IPhone SE 2020 review: back to the past

It was arguably one of the most anticipated smartphones of the year. The 2020 iPhone SE is official. Four years after the first model, its successor uses the same ingredients: a lot of power in a widely used format for a reduced price. Does the recipe still work in 2020? Answer in our full test.

While Chinese manufacturers are growing wings by offering models at 1000 euros, Apple takes the opposite view of its competitors. Four years after the first iPhone SE, the American is launching a new 2020 version with a hint of déjà vu.

This new model takes roughly the ingredients of the iPhone 8 launched in 2017 (which it also replaces in the catalog) and is equipped with certain state-of-the-art technologies, including the A13 Bionic chip, the same as the iPhone 11 Pro . Available from 489 euros, it becomes the most affordable iPhone on the market.

But in reverting to a format that is several years old, does Apple’s proposal still meet the needs of current users? Is its price the only real asset of this iPhone SE 2020? How does it compare to the competition on Android? We tested it for several days. Here is our opinion.

Price and release date

IPhone SE 2020 is available since May 24, 2020 from 489 euros (64 GB). The 128 and 256 GB versions are marketed respectively at 539 and 659 euros. Apple offers its cheapest smartphone in three colors: black, white and red (our test model).

iphone test 2020

With this new model, Apple is therefore attacking the mid-range segment occupied by Samsung (Galaxy A range) and Chinese manufacturers (Xiaomi, Realme, Oppo, Honor etc.). Since 2016, the American offered no alternative to its more expensive iPhones, content to lower the prices of older models.

With this new iPhone SE, it targets in particular Apple fans whose budget does not allow access to iPhones priced at 1000 euros and more.

Design

Take an iPhone 8 and… that’s it. The iPhone SE 2020 takes in every detail (or almost) the design of the one it replaces in the catalog (with the exception of the logo centered on the back and the deletion of the mention iPhone). We find its very compact size (138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm), the volume buttons on the left border, the power button on the right border and the lightning port on the lower edge.

iphone se 2020 design test

From the front, nothing will allow you to distinguish the iPhone SE 2020 from its model, itself inspired by its predecessor itself … until the iPhone 6 from 2014! It is with a certain nostalgia (or a certain dread) that you will find Touch ID (which here takes the form of a button with haptic feedback) housed below the screen.

iphone test 2020 getting started

Let’s get rid of the question of the integration of the slab right away. The thickness of the bottom and top edges denotes current standards. While all of its competitors try to make room for the screen, Apple maintains a six-year-old format. If this choice allows it to considerably reduce production costs, it also presents the risk of cooling off consumers accustomed to larger screens (a hell of a segment of the population, the French renewing their smartphones about every 20 months). Next to competing models (5.5 inches and more), The iPhone SE 2020’s screen looks ridiculously small and unsuitable for 2020 purposes. (we will come back to this).

iphone se 2020 vs iphone 11 pro test
Next to the iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone SE 2020 seems like a thing of the past

Despite this significant flaw, the reduced size of the iPhone SE 2020 positions it as one of the few truly compact models on the market. Also, its featherweight (148g) makes one-handed use even more comfortable. Fans of compact smartphones will be won over, without a doubt.

iphone se 2020 test back design

Especially since Apple has as usual taken care of the design of its latest addition. Steve Jobs had elevated design to the rank of religion, his successors are his disciples. IPhone SE 2020 takes over iPhone 8 glossy glass back with its advantages (aesthetics) and its disadvantages (fingerprints). The finishes are impeccable and IP67 certification makes it one of the few waterproof models in its class.

iphone se test 2020 price
iphone se 2020 vs 11 pro test

Screen

If you’ve gotten used to screens larger than 5.2 inches, go your way. One of its biggest flaws is the Retina display of the 2020 iPhone SE. 4.7 inches is small. Very small. So small that the eyes of your humble servant (iPhone 11 Pro user) took some adaptation time. While watching videos is still acceptable, surfing the web, sending messages or consulting social networks is proving painful.

iphone se 2020 design face test

What about the gaming experience? It quickly becomes annoying as the screen is not suitable for fashionable licenses (Fortnite, Call of Duty Mobile, PUBG). The control keys too close together and the HD + definition of the panel take us back years. Let us not forget that the screen of this iPhone SE 2020 is the same as that of the iPhone 8, itself identical to that of the iPhone 6, a smartphone launched in 2014, when mobile gaming was dominated. by Candy Crush. No need to draw you a picture.

