iPhone SE 2022 review: Small but mighty

The 2022 iPhone SE 3rd generation is a ‘cheaper’ iPhone that packs Apple’s fastest-ever phone processor, but may underwhelm in screen size and battery life. It’s not a device aimed at high-end buyers, but could be a good option for long-term Apple users who are well overdue for an upgrade and prefer a smaller display.

Apple’s newest smartphone, the more-affordable iPhone SE, hit Aussie stores in late March, offering buyers a lower-priced alternative to the premium iPhone 13 series. With a retail price beginning at $719, the 2022 edition of the iPhone SE combines the classic Apple device design with high-tech software and features, including a super-fast processor and the very latest iOS 15 operating system.

Still, despite being positioned as a ‘cheaper’ iPhone, the SE remains firmly in that upper mid-range/low high-end price bracket, and faces hefty competition from similarly-priced releases from Samsung and OPPO. Apple fans ready to upgrade may be wondering if this year’s SE is worth that $700+ price tag, so we’ve taken the device for a in-depth test drive to see how it stacks up.

Read Canstar Blue’s iPhone SE review for our thoughts on the phone’s performance, cameras, battery, design, features and more.

How we tested the iPhone SE 2022

I tested the 2022 iPhone SE by using the device as a secondary work phone, comparing it to both newer iPhones (such as the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12) as well as older models like the iPhone 8. I monitored how the SE managed with common everyday usage over WiFi, 4G and 5G networks, and also tested the quality of the camera app in various conditions.

iPhone SE 2022: key features and specs

White iPhone SE
Source: Canstar Blue

Here are some of the key features and specifications of Apple’s 2022 iPhone SE:

  • Priced from $719 AUD (and available on plans from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone)
  • 4.7-inch Retina HD display
  • 7MP front camera
  • 12MP rear wide camera
  • A15 Bionic chip
  • iOS 15 operating system
  • Qi wireless charging, up to 15 hours video playback
  • IP67 water and dust resistance
  • 5G connectivity
  • Available in 64GB, 128GB and 256GB storage sizes and in Midnight, Starlight, and PRODUCT (RED) colours

 

iPhone SE Pros iPhone SE Cons
 

  • Best processor at this price point
  • Excellent software
  • Cheapest recently-released iPhone
 

  • Disappointing battery life
  • Outdated design
  • Small display

 

 

Design and Functionality

  • Same design as the 2020 iPhone SE
  • Compact and classic

With the rest of the smartphone world ditching physical buttons and big bezels in favour of end-to-end displays and under-screen sensors, Apple’s 2022 SE feels like a throwback — or it would be, if it didn’t carry more or less the exact same design as the 2020 version. The second-generation 2020 SE followed the design and form specifications of Apple’s 2017 iPhone 8, meaning this year’s SE is virtually indistinguishable from Apple’s flagship from five years ago.

iPhone SE next to iPhone 8
Left: iPhone SE 2022. Right: iPhone 8.

Of course, if you’re comfortable with this compact and classic design, the rather retro look and feel won’t be an issue. The 2022 SE offers a 4.7-inch display, housed in a 5.45-inch x 2.65-inch body – you’ll get significant bezels across the top and bottom, which house the front selfie camera and large central Home button. While there’s a distinct lack of screen real estate compared to other newer mid and high-range phones, the familiar design and light weight should put pre-iPhone X upgraders instantly at ease. The main adjustment for buyers used to older models will be the lack of a dedicated headphone jack (now replaced by the bottom Lightning port); however, the phone’s power buttons, volume controls and speakers are all the same place, as well as the single rear camera and flash in the top back left.

Compared to the previous edition of the SE, the 2022 model is also sturdier, with Apple stating the device is coated with ‘the toughest glass in a smartphone’ in both the front and back. This isn’t the specially-made Ceramic Shield coating found on the iPhone 13 range, which helps protect against, bumps, scratches and shatters, but the SE still seems quite durable (although we didn’t have the guts to perform any high-range drop tests to find out). The SE is also rated IP67 for dust and water resistance, meaning it can withstand submersion in up to one metre of water for up to 30 minutes.

The SE’s display includes Apple’s Retina HD technology, along with the same True Tone and Wide colour features as you’ll find on the more expensive iPhone 13. The 2022 SE offers a typical maximum brightness of 625 nits, which is well below the 800 nits (and 1,200 nits in HDR) you’ll get with the 13 series; but for general use, the SE does fine when you’re not in direct sunlight.

iPhone SE showing Instagram feed
Source: Canstar Blue

Performance and battery

  • Apple’s A15 Bionic chip offers premium performance
  • First-ever iPhone SE with 5G connectivity

One of the biggest selling points of the 2022 SE is the inclusion of Apple’s newest A15 Bionic chipset, which is the same processor you’ll find on the premium iPhone 13 series. Make no mistake, this is phone is fast — you won’t get find a better performance for this price point. The device handles media, gaming and multi-tasking without breaking a sweat, and stays cool even during extended periods of intensive usage.

