What Matters in a Phone?

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

The new iPhone SE officially comes out today, and I have had strange feelings about this phone since it was announced last week. That strange feeling? “Why the hell isn’t this my phone?”

See, I’m currently using an iPhone 11 Pro, and have been spending $700-1,200 on a new phone every year for the past half decade. I know this is wasteful, but it’s my financial vice, and I’m otherwise quite frugal, so I can justify it without breaking the bank each year. I know this is silly for most people, but I enjoy it.

But I look at my brand spanking new iPhone (which I of course will likely replace in 5 short months) and while I love how it looks, how fast it runs, Face ID, and how good the cameras are, I keep wandering over to the iPhone SE page on Apple’s site and keep looking for the “gotcha” moment. What is the Achille’s heel that makes this actually a bad phone for someone like me who likes the best in phones?

So far, I can’t really find one.

Yes, the bezels are chonky, Touch ID is a regression from Face ID (for me), and there are no telephoto or ultrawide lenses, but that’s really it. And when I ask myself if those three features are worth the $800 premium I paid for those, the answer is simply…no, not really.

Now buying isn’t an emotionless game, so the fact that I can’t objectively justify it doesn’t mean I’m going to never buy an expensive phone again, but it’s made me see in clearer light than ever how silly some of this smartphone rat race is.

I need a phone to do work. I need a phone to communicate with friends, family, and work colleagues. I need a phone for entertainment. I need a phone that’s easy to use. By those measures, the iPhone SE checks all the boxes.

Tech reviewers, myself included, have had an obsession with thinner bezels and bigger screens forever. I’ve seen a few YouTubers talk about mid-range Android phones you can get instead of the iPhone SE and they show how those phones have smaller bezels and bigger screens. They don’t mention as much how those phones are slower out of the gate, how they won’t get software updates for more than 1-2 years, or how you simply can’t even buy them in the US without jumping through hoops.

So when I see the $399 iPhone SE with 5 years of likely updates, with a really good single lens camera, and with it’s processor that’s faster than all 2020 $1,000+ Android phones, and will likely still be faster than all 2021 Android phones…well, it just looks like a damn good phone, and it makes it look like we’ve been frolicking around in excess for years now.

I will continue to get the expensive iPhones because I will pay much more for the best cameras possible, but yeah, it took a global pandemic for me to get a little perspective on what this smartphone market looks like and what’s really important in a phone.