/ Technology

iPhone SE: the return of small phones?

Miniature people on iPhone

The newly announced iPhone SE marks a return to 4’’ phones for Apple. And with similar specs to the iPhone 6s, are smaller phones making a comeback?

My affinity with Apple products is long-standing. By the time the iPhone 4 was released, I was so gleeful with my upgrade. Not only did I think we had reached the golden age of smartphone technology, I also imagined in wonderment where it would lead us next.

I waited through the release of the iPhone 4s, content with how my phone was functioning. By the following year, I flirted with the idea of upgrading to the iPhone 5. But I was dismayed that its screen was larger than the 3.5” on my iPhone 4, which nestled comfortably in my hands. Surely, I thought, legions of disgruntled iPhone users would voice that this was becoming too large.

I decided to wait out and hope that the next year’s model would shrink back in size. It didn’t. Stubborn, but still managing on with my iPhone 4, I decided to wait for another release… and then another.

Buying the iPhone 6s

After the release of the iPhone 6, it seemed that smartphones had transformed into behemoth devices. With my iPhone 4 no longer eligible for software updates and struggling to maintain any semblance of an adequate battery life, I resigned to buy the next model. And so, here I am with my iPhone 6s.

The transition was bittersweet. I could no longer text with ease while commuting. Several times – in my one-handed typing attempts – I almost lost my new phone amidst the jerks of a train and jostling of fellow commuters. I had to rearrange my apps on my home screen, because my favourites were no longer in easy reach.

Plus, the device was now too large to fit into almost every pair of my pants’ pockets (full disclosure, I’m American). This meant I was degraded to awkwardly clutching my phone and hoping it wouldn’t fall from my too small hands. Regardless, I was pleased with my upgrade. (Web pages load! No more random reboots! It’s a miracle!).

The smaller iPhone SE

A few weeks ago I heard about the new iPhone release. At first I didn’t believe it. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, we’ve been successfully conditioned by Apple to gear up for early September releases. I half-eyed the speculation and talk, until the phone was actually announced last night.

I experienced a sort of déjà vu denial when first seeing that the screen of the iPhone SE would again be maxed out at 4”. I had been convinced, over years of patterned releases, that the iPhone had reneged on its smaller designs. I was also surprised that it basically has the same power of an iPhone 6s packed into this smaller package, and at a significantly lower price.

All of this, released just a few months after the iPhone 6s. I have to be honest – I personally feel a bit disgruntled. I had come to trust Apple as tapped into the pulse of its fans. But, to me, it seemed like the company was a murmur out of beat with its timing of this particular announcement.

Is small the new big?

This release isn’t enough to make me go out and buy a new phone yet. But it does have me hoping that by the next time I’m looking to upgrade, I’ll still have the option to shop between different iPhone sizes.

Have you been waiting for a smaller iPhone? Do you miss smaller smartphones in general?


Agreed. Main point is fitting in trouser pocket without, if you are a gentleman, doing yourself a mischief if you sit down too fast; or not fitting in properly at all and falling out; or being partially visible and thus a temptation for muggers/pickpockets.

It is good to talk about Apple and it’s products lest we forget.

I may be in a minority and overly sensitive to multi-nationals but by avoiding taking home its $178Bn* cash to the USA it is avoiding a lot of tax say $50billion which could fund a few more food banks or start-up companies. Presumably the average tax-payer in the US pays more to compensate.

Is this a sign of things to come when TTIP is agreed ? Industry putting hundreds of lobbyists into Brussels is not for the good of the consumer is it.

* “In total, the amount of cash in the group is around $178bn. Some $35bn in debt reduces that figure to the $142bn mentioned above. Debt? Why on earth, when you have more wealth in your piggy bank than the average developing nation generates in a year, would you want to borrow more?

The answer is that little of that cash is easily accessible to pay shareholders. Some 89% of it lies offshore out of the hands of the Internal Revenue Service. Bringing it back would subject it to a top corporate tax rate of 35%.Far easier to borrow the money instead. And since it has a such a cash pile behind it, banks are happy to lend to Apple at rock bottom rates – even by today’s standards.” BBC January 2015

More Apple news but regarding air safety there is this snippet:

“9 to 5 Mac reports that it was unknown if the charging cord was from Apple or an aftermarket product, noting that some aftermarket charging cords have been connected to fires.”