Apple says the 2022 SE offers a graphics performance that’s up to 1.2 times faster than the 2020 edition, and if you don’t mind a smaller display, you’ll find the phone delivers a smooth and speedy gaming experience. Paired with the newest iOS 15 operating system, this year’s SE includes most of the must-have features you’ll find on the more expensive 13 range, although the lack of Facial ID means Touch ID via the home button will be the go-to for unlocking for most users.

The 2022 SE is also the first iPhone SE to be 5G-capable, joining the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 series. This makes it compatible with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone’s 5G networks, although you’ll still be able to use the phone with 4G and 3G if you’re not in a 5G-covered area. The inclusion of 5G connectivity is a huge plus for users who want a more future-proofed iPhone, but are reluctant to upgrade to the more expensive iPhone 13 or even last year’s iPhone 12.

iPhone SE playing music video
Source: Canstar Blue

As 5G is now becoming a common feature on many mid-range devices, it’s a well overdue update from Apple. The combo of 5G mobile and fast WiFi 6 support, paired with the A15 Bionic chip, makes the 2022 iPhone SE one of the speediest and most efficient smartphones on offer under $1,000.

Unfortunately, despite the otherwise impressive internals, the SE’s battery life may be a let down for heavier users. While the phone’s power does hold up if you’re not consuming media or on hours-long voice calls, I did find that battery could deplete unexpectedly quickly during certain activities. Streaming a standard definition film on Netflix over WiFi, at around 50% screen brightness, took the SE from 100% down to 70% in just over 90 minutes; during another test, two hours of streaming —  plus a brief 5-minute phone call halfway through —  saw the battery fall from fully-charged to just 36%.

While there may have been background processes impacting the second result — I wasn’t able to duplicate such a severe power drop in similar experiments — it’s still a serious con for buyers wanting a device that can offer all-day battery. In comparison, a similar test performed on the iPhone 13 in my review late last year showed a battery life loss of 6% in two hours (although for transparency that was after streaming YouTube, not Netflix).

Apple says this year’s SE can offer up to 15 hours of streamed video on a single full charge, but this seems highly unlikely based on my experience. The good news is that the device is fast-charge compatible, so power can be replenished up by up to 50% in just half an hour with a 20-watt adaptor. But potential buyers should keep the very average battery performance in mind if all-day use is a priority.


Related: iPhone 13 review: another stellar Apple smartphone


Hands using the iPhone SE 2022 to take a photo of a statue
Source: Canstar Blue

Cameras

  • Bigger pixel sensor means better performance in low light
  • No Night or low-light modes may disappoint

Apple has built a well-deserved reputation for ‘phoneography’, and can generally be counted on to deliver the year’s best-rated smartphone cameras with each generation of its flagship iPhone series. While the high-end iPhone 13 series features dual and triple rear cameras, the cheaper iPhone SE comes with just one 12-megapixel wide camera in the back; however, buyers shouldn’t discount the scope of that single-lens shooter.

Two side-by-side shots of a stature of Queen Victoria
Left: Shot on iPhone SE 2022 12MP camera. Right: Zoomed in shot.

Backed by the powerful A15 Bionic, the SE’s rear camera is fast and capable, offering great image quality even without extras like ultra-wide angle or Macro lenses. Apple has chosen to beef up the SE’s photographic prowess with software improvements, so you’ll get Smart HDR 4 to refine contrast and offer realistic skin tones for up to four subjects per image. The SE also features Deep Fusion, which increases detail by studying and adjusting exposure pixel-by-pixel for improved mid to low-light snaps.

Silver table decoration
Shot on iPhone SE 2022 12MP camera

Unfortunately, the SE does fall short in those low-light conditions, even with the help of Deep Fusion. The 2022 SE doesn’t include Night Mode, so pictures taken in less-than-abundant lighting can’t compete with with the results you’ll get from devices with dedicated after-dark modes. For many users, this isn’t an issue, but if you do plan on taking shots in darker environments it’s something to weigh up before you buy.

Two side-by-side shots of a hotel pool at night
Left: Shot on iPhone SE 2022 12MP camera. Right: Shot on Samsung Galaxy S22 12MP camera in Night Mode

Of course, if you’re more keen on selfies than on night-time snaps, the SE also includes a 7-megapixel Facetime HD camera in front, plus Portrait Mode and plenty of pic-improving settings and features. Portrait Mode offers nice background blur to better frame your subject, and you can choose from six Portrait Lighting effects — including Stage Light, Natural Light, Studio Light and Contour Light — to enhance your photo.

