iPhone SE (2nd Gen, 2020): First Impressions

To complement my 1988 Macintosh SE, I’ve finally replaced my iPhone 6s with a 2020 iPhone SE.

I purchased my iPhone 6s all the way back in May 2019 after my Samsung Galaxy Express Prime 2 started having serious problems. The 6s was my introduction to the world of iPhones, after having used Android (and one Nokia Windows Phone) since I got my first cell phone in 2012.

The iPhone 6s when it was new in May 2019.

The iPhone 6s has been an all-around good phone, despite being a three-year-old model when I purchased it, and its currently five years old. The 6s works about as good today as it did when I unboxed it at the AT&T Store on May 17, 2019. iOS 14 runs incredibly snappy on it, the camera holds it own even in 2020/21 (a few people have even asked me for prints of photos taken with the 6s), and – for most of my personal uses – 32 GB was adequate. While the battery life and reception wasn’t the best, it was still a decent phone for its age.

(Compare the current state of the 6s, which has been in daily use since May 2019, to what most of the low-end Android phones I used to use looked like after even nine months or a year of use. Many of the Android phones, like my Samsung Galaxy Express Prime 2, started showing problems around nine months and were nearly unusable by their first birthday.)

The iPhone 6s now.

Despite the 6s being a decent performer, I’ve had plans to upgrade ever since Apple released the iPhone SE (Second Generation/2020) in April 2020. A (relatively) low-cost iPhone would be the perfect replacement.

Before I hop into my first impressions, the 6s will (hopefully) live on. I plan on giving the 6s to my dad to replace his 2015 Motorola Moto E, which I purchased for him in 2018 after he “cut the cord” on his landline phone.

Also, as with all “First Impression” reviews, my thoughts and feelings on things can change with use. Also, some features and aspects may have not been tested as this was posted shortly after unboxing and setup. For a more full and appropriate review, check back in March when I plan on posting a three-month follow-up review.

Purchasing and Setup

Unlike with my iPhone 6s, I was unable to purchase the SE from my local AT&T Store. They said they could only sell the 6s to new prepaid customers, while I have an existing line. This gave me a couple other options: order online and wait, or make a short drive to the nearby Walmart and purchase the phone at Walmart. I chose the latter.

Unlike with the 6s, I wasn’t able to purchase the iPhone SE at my local AT&T Store. (Also, this photo was one of the first ones taken with the 6s back in May 2019.)

I’m glad I purchased the SE at Walmart. Apple’s MSRP is $399, which is what you’ll pay if you buy the phone directly from AT&T or Apple. At Walmart, the phone was $250. A significant savings.

There’s one caveat: unlike purchasing online, you’re limited to whatever your local Walmart (or other retail store like Target or Best Buy) has in stock. In my case, they only had one SE in stock – in black. While I would have loved to have a Product Red iPhone, I didn’t want to wait several weeks for shipping – or make the trip to the nearest Apple Store (~60 miles in the hustle and bustle of downtown Kansas City) just to pay more for the same phone in a different color.

The “cell phone guy” at my local Walmart wasn’t in when I purchased the phone, so I set the phone up myself. It was incredibly easy, especially since I’m an existing AT&T Prepaid customer with another iPhone.

In the box, you’ll find the SE itself, a document pouch including various documents (as well as the SIM card tray removal tool mentioned below, and two Apple stickers), EarPods (with the Lightning cable), Lightning-to-USB charging cable, and the standard USB charger.

Contents of the iPhone SE box, with the OtterBox case to the right. (iPhone SE, Lightning EarPods, Lightning-to-USB cable, power supply, and document pouch.)

To bring the iPhone SE to life, it was as simple as pulling the Nano-SIM out of my 6s and installing in the SE. This is relatively easy to do, and the tool required to remove the SIM card tray is included in the document pouch for the SE. (You can also use a bent paper clip to remove the SIM card tray.) 

From there, the iPhone pretty much takes care of the rest. Apple has made it super simple to transfer all of your files, settings, and apps from your old phone to your new one using an included utility. It does take a little while, but it worked quite well. In fact, so well that it saved my contacts, recent calls, alarms, wallpaper, and even logged me in on many of my apps on the SE. It did it all wirelessly – no need to break out a special cable. All you need is a stable WiFi connection.

