By bringing in top notch hardware in the celebrated iPhone 5s chassis, Apple has been able to repackage new wine in an old bottle. Himanshu Juneja weighs the pros and cons of the latest from the Apple stable
It has been no secret that Apple had been feeling the pinch in the most important markets. In China, the likes of Xiaomi are closing in on the Cupertino-based giant. In India, the budget phone makers have been calling the shots, and other handset makers heating up the competition in premium segment to boot.
Factor in the saturation aspect, and Apple's woes had been piling up like never before.
Instead of compromising on the built and innards, Apple went ahead and re-ignited the long ignored segment of regular screen mobile phones. Apple's move seems to be a calculated one since there is less competition in this segment, and developing economies present a market for the competitively priced product.
The latest member of the Apple family has its share of compromises. There is no 3D touch, the front facing camera is archaic, and there is no IP68 certification. But the lure of latest innards along with an impressive camera and a good battery should make even the iPhone 5s owners, who have been holding back due to lack of options, think about an upgrade.
Measuring 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm, one would feel as if it was the iPhone 5s once again. Even the weight, at 113 gms, is about 1 gm heavier when compared with the 5s.
The SE carries the premium looks of the iPhone family, and the metal body has only the bezels which can make a case for some complaint. There are the matte-chamfered edges to make it less grating, and as a result, the handling is superb.
Turn the phone over, and it is indeed a commendable job done. Despite carrying the latest camera module, keeping the camera bump absent brings a smile. The 3D touch feature is absent, and so is the latest generation finger print scanning sensor, as that would have definitely added a considerable bulk.
The right edge carries the nano SIM tray, whereas the left edge plays host to the silencer button and the volume keys. The power/lock key finds its regular place at the top. The bottom edge carryies the lightening connector, accompanied by the loudspeaker and audio jack.
The iPhone SE is a delight to hold, and the device oozes class and comfort. But Apple not providing the IP68 certification was disappointing. The resistance towards dust and liquids has become an automatic expectations from premium handsets.
Sticking to the 'retina' display, Apple decided to provide the special edition with a 4-inch display unit. The LCD churns out a resolution of 1136 x 640p, yielding a pixel density of 326 ppi.
Opting for an IPS panel begets brilliant viewing angles, and the brightness level ensures that the usage under direct sunlight is not an issue either. The colours came out crisp and there were ample details. Black levels could have been better, and one would have imagined a shift towards AMOLED panel would add more bling factor. But that was not to be.
The display is quite good, and one would look forward to putting the Night Shift mode to the best of use for reading. The display has been provided with Oleo-phobic coating to keep the smudges at bay.
Apple's supplying of the latest hardware under the special edition's hood just might be the clinching factor. There is the A9 processor, along with M9 co-processor working in tandem to take on the daily tasks.
PowerVR GT7600 takes care of the graphics, while there is 2 GB of RAM too, which should keep things running smooth enough.
The storage capacity was a bit of a dampener, as the iPhone SE comes with either 16 GB or the 64 GB version. Apple still refuses to make 32 GB as standard, while charging quite a premium for the entry level model. The barometer sensor is missing. Any user leveraging data from that quarter will not be too pleased about this.
The iPhone SE comes with LTE connectivity prowess, and also carries the usual features like Bluetooth (ver 4.2), WiFi (a/b/g/n/ac), and the users get GPS with AGPS and GLONASS for navigational assistance.
There is also the NFC feature, which unfortunately, is limited to Apple Pay only. The inclusion of Radio would have really boosted iPhone SE's chances and would have made it appear like a true all round device, but another case of missed opportunity here.
The iPhone SE comes with iOS 9.3 out of the box. While it is pretty polished, users can expect an update soon as there is the 9.3.1 for other devices. The lockscreen carries the shortcut for the camera, while displaying the notifications when they arrive.
Once inside, the dock with the standard four shortcuts greets the users. There is of course no app drawer like always, and users can bundle their choice of apps in a folder. Since we do not have the 3D touch feature here, the related features will be missing.
Like even after clicking live photos, users cannot set them as live wallpapers. The control centre can be summoned by swiping from bottom, providing users the toggles, media controls and shortcuts. Notification centre is a top to down swipe away.