“The iPhone SE 2020 is not for gamers or power users” you will say. Excellent observation. It is for this reason (and also to save money) that Apple is taking over an LCD panel largely amortized on the production lines.

iphone test 2020 screen

The manufacturer still promises some improvements such as a brightness of 625 nits, a contrast ratio of 1400: 1 or the integration of True Tone for white balance balance. If the contrasts turn out to be excellent and True Tone works great, we have doubts about the brightness of this screen. For comparison, the figures announced by Apple are the same as those of the iPhone 11. However, the latter seemed much brighter to us. In bright sunlight, readability takes a hit.

iphone se 2020 test id key

The screen of this iPhone SE 2020 is therefore a real disappointment. It is only really of interest to those who still own an iPhone 8 or older. For others, the transition will undoubtedly be (very) difficult.

Performance and software

We won’t beat around the bush iPhone SE 2020 is by far the most powerful smartphone in its class. You could tell by reading the data sheet revealing the integration of the A13 Bionic chip (and 3 GB of RAM), the same as the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max sold almost three times more expensive.

On benchmarks, the iPhone SE 2020 is therefore widening the gap (to put it mildly) with its competitors. Over 400,000 points on Antutu and scores comparable to those of the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro on Geekbench and 3DMark: there is no doubt, the iPhone SE 2020 is a monster of power.

iphone test 2020 benchmarks

The more fussy will notice results slightly behind on the graphics, but not sufficiently significant to hold it against him. Who would blame this small weakness in a more powerful smartphone than competitors sold two to three times more expensive?

Numbers are good, but what about use? Without much surprise, iPhone SE 2020 is particularly fast and smooth. No application or game as resource-intensive as it is to test Apple’s smartphone. All without showing any sign of overheating, a feat for such a compact model.

Finally, note that iPhone SE 2020 is the only smartphone under 500 euros compatible with WiFi 6.

All the advantages of iOS

Whether we like iOS or not, we owe it to Apple for its impeccable update tracking. Mastery of hardware and software not only allows a company to optimize its products, but also to ensure a lifespan that Android manufacturers never manage to match.

This is even more evident when looking at more affordable models, such as the 2020 iPhone SE. In this price bracket, software support for Android provides (in most cases) a longevity of two years. at most. By integrating the latest version of iOS, Apple is therefore promising its customers that the iPhone SE 2020 will have the latest updates for four to five years. Recall that the first iPhone SE of the name, launched in 2016, received iOS 13, the latest version of Apple’s software. Beyond its affordable price, this iPhone SE 2020 is therefore also a sustainable smartphone.

iphone se 2020 ios test

Regulars of iOS will quickly find their bearings. Dark mode, animations, transitions, features … everything is exactly the same as what you can find on an iPhone 11 Pro. Well almost. Because Touch ID integration forces us to relearn one-button navigation gestures.

Ditto for Apple Pay which therefore goes through digital recognition and not Face ID. We must admit, in these times of health crisis (and therefore wearing a mask) this method is much more effective when going to the cash register.

For the rest, nothing to report. iOS stays true to itself. Minimalist, fast, fluid and efficient, it will delight fans of the first hour as well as users for whom simplicity is paramount.

Autonomy: the least enduring in its category

Despite its small battery of 1821 mAh, one could have hoped for an improved autonomy compared to the iPhone 8 thanks to the integration of the A13 Bionic chip. It is not so. Worse yet, Apple’s latest generation processor gives pride of place to power at the expense of battery life. A very different strategy from competitors who sacrifice performance on the altar of endurance.

iphone test 2020 autonomy

So, after a little over five hours of versatile use (social networks, one hour of video on YouTube, one hour of browsing, ten photos), the iPhone SE 2020 gives up its soul. You will therefore have to reconnect with the old reflexes and carry the charger and / or an external battery with you to get through the day. The 2020 iPhone SE is therefore the least enduring smartphone in its class.

