The new iPhone SE is the perfect phone — for my parents

iphone se 2020 parent phone
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone SE 2020 may not be the tiny successor to the original, but I'm sure it's my parents' next phone. Like many younger folks who are more familiar with technology than their relatives, I'm constantly asked for product recommendations, and when I saw our iPhone SE 2020 review go up, I breathed a small sigh of relief at how easy this next buying decision will be.

While there are certain adjustments they'll need to make from their iPhone 8 Plus phones in terms of screen size and cameras, this transition should be incredibly easy for my parents. Here's why I'm pointing them towards the new iPhone SE.

The iPhone SE 2020's best feature is its price — and Apple's history

When it comes time to actually buy a new phone, my parents want to get in and out of the local AT&T store (I try and push them to the Apple Store, or to order online, but c'est la vie). They also want to spend as little as possible on a phone that should last them a while. 

So, I can't wait to tell them that their next phone will cost half as much as their previous phone. Somehow, in 2018, I talked them both into getting the iPhone 8 Plus, which started at $799. This happened because I had the iPhone 8 Plus, and I explained why I liked it.

I talked to my dad on the phone for this story, and while he's gotten used to the iPhone 8 Plus' 6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3-inch size, he was completely OK with the 5.5 x 2.7 x 0.3-inch iPhone SE once I told him how cheap it is.

"I'll get used to it," he said. And looking around Apple's product line, he's probably going to have to adjust if he wants a phone that isn't over $1,099 — as the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the only new phone Apple makes with the same measurements as the 8 Plus.

iphone se 2020 parent phone

iPhone 8 (left) and iPhone 11 (right) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone XR and iPhone 11 (both 5.9 x 3 x 0.3 inches) are also smaller than the 8 Plus, and since they cost $200 to $300 more than the iPhone SE, what's a third of an inch here and 0.4 inches there?

The value of the iPhone SE 2020 gets even better when you check out its display, which produces a whopping 653 nits of brightness and emits 111.2% of the sRGB gamut based on our tests. How Apple fits a screen that bright and colorful into a phone this affordable is beyond me, but it checks off another thing I could have been concerned about when telling my parents to buy a sub-$500 phone.

The iPhone SE 2020 looks like it should go the distance

My parents don't ever want new phones — they just hit that point where they need to upgrade. They're the exact opposite of me, an annual upgrader on the iPhone Upgrade Program. When they buy a new phone, they just use it until it won't work. 

It's a trait that I admire greatly, and part of why I push my parents to always buy iPhones. It's not just because we can use iMessage (I can swallow my pride and do a Zoom like anyone else), but because Apple's phones generally last longer than most other companies' devices. Their iPhone 5C's lasted them about 5 years, so I'm just hoping that the iPhone SE will still be in Apple's lineup in 2023, when I expect their iPhone 8 Plus' to become due for replacement.

iphone se 2020 parent phone

iPhone SE (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

And the iPhone SE 2020 will probably last that long because it's got the same A13 Bionic chip seen in the iPhone 11 (as well as my even-pricier iPhone 11 Pro Max). On the Geekbench 5 general performance benchmark, the SE 2020 netted a 3,226, which is comparable to the 3,251 score from the iPhone 11 — a phone that costs $300 more.

The iPhone SE 2020 has good-enough cameras for my parents

Instagram has become my mom's favorite phone app, and my dad just joined up too, so I bet they're going to want to keep taking good photos. The good news, scrolling through my mom's Instagram feed, is that she almost exclusively takes photos with lots of natural light. 

As our iPhone SE 2020 review shows, this phone's camera takes exceptionally good photos, provided that you're outside. It even trounced the Google Pixel 3a on many tests, beating Google at its own AI-enhanced photography game. 

iPhone SE

iPhone SE (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The one aspect of the iPhone SE cameras they're not going to be fond of — and that I hope Apple changes some day on a future SE model — is the lack of a second camera lens. As my dad confirmed to me on the phone, he uses his zoom pretty frequently. I'm not saying that the iPhone SE's main camera doesn't zoom, but the separate sensor is often more capable at producing clear shots than relying on digital zoom is.

The one thing holding me back: Battery life

The one thing I fear the most when I recommend a gadget to someone is them coming back with a frustration or complaint. And when it comes to the iPhone SE, I can already see a potential problem down the road. Apple itself rates the iPhone SE for 13 hours of battery life during video playback, which is 24% less than the 17 hours it promises on the iPhone 11.

We saw a similar gap in our own testing. When we used the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the iPhone SE throughout the day, taking photos, surfing the web and gaming, the iPhone SE hit the red 20% mark by 8pm, while the iPhone 11 Pro Max was still at 40%. Sure, I can tell my parents to stop by my best portable chargers page to help their phones last longer, but I doubt they want to carry another thing around. 

In the end, I'll make sure they're aware of this difference in battery life. I can pretty safely bet they'd rather save the $700 and get familiar with Low Battery Mode, though.

Yes, the iPhone SE 2020 is that good

While my parents are looking to hold onto their iPhone 8 Plus' for as long as they will last, I'm pretty happy to see that Apple's finally made a great sub-$500 iPhone. I expected some low-price Android phone to try and seduce them to move away, but I'd have concerns for them around the security issues that are more inherent on Android.

Let's just hope the iPhone SE 2020 stays in Apple's product line for the foreseeable future. The original iPhone SE was introduced in 2016, and Apple eventually removed it from the line when the iPhone XS series came out in 2018. 

If the iPhone SE is a longtime member of the iPhone family, then more-modest users can stay in the iPhone world without worrying about the price of membership.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.