Blind Bargains

Review: Which is it: the iPhone SE or iPhone 6S?

Among the announcements at Apple's latest event, was the introduction of the iPhone SE. IT has most of the same features as the current flagship 6s and 6S Plus models, but was much smaller. After learning of this announcement, I became intrigued. As an iPhone 6S user since September of last year, one of the few complaints I had about the 6S was its size. While I could get used to the larger phone, and kind of did, it always felt a bit too big for my liking. While an increase in battery life with the 6S Plus models were something I wanted to have, and having more real estate to work with Braille Screen Input is a nice feature, I could buy a battery case for less than the cost of the difference in price. TO add to that, Braille Screen Input isn't something I make very heavy use of. These were the things I considered when weighing the 6S against the 6S Plus.

With the introduction of the SE, I was slightly skeptical. The smaller form factor was a feature I certainly wanted, since the touch screen is only a feature to me as a heavy braille display and bluetooth keyboard user. However, with the lack of the newer Touch ID sensor, combined with a smaller speaker, I wasn't sure if this was the right choice for me.

So What Does the SE Look Like Anyway?

The outside of the SE looks very similar to the iPhone 5 and 5S models. In fact, many people are calling it the 5SE. It is slightly thicker than the 5 and 5S, but that's about the only external difference between these devices. In fact, I have a case designed for the 5S on my SE which fits it very nicely.

It's What's on the inside That Counts

While the SE has the appearance of the 5S, the internal specs are much closer to the 6S. From an internal perspective, the SE closely mirrors that of the 6S. The same 12 MP rear camera, the same processor, etc. However, there are some differences worth noting. First is the touch ID, which is still running the older 1.0 version found on the 5S. Also lacking is the 3D touch functionality that you will find in the 6S and 6S Plus. As noted in the article linked above, the SE also has a smaller price point than the 6S, and there is also not a 128 GB version of the SE.

How do the two Compare?

While it seems the SE has a slightly smaller speaker than the 6S, and thus slightly quieter, it also appears to me the distortion in the speaker of the SE is more of an issue. The 6S allows you to turn the volume up to one notch below the top setting without any distortion. The SE seems to go nearly as loud, but distorts at a slightly lower volume, slight distortion 3 notches below the max, with significant amounts of it when you get to the last 2. The older Touch ID also seems slower than the 6S, but quicker than the 5S. One way to help the phone recognize your finger print more quickly is to program the same finger in 2 times. However, that still will not bring it up to the level of recognition found on the 6S.

In terms of speed with the loading of apps, web pages, using Siri, input from a braille display, and overall responsiveness, the SE is right on par with the 6S. In fact, when using Siri on both devices, with one in each speaker or next to each ear, it produces an echo effect. I found the recording of audio through the devices to also produce nearly identical results. For fun, I compared briefly the 2 phones recording quality with the Voice Memos app. You can find the 6S's recording here. I recorded a very short file on the SE as well, which you can also listen to. In terms of OCR, I also compared a scanned document between these devices in the same environment, and found no real difference in terms of accuracy.

Decision Time

After trying the SE for a week, and after using the 6S for several months, I find that none of the major features of the 6S really made enough of a difference to make me want to keep the larger device. I was able to trade in my 6S at a Verizon store without much of a charge, and was not penalized for changing my contract. I looked in to doing this at the Apple Store, and was told by one individual that I couldn't exchange it, since it was 8 months old, and because it was too new for the Recycling Program Apple offers. I was told by another rep that I could get $350 max back from Apple. As I wanted the 64 GB model, this would have left me with a higher bill to pay. I'm unsure what other carriers are offering in terms of trading in the devices.

As I wrote above, I'm a heavy braille display user on my iPhone. Since the 3D touch functionality is not able to be launched with a braille keyboard equivalent, I found that I almost never used this feature. As you can see from this guide I developed for VoiceOver users on the use of 3D touch, it is not for a lack of understanding of how the feature works. While the Touch ID is a bit slower to recognize my print, I don't hind it to be a very big hindrance. I also am finding thus far that the battery life of the SE is about the same as the 6S, so that was also not a factor for me. The only place where I have found the smaller screen to be an issue was when doing the 4-finger touch at the top and bottom of the screen to quickly jump to the first or last item on the screen.


Certainly, in my case, the SE is more of what I want. The smaller price point, the smaller form factor, and the larger amount of space I have in my pocket outweighs the few short comings of the 6S. If I were upgrading from a 5S, I would certainly have gone right to the SE. However, if you make heavy use of 3D Touch, use Braille Screen Input, or need the larger screen, the difference in price maybe worth choosing a larger phone for your specific needs.

Category: Articles
Displaying 4 comments.
mcourcel Wednesday, 13-Apr-2016 11:27 AM ET:

Great overview. I've also been tempted to go for the SE because of its smaller size.

darknexus Wednesday, 13-Apr-2016 12:53 PM ET:

I like the size but, after getting used to 3d touch, I don't want to give it up and I suspect the SE would be a massive downgrade in battery from my 6S Plus.

Scott Thursday, 14-Apr-2016 09:51 AM ET:

Darknexus: yes, you would see a decrease from the Plus for sure. I'm not finding, though, that the battery life is any worse than the 6S.

wbsjr Thursday, 28-Apr-2016 06:31 AM ET:

Thanks for the great review. Your thoughts certainly show that everyone's needs are different.

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