The iPhone SE 2020: A Review From A VoiceOver and Braille User's Perspective

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Introduction

As the number of active Apple devices increases, so too do the different choices that the consumer has. The latest offering from Apple is the new iPhone SE 2020. This iPhone is a mix of the old and new: it retains the build size of the iPhone 8, but has the new A13 Bionic chip offered in the iPhone 11 series. It offers Bluetooth 5.0, but retains the Home button, which also includes Touch ID. The following review is written from the perspective of a braille and VoiceOver user.

There have been many reviews in the mainstream media already. Some examples include this positive review from Tech Crunch, a less- enthusiastic review from Wired, and this review from the Verge. What these examples all point to are that photos are not quite as detailed as what you find with the iPhone 11; the design is old-school; but that it is a great price for a budget phone. They all also point out that the iPhone SE lacks Face ID in favor of Touch ID, has a shorter battery life than the iPhone 11, and that it supports fast charging.

Touch ID

Though I understand how to use Face ID, and have trained others on how to do so, I have found it doesn't fit into my workflow as well as does Touch ID. As a braille user, I do not need to ever take my phone out of my pocket to unlock it. Almost everything a VoiceOver speech user can do with their touchscreen, I can do with my braille display connected via Bluetooth. With the iPhone XR, which I have used for quite some time, I had to either unlock my phone with Face ID, or type in my passcode manually using my braille display. In either case, those methods required more effort on my part and lead to less productivity. With the iPhone SE 2020, Touch ID is back, and I can resume unlocking my phone with ease. I have found that Touch ID with the iPhone SE 2020 is faster and more reliable than what I experienced with the iPhone 8. While Touch ID was just one of the reasons I was interested in checking out the iPhone SE 2020, trying to use Face ID with a face covering (though it can be done) made the experience even less pleasant for me.

What's missing?

Unlike the first generation of the iPhone SE, the 2020 model mirrors the outward appearance of the iPhone 7 and 8. Unfortunately, this includes the absence of a headphone jack. Not only does the iPhone SE 2020 not have a headphone jack, but Apple does not include a 3.5 MM to Lightning adaptor with this phone. I was also hoping that Apple would have retained the smaller iPhone 5/5S/SE build, as I have little use for the screen. That said, the iPhone SE 2020 is smaller than any of the other modern iOS devices Apple makes, so that is an improvement for me.

The Audio

In my informal way of testing, I found that the sound from the iPhone SE was noticeably more clear than what I had on the iPhone 8. I determined this by having a friend use both phones with the same song and randomly choose which one I would hear first. He would play one for fifteen seconds or so, and then the other. After each pair of clips of audio, I would choose which I felt sounded better. In six out of seven instances, I chose the iPhone SE as sounding more clear. We reversed the experiment, and he picked the iPhone SE all seven times over the iPhone 8 in terms of better sounding audio.

Differences in Camera

As noted above, one of the compromises made with the iPhone SE 2020 is with the camera. Unlike the iPhone 11 series, the iPhone SE 2020 only has one back-facing camera and one front-facing camera. The reviews above, along with several others, say that the iPhone 11 series has more image stabilization and that those phones can take a picture that is more detailed than what you would get from the iPhone SE 2020.

To try and evaluate the cameras on a task many VoiceOver and braille users might use it for, I compared the cameras of both an iPhone SE 2020 and an iPhone 11 using the Voice Dream Scanner app. Though I did not formalize the experiment, I simply took pictures of documents using the same methods to center the text and take the pictures as I usually do. In all cases, though a word was misinterpreted from time to time, both phones seemed to perform evenly with one exception. When I did OCR in a darker environment, the iPhone 11 seemed to make less errors than the SE, but in both instances, I was able to get enough text to understand what was written on the paper I was scanning.

I also did some currency recognition using the Cash Reader application. Whether using the iPhone 11 or the SE 2020, I found that recognition was always accurate and occurred within two seconds on both devices. My informal conclusion is that OCR doesn't seem to work too much better on the iPhone 11 compared to the iPhone SE 2020. Unlike OCR with documents, the currency recognition still seemed just as reliable with the iPhone 11 as it did with the iPhone SE 2020.

Bluetooth and the A13 Bionic Chip

Though I did not have the borrowed iPhone 11 long enough to try all of the Bluetooth stuff I wanted to, I do have an iPhone 8. Both my iPhone 8 and the iPhone SE 2020 have Bluetooth 5.0, but the iPhone 8 has the A11 chip instead of the A13 which is found in the iPhone SE 2020. I've already discussed my challenges with Bluetooth in another article, so I will not do so at great length in this review. I have, so far, found that Bluetooth is more responsive on the iPhone SE 2020 model and that the connection drops less frequently on the new SE than it did on the iPhone 8 or XR. When I throw four or five devices at the iPhone SE 2020, the connection still is reliable, but I've found it is more solid if I'm only using three devices. I also found, however, that I still needed to turn off all other Bluetooth devices to transfer data from one iOS device to another.

The Thing That Bugs Me!