If folk will try to buy cheap…

And the report also mentioned an E cigarette. I know you ‘have it in’ for Apple, DT, but let’s try to preserve a balance, shall we? A lot of laptops and ‘phones have caught fire in the past few years. And to help you out…

“Just this week, two incidents involving Samsung devices surfaced – in one case, a young woman in Switzerland suffered a bad burn on her thigh when the Galaxy S3 she had in her pocket caught fire without warning. In another case, a user in the United Arab Emirates woke up in the middle of the night startled by the smell of burnt plastic – his device, which was charging on the nightstand, was about to catch fire. Luckily, nothing was damaged besides the Galaxy S4 and the charger. In another case from a while ago, which went very popular on Reddit, a Galaxy S3 user suffered minor burns when his phone “exploded” and sent bits of molten plastic on his hand.”

But this topic is not about exploding ‘phones, is it?

Actually my primary concern is really air safety and it was incidental that I picked up on this. I am grateful you provided some land bound examples of the dangers. Readers may or may not know that the shipping of lithium batteries on passenger flights has been substantially banned,

On the other hand we have many many more hand-sets being onboard. One is also aware that alcohol burns well and is probably being dispensed to passengers.

I am rather off-topic but it must be a concern that Apple , who by many people’s accounts make the best phones, has suffered an inflight fire. There must be quite a few phones and other electronics aboard with lithium batteries and possibly inferior charging cables [ if that was the cause].

Would banning charging in the air be a suitable safety measure given it appears to be a problem area? I think safety first.

I believe Samsung, who by many people’s accounts make the best phones, has suffered a large number of ‘phone fires. Lithium batteries plus faulty leads are a dangerous combination.

However, BOT: I believe the size of the ‘phone is largely immaterial to its capacity for self-immolation :-))

Well, well, well, this is a turn up for the books. A phone company actually deciding to move against the trend of bigger phones and move ‘backwards’.

There’s so much about this that’s good in my opinion. The smaller form size, but also the fact that this is a powerful phone. It’s not just a smaller and less powerful version of the flagship phone – it could almost be a flagship itself. Considering Android is meant to provide so much more choice, they’ve generally been getting bigger and bigger, and I was surprised Apple followed the trend, as I’ve previously written: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/new-iphone-5-screen-size-apple-smartphone-too-big/

I actually went back on what I said in that Conversation. I bought myself a Google Nexus 4, which has a 4.7” screen. Single-handed use is difficult, but I’ve managed to deal with it over the past couple of years. However, I’ve been disappointed that’s Google’s Nexus phones have continued to get bigger, and bigger.

And now, as a long time Android user (I’ve never owned an iPhone or Mac), I’m looking at this iPhone and I’m very tempted. I also buy my phones outright as I don’t like contracts (better to pay as you go in my opinion), but buying an iPhone outright was too expensive an option. Now at £359, I’m very tempted.

Am I going to switch to iPhone? Me? Really? I’m not sure – perhaps Apple’s move will inspire Android makers to put out flagship smaller phones and I’ll be able to avoid the switch. We’ll see.

Naveed says:
25 March 2016

I certainly hope this starts a trend now on smaller smartphones!

Being someone with smallish hands I am happy with the Motorola Moto G 4G, however internal storage is limited. And the new iterations from Motorola seem to be growing into behemoths as well.

The only viable option is the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact or the newer Z5 compact. However, reports on their reliability and customer service make me reticient on purchasing their phones.

There have been rumours that Samsung are working on a reasonably sized phone to compete with the IPhone SE but whether it will ever see the light of day is another story.

And as someone who doesn’t want to buy into the iPhone ecosystem it leaves me tied with my current phone.

Perhaps in 6 months time when other phone manufacturers emulate/copy Apple I will apply for an early upgrade but until then I will keep tabs on the latest news on Which.

Small and inexpensive smart phones with screen sizes around 3.5″ have been readily available for the last few years.

As surrogate PCs, “phablets” are great but if you don’t really need one, a pocket size phone can be a much more practical tool.

And now, by the sound of it, if you are in the market for a sensibly sized phone, you can even choose to pay a top dollar price and get one with the Apple brand on it. Isn’t consumer choice wonderful?

