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Apple Could Be Doing So Much More With Its Budget iPhone

Illustration for article titled Apple Could Be Doing So Much More With Its Budget iPhone
Photo: Apple

After months of rumors and leaks, the new iPhone SE has finally arrived with a starting price of $400. It’s a great deal. But deep down inside, I can’t help but feel like Apple could have done more with its affordable new iPhone.

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If we start by looking at the iPhone SE’s specs and design, it’s essentially an iPhone 8 with a newer A13 Bionic chip (the same as what you get in an iPhone 11). Sure, Apple has included a couple other small touches like a “seven-layer color process” that delivers a “rich depth of color” for the outside of the device, but with only three colors to choose from (black, white, and red) instead of six like you get on the iPhone 11 (which includes more eye-catching hues like green, yellow, and purple), it’s hard to get super excited about the iPhone SE’s appearance.

Elsewhere, Apple claims the iPhone SE includes the company’s “best-ever single camera system” along with support for Portrait mode and Smart HDR. And while that sounds nice, what you’re actually getting is the same camera you get on the iPhone 8, but with improved processing thanks to the A13 Bionic chip. Also, by calling the part above the best “single-camera,” it feels like Apple is trying to avoid comparisons with the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, both of which have two or three rear cameras and likely much better image quality.

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More importantly, what’s kind of bumming me out are some of the things that Apple didn’t do. A good example is the iPhone SE’s 4.7-inch LCD screen. By going with what looks to be the same display used on the iPhone 8, Apple was probably able to save a little money. However, you have to compare it to other budget and mid-range phones like the Pixel 3a, Galaxy A50, and the OnePlus 7T (which got a recent price reduction down to just $500), that all have more colorful OLED displays (which is also what Apple uses on the iPhone 11 Pro). Apple’s decision to stick with LCD panels seems like a missed opportunity.

By not updating its design, Apple left a lot of wasted space around the iPhone SE’s screen.
By not updating its design, Apple left a lot of wasted space around the iPhone SE’s screen.
Photo: Apple

On top of that, only including a single rear camera is somewhat disappointing, because while having multiple rear cameras used to be a luxury only available on expensive flagship handsets, a ton of affordable phones including the Moto G Power, Galaxy A50, and the upcoming TCL 10L all have two or more rear cameras while still sporting price tags of $350 or less.

But perhaps the biggest disappointment is that Apple didn’t really do anything to maximize the size of the iPhone SE’s screen. Last year, when Apple announced the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, it felt like Apple was finally ready to boldly move forward into a world centered around FaceID and thinner bezels. Seeing the iPhone SE still sporting fat bezels and TouchID is somewhat confusing (even if its a little welcome during a time we’re all having to wear masks outside of our homes).

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While this will certainly be a welcome decision for people who don’t want to give up their fingerprint sensors, it also puts some serious design limitations on the iPhone SE. Had Apple opted to remove the phone’s Touch ID sensor, it could have significantly increased the size of the SE’s screen while still retaining the phone’s compact dimensions and also unifying the look and feel of today’s modern iPhone lineup.

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By no means do I think the iPhone SE is a mistake or a failure—we haven’t even seen one in person yet! However, considering Apple’s size and influence on the smartphone industry, I was hoping that as one of the three largest smartphone makers in the world, Apple would do more to lead by example. Apple could have even made a more premium iPhone SE with some of the features mentioned above, priced it at $500, and then used that model to replace the iPhone XR.

In a time when Samsung’s $1,400 Galaxy S20 Ultra makes even the most expensive iPhone seem like a deal, there’s a lot to like about a new iPhone that starts at just $400. And maybe none of these complaints really matter, because Apple is going to sell an absolute boatload of iPhone SEs. But that isn’t going to stop me from wondering about what could have been if Apple had done a little more.

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Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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DISCUSSION

alle01
Fix It Again Tony

I have to disagree with the touch ID thing. The whole reason this phone is attractive to me is because it still has touch ID.