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iPhone SE 2020: More than the sum of its Parts

This article expresses individual opinion and the same might not be true of others. Please read keeping this in mind. This is not a review!

Every time an Apple product is released, it is met with a level of excitement and criticism that has no rival in a manner of speaking.

While the excitement is definitely understandable, Apple makes some very well engineered products, the criticism often comes from the price one has to pay to get into Apple’s exclusive ecosystem. For reference, the iPhone 11 Pro costs way over $1000 and to say that’s overpriced would be an understatement.

As an individual, I have always been a big critique of Apple products, because from my personal standpoint, Apple charges more for things, because they can and get away with it too. Its kind of like buying to a Luxury car brand. You can get 90% of the creature comforts of a Rolls Royce in a Genesis G80, but that brand is related to Hyundai, which isn’t the thing millionaires like to be seen in. Call it social engineering or flaunting your status, but a price for everything as they say!

So believe me when I say, that this is the iPhone that caught my attention and got me hyped. Hence why I think the moniker of Special Edition (SE) behind the iPhone brand is every bit deserving.

So what makes the iPhone SE 2020 special?

It isn’t the first time Apple has made a cheap iPhone. There have been two other variants before it, both with their pros and cons. However, this particular release takes the competition to a whole new level and in many ways could become the iPhone with the highest lifespan.

For starters, let’s talk about its internals. I won’t go over the entirety of the specs as we have already covered it before. But rather which aspects make it stand out in the competition.

There are 4 things that really makes the SE 2020 stand out to me:

  1. The A13 Bionic: First the SoC, the A13 Bionic. Like its previous iterations, Apple hasn’t skimped on the SoC by putting in an older generation chip. This already makes it one of the most powerful phones you can buy in this price range. I mean sure, there are an Arsenal of Chinese phone manufacturers that put together the highest end specs in this price bracket, but the low cost means that other corners are cut, like long term software support and component quality. Now while the iPhone cannot match the competition in terms of raw features, in a way it doesn’t really need to. But with the A13 chip, this phone has immense performance overhead, especially considering that the rest of the package is quite dated.
  2. Pricing: Secondly, its the cost. Let’s face it, $399 as a base price for the 64GB variant can get you a lot more from Xiaomi, Oppo or other Chinese phone companies. But more often that now, those use OEM parts, that aren’t developed by them. So getting flagship Apple engineered parts for this price point is pretty incredible value when you consider that Apple as a company has its track record for pricing its products obscenely.
  3. Finally Independently Repairable? If you aren’t following up on the Right to Repair movement, you might not know that Apple is a manufacturer that is heavily criticized for its Anti-Repair and Anti-Consumer tactics. Therefore, it was quite a surprise when it was found that the iPhone SE was indeed a parts bin special. What that means it that, the phone shares majority of its components with the older iPhone 8, as shown on iFixIT’s teardown (watch below). This keeps the cost low as new parts don’t have to be engineered and you are able to achieve that affordable price point.

    Adding to that, many of the components are interchangeable with the older iPhone 8, including the touch ID display, which in itself can generate a huge repair bill if broken. So if you are looking to move up from the older iPhone 8 to something new, this might not be a bad choice. Also considering that most of the parts are interchangeable and you can keep the old iPhone 8 as a parts salvage in case something goes wrong. This is as un-Applish as it gets but that’s what parts bin special gets you in return.
  4. Lifespan: While every apple product is supported for a very long time, it often came at the expense of your wallet. I might be bringing this up again, but the next 3-4 iOS update cycles that you might be getting on the device will be incredible, considering that the previous SE released with iOS 9 and still runs the newest version of the OS and for the price of $399 (Starting). The software support alone makes this a worthwhile purchase and the next Google Pixel 4A might have some competition when it comes to long term support. Adding to that, the A13 bionic provides a lot of extra performance overhead, so in all certainty, it should theoretically perform well on future iterations of the iOS. So rest assured, that this one will continue the legacy of the older SE and be supported for a long time.

With that being covered, there are a few more things I like about the SE

The Camera (Singular!)

