If you're looking for a small iPhone, times are good right now. The iPhone 13 mini and the new iPhone SE (3rd generation) — available for preorder now, and available everywhere you normally buy iPhones on March 18 — are the smallest and most affordable new iPhones that Apple makes.
At first blush, in comparing the two, the iPhone 13 mini seems hands-down like the better option; it has a bigger screen, higher-end camera systems front and rear, and packs more advanced features...but it's also quite a bit more expensive. The newest iPhone SE starts at $429, while the iPhone 13 mini starts at $699. So, what are the tradeoffs?
Well, first off, it's important to note is that the two iPhones are actually a lot more alike than they are different. They have the same exact A15 Bionic processor, run the same operating system and pack features like support for 5G, meaning they're essentially future-proof for at least the next five years. They also are relatively the same size (at least their bodies are, not their displays), so they feel very similar in your hand and pocket.
But there are some definite advantages to spending the extra $300 on the iPhone 13 mini. And, arguably, some reasons to even want the cheaper iPhone SE more.
As somebody who has owned the iPhone 13 mini for almost six months, and who has been testing the new iPhone SE for the last few days, deciding between the two really comes down to the price you're willing to pay to get the best features. Or your love for the familiar form factor and features of an older iPhone.
Here are the three big things that iPhone SE sacrifices compared to the iPhone 13 mini.
Do you want Face ID or a Home button?
The new iPhone SE is more or less the same size as the iPhone 13 mini, but it has a much smaller screen. While the iPhone 13 mini has a 5.4-inch display that takes up the entire front of the phone — it's an edge-to-edge screen — the iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch display with some pretty large bezels at its top and bottom.
The bigger issue than screen size, for me, is the fact that the smaller iPhone SE needs its bezels to provide space for a dedicated Home button with Touch ID, while the iPhone 13 mini packs an advanced TrueDepth camera system in its notch for facial recognition. And this has a big impact on how you interact with each smartphone every time you use it as, in my experience, Face ID is way faster and easier (and according to Apple, more secure) than Touch ID.
The iPhone SE lacks MagSafe compatibility
I think maybe the biggest difference between the two is that the iPhone SE doesn't support MagSafe, which is something that I've grown to really love. All the latest iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models have a special circular magnet built into the back of them that gives them two big benefits: it lets them wireless charge twice as fast (up to 15 watts when using a MagSafe charger) and it allows them to magnetically connect to an ecosystem of MagSafe accessories (like wallets, portable charges and cases).
It should be noted that the new iPhone SE does support wireless charging, but since it doesn't MagSafe, it can't charge as fast and — when connected to a MagSafe wireless charger, it doesn't display the green circle (seen in the above photo) and make the chime to let you know it's charging, which are both oddly satisfying.
The iPhone SE's camera is good, not great
The new iPhone SE doesn't have a bad camera — at all. And its A15 Bionic processor enables it to have some of the machine learning and camera capabilities of the iPhone 13 line, such as support for Smart HDR 4 and Deep Fusion, which helps it string multiple exposure shots together to deliver the best possible looking photo. But it's just not as good as the camera on the iPhone 13 mini.
The iPhone SE has a single-lens rear camera system consisting of a single 12-megapixel wide lens, while the iPhone 13 mini has a dual-lens rear camera system consisting of a slightly better 12-megapixel wide lens and 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens. While both smartphones can shoot Portrait Mode photos and capture beautiful 4K video at up to 60 fps, the extra ultra-wide lens on the iPhone 13 mini just gives you more options on photos that you'll actually use. And it supports Cinematic mode on videos — which are awesome — while the iPhone SE can't capture those.
iPhone SE vs. iPhone 13 mini: the Verdict
The iPhone 13 mini is superior to the iPhone SE in pretty much every way, including ways other than the "big" ones that I've highlighted above. For example, it has a brighter and better display, it comes with more base storage, and comes with Apple's U1 chip (which allows it to do things like more seamlessly hand-off music to a HomePod mini speaker). But again, the iPhone 13 mini is also almost twice as expensive.
Even though they're roughly the same size — which is important in this age of huge smartphones — the new iPhone SE isn't really meant to compete with the iPhone 13 mini. It's an iPhone designed for people who haven't upgraded to a new iPhone in years —and for those people, it's going to seem like a huge leap forward — or for people buying their first iPhone. And if you're somebody who fits one of those descriptions, then you probably don't need to spend the nearly $300 extra on an iPhone 13 mini.