Review: The iPhone SE Is the Right Size iPhone for Me

I have made no secret of the fact that I find the iPhone’s 4.7″ form factor to be too large. I first felt this to be true when I bought an iPhone 6, which I returned because it was too large. At the time, I wrote:

I used the iPhone 6 for a week; I went back to the iPhone 5s on Friday, to see if I really liked it better. And I did. This may be because of its familiarity; it’s a comfortable size. I can hold it comfortably in one hand, and do most of what I need with just one hand. The iPhone 6, however, felt alien, as though it was just not the right size for my hand. Granted, iPhones have always been smaller (I don’t consider the taller display of the iPhone 5 and 5s to be that different from previous models), so the iPhone 6 was very new. But it just wasn’t right for me.

When the iPhone 6s was released last year, I finally gave in, because I needed to be up to date on the new features. But I just couldn’t abide the larger size. I’m delighted that Apple decided to release a “new” 4″ iPhone, and that it’s not a second-class device. I pleaded with Apple, about two months ago, in a Macworld article, saying how important it was to have 4″ iPhone that is up to speed with the latest models:

The first iPhone came in just one size. This was the case for years, until the iPhone 6 broke with tradition and offered two sizes: large and clown-shoe sized. Apple’s decision to force larger phones on users if they wanted new features suggested that smaller phones weren’t as good, and maintaining the lower-priced iPhone 5c, and now the 5s, in the product line suggested that a smaller iPhone had to be a lesser device.

But why not break with that idea and offer a 4-inch iPhone with the latest features? What’s wrong with having three sizes in the iPhone line? Is Apple afraid that users will have too much choice? That ship sailed a long time ago: you can currently buy two sizes of the iPhone 6s, two sizes of the iPhone 6, and the iPhone 5s, in multiple colors and storage capacities.

And Apple did, indeed, listen to me. (Nah, just kidding; they didn’t come up with a new model and ship it in less than two months. But I think they did listen to the many people who asked for the smaller iPhone since the iPhone 6 was released.)


So, now I have my iPhone SE. Reviewing this phone is simple: it’s the iPhone 6s in an iPhone 5s body. There are minimal differences. Touch ID is a bit slower, but that’s a good thing. One thing that annoyed me about the 6s, which has much faster Touch ID, was that I could no longer press the home button to see notifications. With the iPhone SE, I can do that again.

The iPhone SE doesn’t have 3D Touch; no big deal. This is a gee-whiz feature that isn’t very useful. A handful of apps I use support 3D Touch, but not very well. I don’t use it much, and generally forget that it even exists.

Are there any other notable differences? The iPhone SE is smaller, more rectangular, with matte-chamfered edges (h/t Susie Ochs), but it fits in my hand, and in my pocket, much more easily than the iPhone 6s. And it’s lighter: with cases, the iPhone SE weighs 133g, and the iPhone 6s 167g.

The iPhone SE is fast. My partner inherited my iPhone 5s, so I pick it up every now and then, and it is sluggish. The iPhone SE feels exactly like the iPhone 6s when you launch apps or load web pages, as it should, since it has the same processor.

I feel a bit annoyed that I did buy the iPhone 6s, only to sell it six months later, and I wonder if Apple will make a 4″ version of the iPhone 7, which should be out in another six months. It will be interesting to see how well the iPhone SE sells, whether it convinces Apple that they really did make a mistake eliminating this size device. I’m glad it’s back; I feel that these past six months, using a larger phone, were just a hassle, and I welcome a phone that is much less imposing, that fits into my lifestyle much better.

Update: One note about battery life. I’m finding that the iPhone SE has much longer battery life than the 6s. When I set up the iPhone SE, I did so using a backup from my 6s, so it contains the same apps, and uses the same settings. Overnight, I didn’t plug the phone in – the battery level was around 85% when I went to bed – and in the morning, it had only lost a few percent of its power. At the time of this writing, mid-afternoon, having synced the phone briefly (which gave it a bit of a charge), and listened to a few podcasts, it’s at 71%. I’ll do more testing in the coming days, but it seems to be much more efficient than the iPhone 6s, which would sometimes not have enough battery power to make it through a day.