Apple iPhone SE 2022 review: Less is more

When the iPhone SE 2020 came along two years ago, it redefined the value conversation for the mid-range category. The phone utilized the same design as the iPhone 8 but came with flagship-tier hardware in the form of the A13 Bionic, giving it a distinct edge over its Android rivals.

For 2022, Apple is continuing with that same strategy. The iPhone SE 2022 leverages the same design as its predecessor, but this time, it’s powered by the latest A15 Bionic — the same chipset used in the iPhone 13 series. It also gets 5G connectivity and a larger battery, and with the phone starting out at $429, it is positioned directly against the Galaxy A53 5G and Pixel 5a.

The iPhone SE 2022 is targeted at users looking to upgrade from an older iPhone and first-time buyers interested in trying out iOS. If you’re in the latter category and are considering a move, here’s what you need to know about the iPhone SE 2022.

iPhone SE 2022: Pricing and availability

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The iPhone SE 2022 was unveiled on March 8, and it is now available globally. In North America, the base variant with 64GB of storage starts off at $429, with the 128GB model retailing for $479 and the 256GB option for $579.

Over in the UK, the 64GB model costs £419 ($548), with the 128GB variant selling for £469 ($613) and the 256GB version debuting at £569 ($745). In European markets, the 64GB model is available for €519 ($565), the 128GB model is €569 ($620), and the 256GB variant is €689 ($750).

India is once again one of the costliest markets to pick up an iPhone, and the iPhone SE 2022 starts off at ₹43,900 ($580) for the 64GB model. The 128GB option is available for ₹48,900 ($650) and the 256GB variant is listed at ₹58,900 ($780).

iPhone SE 2022: Design

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

There isn’t much to talk about on the design front, and that’s because the iPhone SE 2022 is using the exact same design as the iPhone SE 2020, which in turn was based on the iPhone 8. 

So if you’re using an iPhone 8 or an older model, you’ll feel immediately familiar here, because the chassis is identical. As the dimensions haven’t changed, you can use cases designed for the iPhone 8 or the iPhone SE 2020 without any issues.

The iPhone SE 2022 has the same design as the iPhone 8 — this is one of the best small phones around.

Let’s go through the design: the iPhone SE 2022 has a diminutive chassis that’s designed for one-handed use, and it’s made out of aluminum with a glass front and back. You’ll find a home button at the front, the screen has chunky bezels, the power button is to the left, and the volume rocker and mute switch are located on the right. At the back, you’ll find a solitary camera next to an LED flash module.

The iPhone SE 2022 is available in three color options — Midnight, Red, and Starlight —  and regardless of whatever color you choose, you’ll get a glossy finish at the back. This makes the phone a smudge magnet, so you’ll ideally want to use a case with the device. The fit and finish and build quality is on par with flagships.

As for usability, the iPhone SE 2022 is one of the best small phones around; coming in at a height of 138.4mm and weighing 144g, it is very comfortable to hold and use. Going back to Touch ID is an interesting change of pace, but if you’re already using an iPhone with a home button, you’ll feel at home here. But if you’re switching from Android, you’ll have to unlearn gesture navigation.

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iPhone SE 2022 review

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It feels weird to use the home button to exit an app or pull up the overview menu, but you get acclimated to it after a few days of usage. Like the iPhone 8, the home button isn’t a physical button; it instead uses a capacitive sensor in conjunction with a haptic motor to deliver feedback.

Apple could have easily introduced a larger version of the iPhone SE, but it’s clear that there’s a subset of the audience that wants a small phone with Touch ID and a familiar design, and the brand is catering to those users.  And if you’re looking for a larger iPhone, there’s no shortage of previous-gen models in the iPhone 11 and 12 series.

Personally, I was holding out for an iPhone SE with a large screen and the same internal hardware for under $500, but such a device would inevitably cannibalize sales of flagship iPhones, so it’s unlikely that Apple would consider doing so.

Although the iPhone SE 2022 doesn’t have a new design, it is getting a few upgrades. It uses the same toughened glass layer as the iPhone 13 series, making it resilient to tumbles and scratches. And the best part is that the device gets IP67 dust and water resistance, ensuring you can use it at the pool without any issues.

iPhone SE 2022: Screen

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

Coming to the screen, you still get a 4.7-inch Retina IPS LCD panel with a resolution of 1334 x 750. The screen feels laughably small in 2022, particularly considering I switched to the device from a Galaxy S22 Ultra and its gigantic 6.8-inch screen.

You get a diminutive 4.7-inch screen with the biggest bezels of any phone in 2022.

