iPhone SE 4 vs iPhone SE 3: Biggest changes we expect

iphone se 4 in red render vs iphone se 3 in black on beach
(Image credit: John Prosser / Tom's Guide)

Apple is not known for offering cheap devices, but it has dabbled in making some of its products more affordable and accessible. The iPhone SE series, currently in its third generation is the prime example of that. But the iPhone SE 3 has already been around for almost two years, and there have been increasing rumors about what the iPhone SE 4 may have to offer us. 

While the iPhone SE 3 was a fantastic addition to Apple’s line-up, especially for its price point, there are a bunch of things that the iPhone SE 4 could improve. The smaller iPhone 8-inspired display is looking a little tired, the cameras are missing some key features like Night Mode and then there’s the issue of no mmWave 5G support.

So far we’ve heard that there are big changes coming to the iPhone SE 4, and some of those complaints could be dealt with. Based on all the rumors we’ve heard so far, here’s how the iPhone SE 4 vs iPhone SE 3 seems to be shaping up.

iPhone SE 4 vs iPhone SE 3: Price & availability

Unofficial renders of the iPhone SE 4

(Image credit: Jon Prosser/Ian Zelbo)

The iPhone SE 3 was released in March 2022, for the reasonable price of $429. While slightly more expensive than the iPhone SE 2, it’s still a few hundred dollars cheaper than the other iPhones in Apple’s lineup. The phone is available with 64GB of base storage, though 128GB and 256GB variants are available for $479 and $579, respectively.

The release date of the iPhone SE 4 is up for some debate. Initial rumors tipped the phone for a release some time in 2024, though more recently that date has changed to 2025. 

There’s no word on pricing yet, but based on base iPhone SE releases, the phone should still be one of the best cheap phones. While there’s always the risk of a potential price increase, we don’t expect Apple to drop its pricing advantage when rivals like the Google Pixel 7a and Samsung Galaxy A54 cost $499 and $449 a piece. 

iPhone SE 4 vs iPhone SE 3: Design & display 

iPhone SE 2022 back of phone against stone

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone SE 3 shares the same design as the iPhone SE 2 and the iPhone 8 — the last flagship iPhone not to have a full-screen display. This means that the iPhone SE 3’s 4.7-inch display has a pretty strong bezel, including chunky borders at the top and bottom of the display.

By consequence this design allows the phone to have a Touch ID home button, and is the last iPhone to offer this feature. The smaller screen also makes it the smallest iPhone still on sale measuring 5.45 x 2.85 x 0.29 inches and weighing just 5.09 ounces.

The iPhone SE 3 also offers a single camera lens on the back, a traditional front camera above the screen, IP67 waterproofing and a rounded plastic back. There’s no headphone jack here, and the only port is for Apple’s lightning connector.

Rumor is that the iPhone SE 4 will take Apple’s mid-range design in a whole new direction. It’s speculated that the phone could come with either a 5.7-inch of 6.1-inch OLED display, which would necessitate a move away from the iPhone 8 design. In the past it was claimed the iPhone XR could form the basis for the SE 4, but more recently it’s been suggested the phone may instead come with a similar design to the iPhone 14.

In either case this would likely mean a new full-screen display and the removal of Touch ID in favor of Face ID. Odds are this would also require a notched display, since the Dynamic Island cutout may be a little too premium for the so-called cheap iPhone.

No doubt the phone will swap Lightning for USB-C, after the iPhone 15 made the switch, though it’s also been claimed that the phone could feature the same solid-state Action button as the iPhone 15 Pro

iPhone SE 4 vs iPhone SE 3: Cameras

iPhone SE 4 concept

(Image credit: 4RMD / YouTube)

The iPhone SE 3 only has a single rear camera, capable of 12MP of resolution with an f/1.8 aperture. The front camera, on the other hand, is a 7MP shooter with an f/2.2 aperture. All together it sounds pretty basic on paper, but specs alone can be deceptive.

In fact the A15 Bionic chipset inside the phone opens up a bunch of additional features and computational photography — giving the iPhone SE 3 the ability to take some pretty incredible shots. That includes Smart HDR 4 for tricky lighting and face rendering, Deep Fusion for superior details and textures, while Photographic Styles mean you have more creative control.

It does lack a dedicated Night Mode and the Portrait mode is fairly limited. So don’t expect amazing quality in low light, but in general we found that the iPhone SE 3 was able to produce some excellent photos and video — the latter of which supports 4K resolution at up to 60 fps. It may not be class-leading, but it’s still pretty good for your money.

Rumors around the iPhone SE 4’s camera are few and far between, but it’s been claimed that the phone could come with a 48MP main camera. That would be a significant upgrade over the SE 3’s 12MP shooter, especially when combined with the capabilities of a slightly newer chipset. 

Hopefully this means that the phone will offer features like Night Sight, 2x digital zoom and the option to take 24MP photos. Considering how well Google and Samsung mid-range phones perform in low-light, Apple is going to need to up its game if it wants the iPhone SE 4 to stay relevant.

