iPhone SE vs Android: Can a $399 iPhone outperform $3,000 in phones?


When comparing phones, you generally want them to be in the same league. These days that might mean there’s a few hundred dollars separating the models—like the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, or the Galaxy S20+ and the OnePlus 8 Pro—but it’s basically a waste of time to pit the $1,400 Galaxy S20 Ultra against the $400 Galaxy A51.

Update 5//23: Added new tests to the Battery and Charging section.

But Apple’s new iPhone SE is a horse of a different color. Yes, it’s Apple’s budget phone and costs more than a thousand dollars less than the highest-end Galaxy S20, but it also has a bunch of Apple’s latest tech. And, you know, it’s an iPhone.

I did the unthinkable and compared it to the three of the top Android phones available today: Galaxy S20 Ultra ($1,400), Google Pixel 4 ($900) and OnePlus 7T ($600). Add it all up and you’ve got $3,000 in Android phones against one lowly $399 iPhone. But what should have been a ridiculously one-sided battle was surprisingly close.

iPhone SE vs Android: Design

The iPhone SE looks and feels like an older phone. Like the iPhone 8, the SE is extremely similar to the hardware introduced with the iPhone 6 in 2014 and you can feel every bit of its six-year-old design. The screen is small, the bezels are monstrous, and the home button is physical. It’s been a long time since an Android phone of any repute had a home button, and the SE looks and feels downright antiquated in comparison to the other phones here.

iphone se android 6s back Michael Simon/IDG

The iPhone SE (right) has extremely similar dimensions to the iPhone 6s.

I’m not going to debate the designs of the other phones, but I will say this: Despite its ancient looks, the iPhone SE is an extremely attractive phone with a solid build quality and retro charm. Even Apple’s old designs are better than some of today’s Android phones, and the glass back, aluminum sides, and carefully curved chamfers are satisfyingly symmetrical and ergonomically pleasant. The S20 and 7T are definitely a step ahead in the looks department—the Pixel 4 is a toss-up—but for a phone that hasn’t been in style for years, the SE really isn’t so bad.

Granted, its not a phone for everyone, but those who like or can get past its outdated Home button will appreciate is craftsmanship. The smooth glass back and polished aluminum edges bely its $399 price tag, and the whole package feels like a premium handset. Its bezels are way too big to compete with the other phones here, but there’s a certain charm to the iPhone SE—and it’s nice not to have to worry about palm rejection. There’s also something to be said for a phone that fits in any pocket.

iPhone SE vs Android: Display

Right off the bat, the iPhone SE is at a disadvantage. While the Android phones here all have high-refresh-rate OLED displays, the iPhone SE uses an LCD screen that pales in comparison to the other phones here:



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