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Monday, January 25, 2021

iPhone SE vs. 11 Pro: Latest budget phone compared with the king of Apple’s lineup

The iPhone 11 Pro is undoubtedly the king of Apple’s iPhone lineup as a result of its three rear cameras, all-day battery life and high-resolution OLED screen. But it commands a steep price, starting at $999 (£1,049, AU$1,749). With so many new iPhones available, including the $699 iPhone 11 and the $399 iPhone SE, you may be wondering which one to select. I wanted to compare Apple’s flagship to the budget iPhone to see what difference that $600 makes.

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Realistically, if you want the top-of-the-range iPhone (and it fits inside your budget) you most likely won’t even consider the iPhone SE. But when i found out after using both the 11 Pro and SE for some weeks, I don’t feel just like I missed out on all that much when I switched to the less costly iPhone.

Read more: How the $399 iPhone SE even compares to the $699 iPhone 11

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Angela Lang

While the iPhone SE may appear to be an older iPhone on the outside, avoid being fooled. Paired with the same A13 Bionic chip found on the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, it provides great performance and an extremely capable camera for an entry-level price of $399. The battery won’t last as long as the more expensive phone, but Apple has made some smart trade-offs to help keep the price low.

Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review.

Angela Lang

With a sleek stainless-steel chassis, great battery life and a high-resolution OLED display, the iPhone 11 Pro does indeed feel deserving of the “Pro” label. It’s the most robust iPhone you should buy and has three rear cameras that give you flexibility from ultrawide to telephoto. There’s also the option of bumping up the screen size from 5.8 inches to 6.5 if you choose the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and yourself get a larger 512GB storage option at the high class, whereas the iPhone SE taps out at 256GB.

Read our Apple iPhone 11 Pro review.

iPhone SE is the most compact, while the 11 Pro is extremely durable

With a 4.7-inch screen, the iPhone SE shares the same overall design as the iPhone 8. That means the home button is back! Or, it never went away if you’re upgrading from something such as the iPhone 6 or 7. The iPhone 11 Pro features a 5.8-inch screen and sports the newer iPhone design with no home button.


Lexy Savvides

The iPhone SE posseses an aluminum frame, while the iPhone 11 Pro is created of metal. All of Apple’s phones are covered in custom glass on the front and straight back, made by Corning, and Apple claims the iPhone 11 Pro has the most durable glass of all. I’ve dropped the iPhone 11 Pro countless times (both within our formal drop test so when using it for the past six months) and it hasn’t sustained any significant damage. 

Even so, I still recommend putting an incident on your phone just to be safe, as not all drops are created equal. We have not yet conducted a durability test on the iPhone SE, but would are expectant of it to perform much like the iPhone 8 given it’s the same design. (The iPhone 8 suffered a cracked screen when it was dropped from five feet.)

Both phones also offer water resistance, although to slightly different degrees: the iPhone SE is rated IP67, this means it can reach a maximum depth of 1 meter (3 feet) for up to 30 minutes, while the iPhone 11 Pro is IP68, or 4 meters (13 feet) for the same time. But in my extreme water test, I found the iPhone 11 Pro survived much deeper water than Apple claims, so I wouldn’t be amazed if the iPhone SE also outlived its rating. Regardless, water damage and mold is not covered under warranty for either phone so don’t go crazy attempting to test the limits of your phone (leave that to me!).

Winner: The 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro hits the size sweet spot for me, although the iPhone SE is simpler for one-handed use.

The iPhone 11 Pro has that gorgeous OLED display

The iPhone SE posseses an LCD liquid retina display, while the 11 Pro has an OLED Super Retina XDR display. There’s no question that the 11 Pro’s screen looks gorgeous as a result of a contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1 and HDR support. Its OLED tech is able to produce deeper black levels than the LCD on the iPhone SE.

That said, I wasn’t disappointed when I switched to the iPhone SE. Colors look accurate and the screen is simple to read in bright, outdoor light. To my eyes, watching a movie looked better on the iPhone 11 Pro thanks to the screen being physically bigger.

Winner: It’s hard to compete with the iPhone 11 Pro’s OLED display.

Touch ID vs. Face ID: Home button or facial recognition?

