Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022) review: One foot in the past | Expert Reviews (2024)

Apple iPhone SE (2022) review: Display and audio

With the rest of the iPhone lineup moving to AMOLED technology, the iPhone SE is now the only phone left in Apple’s stable with an IPS display. It’s pretty small at 4.7in, but with a resolution of 1,334 x 750 and a pixel density of 326ppi, it’s sharp enough to be classed as a “Retina HD” screen.

The thick bezels above and below the screen are frankly an embarrassment now, but it’s the slow 60Hz refresh rate that’s the real killer here. It’s noticeably sluggish in comparison to the 90Hz and 120Hz displays we see on many Android phones at this price or below, and it makes the iPhone SE (2022) feel stuck in the past.

However, one thing there’s no doubt over is that image quality remains superb. Colour accuracy is great – in sRGB mode I measured an average Delta E colour variance of 0.54, which is very, very good – the display will reproduce the P3 colour space when playing back HDR video, and it measures up well in other areas, too.

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I measured peak brightness at an impressive 637cd/m², so readability in all but the most searingly bright conditions will be fine, and the contrast ratio is 1,342:1, lending photos and moving images plenty of pop. If you can get past the slow refresh rate and tiny size, you won’t be disappointed.

Apple iPhone SE 2022 review: Performance

Just like the screen, there are elements of the iPhone SE (2022)’s performance that are impressive, too. Look at the benchmark numbers for a start. Not only is this phone faster than its predecessor and its Android rivals by a significant margin but it’s also quicker than the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, which is the best Android phone on the market at the moment.

Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022) review: One foot in the past | Expert Reviews (1)

Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022) review: One foot in the past | Expert Reviews (2)

With numbers like these, you can be reasonably sure that the iPhone SE (2022) is going to feel sprightly for years to come – long after you feel the need to upgrade to the next one, anyway – and combined with the new 16-core neural engine, it’s capable of impressive feats of AI such as Live Text, where the camera detects text in the viewfinder and offers to copy it so you can paste it into another app, or even translate it on the fly.

However, there’s one major caveat to this: despite all this power, the phone doesn’t feel particularly quick to use, and this is entirely the fault of that 60Hz display.

Scrolling through menus, panning around Apple Maps and homescreen transition animations all lack the snap and smoothness of the more expensive Apple handsets. Perhaps more critically, even cheaper Android handsets from the likes of OnePlus and Xiaomi feel slicker thanks to their higher-refresh-rate displays.

This might not bother the crowd of people for whom only an iPhone at the lowest possible price will do – but trust me, this is a phone that just doesn’t feel as quick as it should.

Moreover, the 2022 iPhone SE is a handset whose battery life, unlike its raw performance, lags significantly behind most of the competition, lasting a mere 12hrs 3mins in our video-rundown test. Apple has improved this over the previous generation thanks to the A15 Bionic chip and revamped battery chemistry, but it needs a much bigger battery to compete.

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Charging is another area in which the SE could improve. Despite support for fast charging, which brings the phone up from empty to 50% in around 30 minutes, this is nowhere near as quick as the Android competition. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G, for example, can charge to 100% in not much longer.

Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022) review: One foot in the past | Expert Reviews (3)

Apple iPhone SE (2022) review: Camera

The iPhone SE (2022)’s camera doesn’t look all that impressive on paper, either.

There’s only one on the rear and you’re getting the same hardware as on the previous iPhone SE: a 12-megapixel (f/1.8) shooter that can capture 4K video at up to 60fps fully stabilised.

There’s also no night mode, which is weird because the A15 Bionic processor brings other features across from the iPhone 13, including Photographic Styles (colour presets that don’t affect the reproduction of skin tones), Deep Fusion and Smart HDR 4, which enables the camera to detect and adjust exposure for each face in group shots. The 2022 iPhone SE also lacks the iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode.

Yet, despite the disappointments, the camera is one area where the iPhone SE (2022) stretches out a lead over its cheaper Android rivals. For the most part, especially in good light, it captures images with impressive levels of detail, a great balance of colour and, when the light gets tricky, it balances exposures superbly well.

Its HDR mode brings up just enough shadow detail to keep images looking natural. Portraits look great, and 4K video captured with the camera looks sumptuously steady and smooth, with well-balanced exposure.

Compared with shots captured at the same time with the iPhone 13 Pro, the SE’s shots lack a little contrast, and fall slightly short when it comes to shadow details. In portraits, skin textures aren’t captured with quite the same level of fidelity, either. However, you do have to zoom in pretty close to see the differences and, in most respects, the iPhone SE (2022)’s camera is a clear step better for everyday shooting than the OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G’s.

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Apple iPhone SE (2022) review: Verdict

As with most Apple products, there are plenty of things the Apple iPhone SE (2022) does well. Its camera is great, the display looks lovely (as long as you’re not bothered by the slow 60Hz refresh rate) and the high levels of performance the A15 Bionic processor delivers will ensure the phone will still perform well long after the battery has given up the ghost.

However, it’s becoming increasingly hard to justify recommending a phone that looks so dated and one that delivers such mediocre battery life. If you really can’t stretch to an iPhone 13 mini and just can’t face moving away from the Apple ecosystem, then at £419 the iPhone SE (2022) is your only choice – unless you don’t mind buying secondhand or reconditioned. However, it’s very hard to get enthused about it this time around.

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Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022) review: One foot in the past | Expert Reviews (2024)
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