No, it’s not a cliché, just bear with me. Apple has been known for its camera quality for a long time now. Its first big leap in image quality came with the iPhone X that really upped the game in the industry for image quality and processing, effectively rivaling the Google Pixel but not quite beating it.

Why do I bring this up?

While the iPhone SE doesn’t share the same sensor as the new iPhone 11 (sad!) but it does share the older iPhone X sensor (Well, the iPhone 8 sensor to be precise) but with a newer processor. So consider it as a hybrid setup with new and old parts.

But, despite the lack of a the new flagship sensor, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference in the perceivable image quality, as this test from tech YouTuber Mrwhosetheboss shows. The real big difference as shown is really in the low lighting conditions, where the older sensor shows its age as it has no night mode, so pictures aren’t that great. But in broad daylight, the difference is hardly visible. That aside, the SE is still a solid shooter for most use cases and you really aren’t left wanting for more as with other premium manufacturers. It takes good videos too, including good 4k videos and I think that is about enough for most people.

Touch ID

This being based on an older design; the forgotten Touch ID makes a re-appearance on this device. Some might like having a physical security button over the Face ID, but it’s a matter of preference. That being said, I’m fan of physical security toggles, so its definitely a win for me.

Covid-19 Relief

In a first, every iPhone with the “Product Red” moniker sold will have some of its amount contributed towards the global Covid-19 relief fund. This is a very welcome move and we hope the money finds the people that need it the most at the moment.

What’s not so good?

If you have managed to stick this far, then you might be convinced that the SE might be the defecto all rounder that you have always dreamed about. However, it isn’t without its flaws.

  1. Touch ID: Yes, the same thing that I praised in the previous paragraph. This being essentially an older phone, doesn’t get the face recognition features of the newer Apple iPhones. While Apple could’ve made a compromise with the sensor array, giving it both, but they omitted it for keeping costs low.
  2. Display: While it gets all the “Pro Display” marketing from Apple and is indeed a well calibrated display. But let’s fact it, it is a bit of a dinosaur in 2020 with its thick top and bottom bezels. I suspect that Apple could’ve slotted in the iPhone 11 display but again didn’t do so for the sake of keeping costs low and it’s a real shame that they didn’t. Plus the display isn’t 1080p, so if you are used to looking at sharper displays prepare to be a bit disappointed.
  3. Battery: Some of you might already have a counter to this – “Apple doesn’t need a big battery because of its software, however the battery results from a test conducted by MrWhosTheBoss shows otherwise (Watch below). This feels like one area where the SE might be a let down. Its almost like, fitting a bigger engine in a car and not changing the fuel tank to compensate for lower mileage.

    The battery drain is a huge issue with the A13 at the helm and it being coupled to a measly 1821mAh battery and I really think that this was an oversight on Apple’s end.
  4. Pricing: (What Moment!) If you have read this article so far, you already know that I have been praising the iPhone SE’s pricing up until this point. So why is it a negative now? Well the $399 pricing is exclusively for the North American market. But when you factor in prices from other parts of the world, the value proposition for this gets flushed down the toilet. In India for example, this phone competes with the likes of OnePlus 8 and is priced at Rs.42,499 which is about $566 adjusted for inflation. Even the Canadian, South American, Euro and Australian pricing for this is much higher than the North American pricing. So you can see why it doesn’t really represent good value in other markets. Sure tariffs play a big role in the overall pricing of anything, but still, Apple could have devised a strategy to keep this competitive outside N.A markets but didn’t do so.

Concluding Thoughts

The 2020 iPhone SE really makes a great case for itself. It sacrifices new tech for fast internals but manages to keep a relatively low price as per Apple standards. However, it isn’t perfect as it doesn’t get a low of newer tech and the base pricing could’ve been a bit lower as a result. In any case, this phone will set the benchmark for value phones with long support cycles from premium brands in the coming days and it’ll be interesting to see how the Google Pixel 4A stacks up. In conclusion, Apple managed to pull of a bunny out of the hat but its ultimately a lazy cliche and brings forth no new innovation to the upper-mid budget segment.

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Bibhuranjan Nath

is the Chief Editorial Officer at Techno FAQ digital media and its subsidiary Tekhdecoded.

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