iPhone SE 3 design isn't changing — but it will have the most important thing iPhone 13 is missing

Best camera phone: iPhone SE 2020
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iPhone SE 3 rumors are giving us a pretty good idea what to expect from the iPhone SE successor reportedly coming this spring. The latest to weigh in is Twitter-based leaker @dylandkt who reports that the next SE model will add 5G compatibility, a specs bump (mostly like the A15 Bionic chip that powers the current iPhone 13 lineup) and the same design as the current model — pretty much in line with what other rumormongers are saying about the phone.

It's that last bit, the one about the iPhone SE 3's design, that's likely to cause some agitation in the iPhone world. The current iPhone SE is a rehash of the iPhone 8, a phone that will be celebrating its fifth birthday this fall. The hope had been that an updated iPhone SE would appropriate the look and feel of the iPhone XR/iPhone 11, with a bigger display and smaller bezels. Instead, @dylandkt tweets, that design is being pushed back to 2024 while Apple keeps things looking the same for this year's release.

You can hear the gnashing of the teeth now. As fans of consumer tech, we're conditioned to expect new releases that look, well, new. Let a design linger too long, and phone makers risk hearing cries of "Boring!" from the back rows of the peanut gallery. 

Hey, I like my phones looking as modern as the next person. I'm not even all that put out by the notch on Apple's phones that people are so eager to see disappear with the iPhone 14 this fall. But will the apparent revelation that the iPhone SE 3 won't look all that different from the model it replaces make me less inclined to buy the phone this spring?

Friends, it will not.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret from someone who's bought an iPhone SE with his own free will and his own hard-earned dollars. We buy that phone because we are notorious cheapskates.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret from someone who's bought an iPhone SE with his own free will and his own hard-earned dollars. We iPhone SE fans aren't flocking to that particular model for its groundbreaking design our earth-shattering features. We buy that phone because we are notorious cheapskates, and this is the cheapest iPhone out there that lets us reap all the benefits of Apple's iOS ecosystem.

Oh, we appreciate solid specs. Past iPhone SE models usually ship with the chipset that powered the flagship Apple phones from the previous fall, and this upcoming model should be no different. We wouldn't mind an extra lens on the back of the phone, but so long as Apple's software is pulling its share of the computational photography weight, we'd rather have a lower price tag than a second ultrawide lens. (Though please, Apple, pretty please — give us Night mode on the next iPhone SE, OK?)

iPhone SE 2020 review

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We're also going to happily embrace the rumored support for 5G connectivity coming in the iPhone SE 3, especially if Apple keeps the price of this phone around the same $399 it charges for the current model.

A new design? That's really low on the wishlist, especially when the reality is that Apple's unlikely to pull out all the design stops for its least inexpensive model.

Besides, should Apple stick with that iPhone 8-inspired design for the iPhone SE 3, this new model will have a feature that iPhone 13 owners can only dream of. There will still be Touch ID support on our iPhone. And during a pandemic when we still have to mask up, I'll gladly accept an older design if it means unlocking my phone with ease.

Face ID face mask unlock

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For the last few months, I've been using an assortment of Face ID-equipped iPhones. They're certainly snazzier-looking than the iPhone SE, but that also means I can't unlock easily unlock them when I've got a face mask on, which, sadly, seems to be a lot of the time these days. Instead of unlocking my phone at a glance, I've got to tap in a pin; if I had Touch ID — and I would on an iPhone SE — I can skip all that with a press of my finger.

Yes, the iPhone 14 models coming in the fall could add a fingerprint sensor, either on the phone's power button or under the display. But even if that rumor comes to pass, we're still talking about a phone that's likely to cost at least $699 — and I think I've already mentioned the part about being a cheapskate.

So grumble about the iPhone SE 3's not-at-all new look if that's your jam. But the most important iPhone SE feature — and the one that will determine if it's a success or not — will be its price. Everything else is simply background noise.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.