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Product review: Why the new iPhone SE is the best value money can buy

Apple’s latest release is the company’s most affordable smartphone and aims to provide more bang for buck than any Android rival. Here’s why you should buy it.


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We all know countless South Africans who still count on 2015’s iPhone 6s for their mobile computing and photography needs. But they’re faced with a tough obstacle: the beloved phone and its affordable counterpart, the 1st iPhone SE, almost certainly won’t receive an iOS software update in September when they unveil their new iPhone 12 range and will be faced with a tough decision of a new iPhone to buy.

iPhone SE: A short history

The first iPhone SE was released in 2016 and marketed as a less pricey “iPhone 6s in the body of a 5s” and that business model inspired the second generation of the device announced by Apple a little more than a month ago, calling it an “iPhone 11 Pro in the body of a 8” for nearly a third of the price. It recently hit South African stores last week Monday but is a little less pricey as marketed due to import costs.

Quality Hardware

Apple kept their word because the SE ships with the same A13 Bionic chip powering the flagship iPhone 11 range which is responsible for its longevity (more on that later) and the incredible performance of the phone – the SE blazes through demanding computing tasks and can tackle video editing and graphics-heavy gaming with ease.

The A13 Bionic’s image signal processor takes the old 12MP camera from the 8 and does the same software magic that ensures flagship iPhones never take a bad picture. It’s so good that you actually have to look for the difference between the pictures from the SE and the 11 Pro. You can also take software-based portrait shots and selfies that blur the background and pour focus on the subject

The body is nearly identical to the iPhone 8, apart from the Apple logo on the back moving down to the centre, with three color finishes: silver, space gray and product (red). It’s the same sandwich design with a glass front and back (which allows wireless charging) bound together by a colour-matched aluminium band as well as the exact same crispy LCD display with P3 wide-color gamut. It features the same button placement and the same lightning port is used for charging and connecting the earphones out the box. Still no 3.5mm headphone jack, sorry. Oh, and there’s no larger version with a 5.5-inch display on the old 8 Plus. It’s just the smaller 4.7-inch smaller device.

Reliable Software

The iPhone SE runs the latest software, iOS 13, which offers a vast range of useful features — the new QuickPath keyboard enables “swipe-to-type”, the popular dark mode, a new intelligent photos app interface that curates your best images and integrates powerful, flexible editing as well as a redesigned reminders app that can suggest personalised reminders and can compile layered, complex reminder from natural language input — like asking Siri to remind you to pull up your grocery list and remind you to go past a grocery store when you leave work.

Privacy is also a big priority to Apple with features such as anti-website tracking and app location permission that you can tweak to your comfort. A new “Sign in with Apple ID” allows you to easily sign up for services and accounts with your Apple ID (instead of your Facebook or Google account) and can prevent a messy inbox by using a “fake” email address so you have fewer annoying marketing emails to delete every week.

Otherwise, apps launch up to three times faster than before while app downloads and updates are up to 50% smaller in size, saving you valuable storage space for the amazing photos and videos you’ll take. iOS 13 optimises battery charging for enhanced battery life, allows you to connect a PS4 controller for games, lets you connect external storage with the new files app, and ladies can now track their menstrual cycles on the health app. And there’s much more. Even better, it’s available on every iPhone since the 6s.

Value and Longevity

The hardware of the iPhone SE is mostly identical to the iPhone 8 meaning that repair costs will be very affordable, using existing parts such as the same front and back camera, Touch ID home button and LCD screen as the iPhone 8, among other parts. That’s nearly guaranteed to be half of what you’ll pay fixing an OLED screen on a XS or 11 Pro.

With this device, you’re guaranteed that it will last longer than any rival of the same price such as Android competitors like Samsung which only receive software updates for two years, on average, and begin experiencing a decline in performance after that period. In contrast, Apple gives its iOS devices latest software support for four to five years, which continually upgrades your user experience and the capabilities of the phone.

Most importantly, however, the latest-generation chip that Apple uses in this device is the most significant part about this cellphone and it’s value. iPhones and their chips are designed in such a way that they perform at record speeds at time of release and have plenty of head-room geared towards sustained performance throughout the lifespan of the device. This results in a phone that holds its own weight against time and the innovation it comes with.


The new iPhone SE is a charm for loyal Apple fans that promises cutting-edge computing ability and smartphone capability, packaged in the trusted design of yesterday’s phone for a simple and wonderful digital experience that will rarely disappoint.

This is a great mid-budget phone that doesn’t compromise on quality. The flagship performance, quality hardware and access to the Apple ecosystem mean you won’t have to worry about getting a new phone until about 2025 and that’s more than what most Android counterparts can say.

As much as Apple sells the iPhone SE for $399 in the US, which is R7,300 at the time of writing, in South Africa it will cost you R10,000 to get your hands on the 64GB version from the iStore. The inflated price makes it a bit less of a straight-forward purchase than Samsung’s Galaxy A51 (R6,000) and A71 (R8,000) which boast better OLED displays and camera arrays of three and four lenses, respectively.

Nonetheless, I would recommend the SE to Android users open to experiencing the Apple ecosystem for the first time. This is a great phone without a flagship price tag. It’s also a great upgrade for those who are still using an iPhone 6, 6S, the original SE or 7 who still enjoy a home button. Those looking for a more modern upgrade of the same price might prefer a pre-owned iPhone X or XR. (Both usually R9,000 – R10,000 for 64GB.)

Also, iStore has a special trade-in offer for iPhone 8 owners who can buy the phone for half the price, at R5,000.