Gadgets for humans

I’m kicking myself for not buying an iPhone SE last weekend

Apple's no longer selling the best looking phone it's ever made

Update (March 25, 2019): Surprise! Apple has made a bunch more of these iPhone SEs available online. Grab one while you still can.

Apple just started clearing out its stock of iPhone SE handsets – which launched back in March 2016 and discontinued last September – at $249 a pop (the 128GB version is listed at $299). It’s not exactly big news from Cupertino, but it is a hell of a good deal even in 2019, with a couple of caveats. Too bad it’s already sold out across the US.

Let me explain why I’m bummed out. The SE is essentially an iPhone 6S fitted into the compact, beautifully designed body of the iPhone 5 from 2012. It’s one of the only phones you could get with a bead-blasted aluminum body. I owned a 5S for years, and loved using it without a case because I couldn’t get enough of that unique satin finish and the classy chamfered edges. And after switching to Android some years ago, and having switched between dozens of phones over the past few years as a reviewer, I sorely miss the sort of attention to detail that these older iPhones showcased.

Next, it’s hard to come by cheap phones that aren’t the size of bricks these days. Even with its large bezels surrounding the screen, the SE is compact enough to fit comfortably – and feel great – in palms big and small alike.

One of the best things about the iPhone SE was its elegant, diminutive form factor
Credit: Apple
One of the best things about the iPhone SE was its elegant, diminutive form factor

Plus, it comes with Apple’s A9 chip. It’s a couple of generations old now, but it’s good enough for the company to roll out the latest iOS update for it. Our friends at Engadget and iMore noted that iOS 12 breathed new life into the device, with seemingly snappier performance than before when it comes to launching apps and loading content.

That was, after all, Apple’s intention with its recent software update; the company chose to focus on fine-tuning rather than introducing sweeping changes and new functionality. And considering that iOS 12 support goes back to the Apple A7 chip, it’s safe to assume the company will bring at least another major version update or two to the A9-equipped SE – so you should be good for a couple more years.

Now, the SE may not be able to match up to more recent devices in terms of imaging performance; even mid-range Android devices offer more flexibility, features, and in some cases, better photography capabilities. You’ll miss out on Portrait Mode and the low-light capabilities seen on the latest iPhones and Pixels. But you’ll still be able to get reasonably good pictures, as well as 4K video from the rear camera.

Similarly, the front camera might feel dated too. It’s a 1.2-megapixel f/2.4 affair, and it can only capture 720p video – so your Instagram Stories might not look as neat as on other devices.

Another big draw is the App Store: it’s hard to beat the library of high-quality mobile apps you get access to, even in 2019. Combine that with the revamped store interface that makes browsing a delight, and you’ve got a much more exciting software experience to look forward to on your phone than with an Android device. And at this price, the SE is one of the cheapest inroads into the Apple ecosystem.

Naturally, I saved the best for last – the SE has a headphone jack.

If you’re looking for a small phone and aren’t overly concerned about having the best mobile camera, this is a great way to go. And in 2019, when every phone just looks like a flat black slab with a notch, you’d certainly stand out with a retro SE.

Maybe there’s still hope for me yet – I see that Flipkart’s store in India has a couple of 32GB SE colorways available, and there are a few unboxed ones on eBay’s US site.

Writing for Forbes, Ewan Spence shared an interesting theory: this clearance sale may have been a way for Apple to gauge consumers’ interest in an iPhone SE 2. But that may be just a dream. We heard numerous rumors about an updated SE over the past couple of years. What we’ve actually seen, though, is Apple keeping a wide range of options open for people who don’t want their latest and largest phone – the XS Max – going all the way back to the iPhone 7. So, yeah, I’m not holding my breath for a more powerful SE anytime soon.

Ah, well. I still have my old iPhone 5s (which shares the design of the SE), but it no longer works. However, I’m now tempted to spend a bit to revive it with a new battery. In over a decade of iPhones, this is the only one to feature a look that I’ve loved since it came out. It reminds me of a time when Apple took its ‘Think different’ slogan seriously. If you can get your hands on an SE, you’d do well to pick it up even this late in the game.


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Published January 22, 2019 — 08:37 UTC