If iPhones have felt a bit out of your budget lately, Apple may have just the phone for you. The iPhone SE is the company’s latest device, which sheds many flagship features in favor of a lower price. But how much are you actually missing out on? New Atlas compares the specs and features of the iPhone SE with the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max.
Generally speaking, it turns out that Apple hasn’t stripped out all that much for the iPhone SE. It only has one camera on the back, instead of the two or three on the iPhone 11 range, but most of the same photo and video capabilities are still there.
In fact, the biggest difference seems to be skin-deep. With the chunky appearance of an iPhone 8, we suspect Apple has deliberately made the SE look a little outdated. The company is preoccupied with style, after all, and it wouldn’t surprise us if Apple wanted to make sure no one mistook the budget model for a full-price flagship.
The iPhone SE is quite a bit smaller than the current flagships – in fact, it’s exactly the same size as an iPhone 8. That’s small by current flagship standards, but for some users that’s part of its appeal.
Likewise, the iPhone SE is far lighter than the 11 lineup. It weighs 40 grams less than the next lightest, the 11 Pro. To illustrate, that’s equivalent to eight US nickels, so you’re basically saving yourself from lugging around a handful of change.
The iPhone SE is available in basic black and white options, plus there’s a limited edition red version that Apple says is raising money for COVID-19 research.
The iPhone 11 offers a few other colorful choices, like green, yellow and purple. The 11 Pro and Pro Max have more subdued palettes, with gold, silver, Space Gray and Midnight Green available.
All four phones are built with glass front and back, ringed in metal. For the iPhone SE and 11, that metal is aluminum, while the 11 Pro and Pro Max have stainless steel frames.
All four of these phones can shake off a splash of water, or a quick dunk in the pool or bath. According to Apple, the iPhone SE can survive submerged in 1 m (3.3 ft) of water for up to 30 minutes, while the 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max can extend that to 2 m (6.6 ft). In practice though, we wouldn’t recommend testing that for yourself.
With its small stature comes a noticeable drop in screen real estate for the iPhone SE. The 4.7-in display is more than an inch less (measured diagonally) than the iPhone 11 Pro, and almost two shorter than the largest of the bunch, the Pro Max.
A few years ago, phone companies decided that bezels were ugly and screens should take up as much room as possible on the front of the device. And ever since, anything that wasn’t pushing those boundaries has looked outdated.
Since the iPhone SE is basically wearing the three-year-old clothes of an iPhone 8, it has the lowest screen-to-body ratio of this bunch by quite a wide margin. That’s thanks to the huge black bars stretching across the top and bottom, housing the speaker and front camera at the top and the microphone and a physical home button (remember those?) at the bottom.
The iPhone 11 series have much slimmer bezels all round, with a notch cut into the top to house the selfie camera and other sensors.
Unsurprisingly, the iPhone SE has the smallest display resolution, barely nudging past the 720p “HD-ready” mark. This again puts it on par with the iPhone 8, but tellingly the same screen stretches back to 2014’s iPhone 6.
The iPhone 11 fares a bit better but still comes in below Full HD. And finally, the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max have far more detailed displays, with the Pro Max cramming more than twice as many vertical pixels as the iPhone SE.
When it comes to display types, Apple’s devices are now largely split down the middle. The lower-end phones usually have In-Plane Switching Liquid Crystal Displays (IPS LCD), while the higher end go for Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) displays.
Most people would have trouble spotting the difference without one of each side by side, but generally speaking OLED has more vibrant colors and deeper blacks. That said, IPS LCD is said to look sharper and have more natural colors, so there isn’t a clear winner.
The iPhone SE has a modest front-facing camera, with seven megapixels and an aperture of f/2.2. That’s plenty for selfies for most people. The other three phones crank up the pixel counts to 12 MP.
Apple says that the iPhone SE is the company’s most powerful single camera system. It sports a 12 MP wide-angle lens with an aperture of f/1.8, which lets it perform most of the same functions as the higher end phones (more on that later).
The iPhone 11 adds a second 12 MP camera, with an ultra-wide lens. And the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max throw in a third – a telephoto lens, giving them 2x optical zoom and up to 10x digital zoom.
