The iPhone SE was an unprecedented smartphone. A four-inch smartphone in a world of phablets? Apple must have gone crazy – or so we think. While in Singapore last week on assignment, I found some time to check out Apple’s quirky new smartphone.
The iPhone 5S was the last iPhone with Steve Jobs’ imprint, and while the decision to retain the design on the iPhone SE may have been an industrial one, sentiment was also likely a factor.
Design wise, the iPhone 5S is personally the best-looking smartphone Apple has ever crafted. It’s beautifully balanced with its use of metal and glass, with the top and bottom glass panels at the back contrasting seamlessly with the metal back. Chamfered edges may make it uncomfortable to hold, but it gives a personality that the iPhone 6 and 6s both lack.
Everything I’ve mentioned above applies to the iPhone SE; it’s built on the same frame as the 5S, with the only noticeable difference being that it is now available in Rose Gold.
In a market saturated with large and larger smartphones, the iPhone SE certainly sticks out in a very different way. Despite its small frame, Apple fitted plenty of flagship-level hardware from the iPhone 6s into the iPhone SE: A9 processor, 12MP Focus Pixel camera, TrueTone flash, Retina Flash, and even (first-generation) TouchID.
Because of that, the iPhone SE feels almost like a iPhone 5S refresh. That makes it very appealing to a small (but pretty loyal) group of users who have resolutely stuck with their iPhone 5 and 5S because Apple did not offer an upgrade path without increasing the display size. Now there is one.
Those who have been spoilt by large-display smartphones, here’s a warning: the iPhone SE will initially feel freakishly small when you first pick it up. That feeling will remain for quite some time, as I experienced as I fiddled around with it.
When placed side by side with the current-gen iPhones, the iPhone SE makes the iPhone 6s look large, and the 6s Plus gigantic in comparison. Even with the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge and its tiny footprint looks chunky when placed next to the SE.
Because of the size, the phone almost managed to slip off my hands twice while I took some photos of it. The tiny frame coupled with the metal side panels made the phone surprisingly slippery.
Another surprise awaited later on. While navigation was one of the highlights – one thumb easily reaches all four corners of the screen – typing with two hands became an ergonomical challenge. Two issues popped up: (1) how on earth do you hold it comfortably with two hands, and (2) my thumbs were so much bigger than the on-screen keyboard they each blocked out a chunk of the keyboard.
Determined to see what happens next, I started typing. Initially it was definitely difficult, as my thumbs (and Autocorrect) struggled to comprehend what I was trying to write, but after a minute or so both man and machine managed to strike some understanding of my typing pattern and habits. That’s not to say typing is a breeze on this phone, but that you’ll eventually learn to live with it – you know, just as you had two years ago.
Beyond that, the A9 processor and 2GB of RAM ensures everything runs buttery smooth on iOS 9.3. The rear camera is also no slouch, but the same cannot be said of the front camera: at just 1.2MP, your selfies and FaceTime sessions will suffer quite a bit.
That said, this smartphone has a huge ace up its sleeve: price. As I’ve previously written, the iPhone SE lowers the barrier of entry for those looking to try an iPhone – and not just serve as an upgrade path from the 5S. With a starting price of just $399 (about RM1,560), this may be the “cheap iPhone” analysts have been talking for years about.
Nevertheless, the iPhone SE will not be for everyone. The size of the device will put a lot of phablet-loving users off, while those already on an iPhone 6 or 6s would be better off waiting for the iPhone 7 coming later this year.
But, if you’ve been starving for a small form factor smartphone, you should seriously consider taking a look at the iPhone SE when it launches in Malaysia very soon.