After using the new iPhone SE for several weeks, I count myself among the lots of people who prefer using a fingerprint to unlock their phone. Face ID is solid, but has limitations despite becoming more responsive as time goes by. Touch ID just works more effectively for me in a lot of situations. Face ID struggles to recognize me first thing in the morning after I roll out of bed — maybe I look drastically different in the a.m., but I honestly don’t think I actually do. (It’s also incompatible with face masks.) Switching to the iPhone SE and using my fingerprint to unlock my phone always works.

On the iPhone SE, you do sacrifice screen real-estate to accommodate the home button and I noticed the bezels a whole lot on the SE compared to the almost edge-to-edge screen on the iPhone 11 Pro (even though there’s a notch for the TrueDepth camera).

Winner: iPhone SE for seamless Touch ID.

The iPhone 11 Pro has three rear cameras, but do you need them?

There are three rear cameras on the iPhone 11 Pro: ultrawide-angle, wide and 2x telephoto. The iPhone SE features a single, wide rear camera. But when i found when looking at photos from both side-by-side, the difference wasn’t as dramatic as I was expecting.

The main cameras on both phones use Smart HDR to even out shadow and highlight detail. The iPhone 11 Pro produced images with greater dynamic range in challenging lighting conditions, but on some shots, it had been hard to inform them apart in terms of color and over all processing. The iPhone 11 Pro has Apple’s Deep Fusion processing, which really helps to produce sharper shots in medium-lighting conditions (think indoors). Read more on how Deep Fusion works in my colleague Patrick Holland’s great explainer.

You can easily see the huge difference Deep Fusion makes when looking at the same photo on the SE and 11 Pro at full magnification — see the photo of the orchid below.


Take a review of the 100% crop (inset) showing the effect of Deep Fusion on the iPhone 11 Pro compared to the iPhone SE, which has no Deep Fusion.

Lexy Savvides

Naturally, the iPhone 11 Pro offers greater flexibility when composing your shots thanks to its ultrawide and telephoto lenses. I love the ultrawide perspective and it’s the biggest thing I miss when using the iPhone SE.

Also, that camera on the iPhone 11 Pro means you get more flexibility with selfies, like making Animoji and Memoji that mimic your facial expressions, and filming in 4K.

The biggest difference between both of these cameras is night mode — the iPhone 11 Pro has it while the iPhone SE does not. Photos from the 11 Pro look way better in low light than those taken on the SE as night mode helps illuminate the scene and deliver a clearer, brighter shot. Stay tuned for my full camera comparison between these two phones just around the corner, where I’ll also cover video recording and the selfie cameras.

Winner: iPhone 11 Pro if you want different cameras and night mode.

The A13 Bionic chip makes both iPhones blisteringly fast

It’s no secret why these phones share the same processor and thus, I did not notice significant differences in performance when utilizing them both side by side. I ran a couple of benchmarks on both phones and the results were close, with the 11 Pro pulling ahead for multicore performance on Geekbench.

In the real-world, both loaded apps fast and did not have any noticeable lag when trimming down a 4K video. In fact, the cheaper SE was a hair faster in my own anecdotal test. 

Apple doesn’t disclose official battery capacity for any of its phones, but we do know for sure the iPhone SE features a similar battery to the iPhone 8. The iPhone 11 Pro, meanwhile, features a higher capacity battery than the cheaper phone. (Unofficial third-party teardowns revealed the 11 Pro has a 3,046mAh battery and the 11 Pro Max 3,969mAh.)

There’s no question the battery life differs notably in day-to-day use. The 11 Pro easily got me via a day, sometimes to each day and a half of fairly heavy use while the iPhone SE lasted a full day with lighter use. If I was watching video or using the camera quite a bit, I reached for the iPhone SE’s charger to be able to create it via an entire day. Both phones also support wireless charging and fast charging, but only the iPhone 11 Pro ships with an 18-watt fast charger in the box.

Winner: Overall performance feels like a tie, but the iPhone 11 Pro pulls ahead for battery.

iPhone SE 2020

iPhone 11 Pro power in an iPhone 8 body

apple iphone se 1302

iPhone 11 Pro

Apple’s most readily useful iPhone for a reason

apple iphone 11 pro

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