iPhone SE 2020: 5 reasons to buy and 3 reasons to skip

iPhone SE
(Image credit: Apple)

The new iPhone SE 2020 looks like it has all the makings of being one of the best phones for the money when it goes on sale on April 24. It should be just as fast as the iPhone 11 yet compact enough to use with one hand. And the new iPhone SE offers some of the same advanced photography features on Apple’s pricier flagships, including Portrait mode.

But you know you’re going to make some trade-offs with a $399 starting price. The question is whether you can live with those drawbacks. Here’s a quick summary of the reasons to buy and skip the iPhone SE as you contemplate whether to get one for yourself.

UPDATE: Our full iPhone SE 2020 review is live. See our final verdict.

iPhone SE 2020: Reasons to buy

Here are the top 5 reasons why Apple's new entry-level phone is well worth the money. 

A13 Bionic processor

While Android phone makers saddle their budget handsets with budget CPUs, the iPhone SE packs Apple’s A13 Bionic processor, which is the the fastest chip you can get inside a phone. This same chip powers the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max.

In terms of raw CPU performance, the iPhone SE is up to 2.4 times faster than the original iPhone SE and up to 1.4 times faster than the iPhone 8. The graphics boost is even bigger, with the new iPhone SE having 4 times the GPU performance of the first iPhone SE and double that of the iPhone 8. The iPhone SE also enables you to try all the best new AR apps, thanks to its 8-core Neural Engine.

Very capable cameras

iPhone SE 2020 camera

(Image credit: Apple)

Although the iPhone SE has only a single rear 12MP and front 7MP camera, they too benefit from the A13 Bionic chip. The iPhone SE supports Portrait mode with depth control and 6 Portrait Lighting effects, and Smart HDR helps to intelligently re-light recognized subjects. The front camera can pull off portraits as well. Last but not least, you get extended dynamic range when shooting videos with the rear camera at put to 40K and 30 fps. Add it all up and the iPhone SE could be the best camera phone for those on a budget.

A premium design — that’s water resistant

iPhone SE 2020

(Image credit: Apple)

Buying a cheap phone typically means opting for a cheap-looking chassis, but the iPhone SE offers a premium look and feel. It’s made of glass and 7000 series aluminum, and the aluminum sides are color matched with the back. The iPhone SE is also IP67 water resistant, so it can be submerged for up to 30 minutes.

Touch ID

iPhone SE 2020 Touch ID

(Image credit: Apple)

As secure as Face ID is, there are lots of people who still prefer the ease and speed to Touch ID. You can power on the screen and unlock the iPhone SE with one touch, and use the same sensor for Apple Pay, entering passwords and more. Plus, while Face ID has trouble recognizing you when you wear a mask — which many states are mandating — Touch ID doesn’t have that problem.

Wireless charging

Here’s yet another feature you won’t typically find on phones under $400. The iPhone SE supports wireless charging up to 7.5W, so you can easily place it on one of the best wireless chargers to start juicing the device. Any charger that supports the Qi charger should work.

iPhone SE 2020: Reasons to skip

Naturally, Apple's budget phone has a handful of drawbacks. Here are a few reasons to skip the iPhone SE 2020.

The bezels are BIG

iPhone SE 2020 Apple Arcade

(Image credit: Apple)

Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for compact phones. But the bezels surrounding the 4.7-inch display on the iPhone SE are quite large. It makes the design look a bit dated from the front. I would have liked to see Apple use the same design but grown the screen to 5 inches, even if it meant moving Touch ID to the power button or under the display. Maybe next time?

No Night mode for the camera

When the lights go way down you’ll probably want to use the flash on the iPhone SE. And that’s because it doesn’t offer a Night mode on its camera. This feature is reserved for the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro series, which can deliver amazingly good results in near darkness. 

No Plus version

The iPhone SE replaces the 4.7-inch iPhone 8 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus in Apple’s lineup, which is a shame because there are plenty of people who might want a more affordable big phone. There’s a rumor that Apple is working on an iPhone SE Plus, but even if Apple is working on it we wouldn’t expect that phone anytime soon.

iPhone SE 2020: Bottom line

The iPhone SE 2020 looks like it could be the best phone ever under $400, with a design, performance and cameras that all punch above its price. In fact, really puts Android phone makers on notice in terms of delivering high-quality for the lowest possible price. The upcoming Google Pixel 4a could give the iPhone SE a run for its money with even better cameras and a bigger display, but at least for now the iPhone SE is the budget phone to beat.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • FloydBeck
    The 2020 iPhone SE is smaller than my soap bar. No thanks. There are plenty of Android phones that are far better (and larger) at $400 or under. I bought the LG V30 (released later 2017) around Sept of 2019 for $128 (Amazon) that was in perfect condition and now has Android 9 (plus, it works great with Android Auto). AND, my iPhone 6s (released Sept 2015) still works as good as new (Apple replaced the battery for free).