Opinion: Where’s the Android iPhone SE?


The iPhone SE, which is very competitively priced for Apple, has been on sale for a while now. This compact top phone seems to be a bull’s eye. Where’s the Android equivalent, though?

We go back to the year 2016. It is the year in which Samsung came up with the already quite expensive Galaxy S7, Huawei just started its advance with the Huawei P9 and the iPhone 6S was already quite expensive for many (certainly without subscription). There was also some criticism of Apple from loyal Apple users; the iPhone 6S (and especially the Plus) would be too big. After all, Steve Jobs said years ago that “no one would buy a big smartphone.” Still, Apple seemed to give in to the ever-increasing Android competition.

First iPhone SE

For many, the tiny iPhone SE came out of nowhere in 2016. It was a godsend for many Apple fans. What made the SE so special? The smartphone had the same fast chipset as that of the big 6S, as well as a camera upgrade, but was packaged in a design that Steve Jobs probably liked a bit more about; the iPhone 5 (S). And also the price-quality ratio: for less than 500 euros you bought a premium iPhone that would be updated for years to come. Major manufacturers that used Android such as Samsung, HTC (then), Huawei and associates were there and looked at it.

A suitable size for everyone at Apple.

Fast forward to 2020 and Apple has done the same trick, but with the housing of the iPhone 8. Many reviewers and consumers are also happy with this phone, because with the inflation in mind the new iPhone SE 2020 with a price of 489 euros ‘cheaper’ than the 2016 SE (also 489 euros back then). In those four years, however, Android manufacturers seem to have learned nothing from Apple’s incredibly smart strategy.

Keys to success

As mentioned, there are two important factors that make the iPhone SE a great success; the (relatively small) form factor and the price. Let’s start by comparing the form factor. Admittedly, the design of the new SE is far from modern, with the rather hefty screen bezels and the display itself isn’t your liking either. Still, this doesn’t seem to bother users very much.

Rostov-on-Don, Russia – February 2020. SAMSUNG Galaxy S20 on a wooden background. New smartphone and box, from SAMSUNG company close-up.
The Galaxy S20 is neither big nor small.

Since manufacturers nowadays use displays with different screen proportions, we take the dimensions instead of screen diagonals. The iPhone SE 2020 has dimensions of 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 millimeters. If we look at the smallest Android flagships that have recently been unveiled, we almost all do not see a compact device. For example, the Galaxy S20 has dimensions of 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9 millimeters. The Sony Xperia 5, the ‘little’ brother of the Xperia 1 from 2019, has dimensions of 158 x 68 x 8.2 millimeters. Even if we include the Huawei P30, we arrive at dimensions of 149.1 x 71.4 x 7.6 millimeters.

For a somewhat serious competitor with a relatively small form factor, we have to go back in time for more than a year. We are talking about the Samsung Galaxy S10e. The dimensions are 142.2 x 69.9 x 7.9 millimeters. This phone also has a front-filling screen, two cameras, and (for many important) a headphone input. On paper a beautiful competitor for the small iPhone from Apple, were it not that the phone had a suggested retail price of 749 euros. Even now that the internal hardware and camera qualities are less than that of the iPhone SE 2020, the animal still costs 550 euros at the time of writing.

Bottom left of the Galaxy S10e next to its bigger brothers.

Gloomy prospects

Although the S10e is a lot more expensive than the iPhone SE 2020, we would have liked to see a Galaxy S20e. For everyone who likes a small high-end smartphone, and prefers Android, we see it gloomily. In recent years, phones have only gotten bigger. Today’s ultra-long displays make using some Androids with one hand simply impossible. Of course you get more screen in return, but it will not surprise us if that is not the only reason for ever-growing flagships.

The latest compact high-end Android?

What’s under the hood is just as important to the size of the case. Because almost all smartphone manufacturers rely on Qualcomm chips for their high-end devices, there is a slight monopoly. With the introduction of the new Snapdragon 865 chipset, Qualcomm obliges buyers of its chip to build in an external 5G modem. Besides that this external modem takes up extra space, the 5G technology is a considerable energy guzzler. That is why the battery capacity must also be increased. It is therefore not surprising that the current Android smartphones can no longer be distinguished in terms of dimensions from the once colossal-looking Galaxy Note series.

The most poignant of all this? The only manufacturer that is still somewhat seen as a competitor of Qualcomm in the Android landscape is Samsung, which in Europe supplies its devices with Exynos chipsets. And let that be the manufacturer who has not followed up on her successful little one. Add to this the fact that no other manufacturer has yet used high-end Exynos chipsets, and it looks like the iPhone SE will have nothing to fear from the Android corner in the near future.

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