It’s unlikely the iPhone SE will inspire round-the-block lineups when it goes on sale March 31. After all, it looks uncannily like the iPhone 5S, and doesn’t take any technological leaps forward. But when it comes to a starter phone for your kids, you don’t necessarily want revolutionary. By offering much the same hardware and processing power as the iPhone 6S for $330 less (and you might be able to get the 16GB version for as little as $100 with a plan), this pocket-sized device offers real competition for the mid-level Android phones. The price alone makes it an attractive option if you’re looking for a device for your tween or teen (or you).
My nine- and 11-year-old played around with the iPhone SE this past weekend and loved it (though keep in mind they’re digital natives with strictly enforced screen-time limits and once resorted to making faux phones to play imaginary Minecraft). Here’s what they thought.
The smaller size is a big plus
A little bit longer, a little bit skinnier and noticeably lighter (just 113 grams) than the iPhone 5C, the SE is easy for smaller hands to hold. My guys found it less awkward to type, swipe and tap than on larger phones. (Even so, a grippy case is still a must with kids to lower the incredibly high odds of them dropping any handheld device. The SE is the same size as an iPhone 5, so you might already have a case around the house.
Making movies is super-easy
The iPhone SE shoots 4K video and has slo-mo video support, plus it features cinematic video stabilization and continuous autofocus, so it’s easier for kids to shoot clear videos. And iMovie is ridiculously easy to use on this device, making it possible to do voiceovers, quick edits and professional-looking transitions without downloading footage to a desktop. In fact, in less than an hour, my nine-year-old made a credible movie trailer, and in an afternoon, my two kids produced a slick news broadcast using their LEGO figures. “I liked how you got to record your voice and show pictures at the same time,” said my nine-year-old.
Size still matters for some things
The music-making app GarageBand is also on board, and it sounds great. But where the SE’s screen was no impediment to movie editing, it’s inadequate for music production. A four-inch screen is simply too small to write (or fine-tune) a pop song, and the girls migrated back to our tablet to finish their bass-heavy opus. That said, the screen is perfectly fine for gaming. There were zero complaints when I downloaded Crossy Road and Candy Crush—in fact, the house was very, very quiet after that.
The camera is top-notch (but Live Photos is kinda weird)
The iPhone SE features the same 12-megapixel iSight camera as the 6S, and pictures come out sharp and bright. Plus, you can easily add artistic filters to create a variety of looks. My kids documented Easter weekend with close-ups of brunch, a blow-by-blow account of their epic egg hunt and many, many still lifes of chocolate.
Like the 6S, the iPhone SE features Live Photos—a five-second video of the moment that you can watch by holding your finger down on the image. While it does give images a certain Harry Potteresque quality, my girls and I found this instant gif-feature kind of annoying. “Why can’t you just use a video if that’s what you’d want?” asked the nine-year-old. Her sister agreed, adding “I also didn’t like how the photo would record sound. I felt like I was intruding on people’s conversations—you don’t want that in your photo.” They’d prefer it be an option rather than the default setting.
The battery life is great
The advertised battery life for this model is 13 hours. And they did play the heck out of it for two days without needing a charge. It’s a lot better than my outdated 5C, and it was nice that there was still a charge at the end of the day so that they could add one more voice-over to their zombie movie.