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iPhone SE 3 vs iPhone SE 2: Biggest differences to expect

iPhone SE 3 vs iPhone SE 2
(Image credit: TenTechReview/xleaks7 and Apple)

If you're in the market for a cheap iPhone, our iPhone SE 3 vs IPhone SE 2 comparison is here to break down the biggest rumored differences between these two models as Apple reportedly readies its new iPhone for the next Apple event. And the launch could be as soon as March or April based on the rumors.

The most obvious expected edition to the iPhone SE is 5G connectivity. In fact, one recent rumor says that the new model will actually be called the iPhone SE Plus 5G. But that's not all Apple reportedly has in store for the iPhone SE 3. The iPhone SE 2 has been one of the best cheap phones around for a long while, but it's getting long in the tooth, especially now that it faces competition from the Google Pixel 5a

Here's all the rumored iPhone SE 3 vs iPhone SE 2 difference we've heard about so far that you should know. 

iPhone SE 3 vs iPhone SE 2: Price

We haven's seen many reliable iPhone SE 3 price rumors yet, but one Weibo leaker claims that the phone could be priced at 3,499 yuan (opens in new tab), which converts to $542. The currency conversion could be off, though, and we doubt Apple would go that high on the iPhone SE's price. 

After all, the current iPhone SE 2 costs just $399, and if the biggest addition is 5G we would expect the price to say the same for the iPhone SE 3 or maybe go $50 higher.

iPhone SE 3 vs iPhone SE 2: Design

A render of the iPhone SE 3 from the front, back and sides, featuring the rumored Face ID notch

(Image credit: TenTechReview/xleaks7)

The biggest bit of bad news we've heard about the iPhone SE 3 is that Apple is sticking with the existing 4.7-inch display. That's a bummer considering that the iPhone 13 mini is about the same size as the iPhone SE and yet is almost all screen at 5.4 inches. 

Earlier, we heard rumors that the iPhone SE 3 could sport an iPhone XR-like design with a mostly full-screen design and notch. But both Bloomberg's Mark Gurman and display analyst Ross Young believe we're getting a very similar 4.7-inch design for this new iPhone. 

Young predicts that Apple will release an updated iPhone SE model in 2023 with a 5.7-inch display. 

For now, the good news is that the iPhone SE 3 should continue to offer a Touch ID button, which will make it easy for you to unlock the device while wearing a mask. Face ID makes that impossible on other iPhones. 

iPhone SE 3 vs iPhone SE 2: 5G

This will be the biggest reason to upgrade from the iPhone SE 2 to the iPhone SE 3. We've seen several reports that Apple will offer 5G connectivity on the iPhone SE 3, and it seems like a no-brainer to us. We would expect support for both Ultra Wideband and sub-6Hz 5G on the new iPhone SE, which would provide faster downloads along with lower latency while streaming and gaming. 

We also assume that the iPhone SE 3 will support the new C-Band flavor of 5G being rolled out by AT&T and Verizon, as the iPhone 13 does. We had a chance to test Verizon's 5G C-band and came away very impressed with the early speeds. 

iPhone SE 3 vs iPhone SE 2: Specs and performance

a15 bionic

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPhone SE 3 will likely be the fastest phone in its price range by far, as it's rumored to be powered by Apple's A15 Bionic chip. This is the same chip found inside the latest iPhone 13 and as you'll see in our iPhone 13 benchmarks story, it's not really close between this handset and the Android competition. 

The A15 Bionic is one powerful piece of Apple silicon, packing a 6-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. There's also a 4-core GPU and a 16-core Neural Engine that's capable of 15.8 trillion operations per second, which enables faster machine learning for third-party apps and Live Text in Camera with iOS 15

iPhone SE 3 vs iPhone SE 2: Cameras

A render of the back of the iPhone SE 3

(Image credit: TenTechReview/xleaks7)

The iPhone SE 3 is expected to feature a single rear camera once more, which on the surface would be annoying. We'd like to see at least an ultrawide lens added to the mix.

However, if the iPhone SE 3 packs the latest A15 Bionic chip, it should offer a number of computational photography upgrades. For starters, we would get a true Night mode, which was missing from the iPhone SE 2. So you should expect better looking images in low light. 

But the A15 Bionic enables much more than that. We would expect better HDR performance when capturing images as well as Dolby Vision HDR video recording. And Photographic Styles should come along for the ride, which enables users to apply their preferences across scenes and subjects. 

One feature we would not expect to migrate from the iPhone 13 to the iPhone SE 3 is Cinematic mode for video. Presumably, this requires two lens to make the rack focus effect work. 

iPhone SE 3 vs iPhone SE 2: Battery life and charging

The iPhone SE 2 didn't offer the best battery life, as the handset endured for only 9 hours and 18 minutes on the Tom's Guide battery test, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of screen brightness. And this was over a less power-hungry 4G connection.

The good news is that we anticipate longer batter battery life for the iPhone SE 3, as the A15 Bionic chip is simply more efficient than the A13 chip inside the iPhone SE 2. Plus, we're hoping that Apple can squeeze in a bigger battery than the meager 1,821 mAh pack for the last iPhone SE. 

Like other iPhones, we don't believe Apple will include a charger. But we expect the iPhone SE 3to support fast charging to 50% in 30 minutes. We haven't heard whether the new iPhone SE 3 will offer wireless MagSafe charging. 

iPhone SE 3 vs iPhone SE 2: Outlook

A render of the iPhone SE 3, featuring the rumored Face ID notch

(Image credit: TenTechReview/xleaks7)

The iPhone SE 3 doesn't sound like it will offer dramatic upgrades over the iPhone SE 2. It will likely come down mostly to the addition of the 5G connectivity and Apple's A15 Bionic chip. But that chip should enable all sorts of benefits, from faster performance and better photos and video to longer battery life.

Still, we're hoping that Apple has at least some surprises in store, such as a more modern design or a slightly smoother 90Hz display. The most important thing, though, is to keep the price as low as possible, as that's the chief appeal of the iPhone SE line. 

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.