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The iPhone SE also supports Live Photos, if you care, which can now be shared to Facebook and Tumblr, not just other iOS or Mac users.

Thanks to the A9 processor, you can edit 4K video in iMovie right on the phone and then upload it in 4K to YouTube. Unlike the iPad Pro, iMovie on the SE supports only two streams of 4K video, which is necessary to blend two clips together using a transition.

If you prefer a frame rate higher than 30fps, you can switch to 1080p60 and shoot in that super-smooth mode. The only niggle is that Apple still doesn’t let you change video quality within the camera app in iOS 9.3: you still have to dig into the Settings app. And considering 60fps is all but useless at night (the fast frame rate makes the image too dark) there really needs to be an easier way to switch between 30- and 60fps.

Image quality is virtually indistinguishable from the iPhone 6S. In general, that’s a good thing. The camera takes reliably good shots, with great colours and exposure. It does struggle a little with fast-moving subjects, especially in anything other than bright outdoor conditions where you tend to get blurry faces.

Here's our standard St Pancras photo, resized to 2000 pixels wide (click to enlarge). It's a classic example of how well the iPhone camera performs in good light: it's perfectly exposed and exhibits great detail and sharpness.

iPhone SE review - sample photos

Here's a 100 percent crop of the original photo so you can see exactly how sharp and detailed it is. It’s perhaps a little softer than you’d like but it’s good that you can still make out individual bricks, showing that photos aren’t compressed too highly. Phones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 offer better sharpness and generally better quality in very low light. However, that reflects badly not on the SE but rather Apple’s pricier phones.

iPhone SE review - sample photos

The iPhone hides noise well, although you can see when the noise-removing algorithms have done their thing: details become smudgy when you inspect a photo closely (this is a 100 percent crop from an indoor photo):

iPhone SE review - sample photos

Here are some more photos: quality is really no different from the iPhone 6S:

iPhone SE review - sample photos

iPhone SE review - sample photos

iPhone SE review - sample photos

When called for, the auto HDR mode kicks in and helps to retain shadow and highlight detail where otherwise one or the other would have been lost.

As we had expected, video quality is excellent. Whether you choose 1080p or 4K, footage is sharp thanks to the great focusing system which works quickly. Colours are just as good as in photos: vibrant yet not unrealistic.  Audio quality is also excellent, with the rear-facing microphone (which Apple says is upgraded from the iPhone 5S) capturing what people say in front of the camera rather than ambient noise around you.

Here's a clip shot on our 7th floor balcony in 4K. Unfortunately, although our embedded player supports 4K, the video is highly compressed so you're not seeing the full quality. Trust us, quality is excellent when you watch the original video on a 4K monitor.

Like the iPhone 6S, the screen can double as a flash for the front camera and the tone matches the ambient light (like the True Tone flash on the rear) to give a more natural-looking photo in dim conditions. 

What you will notice is the low 1.2Mp resolution of the front camera. It’s another cost-saving measure: you don’t get the 5Mp FaceTime camera of the iPhone 6S.

Apple iPhone SE review:iOS 9.3

The iPhone SE ships with iOS 9.3, which includes a few notable features, one of which is Night Shift. This changes the colour temperature of the screen to reduce the amount of blue light emitted at night. Studies have shown that staring at LCD screens before bed makes it harder to fall asleep, and this is one way to try to offset that. It’s a feature you won’t find on the iPhone 5 or 5C, even when updated to 9.3. You could, of course, simply not use your phone for long periods close to bed time, but it’s another reason to upgrade to an SE.

You also get password-protected notes and – as we’ve said – the ability to call on the services of Siri without touching the phone. This is really handy when you’re driving since you can say “Tell Jon that I’m running late and I’ll be there in about 20 minutes” and a text message will be sent with no physical interaction at all.

iPhone SE review

And aside from our gripe about hard-to-reach camera settings and a couple of other minor quibbles, iOS is still a slick and easy-to-use operating system, even on a tiny 4in screen. It’s especially slick on the SE thanks to the extra power on tap, and it really feels like an upgrade when compared with the ageing iPhone 5 which struggles noticeably with iOS 9.

You can read more in our iOS 9 vs Android Marshmallow comparison.


iPhone SE: Specs

  • iOS 10
  • 4in Retina display
  • A9 processor with M9 motion co-processor
  • 16/64GB storage
  • 12Mp iSight rear camera
  • 1.2Mp FaceTime front camera
  • Touch ID
  • 7.6mm
  • 113g