What’s more egregious is the size of the bezels; there are huge bezels at the top and bottom, and they take away a chunk of screen real estate. I understand the need for the bezels — there’s no other way to include a physical home button — but the fact remains that they’re an eyesore in 2022. That said, a bulk of users interested in picking up the iPhone SE 2022 will be used to the screen size and bezels.

The screen itself is pretty good, and you get TrueTone tech that dynamically changes white balance based on ambient light in your surroundings. The screen is limited to 60Hz, but it nails the basics: colors are good, it gets sufficiently bright outdoors, and the flat panel is great for usability. 

There’s also stereo sound here, and while the screen size isn’t well-suited for gaming or streaming video, it is an enjoyable experience.

iPhone SE 2022: Hardware

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

While the iPhone SE 2022 doesn’t have much to offer in the way of design, there are a lot of changes under the hood. The phone is powered by the A15 Bionic — just like the iPhone 13 series. And that gives the iPhone SE 2022 a huge lead over its Android rivals, and just about every other device in the mid-range category.

The A15 Bionic is a hexa-core design that has the highest single- and multi-core scores of any mobile platform today. That’s evident when using the iPhone SE 2022 — the phone just blazes through demanding games without breaking a sweat. 

There’s also a new neural engine that powers Live Text, a feature that lets you extract text and other information from photos. The neural engine also comes into play for camera-related use cases, but more on that later.

Category iPhone SE 2022
Operating system iOS 15.4
Display 4.7-inch, Retina IPS LCD, 1334×750 (16:9), Corning Glass
Chipset Apple A15 Bionic, 2 x 3.0GHz Avalanche, 4 x 2.2GHz Blizzard, 5nm
RAM 4GB
Storage 64GB/128GB/256GB
MicroSD slot
Rear camera 12MP, f/1.8, PDAF, OIS, 4K at 60fps,
Front camera 7MP f/2.2, HDR, 1080p at 30fps
Connectivity 5G Sub-6, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, A-GPS
Audio Lightning, stereo speakers
Battery 2018mAh
Charging 20W fast charging, 7W wireless charging
Water resistance IP67
Security Touch ID
Colors Midnight, Starlight, Red
Dimensions 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm, 144g
Price $429 (U.S.), £419 (UK), ₹43,900 (India)

The fact that you can get the A15 Bionic on a sub-$500 device makes the iPhone SE 2022 a standout option in this category. Essentially, the phone lowers the barrier to entry for what is the most powerful mobile chipset available today.

Thanks to the A15 Bionic and the fact that Apple controls the hardware and software stack, the iPhone SE 2022 is a delight to use for just about any task. As I mentioned before, the screen size is the limiting factor for gaming and streaming content — a larger screen would have made the phone that much more immersive. 

That said, if you’re using an older iPhone, you will love the power on offer with the iPhone SE 2022. On that note, let’s take a look at a few synthetic tests to see how the iPhone SE 2022 holds up to its Android rivals and its siblings. 

Category iPhone 11 iPhone SE 2022 Galaxy A53 5G iPhone 13
CrossMark (Overall) 865 1141 510 1144
Productivity 853 1133 551 1134
Creativity 1015 1288 472 1304
Responsiveness 558 809 533 794
Geekbench 5.1 (single-core) 1319 1710 743 1717
Geekbench 5.1 (multi-core) 3047 4530 1929 4492
3DMark Wild Life (score) 7529 8401 2335 8647
3DMark Wild Life (FPS) 45.1 50.3 14.02 51.75
3DMark Wild Life Extreme (score) 1892 2248 642 2418
3DMark Wild Life Extreme (FPS) 11.35 15.3 3.8 14.15

The scores illustrate the A15 Bionic’s dominance in this area, with the iPhone SE 2022 pulling out a huge lead over the Galaxy A53 5G. In fact, it consistently posts higher scores than the best Android phones, including the Galaxy S22 Ultra and Xiaomi 12 Pro. 

When it comes to the hardware side of things, the iPhone SE 2022 is on par with flagship iPhones, and that’s great news if you’re looking to pick up the phone. 

Gaming in particular is an area where the iPhone SE 2022 outshines its immediate rivals, and that’s why it’s annoying that the device doesn’t have a larger screen. Anyway, what’s obvious is that you’re getting flagship-level hardware here. 

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

A major new addition this year is 5G; the iPhone SE 2022 has the requisite 5G bands for global Sub-6 5G connectivity, but unlike its siblings in the iPhone 13 series, it misses out on mmWave connectivity in North America. That means you won’t be able to see multi-gigabit speeds on your phone, but the fact that there’s Sub-6 5G on a sub-$500 iPhone makes it a noteworthy option on its own.

