Apple’s Low-End Smartphone Offers An Remarkably Accessible High-End Feel


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Six months ago, I reviewed Apple’s flagship iPhone 13 line by saying, in part, the 13 and 13 Pro were “unremarkable” from an accessibility perspective. Nothing about them was appreciably different from the iPhone 12; where their attributes would feel different is if you were somebody coming from an iPhone 11 or older. As year-over-year updates, the newest iPhones always are better, objectively speaking. How much better—and how fresh they feel—in practical use really lies in the eye of the beholder. As a nerd and professional gadget reviewer, iPhone 13 felt relatively ho-hum to me despite being the perennially great devices they are. Due to some unpleasant circumstances at home, I never took the time last fall to trade in my year-old 12 Pro Max despite being in Apple’s inertia-inducing iPhone Upgrade Program. And, honestly, I haven’t felt the slightest bit of FOMO in everyday use. As it should, my 18-month-old iPhone works just as well today as it did when I got it on launch day in September 2020.

The third generation iPhone SE, which goes on sale this Friday, sits on the extreme end of the remarkability spectrum. Like the aforementioned iPhone 13, the SE runs iOS 15 and is powered by the A15 system-on-a-chip. In all other ways, however, the SE is truly unremarkable from a technical point of view. Its industrial design hearkens back five years, with a chassis reminiscent of the iPhone 8. The bezels are thick, the edges curved, and there’s a Home button. The build quality is, as ever, exquisite. Everything is familiar and works extremely well. It’s just that it’s not technologically noteworthy.

I’ve been testing the new iPhone SE for the last week, using a review unit (the 256GB model in what’s called “Midnight”) provided to me by Apple. However unremarkable—dare I say anachronistic—Apple’s budget iPhone may be to the enthusiast crowd, the fact remains it’s an excellent choice for someone shopping in this particular market. More pointedly in regards to accessibility, there are a lot of endearing qualities to the iPhone SE that quite literally make it the best,…