Apple's newest iPhone is a compact productivity machine. The iPhone SE sports a diminutive 4-inch display, making it significantly smaller — and easier to use one-handed — than the 4.7-inch iPhone 6s and 5.5-inch iPhone 6s Plus. It's also a lot more affordable, starting at just $399, compared to $599 for the iPhone 6s. Many workers will find its small screen limiting, but the phone still packs a lot of productivity potential.
After years of using larger smartphones — I'm talking devices measuring 5.5 inches and up — the teeny tiny iPhone SE looks almost toy-like in my hand. Thankfully, it feels as premium as any flagship phone, with the same aluminum-and-glass design that Apple perfected with the iPhone 5s. Anyone who has owned an older iPhone model will feel right at home with the iPhone SE.
I suspect that most users will be less likely to drop and damage this iPhone compared to larger models, which aren't as easy to palm. The iPhone SE is also about a full ounce lighter than the iPhone 6S, which helps make it feel even more comfortable in my hand. It's available in four color options: silver, gray, gold and rose gold.
Big smartphone screens are great for screen-intensive productivity tasks like editing spreadsheets on the go. On the other hand, a large display also makes for a larger device that's harder to operate with one hand. That's the benefit of the iPhone SE's 4-inch display: Even users with small hands will have no trouble reaching the top corners of the device.
In fact, the iPhone SE has one of the smallest displays you'll find on any modern smartphone. The trade-off is that the 4-inch display can feel seriously cramped if you're used to something larger. Basic work tasks like viewing documents and light spreadsheet editing were noticeably less comfortable than they are on larger smartphones. Even drafting a simple email can feel like a bit of a struggle, considering the small size of the keys on the on-screen keyboard. I found myself making uncharacteristic typos pretty frequently.
Apple's Touch ID fingerprint reader — embedded in the iPhone SE's home button — gives the phone a nice security boost. The reader took just about a minute to set up, and worked quickly and reliably, whisking me to my home screen every time I used it. It's a nice perk for workers who want to keep their smartphone secure without fussing with a password screen every time they power up their device.
I did notice that the iPhone SE's fingerprint reader isn't quite as fast as the one you'll find on the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, which feature updated components. That means you'll see a very small delay between the time that you touch your finger to the home button and the time that your phone unlocks. It's a reasonable trade-off, though, considering the iPhone SE's lower price tag.
The iPhone SE offers above-average battery life, which means you can feel free to leave your charger at home. The handset ran for a very solid 8 hours and 35 minutes, which edged out the category average by about 15 minutes. That's pretty impressive for such a compact phone, but other low-cost phones offer even better longevity. Huawei's Honor 5X ran for 9 hours and 22 minutes, while Google's Nexus 5X lasted an epic 11 hours and 30 minutes on the same battery test.
Despite its small size, the iPhone SE packs a punch. The phone runs on the same A9 processor that powers the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, making it one of the faster smartphones available. That means multitasking feels seamless, and you can switch back and forth between apps without a hint of lag.
The iPhone SE performed better than any other midpriced smartphone on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. It racked up a very solid score of 3,311, which easily beats the Nexus 5X (3,507) and Huawei Honor 5X (2,990).
Apple sells the iPhone SE in two configurations, which offer different amounts of internal storage. The low-end model has 16GB of storage and sells for $399. A pricier version is available with 64GB of storage for $499.
For just $399, the iPhone SE is a solid device for consumers who are in the market for a more affordable iPhone. But its small display makes it a questionable pick for most workers. Basic tasks like firing off a short email reply can feel like a chore, given how cramped the on-screen keyboard feels. And screen-intensive productivity tasks are similarly claustrophobic.
But the iPhone SE is still a solid pick for workers with small hands, or anyone with only basic computing needs. It offers solid security, fast performance and long battery life for $200 less than the iPhone 6S. Budget-minded workers should also check out the Huawei Honor 5X, which sports a metal design, fingerprint sensor and sharp 5.5-inch display for just $199. But if you really just want a smaller screen, the iPhone SE is an excellent option.