Spending

How Apple's $399 iPhone SE compares to other iPhones and other smartphones at that price point

Courtesy Apple

Frugal Apple fans, rejoice: A new, significantly less expensive iPhone is heading to stores.

Apple's iPhone SE, the cheapest iPhone to date, will be available to consumers on Friday and will retail for a starting price of $399. That price point is far below other iPhones currently available, making the SE the most budget-friendly iPhone on the market: The iPhone XR, the iPhone 11, the iPhone 11 Pro, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max retail for significantly more money.

This is the second iteration of the iPhone SE. The original was released in 2016, so many are referring to the new version as "iPhone SE 2020."

Here is a quick rundown of some of the new iPhone SE's key features and specs:

  • Dimensions: 5.5 x 2.7 x 0.29 inches
  • Weight: 5.2 ounces
  • Display: 4.7-inches, 1,334 x 750 resolution
  • Storage options: 64, 128, 256GB 
  • Processor: A13 Bionic
  • Rear camera: 12 megapixels 
  • Front camera: 7 megapixels 
  • Operating system: iOS 13
  • Other features: Home button, wireless charging 
  • Price: $399, $449, $549

How the new iPhone SE compares to other iPhones

The key selling point of the iPhone SE is its price compared to other iPhone models. The next most expensive iPhone after the SE is the XR, which sells for $599. At the other end of the spectrum, the iPhone 11 Pro Max, Apple's top-of-the-line smartphone, sells for $1,099.

What you end up paying for the SE depends on your memory and storage preferences. The $399 version comes with 64GB of storage, while you'll pay $449 for 128GB and $549 for 256GB.

There are physical and technical differences, too. The SE adopts the dimensions and chassis of the iPhone 8, with a 4.7-inch screen. It has an A13 Bionic processor, the same as the iPhone 11, so you can expect similar performance to a more expensive iPhone. It also has wireless charging capabilities and a wide-angle camera.

Essentially, the SE has the guts of an iPhone 11 in the body of an iPhone 8, which gives it an advantage over other midrange phones. As Bree Fowler, the smartphones editor at Consumer Reports, tells Grow: "It's like putting a Ferrari's engine in a sedan."

The processor and computing power are what most consumers are going to find appealing, experts say. "You know you're going to be able to run all the latest apps, games, software from Apple for the coming years, even spending [just] $400, because it has the same chip as Apple's high-end phones," says CNBC's Technology Products Editor Todd Haselton, who recently published a glowing review of the phone.

Lauren Goode, a senior staff writer at Wired who covers consumer technology and recently wrote a positive review of the new iPhone SE, says that if you're going from a high-end phone to a midrange phone, you'll likely notice some differences, though the trade-offs may be worth it to you. "You tend to sacrifice something when you get into the midrange phones," she says. In the case of the iPhone SE, "the camera and battery life are the sacrifices you're going to make" in exchange for a better processor.

How the iPhone SE 2020 compares to other $399 smartphones

Most phones at the $400 level have similar features, like water-resistant bodies and wireless charging capabilities.

Some other smartphones that will compete with the SE at or around the $400 mark are the Google Pixel 3A, the Motorola One Hyper, the Nokia 7.2, and the Samsung Galaxy 10e. Here's how they stack up in terms of key features and dimensions:

The most significant difference between the iPhone SE and all of its midrange competitors is its processor. Apple's A13 Bionic processor far exceeds the computing power of any other phone at the SE's level — in fact, it can outperforms almost every Android phone on the market, including high-end models.

Why Apple is releasing a cheaper iPhone now

Why is Apple, which is by now known for designing and selling sleek, high-end gadgets and computers, now broadening its strategy? It's simple: to get more customers.

"Apple is appealing to people who want to spend less," says Haselton.

Though it may seem like Apple is being responsive to economic conditions and consumer needs by releasing a cheaper iPhone during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, in which millions of people have lost their jobs and incomes, experts say the SE has been in the works for a while.

"What we've started to see happen over the past few years is that people are upgrading their phones less frequently, as a result of that, sales have started to slow, so manufacturers like Apple have come up with ways to launch more phones at varying price points," says Goode. The iPhone SE, she says, "was likely planned for a very long time."

And if you have wanted an iPhone in the past but haven't been able to afford one, Fowler suggests you seize this opportunity: "If you only have $400 to spend and you want an iPhone, this is definitely what you want to buy."

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