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Should you buy the iPhone SE now or wait for iPhone SE 3?

iPhone SE 3 concept render image
(Image credit: MajinBu)

Rumors are heating up for the iPhone SE 3, which is expected to launch in early 2022. While the next budget iPhone may not look drastically different from the current iPhone SE, which is one of the best cheap phones around, it promises some major upgrades. 

If you're in the market for a new affordable iPhone, you may be wondering if you should get the iPhone SE or wait until the iPhone SE 3. Given Apple's obsessive approach to secrecy, that’s arguably a tricky question to answer. 

However, based on what we've heard so far around the iPhone 3, you should probably wait. Here's why. 

iPhone SE 3 could be coming very soon  

iPhone SE 3 concept

(Image credit: Apple Lab)

The iPhone SE 3 is tipped to launch during the first quarter of 2022, which means it won't be long now. The current iPhone SE was released in April 2020, and despite looking like an iPhone 8 it was critically acclaimed. At $399 it offers access to the latest iOS 15 software and a powerful A13 Bionic chip, the same one found in the iPhone 11 range. Plus, you get an impressive single rear camera and wireless charging. 

But now the iPhone SE is nearing its two-year birthday, which in phone terms means it’s due an update. After all, a lot of phone buyers tend to be on 24-month payment plans, so Apple could capitalize on that and release a phone around the time people could be looking at upgrading. So this alone means it makes sense to hold out until spring to see what Apple has in store. 

iPhone SE 5G support 

iPhone 13 Pro Max review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One of the few weaknesses of the iPhone SE 2020 was the lack of 5G connectivity. While not necessarily a huge flaw in 2020, the spread of 5G network coverage means now is the time to get a 5G phone. Even if you don’t have 5G in your area yet, you'll want a phone that's future proof.

Generally speaking, 5G will give you faster download speeds and lower latency, which is great for surfing the web, streaming and gaming. Furthermore, 5G can be very handy in a pinch, especially if your home internet isn't the most reliable. This would be the main reason I’d suggest you wait for the iPhone SE 3. 

A specs boost with A15 Bionic

a15 bionic

(Image credit: Apple)

Even if Apple doesn't change the look of the iPhone SE 3, a specs boost is definitely the cards. As mentioned, 5G is very likely to feature. And that would also mean the budget iPhone would come with a new chipset. That’s likely to be the A14 Bionic or even the A15 Bionic found in the iPhone 13 range. 

The current iPhone SE is no slouch in terms of performance. But getting a new chip also means it can benefit from the improved efficiency and smart features Apple has slapped onto its silicon. And that could translate to improved battery life and a Siri that actually knows what you want from it.  

iPhone SE 3 better photography

iPhone SE 3 concept

(Image credit: Apple Lab)

A new chipset can also facilitate better phone photography thanks to using AI-centric features to handle image signal processing. That means a boost in computational photography and thus better photos. 

It’s unclear whether the iPhone SE 3 will get a new rear camera or an extra camera, likely in the form of an ultra-wide angle lens. But regardless, the iPhone SE took some impressive shots with its single rear camera. So a boost in computational photography would likely mean a proper Night mode for better low-light shots, improved HDR performance and better-looking portraits. 

I’m a big fan of having a really good single or main rear camera on smartphones. So if Apple nails that on the iPhone SE 3, then it could be well worth waiting for. 

A refreshed design (maybe)

iPhone SE 3 concept

(Image credit: Apple Lab)

It’s unclear whether the iPhone SE 3 will have a new design, with some tipsters hinting it’ll look more like an iPhone 12 (with the full-sized notch) and others claiming it’ll retain the design of the current model but get a specs boost. I’m hoping to see a new design. 

Apple has arguably dragged its feet when it comes to refreshing the design of its phones in recent years, but I could definitely see the new SE sporting a different look. I’d not be surprised if it had a lot of the DNA of the iPhone XR, a rather neat and cheaper take on the iPhone 11

No home button and a more expansive display would be on my wish list, especially when one considers how relatively sleek the Google Pixel 5a is for its budget price. But I'd also be happy to see the iPhone SE 3 retain the same footprint as its predecessor, yet push the screen to the top and bottom edges; it probably won’t happen but a punch-hole selfie camera rather than a display notch or chunky top bezel would also be appreciated. 

Either way, the potential for a fresh design is another reason to hold out for the iPhone SE 3. 

Bottom line: wait for the iPhone SE 3

Based on all the rumors and leaks thus far, you should probably wait for the iPhone SE 3 if you can. You'll almost certainly get 5G connectivity, better photography, more speed and longer battery life. However, the jury is out on whether Apple will recycle the iPhone 8 design once more.

The current iPhone SE is good, but unless you really need a cheap phone right now I would hold off. Check out our best cheap phones list for all of our top picks under $400. 

Roland Moore-Colyer is U.K. 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.