” How long should an iPhone last? That’s not a rhetorical question – like “how many roads must a man walk down?” or “would you like to make Yahoo your default search engine?” – it turns out it’s a real question with a real answer. And that answer, according to Apple, is three years.
This may come as a surprise to mobile networks that routinely offer iPhones and its rivals on contracts that last for just two-thirds of that time before offering you an “upgrade”, but that’s what Apple claims in its new environmental Q&A section of the website. It suggests the same lifetime for Apple Watches, and a year extra for MacBooks and iMacs, at four years.
“To model customer use, we measure the power consumed by a product while it is running in a simulated scenario,” the company explains. “Daily usage patterns are specific to each product and are a mixture of actual and modelled customer use data. Years of use, which are based on first owners, are assumed to be four years for OS X and tvOS devices and three years for iOS and watchOS devices.”

To think my 8 year old Nokia phone works fine. Perhaps Apples just don’t have the build quality …

As a matter of interest DT, where is this quotation extracted from? I thought initially it was Apple’s own blurb but I presume it is from an independent review.

The useful life of a product such as a smartphone is dependent on technological advances. If all you want to do is to make phone calls, an old Nokia will do fine. How long I keep my iPhone 5S will depend on it carries on doing what I need it to do. A friend of my age is pleased with his new (to him) iPhone 4, which his son gave him.

Yesterday I was using my 2002 iMac. Apart from the clock showing the wrong time because the internal battery requires replacement, the computer still works fine. I keep it because I occasionally need to use obsolete software. The build quality seems OK to me.

John – The article cited by DT will have been based on this report by Apple: https://www.apple.com/environment/pdf/Apple_Environmental_Responsibility_Report_2015.pdf

Much of this is commendable but Apple is still driving people to replace (not very) old products with new. 🙁

I have a 1970’s BT [or GPO or British Telecom] telephone instrument which still works fine [it was one of the first with push buttons following the introduction of Subscriber Trunk Dialling]. I had hoped that modern technology would be longer-lasting given its initial purchase price. The only drawback with the old phone is that I have to memorise people’s numbers or look them up.

That’s a bit out of place in a Convo about smaller phones, John, and it can only be considered mobile if you buy a very long extension cable.

You can carry it around and plug it in to anyone else’s phone socket so you don’t need a long cable. Technology has changed, wavechange.

Obsolescence, rather than durability, seems to be one definition of life. My Nokia has lasted 9 years, is small, connects to the internet, bluetooth, makes calls (that used to be what a phone was for) and messages. But if I got a smart phone, as with a modern car, I’d become attached to (dependent upon) its extensive features. This is where you are taken in by the skill of the marketeers – they regularly change the features so you have to upgrade and part with a lot more money, leaving your very advanced (but slightly less so) phone behind. If people want to dispose of their money thus then no problem at all with that.

It depends if it is a plug-in phone or wired in to a junction box, Malcolm.

I keep an old Nokia in the car for emergency use because I’m not attached enough to my smartphone to always remember to take it with me when I go out. Like other simple Nokia phones it was useless for web access. Which model do you have?

Well, I have two – the 9 year old fits my old car’s hands-free cradle (and charges when i’m out and about). The later (spare) is a C1-01 but i have never used it on the web – simply not found the need. However my “children” use web access all the time and I can quite see how you’d get hooked.

The C1-01 was useless for website access. I have one that stopped working after little use and I could not be bothered to pursue my rights under the Sale of Goods Act. My C2-O1 has proved more reliable (but equally useless on the web) and a friend was grateful for the loan of it yesterday when her smartphone stopped working for no obvious reason.

One of the most important reasons for having a smartphone is to keep an eye on what is happening on Which? Convo when you are out and about. 🙂

When I am out and about I have no interest whatsoever in what is happening on the web, or what has dropped in my inbox, or in text messages, or phone calls. I usually manage to forget to take my phone with me and I rarely have a watch with me either. It’s an agreeable life.

Good John

I bought a new Motorola L6 to go with me to Australia 12 or 13 years ago. . . .I liked it so much I bought another two and I am on the second one now
I keep two batteries and a remote charger both in the house and another in the motorhome on the 12v and swap the battery as it needs charged
I would not know what to do with a smart phone