Apple iPhone SE (2022) Review: Powerful but Dated

As for the LCD screen itself, it’s fine. It gets bright enough to use outdoors, but competitors such as the Google Pixel 5A 5G ($450) and the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G ($500) (soon to be replaced by the A53 5G) use OLED panels that deliver punchier colors and darker blacks. The latter even has a 120-Hz screen refresh rate, which Apple reserves for its expensive iPhone Pro models. 

Battery life on the SE is just OK. Most days, I ended up with around 30 percent left by bedtime. (That’s with roughly six and a half hours of screen-on time.) On busier days, like when I used the camera a lot, relied on the SE for navigation, and used it as a hot spot for my MacBook, it hit 15 percent by around 5 pm, though the phone did survive on low-power mode long enough for me to get home. Still, when the aforementioned Samsung and Google phones can last nearly two days on a single charge, I’m left wondering why the iPhone SE can’t do that too. 

If you’re a heavy phone user, bring a battery pack. It can be a wireless battery pack too! The SE is one of the only phones at this price with support for wireless charging. Too bad there’s no MagSafe support; I’d have loved to magnetically stick a slim battery on the back of this iPhone.

These omissions don’t mean the iPhone SE is bad. Hardly. It’s just means owning one will force you to miss out on some nice perks. The big issue for me is the lack of Night mode in the camera. Apple says the new 12-megapixel rear camera steals a few features from the iPhone 13, like Photographic Styles for applying a specific filtered look to your shots and Deep Fusion for bringing out finer details. The photos I got from the camera were pretty sharp, with accurate colors, and excellent high dynamic range … during the day. 

At night, expect muted colors, underexposed scenes, a lot of grain, and slightly blurry subjects. Head-to-head low-light comparisons with the similarly priced Pixel 5A saw the Google phone trouncing the SE in nearly every nighttime photo. The 7-megapixel selfie camera is no standout either. (Video performance, on the other hand, is pretty great on the SE.)

This is all a darn shame, because we know the processor inside the iPhone SE can support Night mode; the feature is available on the iPhone 13, which has the same chip. Looking at the SE’s photos, it feels like I’m using a phone from three years ago. It’s just not up to par, and that’s without mentioning the lack of additional cameras. The Pixel and Galaxy A52 both have ultrawide cameras for some versatility, which I sorely missed here.  

Phone Home

At $429, the iPhone SE is one of the most powerful budget phones you can buy. But compared to its peers, it’s still limited.

Photograph: Apple

The iPhone SE 2022 is a powerful phone for anyone who prefers Apple’s classic design. The company promises to support the device for a long time, and I would say you don’t need to upgrade from the 2020 model of the SE if it’s still treating you well. If you do want to upgrade from the 2020 model, consider the iPhone 11 for $70 more if you prioritize the camera (it does support Night mode and has an ultrawide camera). But it’s bigger and doesn’t have 5G. 

I’d like it if Apple stopped gatekeeping certain features. There’s really no reason to not include Night mode on the iPhone SE. We know the hardware is capable. A beefier battery would be nice, as would a slightly larger screen (while maintaining similar dimensions). At the very least, I hope the next time Apple refreshes its Special Edition, it actually looks special and not … “old.”

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