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The iPhone SE is back, but does it still make sense to buy one?

The rumour mills were agog a few days ago with news that Apple had brought back the iPhone SE from the dead. This was based on the fact that the device, which many had assumed had been discontinued after the latest batch of iPhones (XS, XS Max and XR), was suddenly made available for $249 for the 32GB edition in the US, a few days ago. There was widespread speculation about the reason for Apple’s bringing back the SE from the (seeming) dead – that it was an attempt to boost revenues after what have been widely perceived poor sales of the new batch of iPhones, that it was the precursor of Apple considering a return to smaller form factor phones, that it was an attempt to compensate for the failure of the iPhone XR…the reasons, as always, were many.

Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

What, however, mattered most was that the iPhone SE was back, no matter for how long a duration. For the uninitiated, the phone had been launched in March 2016, a few months after the launch of the 6S and 6S Plus and was seen by many as an attempt to attract those who still wanted a compact iPhone – the iPhone SE had a 4-inch display, similar to those seen on the iPhone 5 and 5S, but had the same A9 chip that was seen in the iPhone 6S/6S Plus and a similar 12-megapixel rear camera. There had been some hopes that it would be a very affordable iPhone but at $399 for the 16GB model (hey, it was 2016, those existed) and $449 for the 32GB model, while it was certainly more affordable than the iPhone 6S (which started at $649), it was not exactly super inexpensive either, especially when you considered the relatively smaller display and the less than extraordinary front facing camera (1.2-megapixels in the selfie era!).  

Still, there were takers for it, especially those who wanted to upgrade from their iPhone 5S and who did not like the bigger iPhones. And as with the passage of time, the price of the iPhone SE dropped, it suddenly became the most affordable iPhone in town, and was actually the first to be manufactured in India. And it became a sort of port of entry into the iOS world or for those who wanted an iPhone without endangering their bank accounts or kidneys significantly. In fact, at the time of writing, it is available from some e-commerce portals for as little as Rs 16,999.  

The big question is: is it still worth investing in?

Some people would consider it to be a no-brainer. An iPhone running the latest iOS (yes, it got the iOS 12 update) would be better than most mid-segment Android devices, wouldn’t it? After all, you are getting access to Apple’s amazing app treasury, the security of iOS, a (still) very decent rear camera and above all, an amazingly compact form factor for less than Rs 20,000.

Deal, right?

To be brutally honest – and I am a person who prefers iOS over Android – I am not too sure. The biggest attraction of the iPhone SE for me, would be its size, as we are living in an era where phones seem designed to stretch hands (bezels or no bezels!). And yes, I can understand some feeling that it is a great price at which to get your first iPhone. In fact, I would have recommended people purchase the SE when it was launched rather than the 6S and 6S Plus in 2016, as it just was such an amazingly compact device with a terrific camera. However, fast forward to 2019, and I must confess that it is showing signs of its age. Whereas the device had some show off value in 2016, I think some of that would have diminished, given how much iPhone design has changed in the interim. In fact, the iPhone 6S would have greater flaunt value than the iPhone SE, which runs the risk of being mistaken for the iPhone 5S even (unless you grab the rose gold edition). Even in terms of performance, the difference between the SE and relatively newer devices likes the iPhone 7 and 8 is very discernible – speaking for myself, the selfie camera is a no-go.   

Yes, the iPhone SE still performs superbly, given its age. But in my opinion, it is not quite capable of mixing with the likes of the Redmi Note 6 Pro or the Mi A2, which are priced in the same segment and come with much better cameras and battery life. And well, methinks it no longer has the “swag” factor that it had a year or so ago. What it does have, however, is a very affordable price tag by iPhone standards (almost a sixth of the iPhone XS and almost a fifth of the XR). So it could at a stretch appeal to someone who wants an iPhone at the very least possible cost. But that apart, I cannot really think of a compelling reason to recommend it any more. A year ago, I would have. But not today.

Of course, that is just my perception. The market might think differently. Apple brought back the iPhone SE on January 19th. It was sold out in no time. It was brought back a few days later. And again was out of stock within no time at all.

That does tell a tale of its own.

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Nimish Dubey

Nimish Dubey has been writing on technology since 1999. He has contributed to a number of publications and websites including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Mint, Economic Times, Outlook, and India Today. He is currently the Editorial Mentor at TechPP.com and a regular contributor to Indian Express. When not writing, he loves to read and listen to classic rock.

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