When it comes to memory and storage, the iPhone SE 2022 has 4GB of RAM as standard, and while that’s low by Android standards, it’s more than adequate for iOS. What could have been better is the storage; the base model has 64GB of storage, and that’s low in 2022. With most devices in this category now offering 128GB as the default option, the iPhone SE is on the backfoot here.

iPhone SE 2022: Battery life

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

One of the biggest downsides to a small phone is the battery life; that’s one of the reasons the industry has moved to bigger phones in recent years. The iPhone SE 2022 has a larger 2018mAh battery — its predecessor had an 1821mAh unit — and while it lasts noticeably longer, it isn’t anywhere close to the iPhone 13 series in this regard.

Battery life is better than the iPhone SE 2020, but it isn’t anywhere as good as flagship iPhones.

I got up to a day’s worth of use with the iPhone SE 2022, and Apple’s claims that the phone lasts two hours longer than its predecessor hold up in real-world use. That said, push it to any meaningful extent and you’ll need to plug in the charger before the end of the day. 

I didn’t have to worry about that with the iPhone 13, so while you are getting better longevity than the iPhone SE 2020, it isn’t quite on par with flagship iPhones.

And like other recent iPhones, you won’t find a charger in the box. There is fast charging though, with the phone taking just over 30 minutes to hit a 50% charge. Unlike iPads that have transitioned to USB-C, the iPhone SE still uses the Lightning port. Best of all, you get wireless charging here, making the phone stand out just that little bit more against its rivals.

iPhone SE 2022: Cameras

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The iPhone SE 2022 has the same 12MP f/1.8 camera as the iPhone 8. There’s OIS and PDAF here, but the fact that you still don’t get a wide-angle lens is a letdown. Up front, you get a 7MP f/2.2 lens — again unchanged from the iPhone 8.

That said, the phone leverages the A15 Bionic’s ISP to deliver better photos, and picks up a host of new features made possible by the neural engine.

This is a great mid-range shooter, but it misses out on a wide-angle lens and Night mode.

Smart HDR 4 automatically adjusts lighting and contrast levels on the fly to produce photos with natural skin tones and accurate colors, Deep Fusion ekes out detail in low-light shots by taking shots at multiple exposures, and Photographic Styles lets you select the color balance and contrast levels you want and use that for all photos.

Finally, Portrait mode gets better semantic segmentation thanks to the A15 Bionic, and overall, the iPhone SE 2022 has a decent feature-set for a device that’s using the same optics as a phone from 2017. 

As for video, the phone shoots 4K footage at 60FPS, giving it an edge over its Android rivals limited to 30FPS. The interface itself is unchanged, and you can easily access the shooting modes and various toggles.

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The iPhone SE 2022 does a great job in daylight situations, producing photos with good dynamic range and accurate colors. There’s little to no noise, and it does an admirable job when it comes to detail. Portrait shots are similarly great, with the phone able to produce natural bokeh and clearly delineate the background.

However, the phone doesn’t quite deliver when it comes to low-light situations. You still get good photos with plenty of detail and accurate colors, but there is visible noise and the overall quality isn’t as good as the iPhone 12 or iPhone 13. A big part of the problem is that the iPhone SE is missing Night mode, so it doesn’t have the ability to stack several frames into a single shot to deliver increased brightness and detail.

That omission is clearly noticeable, and I’m still not sure why the phone misses out on such a table stakes feature. The lack of a night mode means photos in challenging situations aren’t as good as they can be, and that’s a letdown.

Also, the iPhone SE has the distinction of being the only phone in this category with a single camera at the back — most phones now come with a wide-angle lens and other auxiliary cameras as standard, and in the case of the Pixel 5a and Galaxy A53, the wide-angle lens does a great job.

To sum it up, while the iPhone SE takes better photos than its predecessor, it doesn’t quite manage to hold its own against its flagship forebears. If you need a wide-angle lens or Night mode, you’ll need to pick up the iPhone 11 or later. 

If you don’t care about these additions and see yourself taking a few photos mostly with the rear camera, you’ll like what the iPhone SE has to offer. Aside from the lack of versatility, this is a great imaging system.

iPhone SE 2022: Software

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The iPhone SE 2022 runs iOS 15.4 out of the box, and the headlining feature for the update is the ability to use Face ID with a mask. Seeing as how there’s no Face ID here, you can’t use that particular feature on the device. 

However, there are plenty of other features: fun new emoji, Live Text tweaks that let you scan text easily from within Notes and Reminders, SharePlay option within Apple Music, security and bug fixes, ability to store digital IDs in select regions, and more.

There’s a lot to like in iOS 15, and you get more platform updates than any other Android phone.

