Yesterday, Apple finally announced the iPhone SE after months of leaks and reports, and honestly, years of waiting for the successor to the ‘affordable flagship’ iPhone idea that started with the original iPhone SE. The new iPhone SE (or iPhone SE 2) is here now and it’s a solid option for anyone looking for a budget iPhone in 2020. However, there’s also the iPhone XR that comes in at a similar price point in India. So, if you’re looking for the best budget iPhone, here is a detailed comparison of the 2020 iPhone SE vs iPhone XR.
Design and Build
The first thing you’d notice with a brand new phone, and this is especially true with iPhones, is the design and build. Cupertino has a very specific way it designs its smartphones, and they are quintessentially Apple in the way they look and feel. The iPhone SE takes a step back in time, as far as the design is concerned and occupies the shell of the now discontinued iPhone 8.
That means, the new iPhone SE comes with a pretty chunky forehead and chin, and a design that was still acceptable back in 2017 when the iPhone 8 launched, but is definitely quite outdated by today’s standards.
However, it’s not all bad. For one, a lot of people actually don’t like full-screen devices with huge displays, and I’m assuming Apple did its market research before deciding on going with a 3 year old design. Moreover, personally, the in-hand feel of the iPhone 8 was nigh unbeatable in a lot of ways.
The iPhone XR, with its full-screen design is more up to date as far as smartphone design trends are concerned, but it’s also a bigger phone, a slightly thicker than the iPhone SE. The iPhone XR is 8.3mm in thickness — that’s 1mm more than the iPhone SE, and believe me, 1mm might read like a pretty tiny number, but when it comes to in-hand feel, the difference can be fairly noticeable.
Apart from that, both the iPhone SE and iPhone XR come with the same glass-back design, which affords them wireless charging capability, and a huge tendency to be fingerprint magnets.
At the end of the day, design remains a highly subjective thing. If you dislike the new iPhone designs with their huge notches and gesture controls, the iPhone SE 2 may just be the iPhone you’ve been waiting for. However, if you’re looking to get an iPhone that will not look outdated for a couple of years, I’d suggest going with the iPhone XR.
Moving on to the display, there’s obviously the big size difference in the screens when you pit the iPhone XR vs the iPhone SE 2, but there’s more there than you might realise.
So the iPhone SE comes with a 4.7-inch Retina HD display with a 1334×750 pixel resolution. The iPhone XR, on the other hand, comes with a 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display with a 1792×828 pixel resolution.
That might make it seem as though the iPhone XR has a better resolution screen than the iPhone SE 2020, but it’s not really the case, and Apple clarifies that with the PPI number mentioned alongside the resolution in its spec-sheet. Both the iPhones come with a 326ppi display, which means the pixel density of both these displays is exactly the same. So if someone is telling you that the iPhone SE comes with a lower-res display, they are only half-right. What really matters more is the PPI value, and there both the phones are evenly matched so you won’t be missing out.
What you will be missing out on, is the experience of having an edge-to-edge display on your iPhone, and that should be a consideration for you before you make a buying decision. Personally, I would tell you to go with the iPhone XR because it has a more immersive display, and even with that notch, a much higher screen-to-body ratio than the iPhone SE.
Processor, Performance, and RAM
Between the iPhone SE and the iPhone XR, the processor varies by a pretty solid margin. The iPhone XR comes with the A12 Bionic chipset from 2018 whereas the iPhone SE comes with the latest A13 Bionic chipset that’s inside the iPhone 11 series as well.
Design-wise, both these chipsets are similar. Both the A12 Bionic and the A13 Bionic come with a 6-core CPU with 2 high performance cores and 4 high efficiency cores. They also come with a 4-core GPU with Metal support, and an 8-core Neural Engine for AI and ML tasks.
However, with the A13 Bionic, Apple has made huge strides forward not only in terms of performance (which has always been top-notch on iPhone chipsets) but more importantly in terms of battery life.
