Apple iPhone SE first impression: iPhone 5S gets the innards of iPhone 6s

iPhone SE will clearly appeal to those have used an iPhone 4 or iPhone 5S and loved that experience enough not to want a larger screen size, not even at a cheaper price point.

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | Cupertino (california) | Updated: March 25, 2016 5:13 pm
iPhone SE, new iPhone, iPhone SE first impression, iPhone se review The iPhone SE pricing starts at Rs 39,000 in India for the 16GB version. (Source: Nandagopal Rajan)

In the end, the predictions were more or less true. The new Apple phone is called the iPhone SE, it has a four-inch screen, a fingerprint scanner and the A9 processor.

What most people couldn’t nail, however, was the $399 price point and there we enough oohs and aahs among the smallish gathering at the Town Hall inside the Apple Headquarters to show that most of them loved this bit. In India, the phone has been priced at Rs 39,000* for the 16GB version (*Apple initially announced the price at Rs 30,000)

But does the iPhone SE have enough in it to become a winner?

Well, after a few minutes with phone after the launch, here is what I think.

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The best bit about the phone has to be the size. It is nothing new for Apple, but there seems to be a lot of people who still yearn for phones that will fit in their hands, along with their pockets. In fact, the iPhone SE is the same size as the iPhone 5S. I am convinced the phone uses the same chassis. Apple has added a matte finish to edge of the frame to give it a subtle differentiator.

Also, the two phones — set almost two-and-a-half years apart — differ in weight by just about a gram. With the similarities being so strong, it is only natural that Apple had discontinued the iPhone 5S, replacing it with the new incumbent.

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But where the two phones differ immensely is in what goes inside. The iPhone SE has the latest A9 processor and will be similar on processing prowess to the iPhone 6S. It also has a TouchID fingerprint scanner, though a bit different from the flagship iPhones.

The other noticeable difference in comparison with the flagships is the fact that while the iPhone SE has live photos, it does not support 3D Touch. So the photos come alive either when you are swiping through them or when you long press. The iPhone SE camera will have all the elements of the flagships and will capture Live photos too.

iPhone SE, iPhone 5S, iPhone SE uses the same chassis as the iPhone 5S. (source: Nandagopal Rajan)

From what I saw, the graphics performance seems to be at par with iPhone 6S and the physics is smooth on high-end games. The battery is the same as on the iPhone 5S, though it might give more thanks to OS optimisations. The iPhone SE will ship with iOS 9.3 announced today.

The phone will clearly appeal to those have used an iPhone 4 or iPhone 5S and loved that experience enough not to want a larger screen size, not even for a cheaper price. For others, especially those who are exposed to a cheaper Android with a larger screen, the smaller display could appear inadequate. This might be the big challenge for Apple in getting Android users in countries like India to pick up the new phone.

In contrast, there are still a lot of people who buy the iPhone 5S, or even the 4S, in markets like India because it is more affordable. There is a possibility that a lot of those buyers will find more value in moving to the iPhone SE, instead of buying phones that were clearly made to be used a couple of years back.

Spec to spec, the iPhone SE might not be able to stack up to a Rs 39,000 Android phone, but the Apple brand might help a lot of probable buyers to get over this hurdle. The iPhone 6 with 16GB is priced at Rs 32,999 on Flipkart and comes with a larger screen, though the iPhone SE has a better camera. 

*Apple clarified later that the price of the phone, which was initially priced at Rs 30,000 for the 16GB version, is actually Rs 39,000.

Specs: 

Display: 4-inch Retina display

Processor: A9 chip

Software: iOS 9.3

Colour Variants: Silver, Gold, Space Gray and Rose Gold

Camera: 12MP iSight camera

Supports 4K video and Apple Pay

Touch ID

Price: Starting at Rs 39,000 for the 16GB version

The author is in California on the invite of Apple, Inc.