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6 iPhone SE Improvements We Want From Today's Apple Event

CNET logo CNET 3/8/2022 Lisa Eadicicco
a close up of a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: The 2020 iPhone SE looks striking in red. At $399 it's the most affordable iPhone you can currently buy. John Kim/CNET © Provided by CNET The 2020 iPhone SE looks striking in red. At $399 it's the most affordable iPhone you can currently buy. John Kim/CNET

Editor's note, March 8, 2022: The iPhone SE 3 is one of many new products Apple announced today. The company also showed off its new green color option for iPhone 13 and 13 Pro, and an upgraded iPad Air. We got a release date for iOS 15.4, too. You can check out everything Apple debuted at its "Peek Performance" event here.

Apple's first event of 2022 is less than an hour away, and the 2020 iPhone SE's rumored successor, the iPhone SE 3, will more than likely make its debut during the virtual presentation. (Follow along with our live coverage here.)

There are many ways Apple could improve the iPhone SE, especially since Samsung and Google are bringing attractive features like multilens cameras to their less expensive phones. 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 cost-effective Apple device.

If Apple's next cheap iPhone becomes a reality, here are improvements we'd like to see.

A sharper selfie camera

The 2020 iPhone SE has a 7-megapixel front camera and we'd love to see an upgrade in the next model. John Kim/CNET © Provided by CNET The 2020 iPhone 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 the phone makes 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 mentions in his iPhone SE 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 of producing 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? What about the 2020 iPhone SE?

diagram: The Apple A15 processor in the iPhone 13 has 15 billion transistors. Apple/Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET © Provided by CNET The Apple A15 processor in the iPhone 13 has 15 billion transistors. Apple/Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

A newer Apple processor

One of the best things about the iPhone SE is that it runs on the same processor as the iPhone 11, ensuring that it won't feel sluggish too soon and will be capable of handling 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 the 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 do on your phone, such as checking email, reading the news, playing games and 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 a report from Nikkei Asian Review says it will run on the same A15 Bionic chip in the iPhone 13

a group of people walking on a city street: T-Mobile 5G nationwide network advertisement seen in midtown Manhattan. Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images © Provided by CNET T-Mobile 5G nationwide network advertisement seen in midtown Manhattan. Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

5G support

You may not need 5G today considering speeds are usually comparable to those 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

The iPhone SE is one of Apple's smallest iPhones, along with the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 13 Mini. John Kim/CNET © Provided by CNET The iPhone SE is one of Apple's smallest iPhones, along with the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 13 Mini. John Kim/CNET

Better battery life

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 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, on a full workday I've only been able to get through 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 good, and since Apple improved the iPhone 13 Mini's battery life I'm hopeful it'll do the same for the next iPhone SE.

The iPhone SE is the only current iPhone with Touch ID. Angela Lang/CNET © Provided by CNET The iPhone SE is the only current iPhone with Touch ID. Angela Lang/CNET

Touch ID 

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 two years as the need to check your phone while wearing a mask is suddenly common. Apple's iOS 15.4 update is expected to address this by improving how Face ID works while wearing a mask. But Touch ID can still feel more convenient since it doesn't require you to position your phone in front of your face in a certain way.

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 hoping Apple will keep Touch ID on the iPhone SE in the meantime. 

The iPhone SE starts with 64GB of storage, but we'd love to see 128GB. Angela Lang/CNET © Provided by CNET The iPhone SE starts with 64GB of storage, but we'd love to see 128GB. Angela Lang/CNET

More base model storage

Apple bumped up the iPhone's entry-level storage capacity from 64GB to 128GB for the iPhone 13 -- a welcome update that would be much appreciated on the next iPhone SE. More storage usually results in a price increase, but 128GB is widely considered to be the standard on 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.

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