iPhone SE 3 — the old school design needs to go

iPhone SE 2020 review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We're on the cusp of Apple's Spring event later today (March 8), where we expect to see the 2022 refresh of the iPhone SE. Right now referred to as the iPhone SE 3, many anticipate that this iPhone will offer budget-conscious customers a way to get the iPhone experience for cheap, like the previous two models have done.

But that's not all. In addition to some expected hardware upgrades, we strongly believe that the iPhone SE (2022) will sport 5G support like the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models. That's huge news for people on a budget — a low-cost 5G iPhone is a big deal, since the cheapest one you can get right now is the $599 iPhone 12 mini. If you want a newer phone, you'll have to pay $699 for the iPhone 13 mini.

But another thing we've heard time and time again is that the iPhone SE 3 won't see a design refresh. Instead, the current theory is that the phone will keep the same iPhone 8 body that the iPhone SE (2020) used. And I think that sucks.


♬ FEEL THE GROOVE - Queens Road, Fabian Graetz

The iPhone 8 came out in 2017, and phone design has come a very long way in the last five years. The best Android phones have leaped so far ahead of Apple already, despite the narrower notch on the iPhone 13 models. The likes of the Galaxy S22 Ultra, Pixel 6 Pro, and OnePlus 9 Pro offer all-screen experiences with only the hole-punch camera cutout the break up the display. This makes even the latest top-tier iPhones look a tad dated in comparison.

iPhone SE 3 concept renders in black front and back

iPhone SE 3 concept (Image credit: Concept Creator/LetsGoDigital)

But if the iPhone SE (2022) sports the same body as before with its massive bezels and front-mounted home button, I'm going to be very disappointed. Touch ID isn't the problem, since it's still great even today. But Apple could have folded the fingerprint sensor into the power button like on the iPad Air. My colleague Philip Michaels argues that Apple wouldn't debut a power button fingerprint sensor (something wholly new for iPhones) on an iPhone SE and I don't necessarily disagree.

Nonetheless, I think the prospect of Apple sticking with the old school iPhone design for the SE 3 is a bummer. Many of the budget-friendly Android phones, like the $449 Pixel 5a, feature much more modern designs. I don't think people springing for the cheaper iPhone should suffer the dated iPhone 8 chassis. Apple could have easily went with a hole-punch camera cutout and the power button Touch ID, which would have significantly escalated the iPhone SE 3's appeal.

I'm not afraid to admit that I sit in a bubble in this job, and I can't help but feel that this is a little out of touch with what iPhone SE buyers care about. People on budgets want the latest features, like 5G or the best bang for their buck, and design is often secondary. I'm fortunate enough to have the flexibility to consider, and ultimately care about, what my smartphone looks like.

Apple knows people will buy the iPhone SE (2022) regardless of whether it uses a tired design or not. Apple also probably doesn't really care that it's fallen behind in terms of its smartphone design language as a whole — like I said, the top Android phones are much more appealing devices. And if you're looking forward to an affordable 5G iPhone, don't let me spoil your excitement.

I just wish Apple would move on from the same design cues it's used for going on five years now.

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.