As a full-time braille user of iOS, all of my productivity is dependent on iOS's braille support. One large point against the iPhone SE is that there is not an option to run iOS 12. iOS 13 came with many features and some bugs; many of those bugs have been worked out during the iOS 13 release cycle, but one particularly nasty braille bug has not yet been resolved. When editing text that contains line brakes using a braille display, the cursor which is represented by dots 7 and 8 will often times disappear after a cursor routing button is pressed. This makes writing professional emails a major challenge, and it has been the reason I have stayed on iOS 12 and not upgraded to a newer device. It is also my understanding from many other deaf-blind braille users that they are not upgrading to newer phones for this exact reason.

Battery Life

Apple has said that the battery life of the iPhone SE 2020 is equivalent to that of the iPhone 8. Sadly, I would agree that my iPhone 8 and iPhone SE 2020 have about the same battery life; the issue with this is that the battery in my iPhone 8 is over two years old. It is still at 88% capacity, which isn't bad, but this seems to be what the iPhone SE will give you with a brand new battery at 100% capacity. That said, with Bluetooth and Wifi constantly running, I can still manage to get a full day out of the battery on the iPhone SE 2020. The difference, though, was that the iPhone SE 2020 charges at a much faster rate

Conclusion

If you are on a budget, the iPhone SE 2020 starts at $399 US, which makes it the cheapest model on the market. Though there are some compromises in terms of battery life and camera performance, your wallet will thank you for the cheaper purchase. On the other hand, for those using Braille Screen Input, the smaller screen may not offer enough real estate to type comfortably using this method. As a braille-only VoiceOver user, if the above-mentioned braille bug is rectified, the iPhone SE 2020 would be a strong contender for me. Though the battery life is less than an iPhone 11, the iPhone SE 2020 will still give me a full day of use in most cases, and I can carry around a battery pack to offset this challenge if I'm going to be away from electricity for longer than a day. Finally, the return of Touch ID is something that I'm very happy with. As someone who rarely uses my touchscreen, and who almost never takes their phone out of their pocket, it is fantastic that a modern device supports it.

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Comments

Submitted by Travis Roth on Sunday, July 12, 2020

Club AppleVis Member

Hi,
Good post. I would agree with you. And I like the form factor of the SE.
As for battery life, it is my anecdotal opinion my XR gets better battery life. However, what I wanted to mention is that iOS 13.5.1 has a bug that can cause excess battery drain. It has to do with apps running in the background. For now I have been very aggressive about closing apps that like to stream and download including Netflix, YouTube. I even have to force close Messages on occasion to get it to reset. Keep an eye on it by looking at battery usage under Settings > Battery to see what needs closing.
Point being, once this gets cleaned up we may get a better idea of the battery life situation. I find as long as I keep this in check the battery performance seems satisfactory. Of course, the first iPhone that can go a week between charges will get my money! <smile>

Submitted by Atul Sahay (India) on Sunday, July 12, 2020

I too have iPhone 8 and have purchased iPhone SE and it is value for money together with higher speed. How can I make SE a replica of earlier phone and of course my main goal is to have my second number on the same phone. Any experience on running both numbers together?

Submitted by Clare Page on Sunday, July 12, 2020

Hi! It was interesting to read this review with its comparisons between the new iPhone SE and the 8 and 11, as I have used neither of the latter. My previous iPhone, before buying the new SE in April this year, was an iPhone 6 which I'd had since 2014, and which, understandably, was beginning to show its age, in fact the battery of my old iPhone 6 no longer holds its charge for long. That was one of several good reasons why the new SE was a good choice for me: its battery may not last as long as the 11's does, but it lasts far longer than the dying battery of my iPhone 6, I only need to charge the SE once a day, whereas I can only really use the 6 for any length of time if I leave it plugged in. Other reasons for choosing to buy the SE 2020 include that it is a smaller phone than other newer models, plus I could keep Touch ID: I can confirm that Touch ID on the new SE is very fast, and very reliable too. I soon realised I missed the headphone jack, but the little lightning to 3.5 mm adaptor sold by Apple is cheap and works fine for me. As for Braille Screen Input, I have no problems using that on my new iPhone SE, as I have small hands. This phone may not be ideal for everybody, but it definitely suits me, and the low price was also a bonus.

Submitted by Jo Billard on Sunday, July 12, 2020

For now I'm doing good with my 8+, but if I ever have to replace it, it won't be with this one, not if I can't use braille screen input. I do love touch ID, but otherwise the home button isn't an issue for me. However, price is, but BSI is the only way I can type anything right now, and I am most comfortable with it.

Submitted by gailisaiah on Monday, July 13, 2020

Hi Scott, Thanks so much for this review. I am now certain that the SE will be my next phone! I have an eight right now.

I can use BSI quite easily on my dying 6S, both with screen away mode and tabletop mode.

It took me a while to get the hang of tabletop mode, but I can now use both.

Does the new SE have stereo speakers? I know the 8 does, so I would assume this would as well.

