Not another iPhone SE review: You might just fall for the small screen

  • Sanshey Biswas, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 18, 2016 13:24 IST
You’ve most likely read a review of the iPhone SE by now, and decided why you’re going to buy it or not. But this a personal account of change in opinion and sort of an apology

If you don’t have an iPhone, you’re most likely to be satisfied with an Android or Windows smartphone. But neither of them offer smartphones in sizes that are easy to use with just one hand without having to adjust your grip -- a useful feature during crowded commutes. The iPhone SE is as compact as a premium smartphone gets, with its 4-inch screen and latest Apple hardware. The smaller screen also makes it last longer on full charge than the iPhone 6s while matching its camera prowess and speed. The iPhone SE however, misses out on the latest 3D Touch that lets you peek into a message by pressing down harder on the screen. To my surprise, having used the iPhone SE for over a week, I’ve grown fond of the small size.

You’ve most likely read a review of the iPhone SE by now, and decided why you’re going to buy it or not. But this a personal account of change in opinion and sort of an apology. I am guilty of ridiculing friends who invest in an iPhone 5s, because its an outdated model and the screen is smaller than what an Android smartphone offers at half the price. However, as he said and I now understand, “that’s where the charm is”. The 4-inch screen means you almost get the same amount of content on your screen, when compared to a larger iPhone or an Android device, because everything being rendered on it is scaled down in size. And since one of the first things I do on a new phone is reduce the font size -- because the whole purpose of a larger screen to someone without hypermetropia is being able to see more content than you would on a smaller one -- I liked the efficient use of screen space and the fact that it easily fits your pocket and palm, though it might not fit your wallet. Maybe diminutive size is what you pay extra for.

With the iPhone SE, unlike the 5s, it’s no just about the size. The SE also inherits the great camera from the iPhone 6s that’s fast, accurate and more than component for daily use and vacations too. However, it misses out on the optical image stabilisation that the Xiaomi Mi 5 nails for a lesser price. Everything new in the iPhone SE is behind the boxy body of the iPhone 5s, which I personally prefer more than the iPhone 6 and 6s series’ curved sides. The fingerprint scanner, Touch ID, is slower than what you’d get on an Android phone around the Rs 10,000 price tag. However, I prefer the fingerprint sensor on the front which eliminates the need to pick it up from the table, since most Android phones have the fingerprint scanner on the back. Even the silent switch on the iPhone is a nice touch they’ve retained since the first model launched in 2007. Flip the switch, and it goes silent mode without having to switch the screen on.

The iPhone SE is also faster than you’d expect. Games load much quicker than on a Samsung Galaxy S7, which is supposed to be optimised for gaming, but other apps like Twitter load with similar urgency on both the smartphones. This comparison however, is meaningless because apps on Android and iOS (iPhone’s operating system) are quite different. So, you have to pick a side — Android or iOS — unless you want to be that lone ranger still sporting a Lumia.

If you choose iOS, you just need to pick a screen size. If you have a sliver of a doubt that we’ve taken the screen-size game too far with nearly 6-inch screen that don’t fit in most pockets and want to take a chance on a smaller one, iPhone SE is the only reliable option. Don’t pick the iPhone 5s — it’s old, slightly cheaper and not nearly as satisfying as the SE. The new smaller iPhone isn’t entirely new though. It still has a similar battery size, screen and fingerprint sensor as the iPhone 5s.

My first encounter with iOS was in 2010 with the first iPhone, but I strayed away from the ecosystem not just because convincing your parents to invest in a MacBook and iPhone is a herculean task. But, Android let me tweak it to my liking, had more free apps like Windows for PC. And the hardware and performance at that point of time was comparable to that of their Apple counterparts. Since then, I’ve switched from BlackBerry to Android, settling for the customisability and value for money the latter offered. I adore the way you sign in with your Gmail account on an Android phone and everything from email, apps to photos are synced to your new phone like that’s the one you had always been using. However, I conveniently ignored that the sample happens when you switch between iPhones and with much better efficiency, if you have a backup of the old iPhone on your iTunes. It seems like the soul of your old phone has been reincarnated in a new and improved body.

For the sceptics, I’d say, if you own a Mac and love the way OS X (the operating system on Mac computers) gets things done, do yourself a favour and give iOS a chance. The two operating system from Apple always seems to be in coherence because of Continuity. You can tap into the mobile internet pack on your iPhone from the WiFi icon on your Mac. Working on a document means that it will show up as a shortcut on the iPhone’s lockscreen for quick access. But typing too much on the crammed keyboard made my metacarpal (joint between the thumb and palm) hurt. Maybe it’s just me, but if you type a lot on your phone, a bigger screen seems more practical.

Even a tab left open on your browser on the Mac, shows up as a shortcut on the iPhone’s lockscreen, ready to launch the site on the smaller screen of the iPhone SE that’s surprisingly great for reading. The reading mode on iOS 9.3 (Night Shift) is a ripoff of the F.lux software. You can trigger it at any point of time from the Control Centre — launched by flicking up from the bottom of the screen. The Control Centre is always there hiding under the bottom edge of the screen with the music player and quick settings ready.

You can also answer calls to your phone from the Mac and even make them from it. All these features seem not-so-appealing only till you experience them. These are the exclusivity charms that Apple offers if you give into their ecosystem, which most Android supporters like me consider the dark side. But what is the Force without the Dark Side? Star Wars wouldn’t have existed without either and similarly, both Apple and Google’s presence in the mobile OS is what made them better.

So, if you want to be a part of the Apple ecosystem, and have the money to, going all in makes sense. At least till Apple and Google find a way to work together. But, if Windows is your computer OS of choice, picking up and Android or iOS phone, don’t really make much of a difference. Till Microsoft starts making Android play better with Windows PCs, iTunes software solves all the issues of managing your iPhone’s data. An added bonus is that we can be assured of our data’s privacy after witnessing Apple’s stand in favour of encryption. However, that has only managed to make me feel a bit better after Celebgate — loads of celebrities’ private photos were stolen from the secure iCloud backups.

Read more: Fight over privacy between US government and tech companies explained

With the iPhone SE, Apple did “think different” by reviving the 4-inch screen to make using a phone with just one hand convenient. You can reach all corners of the screen without having to shift your grip. However, the iPhone SE like its brethren suffers from a lack of battery life and you’ll find yourself charging the phone at least twice a day. Most Android phones launched this year will get you through a day and more on one full charge. And that combined with the excruciatingly high price of the iPhone SE in India makes it a really hard sell. After all, you will need 64 GB of storage on the iPhone SE, which costs Rs 9,000 less in the US, than the 16 GB iPhone in India. So, if the convenient screen size of 4 inches appeals to you, performance is of prime importance and a Mac is your computer of choice, get the iPhone SE, preferably from someone making a trip to or from the US.

Specifications of the iPhone SE: 4-inch Retina display, 64-bit A9 processor, 12-megapixel iSight rear camera with support for Live Photos and 4K video recording, 1.2-megapixel front camera with Retina Flash, Touch ID (fingerprint sensor), LTE support, Siri digital assistant, up to 13 hours of usage on a full charge under average usage and iOS 9.3.1.

Storage and price: iPhone SE is available in India with 16 GB (Rs 39,000) or 64 GB (Rs 49,000) storage. You can pick one up from an official Apple reseller or an online store.

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