Slow charging, but wireless charging

Don’t rely on the supplied charger to gain health points in a matter of minutes. Apple is refurbishing its 5W charger stocks from another time which allows a full recharge in about 2h30. You will have to wait almost an hour to reach 50%, which is the equivalent of half a day of use.

However, you can get around this problem by putting your hand in the wallet iPhone SE 2020 being compatible with 18W fast charging. You will then reach the 50% mark in 30 minutes. Not very shiny then.

Apple is catching up by integrating 10W wireless charging, a technology rare enough in this price segment to give a little balm to the heart.

Audio

The iPhone SE 2020 inherits all of the audio components of … iPhone 8. If the quality of stereophonic sound is far from that of the latest models, it will appeal to fans of podcasts and videos of all kinds. On the other hand, the screaming highs and the too discreet bass (no miracle in terms of the format) lead us to advise against listening to music through the speakers. Make no mistake, a single grille conceals an audio output (the one on the right), the second allowing the microphone to be hidden.

iphone se 2020 audio test

Music lovers should therefore bring their favorite headphones. and a jack / lightning adapter, with the 2020 iPhone SE no longer carrying this “old-fashioned” connector, and Apple obviously finding it too expensive to provide an adapter in the box. After all, even his smartphones costing more than 1000 euros are delivered without …

Members of the wireless team will appreciate the Bluetooth 5.0 compatibility as well as support for AAC-LC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2, protected AAC, MP3, Linear PCM, Apple Lossless, FLAC, Dolby Digital (AC ‑ 3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC ‑ 3) codecs 3) and Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX and AAX +.

Camera

For several years now, smartphone manufacturers have made it a point of honor to take care of the photo part of their entry and mid-range models. And there is a clear improvement in some (special mention to Google and its Pixel 3a) especially for their versatility.

iphone se 2020 camera test

Apple doesn’t eat that bread. As a large recycler, it incorporates a photo module worn to the core. The 2020 iPhone SE has to make do with a single 12-megapixel sensor with a 26mm wide-angle lens (f /, 8 aperture). No Deep fusion, ultra wide-angle or other device to compensate for this light configuration. We will therefore be satisfied with optical stabilization, flash True Tone LED, 5x digital zoom and pure software portrait mode. Technology integration Smart HDR acts as a consolation prize. Logically enough, this setup doesn’t leave much room for creativity.

The iPhone SE 2020 stands out as a very good photophone when it comes to capturing shots in ideal light conditions. We find Apple paste materialized by balanced photos, with just the right amount of digital processing to maintain a natural look. Let’s give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar: the iPhone SE 2020 copes like a boss and adapts perfectly to backlighting (thanks to Smart HDR).

IPhone SE 2020 handles backlighting and flare issues very well

Zoom and portrait mode

With no telephoto lens, the iPhone SE 2020 has to handle zoom and portrait mode as best it can. In the first case, we will have to be satisfied with a digital zoom x5 far from our satisfaction. Even in very good light conditions, noise and grain deteriorate the image, making them unusable.

Portrait mode does a lot better even if it is far from perfect. We will underline the excellent sharpness in the subject and a controlled clipping. On the other hand, the bokeh is unnatural, but iOS 13 allows a more than welcome post-processing adjustment. Built-in filters and retouching tools will improve the overall look.

Photo retouched by applying the “spectacular and warm” filter

Night photos

As you might expect, iPhone SE 2020 reaches its limits when the light is on. Indoors, in low light or at night, it is quite disappointing. Artificial intelligence will do nothing, night photos take us back to a bygone era, when smartphones did not have night mode.

Because despite the presence of an A13 Bionic chip, Apple did not see fit to offer this shooting mode. Also we will forget these shots damaged by noise and grain, totally unusable. The iPhone SE 2020 is certainly the cheapest of the iPhones, but it still costs almost 500 euros. At this price, some competitors offer more versatility and more generally a better photographic experience.

Front camera and video

The front camera (7 megapixel sensor; lens aperture f / 2.2) does not console us. While a selfie mode is in the game, it turns out to be barely acceptable.

Fortunately, the iPhone SE 2020 makes up for it in video. A13 Bionic chip allows shooting up to 4K at 60fps with hybrid stabilization (optical + digital) impressive. In this little game, no competitor beats Apple’s latest addition.

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