With the iOS 15 update available going back all the way to the 2015 iPhone 6s, most iPhone users are already on the latest version of the OS. There’s a lot to like in iOS 15, and while notification management isn’t quite as granular as Android, Focus mode lets you mute unwanted notifications and prevent distractions. Notification summary is another key feature that gives you a digest of notifications that aren’t time-sensitive delivered at a convenient time of your choosing.

There are a lot of privacy changes as well, including iCloud Private Relay and Hide My Email, app privacy dashboard, and a straightforward way to opt out of app tracking. Like the design, iOS 15 should be very familiar if you’re already using an iPhone. But if you’re making the switch from an Android device, there is a learning curve here.

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

There are widgets in iOS and an app drawer, but the notification shade doesn’t have toggles — those are housed in their own panel. Control Center is where you’ll find toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, rotation lock, flashlight, timer, media controls, and sliders for brightness and volume, and it’s accessible from the bottom of the screen on the iPhone SE.

And if you’re an Android user, all of your favorite Google services work just as well on iOS — I use Drive, Photos, YouTube, Chrome, and Duo extensively on the platform.

The best part about the iPhone SE 2022 is that it will get the same number of updates as the iPhone 13 series. That means you’re looking at well over five years of regular iOS updates, outmatching anything on Android today.

iPhone SE 2022: The competition

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

If you want a budget iPhone with a large screen and Face ID, the obvious choice is the iPhone 11. The phone debuted two and a half years ago, and is now available for $499 — a relative bargain when you consider the hardware on offer. The iPhone 11 has a large 6.1-inch LCD screen, the A13 Bionic holds its own for demanding games and other day-to-day tasks, the battery life is significantly better than the iPhone SE, and you get a 12MP wide-angle lens. The iPhone 11 misses out on 5G, but if you don’t care about the latest cellular standard, this is the obvious iPhone to buy in 2022.

Need 5G connectivity? You may want to look at the iPhone 12. It now starts off at $699 for the 64GB model, and you get upgraded cameras, a fantastic OLED screen, robust hardware, and all-day battery life with 15W MagSafe wireless charging and 20W fast wired charging.

As for Android alternatives, the obvious choice is Samsung’s Galaxy A53 5G. The phone has a 6.5-inch 120Hz AMOLED screen that is a delight to use — you’ll notice a huge difference if you’re switching from a phone with a regular 60Hz screen. The Exynos 1280 isn’t anywhere as powerful as the A15 Bionic, but it holds its own for most day-to-day tasks and is good for casual gaming.

You also get Sub-6 5G connectivity, IP67 dust and water resistance, 128GB of storage as standard, a microSD slot, great cameras, and a large 5000mAh battery that lasts well over a day. Android phones lagged behind their iOS rivals on software updates, but with the A53, Samsung is guaranteeing four Android OS updates and five years of security patches. And at $449, the Galaxy A53 is just $20 more. 

If you want the best camera for under $500, the Pixel 5a 5G continues to be the phone to beat. It has a 6.3-inch 60Hz OLED screen, Snapdragon 765G, 128GB of storage, and a 4680mAh battery that lasts all day with ease.

The 12.2MP camera takes photos on par with phones that cost three times as much, and you get a 16MP wide-angle lens that’s one of the best in this category. Google doesn’t quite measure up to Apple or Samsung when it comes to software updates; the Pixel 5a will get three Android OS updates and five years of security patches.

iPhone SE 2022: Should you buy it?

iPhone SE 2022 review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

You should buy this if:

  • You want a phone that’s built for one-handed use
  • You need the latest hardware for less
  • You want an iPhone with a home button
  • You need a budget iPhone with 5G

You shouldn’t buy this if:

  • You need a large screen
  • You’re looking for a phone with great battery life
  • You want a wide-angle or zoom lens

The iPhone SE 2022 isn’t aimed at enthusiasts; it is instead targeted at users looking to upgrade to a new iPhone with 5G connectivity while retaining a familiar design. It’s also a good choice for those looking to try out an iPhone for the first time. 

In that context, there is a lot to like here: the hardware is phenomenal, there’s a home button, and the phone will get the same number of software updates as the iPhone 13 series. It is great for one-handed use, you get 5G connectivity, IP67 rating, and wireless charging.

Of course, the iPhone SE 2022 isn’t without its downsides. The screen feels too small in 2022, there’s no Night mode for the camera, you miss out on a wide-angle lens at the back, and the battery is strictly average. If any of these points is a deal-breaker, there’s always the iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 to consider.

At the end of the day, the iPhone SE 2022 is all about nailing the basics, and it manages to do just that. If you need a new iPhone with 5G for less than $500, this is the obvious choice.

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