Home  ›  Reviews  ›

Review: Apple iPhone SE for AT&T

Hardware Software Wrap-Up Comments  6  

Lock Screen

The iOS lock screen experience is flexible enough that you can fill the screen with notifications at all hours, or leave it a blank space, save for the clock.

The iPhone SE has Apple's Touch ID fingerprint sensor. It works very well. I was able to train several prints and use them successfully to unlock the phone and approve purchases. It isn't quite as fast as the newer sensor on the iPhone 6s, but it is fast enough for everyday use. I found it to be quicker and more reliable than entering a password or PIN, but those options exist, should you prefer.

You can wake the screen by pressing the button on top of the phone. When you do this, you'll see the big clock at the top of the display with two app shortcuts at the bottom. The shortcut in the left corner varies (automatically), while the shortcut on the right corner is always the camera. You can use the camera without unlocking the phone, but not other apps, like the browser.

iOS 9 also permits users to access the Control Center and the notification shade from the lock screen. I've come to rely on Control Center for quick access to the flashlight, music, and brightness controls. The same goes for the notification shade, which includes a pretty powerful "Today" tab that supports widgets. The widgets add info from your calendar, as well as the weather, news, reminders, and so on.

Handling notifications can be a bit of a chore in iOS. You can manage how each app sends notifications individually, but this becomes tiresome if you have lots of apps. I do like the fine-grained flexibility, though, which lets you choose to have no alerts, banners, badges, or popups.

Lock Screen  

Home Screens

The iPhone SE ships with iOS 9.3, which is only a minor update to iOS 9. The behavior of the home screens has not changed much over the years.

iPhone owners can place up to 24 apps on each home screen, or many more in folders. iOS doesn't support widgets on the home screen, and apps still snap up and to the left into a self-forming grid. Four apps of your choice are always accessible from the dock at the bottom of the screen. You can add an infinite number of home screen panels and change up the usual stuff, such as wallpapers.

The settings tools grow in number each year, but their organization and usability is about the same as always. It's a cinch to adjust the SE's behaviors. iOS allows you to tweak font and icon sizes, but there's nothing fancy like themes.

The iPhone SE supports the "Hey, Siri" trick to launch and interact with Apple's personal assistant hands-free. It works well. The SE doesn't support 3D Touch, which is one of the hallmark features of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. This is a shame.

The iPhone SE has Apple's A9 processor with M9 motion co-processor. This is the same pair of chips found in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. That makes the SE a very fast phone. The processor has no trouble at all powering through apps and games. The difference in performance is palpable; the SE absolutely screams. It is a fast, fast phone.

The newer processor also makes this a much more future-proof phone compared to the iPhone 5s. You shouldn't have to worry about future versions of iOS not working, or slowing down your iPhone SE.

Home Screen  

iOS 9.3 Additions

The biggest addition to iOS 9.3 is Night Shift. Night Shift purports to help people get to sleep easier by reducing the amount of blue light on the screen. The effect turns the screen yellow-ish, which is supposed to be easier on your eyeballs. Does it work? I can't really say.

The revised platform also makes it possible to secure the Notes app. The security tools are found in the main settings. You can elect to use a password, PIN, or Touch ID to secure the app. It works perfectly.


Apple News has been adjusted, as well. Apple says the stories that populate the "For You" section should be tailored more finely to individual users' interests. I found it suggested more articles in Rolling Stone than it did before, so it sort of works? One new feature in Apple News that definitely works is landscape viewing. This is especially important when viewing videos. Apple News is also less sluggish, which is perhaps the most important improvement.



The camera app is the same one as on every other iPhone running iOS 9.x. You can launch the camera from the lock screen, Control Center, or from the home screen. It opens in a snap.

Apple has bestowed the camera app with several modest shooting modes, which include normal, square, and panorama images, as well as video, timelapse, and slow-motion. Swipe the screen to switch between the modes. This is one aspect of the camera I wish was faster. It takes a lot of swipes to go from the square picture mode to slow-motion, for example.

On-screen controls include the shutter button, access to filters, user-facing camera toggle, HDR, flash, timer, Live Photos, and a gallery shortcut. Both the flash and HDR can be set to “auto”.

Live Photos were the big new camera feature in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Shooting Live Photos captures 1.5 seconds of video before and after you press the shutter button. The iPhone SE then assembles these into a combined image that includes movement and sound. It's a lot like the HTC Zoe, but Live Photos is easier to use, and easier to share thanks to support on Mac OS and Facebook.

The SE also includes the Retina Flash for enhancing those all-important selfies. Instead of a dedicated LED, the phone will brighten the screen for a second when taking selfies. Retina Flash fires off a preflash to detect the lighting around you. It then adjusts the tone of the flash to match the ambient light. The effect is surprisingly good. I was impressed with the quality of illumination and the accuracy of skin tones in the resulting images. It goes a long way to improving the end results.

The iPhone SE's camera is very easy to use. I wish switching between shooting modes were faster. Otherwise, it's a very quick camera and offers just the right balance of tools to allow for some creativity.



The SE has a 12-megapixel sensor, similar to that of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. I think it's safe to say the iPhone SE takes better pictures than any other 4-inch phone on the market.

The images I captured with the SE were sharp, colorful, and well-exposed. Apple's software is incredibly good at balancing all the elements that make a great picture (except for the framing, of course; that's on you.) The sensor really does a fine job with exposure and I was pleased with the majority of results. The only weakness I saw was in low-light situations. Images taken in darker environments tended to show a bit more grain than I like. Using the flash can help when shooting nearby subjects, like people who are several feet away.

The selfie camera is rather pitiful at 1.2 megapixels. I get that the SE isn't a flagship, so I didn't expect to see an 8-megapixel camera on this phone. I was hoping for 5 megapixels, as on the iPhone 6s. It's not like Apple doesn't have the parts laying around. Anyway, the SE takes decent selfies when you're outdoors, but not so much inside. Grain really flares up in low-light shots and generally necessitates use of the Retina Flash. The Retina Flash does its job pretty well, but you need to be relatively close for it to really work.

There's no doubt that the iPhone SE has the best camera available on a $400 phone, but there are better cameras out there. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, for example, are outstanding, altbough they cost 50% more.

The iPhone SE can record video at 720p, 1080p, and 4K. The default is 1080p. No matter which option you choose, the results look very good. The iPhone SE produces high-quality video. I was very pleased with the footage I captured. Stay away from 4K. The video looks great, but it chews through incredible amounts of storage.

You can use the iPhone SE as your main camera and video camera most of the time.


Apple Apps

The iPhone SE has tons of apps you can't delete, such as iBooks, Compass, Find Friends, Game Center, Health, Mail, News, Notes, Podcasts, Reminders, Stocks, Tips, Voice Memos, Watch, and Weather. Many of these apps are no good or will never be used by most people. Apple, it's past time to let people get rid of bloatware.

It's important to note that the SE comes in 16GB and 64GB. There is no 32GB or 128GB model. The 16GB model is practically useless thanks to its limited storage space. Skip it and spend the extra $100 (ugh) for the 64GB model.


more news about:


Subscribe to news & reviews with RSS Follow @phonescoop on Threads Follow @phonescoop on Mastodon Phone Scoop on Facebook Follow on Instagram



All content Copyright 2001-2024 Phone Factor, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Content on this site may not be copied or republished without formal permission.