Submitted by Scott Davert on Friday, July 24, 2020

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Thank you Khushi, Travis Roth, Clare Page, Jo Billard, gailisaiah, and kool_turk for your comments! Concerning the questions, I know that some users prefer BSI on a larger screen. I have only used it briefly, but it seems like it is easy enough once you adjust. The last time I used BSI before having this phone was on an iPAD Minni.
Oh, and yes, it does have stereo speakers. Like I said in the review, it's the same as the iPhone 8 in terms of size and its outward appearance, like humans, it's what's inside that counts. :)

Submitted by Daniel Angus M… on Sunday, August 2, 2020

Club AppleVis Member

I just got back to AppleVis after working on my health. I have generalized Anxiety Disorder, thus, I find new technology very overwhelming. the touch screen is diffult to use, as I have a spaceel awareness diffulity. learning it well, sometimes, I just regret the reason I bought it, to get professing with it. it's awesome in most respects, but I find it hard to use. it brought the promise of not carrying a keyboard, now, that is impractical. I ordered a speed dots screen protector, thinking it will, when it arrives, give me a sense of the spatial layout of the touch screen. I feel overwhelmed when people are so profess sent with their iPhone, and though I've had iPads and an iPad touch, was never given proper one-on-one instruction on how to use any iO
s device. I am beta testing, put it on and now, I am trying to learn my iPhone, when I get the most bugs and that is overwhelming. I cannot compare this phone to anything else, as I am still attempting to learn it. I'm sure an experienced iPhone user would feel differently, but I am just trying to learn what an iPhone is supposedly to be like. I barley know how to do anything, but call and text on it, and for that, I use Siri. I feel foolish writing this, but I think it needs to be written. if I can get some in person instruction on this phone, who knows if I will feel differently.
Sincerely,
Daniel Angus MacDonald
I know VoiceOver basics, but find most gestures hard, as I have Cerebral Palsy, which among other things, effects what I can perform on this screen. I know Scoot Davert and others on this thread are good at the iPhone, I am not, and feeling alone trying to learn, with no blind people in my vasinity so I can get in person training at my home. so to those who say that one thing for typing is better, please explain the basics.

Submitted by tripolice on Sunday, August 2, 2020

I migrated from SE 2016 to the new SE. First, I notice occasional fading of Voiceover sound. I feel the sound faded and then became normal again. Second, I am missing the feature of swiping up with one finger from the bottom to get the notification center. No sound when finger is placed above the home button and then it doesn't work as expected. But then, sometimes suddenly, I hear the sound and it works.
Anything I should do the old feel back?

Submitted by Sooziemoon on Sunday, August 2, 2020

I’ve been pondering whether to upgrade from the iPhone 7, to the SE 2020, and I’m leaning more towards it now after reading your review. I just wonder, would you know if they both take the same SIM card, Please?

If you could get one-on-one instruction, I think you'd make a whole lot of progress. I'm like you, I can't teach myself, at least not at the beginning. I hope you are able to find someone to teach you.

Submitted by Daniel Angus M… on Sunday, August 2, 2020

Club AppleVis Member

everyone well, almost who owns or have owned an iOS / iPadOS device, is very professing with it, who are as well on AppleVis. I usually avoid the iOS and iPadOS forum on here, most topics are too advanced for me! iOS updates are interesting, or at least they used to be. it's like when something is posted about such, I used to be excited to read the blog posts about them! now, I found the iPhone SE 2020 review, and feel I cannot bee professentt with my phone, and onistly intimidates me! I am on a list for discussion of the current beta, and that is overwhelming. I know and fully respect apples non discloser agreement (NDA,) so I will not say anything on this site 'till iOS 14 is officially released to the public. anyway, I feel known understands my perspective on the iPhone SE. it feels very isolating learning this new technology I hope someone on the AppleVis editorial team reads my comments. they are all professsent with iOS, or I just think so, I could be wrong? the Zoom meeting some months ago went as well as they could make it, minus the zoom bomming(s), but it would be fantastic to have a similar meeting sometime. I, when I herd the voice of Shelly Brisben, well, went for decades hearing her voice and others like Thomas donvill (Anonomouse and tiler Stephen, I was onistly starstrok! it was just so amazing to hear their voices! if we do something like that again, with approval by somebody in the editorial team, I will be forever grateful! maybe their are podcasts on this site for iPhone Beginners?
Daniel

Submitted by Scott Davert on Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

In reply to by Sooziemoon

Hi.
In theory, you should be able to swap out your Nano SIM in the 7 for the SE, unless your carior locked the SIM. Some cariors do that.

Submitted by Scott Davert on Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

In reply to by Daniel Angus M…

Hi Daniel.
I know Thomas has done a large number of podcasts on the site for beginners. The best solution may be to use the AppleVis search feature that will help you locate a specific topic you need support with. As for the Zoom meetings, I will let the others know. Good luck!

Submitted by Fatima.Hamoud10 on Wednesday, August 5, 2020

This is a great review. I also have the new iPhone SE. I like it so much. I like the stereo speakers.