Teardown: Apple iPhone SE 2020
Image credit: Apple
Apple delivers smart reuse in a smartphone at a keen price.
The 2020 edition of the iPhone SE was planned out well before the coronavirus pandemic, but the crisis may make its recent launch even more timely for Apple.
At an entry price of £419 unlocked for the 64GB version (with 128GB at £469 and 256GB at £569), it targets potential customers in the mid-priced smartphone tier, responding to the increasing competition Apple has faced for some time from rivals’ increasingly well-specified devices at this price point.
Right now, though, with many consumers expected to rein in spending even as global lockdowns relax, this second iteration of the SE may also win over existing Apple customers who might otherwise not have upgraded their iPhones at all.
The SE is a powerful phone for the price. Most notably, it is powered by Apple’s own six-core A13 Bionic applications processor, first seen in the iPhone 11 (2 x 2.65GHz; 4 x 1.8GHz), albeit here with 3GB of RAM rather than the 4-6GB seen across the flagship models.
This means that more demanding apps still load and run quickly. Moreover, although Apple has opted for single front and rear cameras (7MP and 12MP respectively) rather than multi-modules, the optical image enhancements offered by the A13 chip are generally rated as delivering very polished results.
Further ‘premium’ features on the SE include an IP67 rating for water and dust contamination and wireless Qi-standard charging. However, as is increasingly the case, there is no standard 3.5mm headphone port as there was on 2016's original SE model.
With all this in mind, the 2020 SE remains an exercise in extensive design and specification reuse. It could not have been otherwise. To hit the lower price point, Apple has needed to constrain non-recurring engineering costs, taking advantage of the available economies of scale on components.
Apart from pulling across the A13 processor from the iPhone 11, the SE has the same handset’s advanced MIMO and Wi-Fi capabilities. However, the main inspiration is the iPhone 8. The SE has the same 1,334x750pi Retina HD display (336ppi), Touch ID fingerprint sensor, 6.96Wh battery and Taptic Engine. The camera modules do differ, but only slightly.
An X-ray examination by iFixit and Creative Electron found this trend carrying over to the physical layout, notwithstanding a few changes to ports, antennas and some of the silicon.
There is also the more traditional iPhone bezel as opposed to whole-surface touchscreen functionality. That does perhaps date the SE a little.
Overall, iFixit scores the 2020 iPhone SE at six out of 10 for repairability. A middling score generally, but a comparatively high one for an Apple device. Many of the components are modular and relatively easy to source. Access to the display and battery (two of the most common sources of smartphone failure) is straightforward.
On the downside, the IP67 seals do complicate access (though that is one trade-off many consumers will happily make), but perhaps a bigger issue is that the glass rear panel is hard to replace.
Although it may not have the snazziest screen, the iPhone SE can do a lot of heavy lifting to run more demanding games and undertake both still and video image tasks, although the battery capacity has been the subject of some criticism. However, you get what you pay for, so keeping a few cheap wireless charging pads handy is probably your best way of ensuring a full day’s use.
Generally, the iPhone SE is a very attractive phone, particularly in the present times, leveraging a lot of Apple’s very potent intellectual property. Moreover, it has been well futureproofed for a mid-price device. This again is largely attributable to the A13 engine, but there is also the promise of three or four years of updates from its base point of the latest release of iOS 13.
Key components: Apple iPhone SE 2020
1. Main assembly
2. Camera modules
5. Front assembly
7. SIM tray
10. Home button assembly
12. Taptic Engine
13. Apps processor on DRAM, Apple/Samsung
14. Modem, Intel
15. Power amplifier, Skyworks
16. Power amplifier (mid/high band), Avago
17. Power amplifier (low band), Skyworks
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