Which Android phone can beat iPhones camera

iPhone SE vs. the most expensive Android phones: Apple has a secret weapon

Kris Wallburg

The iPhone SE is by far the cheapest iPhone on the market. But how does the budget phone compare to the best and most expensive Android flagships? We've made the test.

EnlargeCan the iPhone SE hold its own against the more expensive Android competition.

With the new iPhone SE, Apple has for the first time since the market launch of its predecessor in 2016 a smartphone in its range that attacks the middle class dominated by Android. With a starting price of 479 euros, it is unrivaled cheap for an iPhone, but inferior to Android phones that are similarly expensive on paper. iPhone fans on a tight budget won't be put off by this, but price-performance hunters will look under the hood at the various options. The comparison between iPhone SE and Android phones in the same price range is already in progress, in the meantime we have another experiment for you: How does the budget iPhone compare to the best and most expensive Android smartphones. At first sight an unfair duel with a one-sided result. But our colleagues from Macworld approached this comparison anyway and came up with a few surprises.

The opponents

Three smartphones compete against the iPhone SE that belong to the crème de la crème of the Android world: the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (approx. 1,300 euros), the Google Pixel 4 XL (approx. 615 euros) and the OnePlus 7T (approx . 515 euros). It is immediately noticeable that the price of the Google Pixel 4 XL and the OnePlus 7T are now barely higher than that of the iPhone SE. But this is mainly due to the high price drop of the models, at the market launch both models were a few hundred euros more expensive.

The design: outdated or timeless?

The most noticeable difference between the models becomes clear at first glance, because in addition to the current high-gloss Androids with thin bezels and large screens, the iPhone SE is like a cell phone from a bygone era. In terms of looks, the iPhone SE is identical to the iPhone 8, except for a few differences in the choice of colors. The iPhone 8 was Apple's last iPhone with this design language and appeared in 2017. Basically, design is always a matter of taste, but assuming the current "fashion", the SE is clearly not up to date.

EnlargeThe iPhone SE hardly differs from the iPhone 6S.

However, that does not change the fact that the iPhone SE, like every iPhone, has a very high quality finish. The back is made of track and the edges are made of aluminum. In addition, there are still fans of smartphones that easily fit in your pocket. With a length of around 13 centimeters for the iPhone SE no problem.

Display and battery life: The extra charge pays off

When it comes to the display, the price differences between the various models are clearly noticeable. The Android smartphones all rely on an OLED, the iPhone SE only on an LC display. The exact specs:

  • Galaxy S20 Ultra: 6.9-inch Quad HD + Dynamic AMOLED, 120Hz, 3200 × 1440, 511 ppi

  • Pixel 4 XL: 6.3-inch Quad HD + P-OLED, 90Hz, 3040 × 1440, 537 ppi

  • OnePlus 7T: 6.55-inch Full HD + AMOLED, 90Hz, 2400 × 1080, 402 ppi

  • iPhone SE: 4.7-inch HD IPS LCD, 60Hz, 1334 × 750, 326 ppi

In addition to the better color and black representation of OLED displays, the pixel density of Android smartphones is also higher. The refresh rate is also lower on the iPhone. Although the differences in resolution are rarely noticeable in everyday life, individual pixels are hardly noticeable even with the "low" resolution of the iPhone SE, but they are already visible when displaying 4K videos. And this is where the better colors and black tones of the OLED displays can be seen.

EnlargeThe display of the iPhone SE looks almost tiny in direct comparison.

The battery life is directly related to the type and size of the display, because the display is the biggest power hog on a smartphone. Therefore, the size of the battery is not decisive for the battery life of a cell phone. The energy management and the efficiency of the computing unit also play a role here.

Battery capacities

  • Galaxy S20 Ultra: 5,000 mAh

  • Pixel 4 XL: 3,700 mAh

  • OnePlus 7T: 3,800 mAh

  • iPhone SE 1,821 mAh

The Galaxy S20 tops this list with its huge battery, but at the same time it also has the largest and therefore most power-hungry display. The iPhone SE's battery, on the other hand, looks tiny, but it also has the smallest screen. LC displays also consume less energy than OLEDs. But that doesn't change the fact that the iPhone SE has the weakest battery of the models in everyday life. The colleagues from Macworld ran a film with activated automatic brightness for two hours. The battery consumption was as follows (less is better):

  • Galaxy S20 Ultra: 23 percent

  • Pixel 4 XL: 35 percent

  • OnePlus 7T: 29 percent

  • iPhone SE: 46 percent

The iPhone SE will get most users through the day with normal use, but is far from the battery monsters of the competition. Only the Pixel 4 XL, which has already been criticized for its battery performance, is similarly weak.

