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iPhone SE 3 (2022) vs iPhone SE 2 (2020): which will be better?

Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022)
(Image credit: Apple)

The new iPhone SE (2022) – Apple's cheapest 5G phone – is due in stores on Friday 18th March. It rocks a speedy A15 Bionic chip, better camera and durable design – but is that enough to tempt you? Would the previous iPhone SE (2020) be a better option? Should you upgrade if you already own one?

To help you make the right choice, we've compiled a head-to-head comparison of the two devices. It covers everything from display quality and battery life, to camera technology and storage options. We've even listed today's best iPhone SE deals. 

Read on as we compare iPhone SE (2022) vs iPhone SE (2020)...

iPhone SE (2022) vs iPhone SE (2020): price

Apple iPhone SE (2022)

(Image credit: Apple )

The iPhone SE 3 (2022) costs £419 / $429 / AU$719 for the 64GB model, £469 / $479 / AU$799 for the 128GB version and £559 / $579 / AU$969 for the 256GB option. Pre-orders start at 1pm GMT / 8am ET  / 11pm AEDT on Friday 11th March, with in-store availability from Friday 18th March.

The iPhone SE 2 (2020) hit stores way back in April 2020. The cheapest (64GB) model debuted at £419 / $399 / AU$679, while the 128GB and 256GB versions cost £469 / $449 / AU$759 and £569 / $549 respectively.

On the face of it, there's not a whole lot of difference. But the arrival of the 2022 iPhone SE will surely drive down prices of the 2020 model. Take a look at today's best iPhone SE 2 (2020) deals and you might spot a bargain...

iPhone SE (2022) vs iPhone SE (2020): design

Apple iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Apple )

The 2022 iPhone SE 3 looks identical to that the 2020 iPhone SE 2, which itself is based on the 2017 iPhone 8. Features include a Touch ID 'Home' button, curved aluminium edges and a bezel that looks fairly chunky by modern standards. 

At 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm, the new SE is just as pocket-friendly as the old model. It's 4g lighter and boasts a new 'Ceramic Shield' coating on the front and back. Ceramic Shield is the same stuff you'll find on the iPhone 13, and is said to provide up to 4x better drop resistance than the iPhone 11

Talking of toughness, the new SE and its predecessor are both rated IP67 for water resistance, which means they can be dropped in 1m of water for up to 30 minutes. The flagship iPhone 13 is tougher still – it offers an IP68 rating.

The new iPhone SE 3 (2022) comes in two colours – Midnight black/Starlight White – and a (Product) Red variant. That 2020 model comes in the same finishes.

iPhone SE (2022) vs iPhone SE (2020): display

iPhone SE (2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

There was talk of the 2022 iPhone SE getting an OLED display. Alas, Apple has stuck with the same 4.7-inch HD Retina LCD display as the 2020 model. 

As such, both handsets offer a resolution of 750 x 1334, pixel density of 326 ppi, maximum brightness of 625 nits and refresh rate of 60Hz.

That lack of progress likely isn't a disaster, though. Under review, we hailed the 2020 iPhone SE's "colourful, detailed screen".

iPhone SE (2022) vs iPhone SE (2020): specs

Apple iPhone SE (2022)

(Image credit: Apple)

The new iPhone SE might look like its predecessor, but pop the hood and you'll find a slew of performance upgrades.

First and foremost, Apple has crammed its A15 Bionic chip – said to be "faster than all the competition, at any price" – into the new iPhone SE. The A15 Bionic powers Cupertino's flagship iPhone 13, which costs roughly a third more than the new iPhone SE 3. By contrast, the 2020 iPhone SE 2 makes do with the A13 Bionic chip from the iPhone 11. 

The new SE also gets a 16-core Neural Engine that's supposedly "26x faster" than the iPhone 8. The hardware enables a bunch of new features including Live Text, which lets users open websites and make calls from text that appears within the camera frame, as well as on-device Siri dictation.

And where the old iPhone makes do with 4G, the new model boasts 5G, meaning iPhone fans won't have to smash open their piggy bank to enjoy super-fast connection speeds when streaming and gaming. 5G should make for higher-quality HD FaceTime calls too, and make it easier to watch HDR movies or TV shows with friends whilst online together.

When it comes to battery life, the new SE seems to have the edge. It uses Apple's  "latest-generation battery chemistry" to deliver longer battery life than the last-gen model. In practice, that means you should now get 15 hours video playback, versus 13 hours from the older iPhone SE. 

We managed to get a day's use out of the previous model's battery, but noted in our review that "the iPhone SE (2020) will definitely need topping up daily, especially if you’re watching content with the brightness cranked up". 

Both handsets support Qi wireless charging and fast charging (20W in the case of the 2022 iPhone SE, versus 18W for the 2020 model). And both phones come with 64GB, 128GB and 256GB storage options.

iPhone SE (2022) vs iPhone SE (2020): camera

Apple iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPhone SE 3 sports an "all-new" single 12MP f/1.8 camera system and a host of new features including Smart HDR 4, which claims to improve the colour, contrast and lighting for each subject in a group photo. 

The device also benefits from Apple's Deep Fusion technology, which uses machine learning to perform "pixel-by-pixel processing", reducing unwanted noise and delivering "truer skin tones".

We called the iPhone SE 2, with its 12MP wide camera, a "a solid point-and-shoot snapper" so we'd expect the 2022 SE to up the ante a bit. 

The new SE should offer better video quality too, especially when shooting in low light. And, whether you opt for the 2020 or 2022 model, you'll be able to capture video at 4K@60fps.

Around the front, both phones tote 7MP selfie cameras. The hardware appears to be identical but the addition of the A15 Bionic chip and improved Night mode should allow the new SE to perform better.

iPhone SE (2022) vs iPhone SE (2020): early verdict

Apple iPhone SE (2022)

(Image credit: Apple)

Looking for a compact, affordable iPhone? The iPhone SE could be just the job. The design may not have evolved much in the last two years, but the arrival of 5G and the addition of the A15 Bionic chipset sounds promising.

If you like to stream video, play graphically-rich games or use FaceTime HD on the go, the 5G iPhone SE (2022) could turn out to be a no-brainer. We'll publish a full review in due course. 

Not willing to wait? Perhaps you're on a tighter budget? Now's seems like the perfect time to swoop in and snatch up the 4G iPhone SE 2 (2020). It's not be as powerful as its younger sibling, and the camera isn't as high-tech, but this What Hi-Fi? Award-winner still has plenty to offer.

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Tom is a journalist, copywriter and content designer based in the UK. He has written articles for T3, ShortList, The Sun, The Mail on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph, Elle Deco, The Sunday Times, Men's Health, Mr Porter, Oracle and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include mobile technology, electric vehicles and video streaming.