The A13 Bionic offers 20% faster performance cores that use 30% less energy. The high efficiency cores are also 20% faster but use 40% less energy. The GPU uses 40% less energy as well, and the Neural Engine uses 15% less energy as compared to the A12 Bionic.
Overall, Apple claims the A13 Bionic offers upto 40% better battery life than the A12 Bionic did, and that makes a solid difference.
Look, as far as performance is considered, the A12 Bionic and the A13 Bionic won’t make much of a real-world difference. They are both high-end chipsets that will easily last you 2-3 years without being massively impacted. However, the battery life differences are considerable. In my experience, the iPhone 11 lasts much longer than my iPhone XR does, and a lot of it is probably because of the A13 Bionic’s more power-efficient design.
That said, multi-tasking still might take a slight hit on the iPhone SE. A leaked Chinese telecom listing suggests that the phone has 33GB RAM. That’s actually decent for iOS to handle apps, but the iPhone XR has 3GB RAM as well.
Anyway, as far as the processor is concerned, there is no reason to even consider the iPhone XR when compared to the iPhone SE 2020. The SE brings the latest chipset which is not only more powerful in every way, but also more power efficient.
In terms of cameras, both the iPhone XR and the iPhone SE are fairly evenly matched. Both the phones are equipped with a single 12MP shooter on the back with an f/1.8 aperture along with a slow-sync flash. They have Portrait Mode, and Portrait Lighting effects as well. However, the iPhone SE has access to all 6 portrait lighting effects, while the iPhone XR only gets 3 of those — not a big deal by any means, but if you use Portrait Effects, then you might like to know this.
Both the phones also feature OIS on the rear camera, and are capable of shooting 63MP panoramas, along with videos up to 4K at 60FPS and slo-mo videos at 1080p up to 240FPS.
On the front, both phones feature a 7MP selfie camera with an f/2.2 aperture with Portrait Mode and Depth Control. Both the iPhone SE and iPhone XR also support all six Portrait Lighting effects on the front camera, and can shoot 1080p videos.
However, for some reason, the iPhone SE can only shoot 1080p 30FPS videos from the front camera while the iPhone XR can shoot 1080p at 30/60FPS. I don’t think this is too big a deal, but it’s an interesting difference.
Basically, when it comes to the cameras, both these phones are kind of the same phones except for a few, minor differences. Also, since I haven’t used the iPhone SE yet, I can’t comment on the image quality from the phone, so as of right now, the iPhone SE and the iPhone XR tie on the camera front.
Face ID vs Touch ID
This is a tough one to call for me. I’ve always loved Touch ID on iPhones ever since I first used it on my own iPhone 5s back in the day. This means that I’m nostalgically happy about seeing the Touch ID sensor back on the iPhone SE.
However, Face ID is a lot better in many ways when compared against Touch ID. For one, it’s more seamless in most use-cases except for some edge-case scenarios where a fingerprint scanner might make more sense.
However, more importantly, Face ID offers more safeguards than Touch ID. For one, Touch ID can be used even when you’re sleeping because it’s just a fingerprint, and unless you deliberately enable Lockdown mode on your iPhone every night before you sleep, Touch ID will unlock your phone regardless of whether you’re asleep or awake. Face ID, on the other hand, has an opt-out option to check for awareness. Your phone will only unlock if it detects that your eyes are open and looking towards the phone, which is just a neat little safeguard to have, and is something that other phones are also using, such as the Pixel 4 which recently got this feature.
Still, Touch ID, in my experience offers a more reliable unlock than Face ID does. Since it doesn’t depend on your face, and doesn’t use your camera, you can pretty much unlock your phone from whatever weird angle you want to, as long as your registered finger can touch the scanner. This isn’t true for Face ID, and while Face ID has gotten way better than it was, it’s definitely not as fast as Touch ID.
Still, I think Face ID is a better option for security. It’s more foolproof than Touch ID, and it just feels more natural to use. Just pick up your phone, and it’s unlocked, so you can continue using it as if it never was locked, which is a pretty seamless experience to have.
