The new iPhone SE is available, and it’s a balm to Apple lovers’ wallets. For $399, you get the latest iPhone processor, the A13, which ensures compatibility with new Apple features for the next four years or so. The rest of the phone is pretty similar to the iPhone 8, which is a big step forward for owners of the iPhone 6 and earlier. It keeps the beloved physical home button/touch ID sensor while also offering a beefed-up 7-megapixel front-facing camera and a better 12-megapixel main camera.
We’ll have a full review of the second-generation iPhone SE soon, but it looks like a really good buy. That doesn’t mean it should be the only mid-priced phone you should consider, though. Take a look at these other options before you pull the trigger.
The iPhone 8 is your best-priced iPhone SE alternative from Apple
iPhone SE vs. Used iPhone 8
The easiest way to save a few bucks on an iPhone is to go used. That’s your best bet if you want Apple-specific features like Apple Pay, FaceTime, and iMessage. We expect used iPhone 8 models to settle down around $299 through verified marketplaces like Gazelle.com, which test and refurbish used phones to make sure that you’re getting one that works. (You can’t count on that with eBay.)
So what do you lose with the iPhone 8 versus the iPhone SE? The SE’s cameras have portrait mode and better HDR. The SE will also be faster in heavy applications. Compared with the iPhone 8, the SE should be 50 percent faster on the Geekbench multicore benchmark, and probably twice as fast in terms of GPU.
That said, the iPhone 8 is still a solid, modern workhorse that should be supported by Apple for at least two more years. If you can’t afford the extra $100 for the iPhone SE, the iPhone 8 remains a good buy.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e is the best “small” phone
iPhone SE vs. Samsung Galaxy S10e
If you’re looking for a small, modern phone that doesn’t break the bank, last year’s Samsung Galaxy S10e currently costs $549 and it’s absolutely delightful. This has been my personal phone for most of the past year. The S10e has a real 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD memory card slot so you can add cheap memory whenever you want, two things you don’t get with the iPhone.
It has an excellent 12-megapixel main camera along with a wide-angle camera, and a bright OLED display that’s far superior to the iPhone SE’s. Its 4G LTE network connectivity is better, too—it’s faster and better able to hang onto connections than the iPhone 8 is.
The S10e is slightly larger than the iPhone SE—0.1-inch wider and 0.15-inch taller—but it has a much bigger screen, at 5.8 inches to the iPhone’s 4.7 inches.
Primarily, what you lose here are Apple services. If you insist on FaceTime or iMessage, neither the Galaxy S10e nor any of our other Android alternatives are going to do much for you. But the S10e is a gorgeous, classy, powerful, and fun phone—trust me.
The Google Pixel 3a has the best low-light camera
iPhone SE vs. Google Pixel 3a
The Google Pixel 3a (currently $299) is an easy-to-use and affordable phone with pure Android software and an absolutely terrific camera. The Pixel 3a gives you all Google services by default, without bloatware and clutter.
The Pixel 3a pretty much matches the iPhone SE spec-wise, with a 12-megapixel main camera, an 8-megapixel front camera, and 64GB of storage. The 3,000mAh battery will carry you throughout the day, and the phone works well on every US LTE network. It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack, notably missing from the iPhone.
The Pixel 3a’s main downside might be a plus for some people—it’s noticeably larger than the iPhone SE, with a 5.6-inch screen. There have also been many recent rumors that a Pixel 4a is on its way, possibly in May. The Pixel 4a could have a slightly larger screen and a somewhat faster processor, according to 9to5Google.
The Moto G Power has a huuuuuge battery
iPhone SE vs. Moto G Power
Is battery anxiety your main worry? Look no further than the $249 Moto G Power, which has a ridiculously sized 5,000mAh battery that lasted over 18 hours in testing. It should last two to three days with average use, giving you one less thing to be concerned about.
The G Power’s spec sheet also holds up to these other midrange phones. It has a 16-megapixel main camera, an 8-megapixel wide-angle camera, and a 16-megapixel selfie camera, along with a microSD memory card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack. It doesn’t have the best camera performance, but Motorola recently introduced a night mode.
The G Power is a big phone, at 6.3 inches high, 2.98 inches wide, and 7 ounces. That’s the battery.
The Galaxy A51 has strikingly high-res cameras
iPhone SE vs. Samsung Galaxy A51
If you like playing with pixels, grab the $294.99 (street price) Samsung Galaxy A51. The A51 has a bunch of super-high-res cameras for this price range. There’s a 48MP main camera, a 12MP wide-angle camera, a 5MP macro camera, and a 32MP selfie camera. There’s also a dedicated depth sensor. That 48MP main camera means the phone will be able to do 2x zoom shots at 12MP without losing quality through digital zoom. A big 4,000mAh battery means lots of power for shooting. One warning, though: Super-high-res cameras at this price usually mean less-than-stellar low-light performance.
Like most of the other phones on this list, the Galaxy A51 has a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD card slot to add memory inexpensively. Also like most of the other phones here, it’s pretty big, at 6.2 by 2.9 inches and 6.1 ounces. That big body helps hold a 6.5-inch OLED screen, though, which will likely be very bright.
Later this summer, we also expect to see a Galaxy A51 with 5G on the new T-Mobile/Sprint for $499.99 or less, which will be a huge advantage over the iPhone SE. Expect double or triple the iPhone’s LTE speeds on that 5G phone in cities where T-Mobile introduces mid-band 5G—I just wish we knew about more of them right now than just Philadelphia.