iPhone SE vs iPhone 5S: what is the difference, anyway?


The iPhone SE is a tricky phone to understand. It doesn’t fall neatly into Apple’s previously established tick-tock cycle; it’s not a new design (like the 6) or a better version of last year’s flagship (like the 6S). Instead, it’s best described as an iPhone 6S in the body of an iPhone 5S’; a four-inch phone that’s every bit as powerful as the larger iPhone models released last September. Even that statement isn’t quite accurate, though — so let’s break it down, take it slow, and we’ll find what we’re looking for.*

K-Pop reference game is on point


The iPhone 5S and SE are almost identical when it comes to design, with only a few subtle differences that would let you distinguish between the two — like colour matched Apple logos and matte-chamfered edges on the SE. If you’re looking at a pink four-inch iPhone, then it must be the SE, as the 5S only launched with three colours: space grey, silver and champagne gold. The iPhone SE also weighs exactly one gram more than the iPhone 5S, and the two have the same dimensions.



The iPhone 5S and SE have identical displays; both are 4-inch IPS screens with a resolution of 640 x 1136 and a screen-to-body ratio of about 61%. The resolution isn’t incredible for a phone of this size, but it does match the screen density of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, so text should still appear sharp.

Reusing the same screen as the iPhone 5S means that the iPhone SE doesn’t support 3D Touch, which debuted on the iPhone 6S. That means you won’t get to ‘peek’ and ‘pop’ into your apps, but you can still long press to activate Live Photos, for example.


The real reason to upgrade to the iPhone SE is performance, and that’s down to the vastly improved hardware inside the phone. The SE comes with the same processor as the iPhone 6S, the A9, as well as a six-core GPU and 2GB of RAM. That makes apps open faster, games run more smoothly, and keeps apps open in the background longer when multitasking. You can see the difference this hardware upgrade makes in the head-to-head video below:

An NFC chip has also been added to the iPhone SE, allowing the phone to do contactless payments via Apple Pay.

However, some pieces of hardware haven’t been updated to match the iPhone 6S. For example, the fingerprint reader is the same as the iPhone 5S, rather than the faster version on the 6S, and the inclusion of a 5S-era speaker means your iPhone is a little bit quieter than its newer peers.

Battery life

The iPhone SE has a bigger battery than the iPhone 5S, 1642mAh versus 1560mAh, despite its identical dimensions. That opens the door to improved battery life on the iPhone SE, making it close to the iPhone 6S Plus in overall battery performance. It also ranks as Apple’s longest-lasting phone for web browsing, at a mighty 13 hours on LTE or Wi-Fi. You can see Apple’s full table reproduced below:



When it comes to cameras, the iPhone SE is a mixed bag. The rear-facing camera sees a big upgrade, moving from an 8- to 12-megapixel sensor. The aperture changes to a brighter f/2.0 from f/2.2 and 4K video support is added too. Live Photos, those short video clips that animate each photo you take, are also supported.

The front-facing camera is where the problems lie; this is the same outdated 1.2-megapixel model from the iPhone 5S. That makes for dim and blurry selfies, and subpar Facetime calls too.


The iPhone SE is the cheapest iPhone ever, beating out the iPhone 5S it replaces and even the plastic iPhone 5C. Specifically, it retails for just £359 SIM-free, compared to £539 or £619 for an iPhone 6S or 6S Plus. It’s hardly budget territory, but it’s as close as we’ve ever seen from Apple.



As mentioned earlier, the iPhone SE has the same dimensions and features as the iPhone 5S… and that means almost all cases and accessories for the 5S will work on the SE as well. That’s great if you have old cases for the 5 or 5S lying around, and it also means you get to pick and choose from the massive range of iPhone 5S cases and accessories that were made since the phones were originally released in 2012.

Shop iPhone SE cases > Shop iPhone SE accessories >


The iPhone SE is Apple’s latest hardware on the cheap, wrapped up in an ergonomically superior four-inch form factor and an award-winning design. It might not have all the same tricks and features as Apple’s latest flagship models, but it’s probably the best iPhone ever when it comes to value-for-money.