In terms of connectivity, both phones support FDD and TDD LTE bands, although the iPhone SE does support more TD-LTE bands than the iPhone XR. How much of a difference this would make is uncertain to me right now, but it’s definitely not worse.
Also, the iPhone SE improves the WiFi capabilities by adding support for WiFi 802.11ax (commonly known as WiFi 6) whereas the iPhone XR only supports WiFi 802.11ac. So the SE is definitely more future-proof in terms of wireless connectivity than the iPhone XR is.
It’s also important to note that both the iPhone SE and the iPhone XR come with 2×2 MIMO for LTE. That could mean potential signal drops or lower signal strengths in certain areas. The iPhone XS, and the iPhone 11 Pro come with 4×4 MIMO. Surprisingly Apple never mentioned this for the iPhone XR in its specs-table, but it has mentioned it for the iPhone SE, probably due to the recent lawsuit against the company for misleading consumers by not informing them about the 2×2 and 4×4 MIMO difference between the iPhone XS and the iPhone XR.
Anyway, when it comes to connectivity, the iPhone SE beats out the iPhone XR in terms of better WiFi support for the future, and some extra TD-LTE bands. However, unless you live on the absolute bleeding edge of WiFi networking, I doubt you’d need 802.11ax anytime soon, especially in India. So, that shouldn’t make a very big difference for you anyway.
Battery and Charging
Apple doesn’t give numbers when it comes to batteries on its phones. Instead, it compares them with older iPhones. For the SE, Apple says the battery life is about the same as the iPhone 8. That’s not the best battery life at all.
The iPhone XR, on the other hand, offers the same battery life as the iPhone 8 Plus (in Apple’s words). In my usage, the iPhone XR lasts well over a day with normal usage. By those standards alone, the iPhone SE’s battery life wouldn’t be as nice as the iPhone XR’s.
What’s more, a recently spotted listing on a Chinese telecom website claims that the iPhone SE has a 1,821mAh battery. Let me just put this in perspective here — the iPhone XR has a 2,942mAh battery. That’s a big difference, and maybe the A13 Bionic will help aid battery life, but I doubt it will come anywhere close to the iPhone XR’s stellar battery life.
Moving on, there aren’t really any differences on the charging front, but I do want to clarify certain things about both the phones as far as charging is concerned.
One, both the iPhone XR and the iPhone SE support up to 18W fast charging via USB-PD. However, neither ships with a fast charger in the box, because Apple refuses to do the right and sensible thing. You’ll have to buy the fast charger separately, or use a USB-PD adapter that pushes 18W. You will also need to buy the USB-C to Lightning cable because the 18W fast charger Apple sells uses USB-C.
Second, both the iPhone SE and iPhone XR support wireless charging on Qi compatible chargers, which is good because there are a lot of Qi-compatible wireless chargers out there, so you can get one for a relatively low price.
Still, I would say the iPhone XR wins here purely because it has a much larger battery pack than the iPhone SE.
iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: Which One Should You Buy?
As you would have guessed by now, both these phones are fairly similar except in ways that are more subjective in nature — such as the full-screen notched design of the iPhone XR. If I had to choose, I would definitely go with the iPhone XR purely because the design isn’t outdated, and if I’m spending so much money on a phone, I want it to look, well… not old.
It’s also annoying that the iPhone SE’s price in India is Rs. 42,500 for the base 64GB variant. Had the iPhone SE been priced around Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 35,000 (which is what it should’ve been, based on the US price), the iPhone SE would’ve been unbeatable, even in comparison to a lot of Android smartphones out there.
Right now, you can get the 64GB iPhone XR for around Rs. 45,000 usually. Sometimes that goes up to around Rs. 48,000 and sometimes it goes down to around Rs. 43,000. It just doesn’t seem like the iPhone SE is offering enough in terms of internal hardware to justify a price point like that with a design that’s 3 years old at the very least.
Obviously, it all boils down to your personal preference, which is why I have explained every thing with so much detail in this article. However, if you were to ask my opinion, I would say you should go for the iPhone XR. It looks better, it will offer the same real-world performance, and will easily last another 3 years without a hassle.