Skip To Content
  • Viral badge

This Is What Using The New Small iPhone Is Actually Like

Wait, iPhone 5s? Is dat you?

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

There’s a new smallphone in town: It’s called the iPhone SE.

Apple's newest device is, at its essence, an iPhone 5s updated with the 6s's most important features. It's available for preorder now and ships in stores on Thursday, March 31.

This week, I used the crap out of the new iPhone SE, which Apple lent me for the purposes of review.

I know you're thinking, WTH does SE stand for?

Apple refused to tell me, so I asked my colleagues to speculate.


It's certainly not iPhone Small Edition. I'm going to go with iPhone Sick Edges. OK, let's begin.

Fig. 1. The hands of a small child.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

I can barely reach an octave with my fingers outstretched (see fig. 1). I am what some retail stores call "petite" (a word that, for the record, I think should be BANNED).

I'm a small-handed woman living in a Big Hand's world. Much to the disappointment of small hands/short girls everywhere, phablets are a trend that just won't quit. Look no further than the current lineup of top smartphones: the 5.5-inch 6s Plus, Samsung's 5.5-inch S7 Edge, and the even LARGER 5.7-inch Nexus 6P.

When choosing between big and bigger, I had to choose big: the 6s, because I am on my phone all day long and need a device that's fast.

Fig. 2. Meeting the iPhone SE.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

When I picked up the 4-inch SE for the first time, the sensation was instantly familiar. I whispered to the phone: iPhone dat you??

I reached for the notification shade with one hand. I spun it around again and again and again (see fig. 2). I felt like I was *twirling on them haters*. A phone that was as performant as the 6s in an actually pocketable package? Could it be?

When it came to reviewing the iPhone SE, I tested it in an environment also known as Hell for Phablets — the standing-room-only morning bus.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

Fig. 3

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

Fig. 4

With one hand locked on to the overhead strap (fig. 3), I pulled out the SE and started swiping through Snapchat filters *like a boss* (see fig. 4). My thumb could actually reach the top and bottom of the screen, without affecting the grip on my phone.

The SE — like the 5s and 5c that came before it — passed the Small Hand Standing on Bus Test.

Next, I tested the SE's pocketability.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

Most men are probably like, "Wha? Everything fits in my pocket." If you are one of these men, please move on to the next section (or see #2 for more info).

Women's clothing generally features impractically small pockets, fake pockets, or no pockets at all (with these rad commuter jeans being the exception). The SE fares better than, er, other phones I've tried to put in my pants, but it's no Motorola Razr, you know what I mean?

*Sorry for the butt photo, Mom. It's for science.

Man, they really make 'em like they used to.

Apple is so committed to recycling that they're recycling the iPhone 5 design. 🔥🔥🔥

The SE replaces the now-discontinued iPhone 5s in Apple's smartphone lineup. The design of the new phone is exactly the same as the 5s, right down to the easily scuffed chamfer edges.

The SE is an iPhone 5s that's Secretly Eating an iPhone 6s.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed / Via Jess M.'s hands

Can you even tell which one is which??

What's new are the iPhone SE's 6s-grade updates: a 12-megapixel camera (vs. 8MP), front-facing "flash," the 64-bit A9 processor, the ability to capture Live Photos, the ability to say "Hey Siri" without being plugged in, Apple Pay, and a rose gold option.

But some features were left in the dust. The SE has the first-generation Touch ID (here's a comparison of first vs. second generations) and lacks the 6s's very satisfying 3D Touch shortcuts/previews.

I compared Wi-Fi connectivity first. The SE loaded a BuzzFeed page about 1.5 seconds faster.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

Shoutout to hand model/iPhone 5s owner Jess M., who, after using the SE, said, "I want to upgrade."

I also played some games to find out if the SE is really twice as fast as the 5s (as Apple claims).

My colleague Christine Sunu kindly let me borrow/steal her iPhone 5s to perform this test.

We used Monument Valley (also available on Android) to compare the two phones' CPUs.

The first screen loaded 4 seconds faster on the SE, and the second screen loaded 2 seconds faster.

So, yeah, the SE is faster. (I mean, it better be, since the 5s is three years old.)

