It is very easy to hop on hate trains when they come by, and boy have they been coming this last half of the year. I expected – and boarded – the hate train for the rumors regarding Apple’s once alleged removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack in the iPhone 7. Once the rumors were confirmed to be true, I was already quite comfortable in my hate train seat when another, more deserving hate train came on the scene. You’re probably familiar with it. It was for the Galaxy Note 7.
Recently, another hate train made a stop at the station for the new MacBook Pro. I considered getting on but decided that I just don’t feel like hating right now. Instead, wanted to focus on something more positive. An arguably harder task, I sat down and thought about positive things to write about today. Given that Apple has been under so much scrutiny for both the iPhone 7 and the MacBook Pro, I decided to shine some focus on at least one product that I felt Apple aced this year: the iPhone SE.
Admittedly, I had kind of forgotten about the SE until I sat down and reflected on devices we’ve seen over the year. I wasn’t exactly sure why I’d forgotten about it because I think Apple knocked it out of the park with the revival of its once beloved 4-inch device. Perhaps that’s my answer: the 4-inch design of the SE was once a favorite in the smartphone industry, but the competition has gotten bigger. Much bigger. Phablet-sized bigger. Compact smartphones are definitely not as popular as they once were, so it makes sense that its debatably less attractive – yet defining - feature is also the thing that makes it so easy to forget, particularly among giants.
Despite its somewhat forgettable nature, I think the iPhone SE is one of my favorite smartphones from 2016. Not only does it bring back that smaller form factor in smartphones, but Apple also made it surprisingly affordable at $399 for the 16GB version. What I find to be more impressive is that the iPhone SE shares most of the same specs as the iPhone 6S, which is a striking feat for compact phones in general.
There was a time when compact smartphones – commonly known as “minis” – were sometimes introduced alongside or shortly after a popular flagship. Some notable examples are the HTC One Mini and Mini 2, Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5 Minis, and the Sony Xperia Compact series. HTC and Samsung never truly hit the mark with their minis, as they always came up short when it came to specs, performance, and typically in price as well. Sony, on the other hand, has always done a good job with its compact series. When Apple unveiled the SE earlier this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m happy that they took notes from Sony and kept their smaller device in the same league as their larger flagships.
Where the SE truly excels at is actually being compact. I mentioned the Sony Xperia Compact series, but this year it feels like Sony used the term “compact” as loosely as possible, as the Xperia X Compact measures in with a 4.6-inch display. Back in 2013, a 4.7-inch display was just .3-inches away from being categorized as a phablet. A 4.6-inch display might be compact when compared to the competition, but I think Apple wins by leaving well enough alone with its retro 4-inch size (which I will always commend for its one-handed usability).
I do wish that Apple had bumped up the base internal storage from 16GB to 32GB, but I suspected they wouldn't considering they have been so stubborn on the issue until just recently, when the iPhone 7 was announced. However, Apple retroactively changed the iPhone 6S during the iPhone 7 announcement to sport the 32GB base storage option. I had hoped they would do the same for the iPhone SE, but with it being so affordable (for an iPhone) I can’t say I’m surprised. The front-facing camera could have used some improvements as well.
Aside from those issues, I think Apple did a great job with the SE. It may not be the fanciest smartphone on the market, but it does reach out to a demographic that is not often reached out to anymore, and at a reasonably affordable price at that. Heck, the device hasn’t even been out for a year and I’ve already seen $100 discounts on the phone, bringing the SE’s price down to a cool $299. Hopefully, the upcoming holiday deals will bring out similar sales, because the only thing I could justify more than an iPhone for $399 is an iPhone for $299.