Apple’s notoriously expensive iPhone lineup now has two entry-level options under $700: the new iPhone SE ($429) and the iPhone 13 Mini ($699). While neither of them comes cheap, per se, the prices are fair considering that these phones have Apple’s standard A15 chip, the same thing found in the latest iPhone 13 phones. This silicon allows for all-day battery life, computing performance and Strong, smooth. Navigation on iOS. Beyond the surface-level differences, like the home button on the 4.7-inch SE or the notch on the big screen of the 5.4-inch 13 Mini, there’s a lot going on under the hood that you’ll want to consider whether you’re looking to buy one or other. Here’s how to stack them.
How we tested
I’ve spent the past week using the iPhone SE and iPhone 13 Mini as my daily mobile drivers. This consists of five full work days worth of tasks and a weekend to consume content. I exposed both iPhones to an equal amount of scrolling through the same social media feeds, replying to texts and emails, as well as creating visual photos and videos.
To test the processing speeds between both phones, I added a preset muzzle flash and sound effect to different tracks on the same 1 minute 4K video. I recorded these footage on the SE and airdropped on the Mini. Then I exported this edited clip as a single file using iMovie. This tests the real-world content creation workflow, ease of use, screen results, and speeds.
To test the battery life, I opened this LoFi music stream from YouTube, which I use daily while working. Every iPhone started at 100 percent. I set it to 50 percent brightness and set this video up, then watched it over the course of three hours. This gave me a good idea of how networking and each phone’s screen usage affects battery drain. Not only does live streaming require constant updating, but live feedback appears around the screen to challenge the view so that all components are constantly working.
I bought the 13 Pro Max at launch for its larger battery and 120Hz OLED screen, so I know how the flagship iPhone works. While I’ve spent time researching the inconsistencies across the experience, both budget phones were well above their weight class at a third of the $1,400 I spent, proving that bigger isn’t always better. Here’s why.
iPhone SE looks better
At first glance, you’ll notice the large bezels and home button on the iPhone SE, which are not noticeably present on the Mini. The SE is tall but slim, with curved edges and rounded corners that make it easy to hold and operate. Apple has done a great job defining thinness, comparing the SE starkly to the Mini’s stainless-steel bezels that convey heft. While the 13 Mini weighs in at 144 grams (only 3 heavier), it can feel almost brick-like next to the SE. With the Mini, I sometimes find it difficult to use FaceID with my mask in dark places or in dark places where TouchID lights up on the SE. It works flawlessly, without any hesitation. Both phones have a Lightning port, but trying to get the Mini into some peripheral like the Backbone game console is insane. However, the Mini has a slight advantage with MagSafe gear and charging support that the SE lacks.
Both phones feature the same button layout for the most part, except for the home button on the bottom of the SE. On the left, a physical volume toggle sits alongside a rocker to adjust volume levels. On the right is the power button that lets you tap the screen on or off in a jiffy as well as turn it off. Also on this side is a SIM card slot. At the bottom of each device is a Lightning port. Flip the phones over and you’ll see a difference in the camera design. The raised square in the upper left corner of the Mini supports dual lenses, flash, and a microphone. The older SE lens is a flat single lens that makes the device look like an old iPod Touch.
iPhone Mini lives up to its name. Its compact shape is convenient to hold, and I enjoy making quick calls and Facetime with it on the other iPhone 13s in the group. Plus, swiping to switch between apps and control feels a little faster than pressing the home button to pull up app windows. But holding square edges for an extended period of time can strain your hands a little. It’s a shame, because it’s much more attractive for content due to the lack of bezels and the great OLED display.
iPhone 13 Mini display puts the SE to shame
The Mini’s larger 2340 x 1080 pixels OLED display beats the SE’s 720P Retina HD display. There is no denying that. If you’re a movie buff and opt for the SE, you’ll miss the Mini’s liquid retina for its sharper colors, improved brightness, and shadow detail retention. This is very noticeable while watching colorful HD content such as the Cyberpunk 2077 clip or Dune on HBO Max. Don’t lose hues on the Mini in dark scenes, and it really shows neon glows unlike the SE, which can smudge the colors together.
While Apple will support the next generation iPhone SE and offer the latest 5G performance and the A15 in it, its screen is basic and doesn’t support HDR content in 2022. You can see things like pixel drop when you zoom in on certain shots, even at the smaller size. It can appear almost dull in bright scenes like home menus at full brightness. This wouldn’t be noticeable from an older phone, but if you’re considering switching to the SE after living with an iPhone 8, think twice if you’re a movie and game buff.
The iPhone 13’s stronger screen gives better content, because it has better cameras. The Mini offers Cinema Movie mode for autofocus in videos, a telephoto lens that moves between 0.5 and 5 times the magnification, and more image control effects with TrueDepth. Photographers will want to spend more money on the Mini. While I found the SE’s 12MP primary camera to be fine, its single lens isn’t even the best in this budget category. It loses out on its high-quality shooting modes, and its lack of dual-lens systems leaves some shots to be desired.
The performance between them is equal
While each phone has an advantage over the other so far, both models offer 5G connectivity and are powered by the A15 chip. Opening apps and loading web pages is equally fast across the board. The A15 shines with some of the fastest Geekbench scores on a mobile processor. I ran the live streaming battery test three times to get an average. Both phones pulled from the same Wi-Fi, carried the same real-time feedback, and played music halfway through. I’ve played games with XCloud, streamed via Twitch or YouTube, worked on Google Docs in real time, and got a good meter for a mixed day of recreational use.
After two hours of streaming from 100 percent, the SE had an impressive battery life of 74 percent, while the Mini was just 2 percent lower with a hotter, larger OLED screen. Games are smooth across the board without lag — but neither offers the same smooth ProMotion as the 13 Pro series, which allows for 120Hz frame rates. Mixing a one-minute movie clip with the effects only took several seconds on both, with neither phone being superior to the other. Although I didn’t have to recharge the batteries all day, the Mini ran a little faster than the SE, but every phone still fell asleep before it died. This is particularly surprising as the SE is expected to offer up to 15 hours of video playback to the Mini’s promised 17 hours.
The iPhone SE doesn’t look like a budget phone, especially compared to other phones in the $429 range, like the excellent Pixel 5A. It makes it easy to switch to iOS or upgrade from an old iPhone for cheap. If you don’t spend hours watching HDR content or games on your phone, the screen gets the job done and you’ll appreciate the ease of an actual home button, the easy-to-portable slim curves, and the cheap price. If you’re the kind of person who consumes iMax full screen HDR media and plays games, then you’ll lean toward the budget mini – it delivers entertainment in spades without the distraction of bezels or the low-quality screen.
As a basic iPhone that can seamlessly and quickly sort messages, take a call, pull YouTube videos, and browse the occasional social media feed, the SE is a welcome addition to the lineup at a third of the Mini’s price. The thick screen bezels and wide single camera for its $429 price tag do swing a bit but it doesn’t get in the way of what a solid phone overall. SE brings the iPhone back to basics to seamlessly deliver a high-performance iOS 15 experience in a legacy chassis. Don’t let the Mini’s X fool you, it offers all the benefits of the iPhone 13 in a smaller, more affordable package. It does what you want it to do – put more power in your pocket without taking up too much space. Neither phone is perfect, but they come close to the more practical iPhone user.
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