The Task switcher gets the 3D carousal treatment instead of the cards, but now there are only three apps to be found for quick access this way. This is limiting and felt frustrating. Siri and Spotlight search are slicker and smarter. The former is Google's Now on tap styled assistant, capable of searching through media files. It searches through while keeping in mind tags like date, location, album names etc. It can of course dig into the mails, notes, messages to deliver results.
The enhanced Spotlight search can deliver calculations, conversions if the user demands. The NightShift Mode is a nifty feature especially for the voracious readers. The display temperature gets adjusted at night, like a filter, and reduces eye strain. Users can customise the filter levels as per their preference.
All in all, the iOS 9.3 is the standard affair from Apple. Coming in a compact phone makes it look all the more slicker.
Thanks to the behemoth the special edition is under the hood, there were no stutters or freezes to be noticed while operating the device.
The apps launch and exit with aplomb, and the scrolling was smooth as always. The phone handles heavy content like HD gaming and videos without any hiccups. There were no alarms sounded on the heating front either.
The speaker however disappointed, as not only it lacks fidelity, it should have been a bit louder as well.
The older generation finger print scanner supplied with the phone works nicely, and is quick to recognise whenever the digits are pressed against it. Apple users can rest assured about the very familiar smooth ride with this handset.
One of the greatest strength of the iPhone SE is its top notch camera. Coming with a 12 MP camera, same as the iPhone 6s possesses, with true tone LED flash while the front facing camera is a lacklustre 1.2MP affair.
The rear camera brings out very impressive results, and better than what the iPhone 5s delivered, but they do not rival the current flagships from other manufacturers. The captured pics are crisp, with good colour gamut. Zooming in reveals the grains, which takes away few accolades.
The contrast looked pretty impressive, and only a severe condition will force summoning of the HDR mode. Speaking of the HDR mode, one can easily bring up details from shaded areas, while not messing up the bright surroundings. The pics captured with lesser ambient light takes a dip, as noise makes a prominent appearance. Thankfully, things are not so bad to be called a deal breaker.
The panorama mode delivered good results and has good stitching in place. Colours were impressive, and details were satisfactory. The front facing camera delivers okayish results, and users have the advantage of turning the screen as a flash for selfies.
The best thing about powerful processor is the resulting option to grab 4k videos. The 2160p videos are pretty good, but nothing too exceptional. The mono sound was a disappointment and Apple must have some good reasons for skipping on stereo quality. There is thankfully some software based image stabilisation at work, taking care of minor shakes.
Users can click their movies in 1080p or 720p as an alternate choice. Results were again impressive with both. There is also the option to grab slow motion capture as well. The 4k video option makes for a strong case for 32 GB being the base model.
Coming with a 1,624 mAh battery, the decision to pack a slightly bigger battery than the iPhone 5s made sense for the newer model.
The iPhone SE easily lasts more than a day on a single charge for moderate to heavy usage pattern. The M9 co-processor is to be given the credit here, allowing the device to detect when is the right time to take things easy, be it resting on the desk idly, or while sitting merrily inside a pocket.
Reassuringly, the power saving mode has been included, and users are prompted to activate it, should the battery levels hit the 20 per cent remaining mark.
Apple seems to have played it smartly. With the squeeze coming in from premium device manufacturers and the midrange segment heating up due to the onslaught by the likes of Xiaomi, etc, Apple had to innovate.
By bringing in top notch hardware in the celebrated iPhone 5s chassis, Apple has been able to repackage new wine in an old bottle. The initial disappointments would be the lacklustre front facing camera and the missing 3D touch, both of which can be overlooked to a certain extent. Some may complain about the recycling of an older chassis as well. Everything else is quite impressive.
But with the 16 GB costing Rs 39,000, and the 64 GB model coming with Rs 49,000, Apple has missed the mark by some margin at least in India. No protection against dust or liquid spills will not go unnoticed in today's times. Throw in the missing barometer and the 'expensive' iPhone SE becomes an option only for the brand loyalists, or for those who have a penchant for small screened mobile phones.
Apple should not let the opportunity slip by, and a swift price cut will do wonders for the chances of not only the iPhone SE, but will also help Apple to significantly tap into the mid tier segment.