What you need to know about Apple's latest iPhone

By Hayley Tsukayama

Everything old is new again when it comes to the iPhone line. With the announcement of a new 4-inch iPhone, called the iPhone SE, Apple has brought back the screen size to which users bid farewell a couple of years ago. I had a few moments with the phone at Apple's launch event in Cupertino, California, in which I got to re-familiarize myself with the smaller screen.

If I had to sum up the iPhone SE in one sentence it would be this: This is an iPhone 6S in the body of an iPhone 5S.

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That's nice for people who like the metal body and size of the 5S. There probably won't be a lot of people who switch to the SE from a 6S or 6S Plus, though, unless they really miss the smaller screen size.

In fact, it's sort of shocking how small the phone feels in hand - even though it hasn't been that long since it was the standard size for the iPhone. I've clearly become quickly accustomed to screens that are at least an inch larger.

If you haven't upgraded to the newest iPhones, for whatever reason, this phone will offer you some significant performance improvements. An Apple employee demonstrating the phones at the event made sure to show me how well the smaller phone handles complex games, for example, as a way to illustrate how powerful this little model is.

It is, admittedly, hard to get a good handle on performance in a brief hands-on session. But everything felt very zippy, even features such as Live Photos or video playback, which is unusual on a phone of that size in today's market. Apart from a few features such as 3D Touch, the iPhone SE felt pretty much like its larger and more expensive counterparts.

If you haven't upgraded to the newest iPhones, for whatever reason, this phone will offer you some significant performance improvements.

So from an engineering standpoint, this feels like an accomplishment. Being able to pack most of the performance of the latest iPhones into that smaller case is no mean feat. To consumers, however, it may not seem so revolutionary.

Still, it's a nice option to have on the market - a compact phone that feels powerful rather than sluggish, and another option to consider for people who really like having a smaller phone.

And who are those people? Anecdotally, I've had a lot of people email me - mostly older smartphone users - who have said they want to retain that smaller screen size. Some people say they can't get a grip on the new phones, others say that they're not that interested in watching more video which is more conducive to larger screens and prefer to keep things compact.

Is it a niche market? Yes. Is it a pretty big niche? Well, Apple said on stage that it has sold 300 million 4-inch iPhones in 2015, using it as justification for going back to the 4-inch screen. (Keep in mind the last 4-inch iPhone was launched in 2013.)

Mostly, I'd say this phone will appeal to people who want a good smartphone that works well, but don't need to always be at the cutting edge of technology. Big screens are good for being able to test out all the new things. A smaller screen somehow feels like a phone that goes about its business more quietly.

It's clear that Apple isn't going after the wow factor with the iPhone SE.

And it is true that the 4-inch screen is somewhat, well, comforting. With a large phone, I often feel like I'm about to drop them, or they'll slip out of my hands because they're so slender. While I don't know that I would personally go back to a smaller phone, I did have a nostalgic moment for the stockier iPhone, even if it didn't exactly bowl me over.

It's clear that Apple isn't going after the wow factor with the iPhone SE. What the company does appear to be going after is consumer demand, both for a smaller iPhone and for a slightly cheaper one. (Because who doesn't like things to be cheaper?) And it comes in the full slate of iPhone colors -- gray, white, gold and rose gold -- so even smaller phone fans will have a range of color options.

The new iPhone SE starts at US$399, making it far cheaper than the base US$650 iPhone 6S or US$750 iPhone 6S Plus. The starting model comes with 16 GB of storage, while an upgrade to 64 GB will cost you an additional US$100.

- Washington Post

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