Screen and Speakers

The size of the display on the SE is identical to the one in the 6s. However, the SE appears to have a higher-quality display. It appears to be bright and crisp, although not too far off from the quality of the 6s’ display.

The call speaker has a decent volume, and is crisp and clear. (One of the issues with the 6s is, over time, the call speaker became somewhat quiet and can be hard to hear.) The main speakers on the bottom of the SE are crisp and loud, and appear to be slightly better than those found on the 6s.

The main caveat with the SE (2020) is one shared by every phone since (but not including) the 6s: the lack of a headphone jack. In order to get a 3.5mm headphone jack for wired headphones, auxiliary cables, or anything else, you’ll need to purchase a special adapter that plugs into the Lightning port.

Apple was generous and includes a pair of wired “EarPods” with the proper Lightning connector in the box with the SE. However, as we’ve all learned at one point or another, these are not the highest quality and should likely be replaced at some point.

In my case, I’d like to purchase a new pair of wireless (Bluetooth) headphones at some point. The TaoTronics were really nice except their poor build quality. Personally, I prefer wireless headphones for listening to music while working as the wire can get in the way.


The rear-facing camera on the iPhone SE has the same specs as the camera on older iPhone models like the 6s. However, the image sensor is larger and better – and the image processing is improved greatly thanks to the A13 processor.

An image taken with the iPhone 6s later in the evening.
Some photos I took today with the iPhone SE.

Responsiveness and Hardware Specs

In the couple of hours I’ve had the iPhone SE, it seems to be pretty responsive. Apple claims the SE’s A13 chip has a CPU that is 2.4 times faster than the A9 featured in the 6s, and a GPU 4 times faster.

The iPhone SE also has additional memory. The iPhone 6s has 2 GB of RAM, whereas the SE has 3 GB. For me, the 2 GB in the 6s was never a problem – I never had an issue with running out of memory, and that was even with multiple applications and Safari “tabs” open all at the same time. For other people, though, 2 GB likely wasn’t enough.

The SE has double the storage of the 6s in my case. In both cases, I purchased the lowest-end models: the 32 GB 6s, and the 64 GB SE. On the 6s, I rarely filled the 32 GB storage. The only time I ever did was when shooting long (10+ minute) videos. The 64 GB will further future-proof the SE in my usage case, and allow room for videos or additional apps.

Apple claims the SE has up to three additional hours of battery life over the 6s. We will see. The 6s is currently at 86% battery health. The 6s lasted throughout most days on a single charge, although it sometimes needed a top-up on days where it was being used more, or times where I was using apps that were more power hungry (e.g. Strava.)

The battery in the iPhone 6s was at 86% health.

OtterBox Defender Pro

To defend the iPhone SE from damage caused by the rare accidental drop or shock, I purchased an OtterBox Defender Pro case. Not only does the OtterBox Defender Pro protect the SE, but it also makes it more stylish and personalized, especially since it’s in my favorite color: teal.

(On a related note, I don’t think I’ve dropped my 6s once in the year-and-a-half I’ve owned it.)

The Speck case on my 6s has seen better days… the rubber is peeling away from the plastic in some spots, and on the bottom near the charging port a giant chunk of rubber is missing.

The rubber strips on the back of the 6s’ Speck case have fallen off with time and use, and other rubber parts have also been damaged or gone missing.

The OtterBox is well known for being a durable case that will protect your phone from the accidental drop here or there. It has two layers of protection: a plastic inner shell, and an outer rubber coating that slides over the plastic shell.

While I’m not worried about the protection the OtterBox provides, I am worried about the rubber coating. Specifically, the rubber flaps protecting the charging port and silence switch. I can see these getting worn out, and subsequently falling off, in quick order. 

The 6s’ tenure as my daily phone has came to an end after a year-and-a-half of daily use. Meanwhile, the iPhone SE’s tenure has just begun.

This post written on the 1988 Macintosh SE using Word 4.0.