Black cat on leopard print blanket
Shot on iPhone SE 2022 12MP camera

Overall, the SE holds its own against similarly-priced smartphone cameras, despite the lack of a wider-angle lens. Photos do tend to come out on the warm side colour-wise, but that’s typical of iPhone cameras in general. You’ll want to snap your shots in good lighting to get the best results, but for the target market, the SE’s front and back cameras are more than fine.

Fabric with print of colourful cartoon Care Bears
Shot on iPhone SE 2022 12MP camera
Note: Images taken on the iPhone SE 2022 and Samsung Galaxy S22 have been digitally compressed for web.

Should I buy the iPhone SE?

  • The iPhone SE could be good option for kids and buyers upgrading from older iPhones who don’t need high-end extras
  • However, there are better cameras and bigger displays available at this price point

If you’re still on the iPhone 8 or older, the transition to the SE will be a breeze — you’ll get the same physical Home button and intuitive iOS software, but with a blistering-fast processor and upgraded cameras. The SE may also be a good choice for anyone making the jump to their first smartphone, particularly kids who want the status of owning an Apple product. But if you’ve been using one of Apple’s pricier and bigger phones, particularly one with a larger display, the 2022 SE could feel like a downgrade.

The big drawbacks here are the relatively smaller screen size, average battery, and single rear camera. The 12-megapixel rear camera is still more than capable of delivering memorable pics in good conditions — but if you’re already shelling out for an Apple device, you may want to spend more and take advantage of the company’s market-leading iPhone 13 camera system. Heading straight to the 13 series — or even last year’s iPhone 12 — will also get you a bump in battery life, as well as a bigger and brighter display and an overall more modern design.

While the inclusion of the excellent A15 Bionic means you’ll get premium hardware, it’s hard to pin down the type of buyer who prioritises a powerful processor, but doesn’t need to pair it with high-end cameras or a larger and more vibrant display. It’s possible that a lot of Apple users who move to the 2022 SE will simply be upgrading from an out-of-date iPhone, and may have picked this device regardless of features, simply due to the price or familiarity.

If you are looking for alternatives at this price point, you may want to consider Samsung’s A53 5G, which is the ‘hero’ phone in its 2022 Galaxy A series. Priced from $699, the A53 5G features a rear camera set-up, a big 5,000mAh battery, and also includes a fast 5-nanometer octa-core processor. The phone also has a 6.5-inch display with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, so for Android fans this may be the better buy if you’re after a bigger screen.

OPPO’s Find X5 Lite is another feature-packed Android device, although slightly more expensive. Retailing for $799, the Lite includes a 6.4-inch display, plus triple rear cameras and a big 32-megapixel camera in front. However, it does have a smaller battery than the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G, packing 4,500mAh with 65-watt fast charging.

If you are absolutely set on an iPhone, the next-cheapest option released in the last 12 months is the iPhone 13 Mini. It’s definitely the ‘better’ phone in terms of features, but does cost $480 more — so if you need help deciding, our in-depth comparison of the 2022 iPhone SE and the iPhone 13 Mini is linked below.


Related: iPhone SE 2022 vs iPhone 13 Mini: which ‘cheaper’ Apple phone should you buy?


 

Consider the iPhone SE if Don’t consider the iPhone SE if
You want a fast but affordable Apple phone, don’t need the best cameras, and like the ‘retro’ design and Home button. You’re also looking at Android phones, or want better specs and a heavy-duty battery.

Compare iPhone SE plans

24-month Telstra iPhone SE plans

The following table shows a selection of published 24-month Telstra plans for the 64GB iPhone SE on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our mobile phone comparison tool to see plans from a range of providers. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.

24-month Vodafone iPhone SE plans

The following table shows a selection of published 24-month Vodafone plans for the 64GB iPhone SE on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our mobile phone comparison tool to see plans from a range of providers. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.

24-month Optus iPhone SE plans

The following table shows a selection of published 24-month Optus plans for the 64GB iPhone SE on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our mobile phone comparison tool to see plans from a range of providers. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.


About the author

Tara
As Canstar Blue’s Telco Editor, Tara Donnelly covers the internet and mobile sectors – topics she’s spent a decade focused on, alongside consumer technology, within the comparison industry. Her telco expertise has seen her appear in national media including 9 News, 7 News, Sunrise, the ABC and The Sydney Morning Herald. You can follow Tara on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Learn more about Canstar Blue’s Editorial Team.



Product used for review/testing was a free sample provided by Apple.

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