When it comes to charging, the iPhone SE has one plus point: it supports wireless charging. This is very rare with smartphones in this price range, and even the OnePlus 7T does not have this feature. For this, the iPhone SE has to do without fast charging, unless you describe 7.5 watts as fast. At least if you use the included power supply, this is the maximum, but you can buy another power supply and use it up to 18 watts of charging speed. For comparison: The Pixel 4 XL also creates 18 watts, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 25 watts and the OnePlus 7T even 30 watts.

Performance: Apple's dominance continues

So far, this comparison reads rather one-sided. The iPhone SE is a budget phone after all, how can it compete with these Android flagships? But Apple has an ace up its sleeve, and that is A13. Because Apple installs its latest and most powerful smartphone processor in the iPhone SE. This also has an impact on everyday performance, but more on that later.

In Geekbench 5, the iPhone SE beats all competitors by far:

Geekbench 5 (CPU)

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Pixel 4 XL

OnePlus 7T

iPhone SE

Single core

901

724

772

1331

Multi-core

3245

2529

2883

3310

Geekbench 5 (Compute)

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Pixel 4 XL

OnePlus 7T

iPhone SE

Scores

3085

2149

2675

6413

EnlargeThe performance of the iPhone SE beats the more expensive competition by far.

In summary: The iPhone SE dominates the performance area. The A13 chip is the most powerful smartphone CPU on the market and at the same time has good energy management. That's not to say that Android smartphones are slow. Especially thanks to the extensive RAM (12 GB for the Samsung Galaxy Ultra), you will hardly notice any differences in everyday life. Performance becomes more important with regard to future security.

OS updates: safely into the future with the iPhone

One argument that iPhone owners like to use to justify the iPhone's high price tag is the years of support Apple offers. And they are absolutely right about that. Because while even expensive Android smartphones are usually only supplied with updates for two years, and sometimes not directly delivered with the latest Android versions, Apple sometimes supports the iPhone for up to five years. The current iOS version 13 is still running on the iPhone 6S, which was launched in 2015. In order for this to be possible at all, the performance of the processing unit must be high enough to support the features of the operating system in a few years. And this is where the A13 chip in the iPhone SE comes into play. At the moment you will hardly be able to use the performance of the chip in everyday life, but in a few years iOS will probably consume significantly more power. Then you will be happy about the reserves that Apple is currently building in with the A13. The iPhone SE is a smartphone with which you will be equipped for years.

The camera: David versus Goliath

EnlargeIf a camera manages the duel against four.

We can keep the paragraph about the camera relatively short. Because while the high-priced Android phones have at least two, in the case of the S20 Ultra even four cameras, the iPhone SE is very modest with just one wide-angle camera. Just to illustrate, the iPhone SE's camera isn't bad. For a smartphone in this price range, the twelve megapixel camera is solid and completely sufficient for the occasional snapshot. Thanks to the intelligent post-processing by the A13 chip, Apple can get a lot out of the camera. Compared to the broadly equipped camera modules of the expensive competition, however, the SE is lagging behind.

EnlargeThe iPhone SE has problems especially in dark conditions.

The range of functions alone is significantly higher in Android smartphones thanks to telephoto, ultra-wide-angle and depth lenses. Particularly in dark situations, the individual lens without night mode cannot achieve the same results by far. The portrait mode with bokeh thanks to artificial intelligence is still impressive and is not visibly worse than the photos of the competition.

EnlargeThe portrait mode of the iPhone SE (left) is hardly inferior to that of the Galaxy S20 Ultra (right).

Conclusion

EnlargeThe iPhone SE is significantly cheaper than the Android competition

On the one hand, one could conclude this comparison with the obvious weaknesses of the iPhone SE and suggest that a smartphone in this price range simply cannot keep up with the expensive flagships. The display, design and camera simply show too many compromises that were made to achieve the low price. But in some ways the iPhone SE surprises. The camera is not an all-round package, but it does everything that the average user can expect from it. And the performance beats everything that even the most expensive Android smartphone currently has to offer. This is accompanied by the prospect of being able to use the iPhone SE in four, maybe even five years, as a daily companion with the current operating system and all security updates. And that's more than most Android smartphones can claim.