2020 iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8: Time to upgrade?

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iPhone-SE-vs
It's a big improvement over your iPhone 8.
Image: Cult of Mac

The 2020 iPhone SE is out and, as expected, it looks a whole lot like the iPhone 8 in terms of design. But beneath the recognizable exterior of Apple’s handsome new handset are some nifty new features and internals.

Is it worth the upgrade if you’ve been clinging onto a several-years old iPhone? Here’s our initial (as far as spec details will allow) comparison.

Same design, new colors

The new iPhone SE doesn’t look so new in design. Just like the original iPhone SE took the body of the iPhone 5 and upgraded its internals, this does the same with 2017’s iPhone 8. That means that it lacks the slimmer bezel of the newer iPhones, while the Home button makes a return to Apple’s current-gen handsets.

The biggest change from the iPhone 8 is the smaller range of colors. You get just three this time: Black, white, or (PRODUCT)RED.

Insides that count

Just as countless feel-good movies told you growing up, it’s the insides that count. The iPhone SE features an A13 chip inside, giving it the same beating heart as the iPhone 11 series of devices. It also packs faster Wi-Fi 6 and Gigabit-class LTE connectivity.

The Neural Engine, Apple’s name for the dedicated neural network hardware for machine learning tasks, should give some indication of the scope. Where the A11’s Neural Engine for the iPhone 8 could perform up to 600 billion operations per second, the iPhone SE’s dedicated 8-core Neural Engine is capable of a whopping 5 trillion operations per second.

If your iPhone 8 had been feeling a bit on the sluggish side, the iPhone SE will supercharge your iPhone experience. The biggest impact will be on areas like AR and gaming. Which, of course, is exactly what Apple wants you to use your iPhone for.

iPhone SE vs iPhone 8 comparison spec
How the specs stack up.
Photo: Luke Dormehl/Cult of Mac

Camera

It’s tough to properly compare Apple’s cameras from one iPhone generation to another. On paper, there’s no change between the iPhone SE and the previous iPhone 8. But, Apple’s proud press release makes clear, there are some snazzy software tweaks.

It uses the image signal processor and Neural Engine of the A13 Bionic to perform an assortment of tricks. Expect superior Portrait Mode, depth control, and more. This one will need hands-on comparisons to truly put it through its paces. But expect improvements in practice, despite the unchanged benchmarks.

It’s all about the price

Ultimately, the big promise of the iPhone SE is that it gives users new(-ish) Apple hardware at a good price. The original iPhone SE also started at $399. Since a few years have gone by since that launch, inflation means that this is Apple’s best value iPhone in years.

No, you don’t get Face ID or the veritable infinity pool of a display which has been iPhone standard since the iPhone X. But you do get a handset that’s considerably better than the iPhone 8 for a whole lot less cash. At a time when most of us are watching the pennies more than normal, that’s a good deal!