It was a little bit of a shock when I opened the box of my iPhone SE 2020 for the first time. My last two daily phones had been a Nokia that I really couldn’t get on with, and a Huawei p20 pro that I adored. Before that I had the original iPhone SE (which I referred to as my tiny businessman phone, and later my teeny tiny baby phone) and an iPhone 6 before that. So, I had dabbled in iPhone ownership. Also, as a point to note, my most used device for my writing is my iPad Pro 10.5 inch and I record and do some writing on a Mac Mini, so I do have my toes dipping in the eco system.
Compared to my beloved P20 Pro, the iPhone SE 2020 I will refer to it as the iPhone SE, or simply SE from here) feels incredibly small. I remember when I got my iPhone 6 that I felt like it was compact but not small, but as phone sizes have increased I have found myself expecting more from the physical size, and especially the screen size of my devices.
Beyond the physical shift in size for me, the SE screen does have a few other drawbacks which would certainly be solved by moving to a higher end iPhone. The screens resolution is serviceable for a 3 or 4 year old device, but not for a phone released in 2020. I haven’t seen any terrible examples of this, to share, but the screen hasn’t got the sharpness that I would expect. The screen size however does come as a benefit here, as the same resolution on a bigger screen would be
To get all the bad stuff out the way… The battery. Oh…the battery.
I’ve had the pleasure of using a phone that on a normal day could push to 36+ hours of battery life. I’d still charge it every day, but having the flexibility to know I could get through most of the next day if I forgot or if the cable wasn’t in the socket properly, was honestly lovely. The SE battery barely got me through a day. I wouldn’t consider it a day of heavy use either. I was excited to get the new phone, but I was working all day with limited time to look at and check my phone. As I write this, on the following day’s lunch break, I’ve been in work for 3 hours without looking much at my phone and I’m down to 70%. I’d be surprised if it makes it another 6 hours to when I get home. At a rate of about 8% an hour throughout the day, it’s difficult to imagine taking this phone on holiday where I use maps and camera all day – even the beefy battery on the p20 pro struggled with my trip to Rome. I’m aware battery cases are a thing, and something I’m very likely to look into, but it’s a shame to add an extra weight to the phone that should have been designed better in the first place. My P20 pro is currently sat in my work bag, and while I’ve barely looked at it, it has idled with its antenna active and receiving notifications down to 80% over 2 days. This isn’t good enough Apple.
Finally, the Good Stuff.
The typing experience on the iPhone is incredible and I don’t know why. For some reason I had never been confident typing on any of the android keyboards I had tried. This keyboard seems to read my mind, I don’t have to think about more than what I want to appear on the page and my thumbs do the rest of the work. As someone who averages 42 hours a week in my day job at the moment, being able to sit down and type out 500 words on my phone during my lunch break is pretty important to me. Somehow the iPhone keyboard just manages this in a way that has zero friction and I feel that I can just get the words I want out without having to go back and edit every other words typos. I’m sure there would have been an Android keyboard out there for me that would achieve the same, but it’s nice that the iPhone keyboard is so great as a starting point.
Beyond the keyboard, the device itself has such a premium feel. It’s a shame I feel I need a case and a screen protector as I always feel like these reduce the benefit of the premium iPhone metal design. For a cheaper product, I’m so glad Apple didn’t make the iPhone 5C mistake again and opt for cheaper material alternatives. This phone, despite the previously discussed size issues, can boast about its quality.
The quality extends into the software as well. For me, the most noticeable aspect of this is the haptic feedback, which offers up genuinely useful and extremely expensive feeling responses to interactions. I can’t explain how nice it is to scroll through a multiple choice drop down box on the web, you just have to experience it and it’s clicking perfection.
Even the home button isn’t a big disappointment for me. I’m one of the crowd that has always preferred thumb print to face recognition to get into my device, so having that sensor there is great for unlocking the phone. While my previous iPhones all had the physical home button, I have already stopped noticing the lack of physical movement in the button – although I have to admit, I tap it far too frequently because of how I used to navigate my P20 Pro.
Connectivity to other devices is also fantastic, and I know il be preaching to the choir on this one. My cheap Chinese fake AirPods (tws i12 for anyone interested) connect to the device just like AirPods would – including the opening animation on the screen and the battery level indicator. While I’d love a real pair of AirPods, I primarily wear them in work during the morning while I’m working delivery and I would be really upset if I damaged, lost, or totally broke an expensive pair of headphones. I also wear a smart watch, one of two I own depending on my mood and their charge level. I did used to own an Apple Watch, 0 Gen, but that was lost and or stolen many years ago. My Android smart watch seems to connect with almost 100% of the features I had with my Android phone – however I’m yet to find a way to sync the data from the watch with the Apple Health app, if it’s even possible. My Fossil Hybrid watch however connects no problem, syncs my step count flawlessly, and all functionality seems to work well, if not better than on the Android phones.
Obviously a part of the connectivity is also AirDrop. I only recently discovered the use of this feature, while sending my Podcast album art from the iPad Pro to my Mac Mini. Now having the ability to move items with the same ease from my phone is fantastic, and I expect I will be using the feature extensively.
Now, iOs 14. The final part of the review.
If I’m being honest, this was the reason I wanted to come back to iPhone. It isn’t a huge step, but iOS 14 shows the direction Apple wants to move in. The iPhone springboard had been looking old, with its lack of interaction on the screen beyond its grid of icons. I installed the public beta before I really started to use the device, and I honestly love it. The widgets are great, and have stopped me opening apps like weather because I can get the information at a glance. Stacking widgets is honestly genius. The App Library is a much needed update that I fully support, and makes transition from Android much easier. I just feel, as a whole the new design is much less cluttered, while maintaining a lot of the original iPhone charm.
Apple could have certainly done better with some aspects of the design. A smaller version of the main line of phones for example would have been welcome way to go – much like you would see on the ‘A’ lines of phones from Samsung or the lite versions from huawei. A bigger battery would have been a welcome addition too, and it would be nice to have an SE plus, for another £100-£200 for those who want the iPhone 8 Plus design instead of its little brothers.
However, despite these little things, the iPhone SE 2020 still feels like an expensive premium device. It is small but mighty, and iOS shines through. Would I recommend this phone? After asking you a few qualifying questions about your budget and what you’re looking for, yes there’s a good chance I would.
This wasn’t supposed to be the first non-podcast blog post on the site. I’m working on a few others that may or may not see the light of day. However, in what I suppose is appropriate considering the first ever blog post I wrote was a 1 day review for the original Apple Watch, here is my review for the iPhone SE 2020.