Forget iPhone SE: Why we really need an iPhone SE Plus

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus (pictured) could be the template for a new iPhone SE lineup. (Image credit: Future)

The iPhone SE 2020 is a great phone for the money at $399. But even though this phone is priced for everyone, it’s not designed for everyone, especially because of its relatively small 4.7-inch display.

Maybe it’s because of my aging eyes, but I found the screen pretty small after trading in my monster 6.7-inch iPhone 11 Pro Max for a week.  So you could see why a bigger iPhone SE could be so tantalizing.

Unfortunately, one analyst believes that Apple won’t release an iPhone SE Plus until the second half of 2021 — long after the iPhone 12 launch. That’s a long time to wait. But given the state of the economy I think Apple would be foolish to wait that long.

Here’s why I think the iPhone SE Plus could be the budget phone to beat if Apple pulled the trigger sooner than later.

The iPhone SE Plus would have a much bigger screen

You would likely get the same 5.5-inch display in the iPhone 8 Plus in an iPhone SE Plus, and let me tell you the difference is enormous. I remember reviewing both the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, and I much preferred the iPhone 8 Plus.

A 5.5-inch panel on the iPhone SE Plus would make watching videos more immersive, make typing easier and also reading ext less of a strain. If Apple is indeed waiting to launch an iPhone SE Plus next year, I hope it will deliver a design with slimmer bezels. That would allow the phone to offer a screen closer to 6 inches in the same size form factor.

Telephoto lens — and not just for zooming

(Image credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide)

As I was reviewing the iPhone SE I noticed that my daughter had to get really close to me to shoot portraits, and that’s because the new phone lacks a telephoto lens. Having a second lens allows you to get a bokeh effect through hardware as opposed to just software, and that’s where the iPhone SE Plus would stand out. In the age of social distancing, you should not really be within 6 feet of your subject.

The other benefit, or course, is 2x optical zoom. This allows you to get closer to whatever you are shooting. The iPhone SE Plus digital zoom is fairly good, but it’s hard to beat a second dedicated lens.

The iPhone SE Plus would have longer battery life

iPhone SE 2020 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The battery results are in for the iPhone SE, and they’re not great. The reported 1,821 mAh battery inside Apple’s entry-level phone lasted only 9 hours and 18 minutes on average. The handsets on our best phone battery life list all last 11 hours or longer.

Assuming the iPhone SE Plus sticks with a similar size battery, you would see a jump in capacity to 2,675 mAh. For comparison, the iPhone 8 lasted 9:54 on a slightly older version of our web surfing battery test, compared to 11:16 for the iPhone 8 Plus. So I would expect similarly good endurance from an iPhone SE Plus.

iPhone SE price: How much would it cost?

Before Apple discontinued the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, the iPhone 8 cost $449 and the iPhone 8 Plus $549. So if Apple decided to release an iPhone SE Plus, it would likely be priced $100 higher than the iPhone SE. Is $499 a reasonable price? 

I would say yes, when you consider that in order to get an affordable big-screen phone from Apple right now you have to step up to the $599 iPhone XR. That phone has a slower A12 Bionic processor but it does offer a big 6.1-inch screen and Face ID. 

Bottom line

The iPhone SE Plus is not confirmed, but based on the leaks and rumors — and the expected success of the regular iPhone SE — I can see Apple readying an iPhone SE Plus for release within the next 12 months. And while I can see Apple not wanting to spoil its own iPhone 12 party this fall, I wouldn’t wait much beyond early 2021 to launch the iPhone SE’s bigger brother.

When it does arrive, I think the iPhone SE Plus will put all mid-range Android phones on notice, including the upcoming Google Pixel 4a.

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.