Despite its single-camera setup, iPhone SE users won’t miss out on too many photo ops. The budget phone is still capable of snapping shots in High Dynamic Range (HDR), artfully blurring backgrounds to make subjects pop, and stitching together panoramas up to 63 MP.
Portraits can also be tweaked, with advanced bokeh control and six different lighting effects.
While some of the augmented reality features are available on the SE, they’re limited by the lack of a TrueDepth 3D camera in the front.
The main photography feature missing from the iPhone SE is Night mode. Present on all three iPhone 11 models, this mode takes longer-exposure shots to brighten up photos taken in low light, with some impressive results.
The iPhone SE misses out on even less when it comes to video modes. All four of these phones can shoot video in Full HD and 4K resolutions at up to 60 frames per second. Time can be sped up for timelapse shoots, or slowed down for slow-mo at 120 or 240 frames per second.
And all of that is kept smooth with Optical and Electronic Image Stabilization.
The iPhone SE’s physical home button brings with it the return of the old-fashioned fingerprint scanner, which hasn’t been seen on an Apple device since – you guessed it – the iPhone 8. The iPhone 11 trio all unlock by way of the Face ID system.
The iPhone SE’s biggest technical leap comes from the fact that it’s running Apple’s latest processor, the A13 Bionic. This is the same chipset that’s powering the iPhone 11 lineup.
Apple brags that the A13 packs both the fastest CPU and GPU in any smartphone to date. The Neural Engine boosts these speeds apparently, as well as helping save battery life by making automatic adjustments to how things are running.
Apple never officially releases RAM figures for its devices, so we’re usually left to third-party breakdowns to put numbers on them. Early reports suggest the iPhone SE is running 3 GB of RAM, but that’s far from certain. If true, that would put it a notch above the iPhone 8’s 2 GB, and one below this generation’s 4 GB. Either way, it’s likely the iPhone SE will run somewhat slower than the 11 series, but just how much remains to be seen.
The iPhone SE has the same three storage options as the iPhone 11, and two of the same as the 11 Pro and Pro Max. The two higher-end models ditch the middle tier 128 GB option and instead offer a roomier 512 GB.
None of these iPhones offer expandable storage via MicroSD card slot. But that’s hardly surprising – Apple never has, and likely never will. So choose your capacity carefully.
Again, Apple never officially announces exact battery capacity figures, but people usually figure it out pretty quickly. Rumor has it that the iPhone SE is packing a paltry 1,821 mAh, which is the same as the iPhone 8. Tellingly, the company does say that the battery life is about the same as the older model it’s based on, which amounts to 13 hours of video playback or 40 hours of audio.
The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, meanwhile, can get up to 18 hours of video and 65 hours of audio on a charge, while the 11 Pro Max stretches to 20 hours of video and 80 hours of audio.
All four of these iPhones can be fast-charged, but you’ll need an 18-W adapter. The iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max come bundled with one in the box, but for the iPhone SE and 11 you’ll need to buy one separately.
Wireless charging is also available on all four of these devices, but this time you’ll have to buy the charger separately no matter which model iPhone you go for.
It’s Lightning port or bust with Apple nowadays, and this spread of devices is no different. That port is used for charging and for plugging the special EarPods included with each phone. And of course, Bluetooth headphones and earbuds are an option.
Importantly, the iPhone SE is running iOS 13, the latest operating system from Apple. That puts it on equal footing, software-wise, with the iPhone 11 trio, which is what allows the budget iPhone to perform so many of the same functions as its pricier brethren.
No self-respecting Apple device would be complete without Siri, so of course she’s waiting to help out on all four of these iPhones.
The iPhone SE is a mid-generation addition, releasing April 24, 2020. The iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max were released in September 2019.
iPhone prices have been steadily increasing in recent years, and that’s what the iPhone SE is designed to address. Its starting price of US$399 is very reasonable, given how much you can still do with it. In fact, you could splash out on a roomy 256-GB model and still be saving $150 from the cheapest iPhone 11.
The iPhone 11 isn’t too bad either, ranging from $699 to $849 depending on capacity. After that, the 11 Pro and Pro Max start at a grand and go right up to $1,449 – which is 3.6 iPhone SEs, for perspective.
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