Apple devices are often described with superlatives.
Often they are true: The iPhone 6s Plus is one of the best big phones in the world. The 6s is the best smartphone for many people. The SE is the best small phone in the world.
But here’s one thing that’s not true: That just because the iPhone SE is the cheapest iPhone, it must also be a great, cheap phone.
ZDNet recently wrote a somewhat breathless article entitled “Here’s how Apple made the iPhone SE so cheap.” Vlad Savov at The Verge had a more measured take, arguing that the SE’s $399 base price is a grab at the lower ends of the market usually held by Android devices.
This is likely true, but there’s more to it. The iPhone SE’s $399 base price seems cheap because iPhones in general are so absurdly expensive. You can shell out $949 on an iPhone 6s Plus if you aim for the 128 GB model. That’s almost a thousand dollars — for a smartphone that will be out-of-date in little more than a year!
But taken on its own terms, the $399 iPhone SE is a terrible value. It’s got 16 GB of onboard storage, with no way to expand it with an SD card. That’s simply not enough storage for most people. If you want a much more reasonable 64 GB of space in your iPhone SE, that will be an extra $100. It’s one of the biggest reasons Apple makes so much money from its iPhone business.
Now, at this point someone could reasonably argue that the iPhone SE is not a budget phone — but it is a budget premium phone. After all, its internals are largely identical to the 6s.
This is also not true! Our recent affordable phones roundup includes three premium-quality Android devices that compete with the SE on specs but come in under $350. And none of them limit you to 16 GB of storage.
The iPhone SE is great at exactly one thing: Being a pricey, well-made device for iPhone lovers with smaller hands. If you’re buying on a budget, you should probably look elsewhere.