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iPhone SE Hands-on: Tiny $399 Powerhouse

More than 30 million people have purchased 4-inch iPhones in the last year, and Apple wants to continue to cater to that audience with the iPhone SE. Apple is calling it the most powerful 4-inch iPhone phone ever, thanks to its zippy A9 processor. In fact, it's double the speed of the iPhone 5s.

The iPhone SE starts at $399, which is the lowest price for a new iPhone yet. That's still a good deal more than cheap Android phones, but Apple is going after the higher end of the market.

Based on my hands-on on time with the handset, the iPhone SE is definitely among the fastest phones with its size display. The device breezed through the Warhammer game, which offers advanced graphics, and I like how quickly the phone loaded Live Photos. Just don't expect a 3D Touch display; that feature is reserved for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

The design of the iPhone SE looks very similar to the iPhone 5s, except that the edges are rounded, and the inlaid logo on the back is aluminum. There's also chamfered edges around the sides. The 3.99-ounce phone is very light and compact, but is slightly thicker than the iPhone 6s (0.3 inches vs 0.28 inches).

The iPhone SE supports hands-free Siri activation, a 12-MP iSight camera with Tru Tone Flash, and 63-MP panorama mode. The device can also capture Live Photos, one of the most compelling features of the iPhone 6s. The SE captures 4K video as well. Up front, the iPhone SE uses the display as a flash for selfies in low light.

During my hands-on, the iPhone SE snapped photos quickly and handled the challenging lighting conditions well. The camera is also flush with the back of the design.

The biggest feature under the hood is iOS 9.3. Features include Night Shift mode, which automatically changes the color temperature of the display based on the time of day and your location. This may help you nod off easier. Apple is also rolling out improvements to News, CarPlay and the Notes apps.

I tried out the Night Shift feature by going under the Display section in settings and dragging a slider. The screen turned warmer as I adjusted the setting, which I could see making reading in the dark more comfortable.

Other highlights include Apple Pay support, Touch ID and both 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi calling.

Overall, the iPhone SE looks familiar to the iPhone 5s, but its guts make it a standout device among small-screen phones. Stay tuned for a full review.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for nearly 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. 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.