Here's a photo taken with the iPhone SE, which has a 12-megapixel camera.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

The key upgrade is the increase in megapixels. Since they're higher resolution, SE photos can be printed in larger formats without pixelation. Unfortunately, it also means the images take up more storage space.

Here's a photo taken with the iPhone 5s, which has an 8-megapixel camera.

Christine Sunu / BuzzFeed

The differences are slight and become apparent only upon closer inspection. The blue brick wall is slightly overexposed and the shadows show less detail in the 5s photos. Because of its faster processor, the SE can also focus more quickly.

Here's a slide-y thing to compare (because why not).

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

On the first day of its life, the iPhone SE wildly exceeded my expectations.

I installed my SIM card to the phone, restored it from a previous backup, and waited until the battery was 100% full.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

The battery didn't reach 10% until 7:38 p.m. the next day. Even then, Low Power Mode kept the phone running until nearly 10 p.m.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

The battery had persisted well over 24 hours with my normal use, which includes texting, taking some photos, occasional Neko Atsume-ing, and a very constant flood of battery-draining email notifications.

The next day, I used the device more heavily and was able to squeeze in 15 hours (7 of which were active) with 15% left to go.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

Apple claims 13 hours of pure internet use over Wi-Fi and 10 days of pure standby time. Battery life varies so much with usage and reception, but I was able to get results that were certainly better than my 6s. More screen = more battery, so if you're always running out of power, you may want to consider the SE.

Apple has a long history of making damn good smallphones.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

Managing editor John Paczkowski brought in his original iPhone — THE FIRST EVER – so that I could compare the two.

"The" iPhone is chubbier and rounder than its newest counterpart (which, by the way, is the 12th iteration of iPhone). But, aside from its toy-like size, the nearly 9-year-old phone (which was in immaculate condition) still looks and feels modern, until you turn it on, anyway.

I had forgotten that Apple was great at making devices that weren't gigantiPhones. Remember the iPod Nano? The iPhone 5s? The iPhone 5c?

The SE (re)makes the case for single-handed operation.

There is some internet clamor about how this iPhone isn't innovative, how it doesn't *feel* new, how it's STILL not waterproof, etc.

Those critics are right. The iPhone SE isn't a groundbreaking piece of technology — but it does matter.

The SE serves some often neglected groups: the small-handed, who have few non-phablet flagship options to choose from; cash-strapped iOS users who want a performant phone; and finally, those who couldn't care less about headphone jack–less hardware and whatever newfangled inventions are due to arrive with the iPhone 7.

But with the SE, Apple is also making a case for single-handed operation for big *and* small hands. Just yesterday, I watched even my 6-foot-tall boyfriend fumble with the 6s while reading in bed. Turn on Reachability, one might say. If you're going to constantly put your phone into a "one-hand" mode, why not make it the default?

How much does it cost?

The new iPhone, which arrives in Apple Stores on March 31 and is available to preorder on, costs $399 for 16GB or $499 for 64GB.

I'd recommend getting the 64GB size, especially if you plan on taking a healthy amount of photos or video. Live photos and 4K video require a lot of space.

The pricing plans get a little bit complicated, but are great options for those who don't have hundos available right now.

* If you want to preorder, the monthly financing options (from ~$13/month for the 16GB and $16.64/month for the 64GB) vary by carrier. With a two-year contract, Sprint and Verizon offer 24-month installment plans and $0 down. T-Mobile and AT&T (unless you sign up for the upgrade-every-year AT&T Next plan) require customers to pay in full at signup.

* If you have an iPhone 5s, you can trade it in for a 16GB iPhone SE, which you can get for as low as $10/month for two years ($240 total). There are no details on the monthly price of the 64GB.

* If you want to trade down from an iPhone 6, you can trade in to get up to $300 in Apple Store credit, but you won't be able to preorder. You'll need to wait until March 31 to redeem your credit for the SE.

So, should you buy it?

If you fit into one of those underserved categories listed above, I'd recommend the new iPhone SE. It's a blazing fast smartphone for those who don't think bigger is better.

Stay tuned for a review of the new (also smaller) 9.7-inch iPad Pro.