Apple’s 4-inch iPhone: What the Reviewers Are Saying (Updated)

I read them so you don’t have to.

In the old days, Steve Jobs would soften up the press for a new iPhone by seeding samples to his favorite reviewers—Walt Mossberg, then at the Wall Street Journal, David Pogue, then at the New York Times—a week to 10 days before the device shipped.

As times changed, the universe of Apple-blessed reviewers grew to include smaller outlets, bloggers, and the foreign press. But with the iPhone SE, Apple followed a new script. Review copies went on Monday, the day the product was unveiled, and the reviews posted this week—just before the phone went on sale—were first impressions rather than in-depth appraisals.

You don’t have to read very many to get the gist. Below: Excerpts from the reviews I’ve seen.

Lauren Goode, The Verge: iPhone SE review: today’s tech, yesterday’s design. Earlier this week at Apple’s campus in Cupertino, the company announced a brand-new iPhone. The heavens didn’t part, pop bands didn’t play, and people aren’t camping out at Apple Stores to buy the thing. It was a subdued launch, for a smaller, mid-cycle phone that looks exactly like a phone from 2013. But don’t let its unspectacular rollout or its throwback design fool you: Apple knows exactly what it’s doing with the $399 iPhone SE. It’s a shiny little fishing lure for first-time iPhone buyers or people who feel overdue for an upgrade. Those people might be tempted by the many good Android phones that can be had for less than $400, and Apple is taking them on more directly than it ever has before.

Geoffrey Fowler, The Wall Street Journal: Smaller Gets Smarter With Better Battery Life to Boot. iPhone SE is the first one made for everybody whose thumbs lack the wingspan of eagles. The phone, which [went] on sale Thursday, packs Apple’s best phone processor and camera into a width of just 2.3 inches. And it does it with significantly better battery life and Apple’s lowest-ever starting price, $399. After years of the “phablet,” the small phone is back with a vengeance… In my lab stress test, which cycles through websites with uniform screen brightness, the SE lasted 10 hours—more than two hours longer than both the iPhone 6S and iPhone 5S, and nearly three hours longer than the Galaxy S7.

Rene Ritche, iMore: Bigger on the Inside! At first, I did feel a little claustrophobic returning to the smaller display; like my window to the internet and apps suddenly shrank way down. The human brain is remarkably elastic, though, and it’s getting better. What’s nice is not having to juggle, or resort to Reachability Mode — a double touch of the Home button that shifts the entire interface halfway down the display — to use it one-handed. That’s especially useful for when I’m walking around, carrying things, or otherwise hurrying about.

Mark Prigg, The Daily Mail: A familiar old friend that could be the perfect starter phone. This is a handset that looks and feels identical, on the outside at least, to the hugely popular iPhone 5s, with the only obvious difference being a new matt metal finish. However, switch it on, and it becomes apparent this is a ‘retro’ iPhone in looks only. Although we’ve only been using the phone for a few days, one thing is clear—it’s blazingly fast.

David Phelan, The Independent: The best small handset in the world. Not quite everything from the 6s is here: it lacks the 3D Touch pressure-sensitive screen and the super-fast Touch ID of the latest handsets. It has a perfectly decent first-generation Touch ID, but not quite as fast. And it still powers Apple Pay, arguably the only phone wallet solution that’s actually drawing the crowds at the moment, though the UK will get to see Samsung Pay later this year.

Chris Velazco, Engadget: A powerful little blast from the past. If you loved the iPhone 5s — as I and apparently many others did — the iPhone SE will feel like a compelling blend of old and new. For once, we’re getting a small iPhone that doesn’t feel like a second-class device. (I’m looking at you, iPhone 5c.)… Really, though, the most curious thing about the iPhone SE is its price. Despite having many of the components that make the iPhone 6s such a powerhouse, the SE is a fraction of the price. You lose 3D Touch, but that’s a tradeoff I suspect many people can put up with.

Edward Baig, USA Today: First impressions of Apple’s new iPhone SE. I plan to spend a bit of time living with a smaller form-factor iPhone again, but now that I’ve got one in my hands here are a few quick thoughts… I’ve suspected as much ever since Apple announced its new phone Monday, but the SE got a quick, positive reaction from the people I showed it to around my office. OK, so it’s not a scientific study. But one editor who’s not into gadgets and who still carries around an iPhone 3G — yes, with its 3.5-inch display, it’s actually a device she’d be moving up in size from — told me that she’d actually consider buying this one. Her first reaction to the SE: “Whoa!”


Nicole Nguyen, BuzzFeed: Wait, iPhone 5s? Is dat you? I know you’re thinking, WTH does SE stand for? Apple refused to tell me, so I asked my colleagues to speculate.


Christina Warren, Mashable: Turns out, good things do come in small packages. My fingers are now used to a larger screen and it took some adjustments to get used to typing on a smaller screen. Still, I won’t lie it’s nice to be able to use a phone with one hand again. The form factor is classic and a bit of a throwback, but it feels great too… There is something to be said about a phone that can truly be used with one hand. No need for reachability, no need for adjusting your hands. Just use your shelf — AKA pinky — and you can power through undeterred.

David Pogue, Yahoo Tech: iPhone SE puts the same engine in a smaller exterior. A review of the iPhone SE would, for all intents and purposes, be a re-review of the iPhone 6s. Therefore, to save us both time and effort, here’s what I said about the 6s, in lightly updated form. After all: If Apple can recycle its finest ideas, why can’t I?


    • I haven’t even seen the iPhone SE — you know, with my hands. But I thought Ben Thompson at Stratechery:had a smart take on it:

      “I believe the iPhone SE with its top-of-the-line components in an iconic industrial design and aggressive price is squarely aimed at technically savvy urban Indians. Yes, it’s still expensive, and no, it’s not competitive with sub $100 Micromax or Xiaomi models, but it is an iPhone, and I think it’s going to be a big deal (but don’t discount China — the same reasoning applies, even if more Chinese can afford an iPhone 6).” (behind a $10/mos. paywall, worth the price)

      March 26, 2016
  1. Carolyn Sills said:
    “yesterday’s design… looks exactly like a phone from 2013”

    Remarks like this could only come from someone with no concept of what a branded look is — its defines the product. Doesn’t have to change every 6 months, in fact it doesn’t have to change at all because it has brand recognition.

    March 25, 2016
  2. Richard Wanderman said:
    I think the SE will be a hit.

    I’m just not sure about Apple’s naming scheme. SE = special edition.

    What will the next version be called? SE2? SES? SEX?

    Or, maybe the SE/30 (one of my all time favorite machines).

    March 26, 2016

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