Apple’s March event passed in predictable style, with the latest iPhone SE 3 revealed as expected, alongside a new iPad Air and the more eyebrow-raising Studio Display 5K monitor.
This new iPhone SE is all about offering the Apple experience at a far more affordable price. Starting from £419 ($429, AU$719) (opens in new tab), it promises “powerful performance from an iconic design”. And on paper at least, it looks like it will deliver.
The upgraded A15 Bionic chip delivers 15.8 trillion operations per second, which certainly sounds plenty, and should help the new iPhone SE deliver faster downloads and a smoother gaming experience. There’s a bigger battery too, plus wireless charging and the crucial addition of 5G support. Touch ID will also be welcomed by many (masked) users, though Face ID remains elusive for the iPhone SE.
And yet… we were left slightly underwhelmed. Why? Well, Apple only has itself to blame. Because there are already excellent value iPhone options and we’re not sure the new SE offers enough of an upgrade, or saving, to make it our number one choice for iPhone bargain hunters. In fact, we think there are two better value iPhone options.
First, perhaps the most obvious one: the previous generation iPhone SE (2020). We called it “a serious bargain” and gave it the full five stars in our review, and while Apple has officially, unsurprisingly, discontinued this model (perhaps a tell-tale sign that they’re quite similar?), you can still find it on sale - and now even cheaper, with prices from £389 (opens in new tab) in the UK or $249 in the US (opens in new tab).
It has the same screen size, same design and many of the same features, but for an even cheaper price. A serious bargain indeed. OK so you don’t get the new chip or 5G but for many people, especially those after a cheap iPhone, it's debatable whether you'd even notice any loss in speed. If you can find one, we think the original iPhone SE is arguably the bigger bargain.
But there is another way. If you expected a more significant spec upgrade with the new iPhone SE, or were hoping for a slightly larger screen, we suggest familiarising yourself with Apple Refurbished (opens in new tab). This offers used iPhones at healthy discounts and with a one-year guarantee from Apple. All refurbished iPhones come with a new battery, new outer shell, have free delivery and returns, and even include a new box and all cables and accessories. Not bad.
And right now you can get a refurbished iPhone 12 mini for £489 (opens in new tab), giving you a 5.4-inch OLED screen, quite a jump from the 4.7-inch Retina HD display of the brand new iPhone SE. You also get a noticeably better camera, with wide and ultrawide lenses, plus a 12 rather than 7 megapixel front-facing snapper. You’ll also get Night Mode, which is strangely absent from the iPhone SE. Oh, and it supports 5G. Or, if you’re in the US, you can currently pick up an iPhone 11 for $469 (opens in new tab), giving you a huge 6.1-inch LCD screen and all those improved camera features. Neither phone has the latest A15 chip but again, we don't think that's a deal-breaker for most people who are in the market for an iPhone deal.
Ultimately, there are now a number of ways to get a genuinely impressive iPhone experience without shelling out a small fortune on a new flagship phone. This has to be good news for Apple fans. Although it does leave us also wondering, with so much on offer from the more affordable devices, how many people really need the iPhone 13? And what can the iPhone 14 offer to keep people buying flagship phones? As always, we look forward to seeing what September brings…