iPhone SE 3: 6 upgrades we want in Apple’s next budget smartphone – CNET

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The new iPhone SE looks striking in red. At $399 it’s the most affordable iPhone you can currently buy.

John Kim/CNET

At $399 (£389, AU$679), the budget-minded iPhone SE is the cheapest Apple smartphone you can buy. We praised the 2020 model for its affordable price and fast performance driven by the same chip in the iPhone 11, which launched just a few months before the iPhone SE.

But there are still many things we want from Apple’s next cheap smartphone, especially as competitors like Samsung and Google have improved their own cost-conscious devices. The iPhone 11’s new cheaper $499 (£489, AU$849) price could also make the $399 iPhone SE a tougher sell for those who want a more affordable Apple device, considering it comes with longer battery life and a better camera system for just $100 more.

Apple is rumored to be developing a new iPhone SE that may launch in early 2022, according to a report from Nikkei Asian Review. If that turns out to be true, here are the improvements we’d like to see.

A sharper selfie camera

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The 2020 iPhon SE has a 7-megapixel front camera and we’d love to see an upgrade in the next model.

John Kim/CNET

The iPhone SE’s wallet-friendly price means that it comes with some compromises, particularly when it comes to the camera. And if Apple keeps the next iPhone SE’s pricing as competitive as the 2020 version’s, that probably won’t change much. 

But we’d at least love to see a higher-resolution front-facing camera for clearer video calls and selfies. The current iPhone SE has a 7-megapixel front camera like the iPhone XS. The iPhone 11 and newer devices have a 12-megapixel front camera with a wider field of view, as my colleague Patrick Holland pointed out in his review. 

While the iPhone SE’s rear camera lacks the dual-lens setup that’s become common on most phones — even on budget devices — its single-lens wide camera is still capable enough to produce impressive images. But now that the COVID-19 pandemic has made making video calls on our mobile devices the norm, it would be great to see the front camera get an upgrade that brings it closer to Apple’s pricier phones.

Read more: Is buying an iPhone 13 worth it? Let’s compare the last five years of Apple’s iPhones

A newer Apple processor

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Apple A15 processor in the iPhone 13 has 15 billion transistors.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

One of the best things about the iPhone SE is that it comes with the same processor as the iPhone 11, ensuring it won’t feel sluggish soon and will be well-equipped to handle new features. While the A13 Bionic chip inside the iPhone SE packs plenty of power for everyday tasks, Apple could give its budget phone an edge by outfitting it with an even newer processor. 

The iPhone 13’s A15 Bionic processor would be ideal, but even gaining last year’s A14 Bionic chip would be a step forward in future-proofing the iPhone SE for years to come. Again, the older A13 Bionic chip is more than enough for most of the tasks you’d typically accomplish on your phone, whether that’s checking email, reading the news, playing games, or taking photos. 

But the improved neural engine in Apple’s newer chips will likely make your iPhone better at a lot of the machine learning-powered software flourishes that the iPhone has gained in recent years. These include app recommendations, text predictions, language translation and the ability to recognize people in photos. It’s these types of features that largely drive the iPhone’s appeal rather than raw computing power, and the more powerful neural engine in Apple’s newer chips should help.

There’s a chance we could see Apple’s latest mobile processor arrive in the next iPhone SE, as Nikkei’s report says it will run on the same A15 Bionic chip in the iPhone 13

5G support

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 T-Mobile 5G nationwide network advertisement seen in Midtown Manhattan. 

Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

You may not need 5G today considering speeds are usually comparable to that of 4G LTE networks. But 5G is now standard in most smartphones, meaning they’re not typically more expensive than non-5G phones as was the case in 2019. Along with a processor upgrade, bringing 5G to the iPhone SE would be another way to ensure that Apple’s next-generation budget phone doesn’t feel dated in two to three years. Nikkei’s report also suggests the next iPhone SE will come with 5G support, which would mean Apple’s entire 2022 lineup will be capable of supporting the next-generation network. 

Read more: iPhone SE 3: Release date, price, 5G and all the other rumors we’re hearing

Longer battery life

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The iPhone SE is one of Apple’s smallest iPhones, along with the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 13 Mini.

John Kim/CNET

The iPhone SE isn’t just the cheapest phone Apple sells; it’s also one of the tiniest. That also means it has a smaller battery than other iPhones like the iPhone 11, 12 and 13. Apple estimates that the iPhone SE should last for up to 13 hours when playing back local video, whereas the iPhone 13 should last for 19 hours and the iPhone 11 and 12 should last for 17 hours. Apple also improved the battery life in its other smaller-sized iPhone, the iPhone 13 Mini, which it says can last for 17 hours during video playback just like the iPhone 12. 

In our review of the iPhone SE, my colleague Patrick Holland wrote that he was able to easily get through a day and a half on a single charge. However, battery life will always vary depending on how you use your device. In my own experience, I’ve only been able to get through a full workday into the late afternoon on days when I’m making a lot of calls or recording audio for work. But I typically get more mileage on weekends when I’m mostly just checking email, reading the news and browsing social media. 

Still, battery life can never be too long, and since Apple improved the iPhone 13 Mini’s battery life I’m hopeful it’ll do the same for the next iPhone SE.

Touch ID 

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The iPhone SE is the only current iPhone with Touch ID. 

Angela Lang/CNET

The iPhone SE is the only model Apple currently sells that still has the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the home button. I imagine that’s a big draw for some people, especially over the past year-and-a-half as many of us have been wearing masks when leaving the house. Some might also find Touch ID to be more convenient than Face ID since you don’t have to worry about positioning your phone in front of your face properly to get it to work. 

Many modern Android phones include both facial recognition and fingerprint scanning as biometric options for unlocking your phone or authenticating payments. Reports suggest that Apple is working on an in-screen fingerprint scanner for future flagship iPhone models, but I’m hopeful that Apple will at least keep Touch ID on the iPhone SE in the meantime. 

More storage at the base model

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The iPhone SE starts with 64GB of storage, but we’d love to see 128GB. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Apple bumped up the iPhone’s entry-level storage capacity from 64GB to 128GB with the iPhone 13 — a welcome update that would be much appreciated on the next iPhone SE, too. More storage usually results in a price increase, but 128GB is now widely considered to be the standard on most smartphones, including budget models like the $350 Samsung Galaxy A42 5G and $450 Google Pixel 5A 5G. I’m hoping that by cutting the 64GB configuration out of the iPhone 13 lineup, Apple is acknowledging this shift rather than introducing it as a premium feature that’s only available on its flagship phones. 

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