been able to test it, the iPhone SE supports 5G over C-Band networks that claim to offer much faster speeds than 4G LTE or 5G Sub-6. You can also choose to use a physical SIM or an electronic SIM on your iPhone SE.

There is no support for mmWave 5G networks on the iPhone SE and this is the network for achieving “promised” and “advertised” breakneck speeds on a mobile network that can reach a home network higher than a gigabit network (1000 Mbps). You will need to pay and get an iPhone 12 or 13 to access that network on the iPhone.

At $429, the third generation iPhone SE is an almost uncompromising phone experience. For the price, you get a device that functions like a modern iPhone in a compact design with a classic design. If you’re okay without multiple camera lenses and a large screen with a super-fast refresh rate, the SE is worth a look since it doesn’t require you to compromise much.

The iPhone SE should last for many years and could be someone’s first excellent phone. It’s also a worthy upgrade for those with a first-generation iPhone SE, iPhone 6, 6S, 7, or 8. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend jumping from a Face ID-enabled device or a larger iPhone without seeing it in person. It’s very small, after all.

There is no immediate need to upgrade if you have a second generation iPhone SE. This is still an incredibly well-performing device, and I wish Apple had kept it in line as a more affordable model. But the iPhone SE gives you the performance of a much more expensive phone in a small size, and it has enough power and features to be future proof for years to come.