Apple iPhone SE (2020) vs iPhone XR vs iPhone 11: What's the difference?

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We’ve been waiting for a cheaper iPhone for some time. And now it’s here.

The natural successor to the long-discontinued iPhone SE and replacing the outgoing iPhone 8, the new iPhone SE (2020) is basically an iPhone 8 in design but with the innards from the iPhone 11.

That means you’re getting some flagship features for a mid-range price. Wireless charging and waterproofing stick around, plus the single-camera from the iPhone 8, but with most of the software smarts from the iPhone 11.

It appears Apple is calling this handset iPhone SE (second generation). In case you are wondering, this handset is the one that has also been referred to as SE 2 and iPhone 9 in the past, too. 

The iPhone SE (2020) has been available for pre-order from 17 April and will cost $399/£419 for the 64GB model. The iPhone SE release date will be 24 April, and you’ll be able to get a 128GB and 256GB version of the phone too. 

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So should you order the new iPhone SE or opt for the more expensive but more advanced iPhone XR or iPhone 11? Here’s the lowdown.

By the way, all three phones run the latest version of iOS, 13, which will be upgraded to iOS 14 later in 2020. 

Design

  • iPhone SE (2020): 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm, 148g
  • iPhone XR: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm, 194g
  • iPhone 11: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm, 194g

The new iPhone SE (2020) is based on the iPhone 8 shell and that phone is at the bottom end of Apple’s smartphone range. Therefore it’ll slot in underneath the iPhone XR even though it has even more advanced innards. 

iPhone SE is a Touch ID-based handset as opposed to the Face ID used on iPhone 11 and iPhone XR, so the screen doesn’t have a notch.

Surprisingly, it is water-resistant like the other two devices (it’s IP67-rated like the iPhone XR but not like the 11’s and IP68 rating). A glass back means it can also use Qi wireless charging. 

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The iPhone SE comes in a single 4.7-inch size – there isn’t an equivalent of the iPhone 8 Plus in the SE range (that spot has now been taken by the iPhone XR, if you like). 

The iPhone 8 which has now been discontinued at Apple (you might still be able to find it elsewhere why stocks last) came in gold, silver and space grey and the SE is available in red (ProductRED), black and white. In comparison, the iPhone XR and iPhone 11 have a wider range of colours in their ranges. 

Display

  • iPhone SE (2020): 4.7-inch, LCD, 1,334 x 750 pixel resolution
  • iPhone XR: 6.1-inch, LCD, 1,792 x 828 pixel resolution
  • iPhone 11: 6.1-inch, LCD, 1,792 x 828 pixel resolution

None of these models have OLED displays unlike the iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone XS and iPhone X. Both the iPhone 11 and the iPhone XR have a 6.1-inch, Liquid Retina LCD display that has a 1,792 x 828 pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 326ppi. 

The iPhone SE (2020) has a 4.7-inch 1,334 x 750 pixel display, again giving 326ppi. It has True Tone tech like the other two models and yes, it’s the same as the iPhone 8 display.

The displays support Dolby Vision and HDR10 playback. 

Cameras

  • iPhone SE (2020): Single rear camera (12MP), 7MP front camera 
  • iPhone XR: Single rear camera (12MP), 7MP TrueDepth front camera
  • iPhone 11: Dual rear camera (12MP wide angle and ultra wide angle), 12MP TrueDepth front camera

The iPhone 11 is by far the better camera phone here, with a dual-camera on the rear and 12-megapixel TrueDepth camera on the front. 

The iPhone 11 has a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle f/2.4 camera and a wide-angle f/1.8 sensor. There’s optical image stabilisation (OIS), a brighter True Tone flash and Portrait Lighting with six effects, as well as second-generation Smart HDR for photos. You also get a new night mode, a major improvement. 

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The iPhone XR has a single 12-megapixel rear camera with f/1.8 aperture, OIS and 5x zoom. It also only offers three effect Portrait Lighting and first-gen Smart HDR for photos. 

The iPhone SE (2020) has the same single camera as the iPhone 8 and iPhone XR but betters the XR by having many of the camera software features from the iPhone 11. So there are all six Portrait Lighting effects and Depth Control in addition to the second-generation Smart HDR. There is no night mode however. The front camera can do portrait mode, just like the iPhone 11, but it can’t do Animoji or Memoji. Like the XR you can’t use Portrait Mode unless you have a human face in the shot. Those portraits of your cat or dog using Portrait Mode are a no-no. 

All three phones are capable of 4K video recording up to 60fps and Slo-mo up to 240fps at 1080p resolution. 

Hardware

  • iPhone SE (2020): A13 Bionic platform, 64/128/256GB storage, single SIM with eSIM
  • iPhone XR: A12 Bionic platform, 64/256/512GB storage, single SIM with eSIM
  • iPhone 11: A13 Bionic platform, 64/256/512GB storage, single SIM with eSIM

The new iPhone SE uses the A13 Bionic chipset like the iPhone 11, bettering the A12 inside the iPhone XR.

The iPhone XR and 11 come in 64GB, 256GB and 512GB storage sizes and there’s the same 64GB entry-level on the iPhone SE, with 128GB and 256GB as the other options. 

As we mentioned, the new SE will use Touch ID and have a Home button unlike the Face ID-toting iPhone XR and iPhone 11. Wi-Fi 6 is also supported, as it is in iPhone 11 although the iPhone 11 wireless antennas are better. All three handsets have support for a second SIM in the form of an eSIM

All three handsets are 4G, there are no 5G iPhones as yet. 

All three phones also support wireless charging via a Qi charger and Apple’s Quick Charging feature although you will have to upgrade from the charger in the box. If you use a fairly new MacBook (one with a USB-C cable) you can use that charger, although you will have to buy A new USB-C to Lightning cable for it to work. But by doing so you’ll be able to get around 50 per cent charge in around 30 minutes. 

Conclusion

There’s little doubt that the iPhone 11 is the best phone here. The main advantage it has over the XR is its second camera, and it’s smaller form factor making it easier to fit in your pocket. Otherwise, the experience will be very similar.

The new iPhone SE will slot in at the bottom of the range, but while it’ll be cheaper the main thing you compromise on compared to the XR will be the Touch ID-based design. The camera on the iPhone SE (2020) in our tests is better, thanks to the additional software improvements. 

Many users upgrading from older iPhones will actually find this design reassuring rather than off-putting and may prefer it as an option, especially if you aren’t ready to move to a buttonless iPhone just yet. Plus, the smaller screen size will cater for those who don’t want a large-display phone. 

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