That extends to the SE's design, too. As I said in my initial hands-on, the iPhone 5/5s's look still stands as my favorite, and I half-wish Apple would bring back this more angular aesthetic. (Fingers crossed for September.) The iPhone SE is as light and well built as the 5s was two years ago, with few physical differences to speak of. In fact, aside from the rose gold color option that the 5s didn't offer, there are just two telltale changes: the SE logo on the back side and the matte chamfers that run around the phone's flat edges. If you liked the old-school iPhone 5s design, then, you're going to feel right at home here. And if you didn't, well, you weren't going to buy this phone anyway.
There is a third camp, though: people who enjoyed the 5s's design and then embraced a generation of bigger screens. If that's you, I know what you're thinking, and yes, going back to a small iPhone after two years with the 6 family is weird. If you peeked inside my Messages app (please don't), you'd see several texts to friends and colleagues posing variations of the same question: How did we use these things for so long? A week in and I still can't bash out text messages on that cramped onscreen keyboard as reliably as I used to. Hell, I'm occasionally frustrated by how little text I can scan through at once on the smaller screen.
Still, the size has its upsides. After months of using big smartphones -- the iPhone 6s Plus, Galaxy Note 5 and Nexus 6p, mostly -- my right hand is in pretty rough shape. It gets sore and tired quickly, especially when I'm using my pinkie to cradle the bottom of the phone and stretching my thumb across the screen to tap something in the corner. I'm 27, but my hand feels like it's 40. Using the SE for the week, then, has been like a mini-vacation for my gnarled claw. The small-screen lifestyle isn't for everyone, but there's no denying the iPhone SE is a damned comfortable little device.
Anyway. My review unit was rose gold (because of course it was!) and came with 64GB of internal storage (asking price: $499). Well, approximately 64 gigs, anyway: After you factor in the space iOS 9.3 takes up, you're left with 55.7GB of usable storage. That the entry-level $399 model comes with only 16GB of storage isn't surprising, but here's hoping this is the last time Apple ships an iPhone with so little space to play with. That's just one of the compromises you'll be making when you go for this form factor at this price. Neither model has 3D Touch. The Touch ID sensors in the home buttons are first-generation models, which is to say it's not as fast as the one in the 6s. And the front-facing cameras are a 1.2-megapixel throwback to the days of the iPhone 5.
Display and sound
For all intents, the iPhone SE has the exact same screen as the one in the iPhone 5s. That means it still runs at a resolution of 1,136 x 640, which also means the math still works out to a pixel density of 326ppi (same as the iPhone 6s). Look beyond the numbers, though, and you'll see that this throwback of a screen is as bright and well saturated as in the old days. That said, the display might take a little getting used to if you're coming from a 6s. The screen's a tad less bright than that of either the 6s or 6s Plus, and the color temperature is a little warmer, too. If anything, the biggest difference here is the loss of 3D Touch, which some will feel more acutely than others. I'll admit, I was very bullish about 3D Touch gestures when the 6s first came out, but now I rarely use them. Current iPhone users might not miss them, while newcomers won't even notice their absence.
Meanwhile, the single speaker tucked into the SE's bottom edge is punchier than I expected, especially with highs and mids. You'll still want a pair of headphones for any kind of long-term listening, but there's enough power here to give YouTube videos and the Hamilton soundtrack some needed oomph.
The iPhone SE ships with iOS 9.3, which doesn't add much in the way of whiz-bang features. If anything, the most notable addition is Night Shift, a feature that can automatically warm up the screen's color temperature to ease eyestrain at night. It's not exactly a new idea -- apps like f.lux have been doing this for years on the desktop -- but a warmer screen does indeed make evening reading easier than a normal white one. Rather than set up a specific Night Shift schedule, you can manually adjust how warm the screen is. Theoretically, cranking up screen warmth to the max should help ease your screwy sleep cycle, but you're left with a jarringly orange display as a result. None of this helped me crash faster at night, but hopefully it does someone out there some good.
You can now also lock specific entries in the Notes app; opening them requires either a password or putting your finger on the Touch ID sensor. At last, my list of "Definitive Karaoke Jams" gets the protection it deserves! Also, if you're a Verizon person, you can finally start WiFi-calling your friends as of this update (the other big three carriers have had this for a while). Meanwhile, the Health app now highlights software that pipes in movement and nutrition data, which is especially nice on the SE; its smaller size makes it a more pleasant workout buddy.
Oh, and Apple News has gotten slightly better at figuring out what kinds of stories I actually want to read. (It still overestimates how much Donald Trump news I want, but that's probably a symptom of a larger issue.) There are also a host of new 3D Touch app behaviors in iOS 9.3, but obviously none of them work here. C'est la vie.
Strangely enough, I ran into a few weird Siri hiccups after setting up the "Hey Siri" voice activation. While listening to an audiobook in Audible, certain passages -- ones with phrases that don't sound a thing like "Hey Siri" -- would bring my virtual assistant to life and puzzle her with random bits of dialogue. I played the same book on an iPhone 6s to try and replicate the issue, with no luck. Ditto for just putting the phones next to each other; after all, the same sound should trigger Siri on both, right? Nope, it only happened on the SE. It stopped after a while, but I still can't figure out what was going on there.
Spoiler alert in case you haven't yet read our iPhone 6s review: The camera is great. And thanks to the Transitive Property of Component Transplantation (it'll become a thing, just watch), the iPhone SE's camera is great, too. Actually, it's better than the 6s's camera in one subtle way: Since the iPhone SE is a slightly thicker phone, it doesn't have the awkward camera nub seen on members of the iPhone 6 family. See? There's an argument to be made for thicker phones.
Anyway, I could go on about how Apple's "deep trench isolation" keeps light from spilling into adjacent photodiodes, but that's not really necessary. All you really need to know is that the iPhone SE is capable of capturing some remarkably detailed, nicely colored photos. Surprise, surprise. I've been shooting with both the SE and an iPhone 6s Plus for the past week, and the results they put out are nearly identical. (The 6s Plus pulls ahead when it comes to action shots and low-light situations, because it has optical image stabilization.)