The iPhone SE 2022 just gave the Pixel 5a a huge win

an image showing the iPhone SE 2022 versus the Google Pixel 5a
(Image credit: Apple/Future)

Apple's newly revealed iPhone SE 2022 may serve up a new affordable iPhone but it has basically handed a major win to the cheaper Google Pixel 5a, let alone the rumored Pixel 6a. That's because unlike Google's budget smartphone, the new iPhone SE has no Night mode, which strikes me as very odd. 

Revealed at the recent Apple Event, the iPhone SE 2022 is unsurprisingly a successor to the rather successful iPhone SE 2020. Sadly, it's looking a bit too much like a follow-up rather than an serious evolution of the affordable iPhone. That's because not only does it stick with the same design, which was already dated looking two years ago, it comes with a single camera and no dedicated low-light photography mode.

Now, I’ve got no problem with phones keeping rear camera arrays simple. One really good main camera can be enough, whereas a lot of extra lenses can be fussy — looking at you OnePlus 8T. But at a time when many phones are making a big deal about low light photography — see the Samsung Galaxy S22 and Oppo Find X5 Pro — Apple has flat out ignored it for the iPhone SE 2022. 

You could argue that a ‘budget’ phone shouldn’t be expected to have a night mode. But not only is the iPhone SE 2022 more expensive than its predecessor, no longer fitting the sub-$400 mark for our best cheap phones list, but cheap android phones have had night modes for some time, notably the aforementioned Pixel 5a. And the Google Pixel 4a before that. And the Google Pixel 3a before that in 2019. 

So it’s odd that Apple would concede this photography area. But more bizarre still is I see no reason why Cupertino’s engineers and software wranglers could put a Night mode into the iPhone SE 2022. There’s a comprehensive mode in the iPhone 13, so surely that could be ported over given both phones run iOS 15. And the new iPhone SE has Apple’s latest mobile chip, the A15 Bionic, so it should have all the image processing and smart photography tech to enable a Night mode.

Maybe this issues is down to the iPhone SE 2022’s single rear camera not being able to suck in enough light and data for the image processor to work with. But I don’t buy this, as again Google did a fine job at low light photography with the single rear camera on the Pixel 5a and Pixel 4a.

Furthermore, Apple made a song and dance about how smart and powerful the A15 Bionic's neural processing is. So surely the new iPhone SE has enough silicon brainpower to know how to neatly brighten up dark shots. I’d not expect iPhone 13 Pro quality, which has the cameras and photography consistency to win me over from Android, but some functional low light snaps shouldn’t be beyond the realm of expectation. 

Does this mean the iPhone SE 2022 is a dud? No, I don't think so. It’ll likely appeal to people who want a capable, compact iPhone but don’t want to splurge for an iPhone 13 mini. And not everyone is into snapping photos in the dark.  

Yet I can’t help feeling this is a big miss by Apple, with the cynic in me seeing it more as a ploy to tempt people to buy an iPhone 13 than as any technical limitations. I’m not angry, just disappointed. 

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.