The best cheap iPhone isn’t the new iPhone SE — this is

iPhone SE front and back colors
(Image credit: Apple)

Update: Check out our iPhone SE (2022) vs. Google Pixel 5a face off.

I can see the question being asked by friends and family coming from a mile away, even though the iPhone SE 2022 isn’t on sale yet. “What’s the best cheap iPhone?”

The easy answer would be the new iPhone SE 2022. After all, it gives you a fast A15 Bionic chip, 5G connectivity and numerous camera enhancements for a reasonable $429. Yes, that’s $30 more than the previous iPhone SE 2020, but I think it’s a reasonable price bump given the upgrades.

But I personally don’t believe that the new iPhone SE is necessarily the best iPhone for under $500. And that’s because the iPhone 11 is still on sale. 

The iPhone 11, which now costs $499, is by no means a new phone. It was released in the fall of 2019, so it’s nearly three years old. But it has some distinct advantages over the third-generation iPhone SE. 

For starters, the iPhone 11 features a 6.1-inch display, which is a lot bigger than the puny 4.7-inch panel on the iPhone SE. I am partially biased because I now wear reading glasses, but there’s no way I could comfortably use such a smaller display on a daily basis. Whether I’m browsing the web, playing Wordle or streaming the best shows on Netflix, a 6.1-inch LCD just gives you a more immersive experience.

The iPhone 11 features a 6.1-inch display, which is a lot bigger than the puny 4.7-inch panel on the new iPhone SE.

If you want a more compact phone, the iPhone SE is a better bet, as it measures 5.5 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches and weighs 5.09 ounces. The iPhone 11 will take up more room in your pocket at 5.9 x 3 x 0.22 inches and it weighs 6.84 ounces. But I’d rather carry around a bit more heft in exchange for more screen real estate.

Another selling point for the iPhone 11 is the cameras. Note that I said "cameras" and not "camera." The iPhone 11 features both a 12MP wide and ultra-wide camera, giving you more shooting flexibility, while the new iPhone SE sticks with a single 12MP wide lens.

But an even bigger advantage for the iPhone 11 is that it offers Night mode, so you can get very good shots even in low light. For some reason Apple decided not to include Night mode on the iPhone SE 2022. And with the A15 Bionic chip on board, I’m pretty sure supporting that feature could have been technically feasible. 

The iPhone 11 in turqouise stood against a stone wall

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The A15 chip in the new iPhone SE does give it some computational photography advantages over the iPhone 11. This includes Smart HDR 4 for photos and Photographic Styles. But I’d rather have Night mode on board. 

For selfies, the front camera on the iPhone 11 is 12MP compared to 7MP for the iPhone SE, so the iPhone 11’s shots could be sharper. 

To be fair, the iPhone 11’s age means it misses out on some modern features, especially 5G. (Apple didn't start releasing 5G phones until the iPhone 12 arrived in 2020.) But I I don’t think it’s that much of a game-changer in daily use. Plus, the iPhone SE 3 doesn’t support Verizon’s Ultra Widbeand 5G network

More important to me is battery life. Apple says that the new iPhone SE delivers up to 2 hours longer battery life than the previous model. The iPhone 11 is rated for up to 17 hours of video playback, 10 hours of streamed video playback and 65 hours of audio playback. The new iPhone SE is rated for the same amount of time for streamed video but less video playback (15 hours) and audio playback (50 hours).

So what about Touch ID? A lot of people really like the Touch ID button, and that's unique to the iPhone SE 2022; it's especially handy when you're wearing a mask and can be faster than Face ID. However, with mask mandates being lifted in more parts of the country and Apple developing a mask-friendly version of Face ID for iOS 15.4, I think this debate is pretty much a wash for me. 

Overall, the iPhone SE 2022 looks like a solid value for those who want a capable and compact 5G iPhone for the lowest possible price. But because of its larger display, Night mode and longer rated battery life, I would recommend the iPhone 11 over Apple's latest SE model. 

Not quite convinced yet? Our iPhone SE 2022 vs iPhone 11 face-off breaks down the differences in more detail to help you choose between them.

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.