However it seems unlikely that the phone will come with any additional camera lenses. All iPhone SE models have had a single main camera lens, with ultrawide lenses reserved for the more expensive iPhone models.

iPhone SE 4 vs iPhone SE 3: Performance

iPhone SE 2022 home screen front

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone SE 3 packs in the same A15 Bionic chipset as the iPhone 13, and performed pretty impressively in benchmarking tests. Geekbench 5 turned up a single-core score of 1,718 and a multi-core score of 4,482. This edged out the iPhone 13 and absolutely destroyed the Pixel 7a and Samsung Galaxy A54 — both of which came out later.

3DMark Wild Life Unlimited produced similar results, with iPhone SE 3 clocking in 50fps compared to the Pixel 7a’a 41.1 and the Galaxy A54’s 16.9. Our time using the phone also proved positive, with fluid and detailed gameplay and generally an all-round nice experience.

5G could stand to improve, and while the iPhone SE 3 offers 5G connectivity it’s limited to the sub-6GHz and C-Band varieties. The faster speeds afforded by mmWave are completely locked out. So it’s no surprise that our speed testing found 100Mbps download speeds, which is only marginally better than 4G LTE.

The iPhone SE 4 will no doubt continue to impress in the performance department, given Apple’s dominance in that particular field over the past few years. The only question is by how much, and it’ll all depend on which chip is actually included. The choice of chip may well depend on when the phone is actually released.

If we were looking at a 2024 launch, it seems logical that the phone would have the A16 Bionic chipset — the same as the iPhone 15. But if a 2025 launch is on the cards Apple may choose to offer whatever chip comes in the iPhone 16. Currently the iPhone 16 is rumored to have some kind of A17 or A18 chip. While an A18 chip might seem a bit far-fetched, some kind of A17 isn’t out of the question. After all, the A15 debuted in late 2021, just a few months before the iPhone SE 3’s launch.

As for 5G, it has long been rumored that the iPhone SE 4 could see the debut of Apple’s in-house 5G modem. That particular component seems to have been hanging out in production hell for the past few years, according to rumors, and the latest ones suggest Apple may have given up on the idea altogether. So this one is firmly in the “wait and see” category.

iPhone SE 4 vs iPhone SE 3: Battery life and charging 

Unofficial renders of the iPhone SE 4

(Image credit: Jon Prosser/Ian Zelbo)

Unsurprisingly for a phone of this size and price, the iPhone SE 3 does not have a world-leading battery life. Our battery testing, which involves continuous 5G web browsing at 150 nits brightness, saw the phone last 9 hours and 5 minutes. Which is not particularly great, though it’s far from the worst score we’ve seen over the past couple of years.

We also found that a 20W Apple charger managed to bring the battery to 61% in 30 minutes, which is better than what Apple actually promised. 

The iPhone SE 4 is rumored to be coming with the iPhone 14’s battery, joining a host of other iPhone 14-centric hardware rumors. While we can’t say for sure how long the battery might last in an iPhone SE 3, the iPhone 14 did clock in at 9 hours and 28 minutes in our testing. Which is an improvement over the iPhone SE 3, albeit not a very impressive one.

Needless to say we won’t be seeing iPhone 15 Plus-amounts of battery life in an iPhone SE anytime soon, but we would like a slightly better improvement. Here’s hoping that including a better chipset than the A15, which the iPhone 14 also uses, offers an efficiency boost that helps preserve battery life just a little bit longer.

As for charging, it’s likely Apple will be continuing its focus on 20W official charging speeds once again. Some more recent iPhones can handle more power, unofficially speaking, though whether this will be the case for the iPhone SE 4 is another matter. Here’s just hoping it comes with MagSafe this time, since the iPhone SE 3 only has regular Qi wireless charging.

iPhone SE 4 vs iPhone SE 3: Software 

iOS 17 logo on iPhone

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The iPhone SE 4 is guaranteed to come with the latest version of iOS at the time of its release, though which version will wholly depend on when that is. If we’re looking at a possible 2025 launch then iOS 18 is the most likely candidate, and at this point all we really know is that iOS 18 could come with a major boost to the iPhone’s generative AI capabilities.

The iPhone SE 4 would no doubt enjoy those additional features as much as any other model of supported iPhone. Considering the iPhone SE 2 is still getting full iOS updates right now, it’s going to be a few years before the iPhone SE 3 is rolled out to pasture. So how the software experience will differ on the iPhone SE 3 and 4 is impossible to say right now.

iPhone SE 4 vs iPhone SE 3: Outlook

iPhone SE 2022 rear camera

(Image credit: Future)

There’s still a fair bit we don’t know about the iPhone SE 4 right now, and it’s possible that what we have already heard may change as we inch closer to the official launch. But from the sounds of things Apple will be offering a pretty significant upgrade to the phone, especially in the design department.

There are still a bunch of other upgrades we’d like to see, such as a dedicated Night Sight camera mode and support for MagSafe. If rumors claim that an Action button could be on the way, then there’s no reason why Apple shouldn’t also be offering these other, frankly rather basic, features as well.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.