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Apple iPhone SE vs. iPhone 13 Mini: Which is the Best Budget iPhone

Apple’s inclusion of its A15 chip inside of all the latest iPhones models narrows the performance gap between flagship and entry-level.

iphone se v iphone 13
Trevor Raab

Apple’s notoriously expensive iPhone lineup now has two entry-level options under $700: the new iPhone SE ($429) and the iPhone 13 Mini ($699). While neither is cheap, per se, the prices are fair considering these phones house Apple’s benchmark-shattering A15 chip, the same found in the highest-end iPhone 13. This silicon allows for all-day battery life, powerful computing performance, and smooth iOS navigation. Beyond surface-level differences, like the home button present on the 4.7-inch SE or the notch on the larger screen real estate of the 5.4-inch 13 Mini, there’s a lot going on under the hood that you’ll want to consider if you’re looking at buying one or the other. Here’s how they stack up.

At a Glance

iPhone SE 2022

  • Fast A15 performance on par with the flagship iPhone 13
  • Most comfortable design in the lineup
  • Most affordable new iPhone

  • Retina screen is too old
  • Single camera isn’t great
iPhone 13 Mini

  • Excellent display
  • Same powerful performance with the A15 chip

  • Worse battery life

How We Tested

I’ve spent the past week using the iPhone SE and iPhone 13 Mini as my daily mobile drivers. This consisted of five full work days worth of tasks and a weekend of consuming content. I subjected both iPhones to an equal amount of scrolling through the same social media feeds, responding to texts and emails, as well as creating visual images and videos.

To test processing speeds between both phones, I added a pre-keyed muzzle flash and sound effect to different tracks on the same one minute 4K video clip. I recorded this footage on the SE and airdropped over to the Mini. I then exported this edited clip as a single file using iMovie. This tests real-world content creation workflow, ease of use, screen results, and speeds.

For testing battery life, I opened this livestream of LoFi music from YouTube, which I use everyday during work. Each iPhone started at 100 percent. I set them to 50 percent brightness and tuned to this video, then monitored them over the course of three hours. This gave me a good idea of how networking and using each phone’s display impacts battery drain. Not only does the live feed require constant refreshing, but live comments pop up around the screen to challenge the display so that all components are constantly working.

iphone se v iphone 13
Trevor Raab

I purchased the 13 Pro Max at launch for its bigger battery and 120-hertz OLED screen, so I know what a flagship iPhone operates like. While I spent time searching for inconsistencies across the experience, both budget phones punched far above their weight class at a third of the $1,400 price I spent on mine, proving bigger isn’t always better. Here’s why.

The iPhone SE Looks and Feels Better

iphone se v iphone 13
Trevor Raab

At first glance, you will notice the chunky bezels and home button on the iPhone SE, which are notably absent on the Mini. The SE is tall yet slender, with curved edges and rounded corners that make it easier to hold and operate. Apple did a nice job of nailing the thinness, starkly contrasting the SE with the Mini’s squared-off stainless-steel edges that convey heft. While the 13 Mini is 144 grams (only 3 heavier), it can feel almost brick-like next to the SE. With the Mini, I occasionally have a hard time using FaceID with my mask on or in dark venues, which is where TouchID on the SE shines. It works flawlessly, without any hesitation. Both phones have the Lightning Port, but trying to slip the Mini into certain third-party peripherals like a Backbone gaming controller is maddening. With that said, the Mini has a slight advantage with MagSafe gear and charge support that the SE lacks.

Both phones feature the same button layout for the most part, excluding the home button at the bottom of the SE. On the left sits a physical volume toggle along with volume rockers to adjust sound levels. On the right is a power button that lets you click your display on or off at a glance as well as power it down. Also on this side is a SIM card slot. And on the bottom of each device sits a Lightning port. Flip the phones over and you’ll see a difference in the camera layout. The raised square in the top left corner of the Mini supports dual-lenses, flash, and a microphone. The older SE is a flat singular lens that makes the device look like an older iPod Touch.

The iPhone Mini lives up to its name. Its small shape is fine to hold, and I enjoy taking quick calls and Facetime with it over other iPhone 13s in the lineup. Plus swiping for switching between apps and control feels a bit faster than pressing in the home button to pull up app windows. But gripping around the square edges over an extensive period of time can fatigue your hands a bit. Which is a shame, since it’s more immersive for content given the lack of bezels and its gorgeous OLED screen.

The iPhone 13 Mini’s Display Puts The SE To Shame

iphone se v iphone 13
Trevor Raab

The Mini’s larger crisp 2340-by-1080-pixel OLED outclasses the SE’s 720P retina HD display. There’s no denying that. If you’re a cinephile and opt for the SE, you will miss the liquid retina on the Mini for its sharper colors, improved brightness, and shadow detail retainment. This is extremely noticeable while watching colorful high resolution content like Cyberpunk 2077’s trailer or Dune on HBO Max. You don’t lose defining shapes on the Mini in dark scenes, and neon glows really pop as opposed to the SE, which can smear colors into each other.

While Apple will support the iPhone SE for generations to come and offer the latest 5G and A15 performance in it, its screen is basic and doesn’t support HDR content in 2022. You can see things like a lower pixelation when zoomed in on certain shots, even on the smaller size. It can look almost washed out in bright scenes like the home menus at full brightness. This won’t be noticeable coming from an older phone, but if you’re thinking about switching to an SE after living with an iPhone 8, think twice if you’re into movies and gaming.

The iPhone 13’s stronger display lends itself to better content, since it’s equipped with better cameras. The Mini offers the cinematic film mode for auto-focus in videos, a telephoto lens that shifts between 0.5 and 5 times zoom, and more portrait control effects with TrueDepth. Photographers will want to spend more money on the Mini. While I found the basic 12-megapixel-wide camera on the SE fine, its single lens isn’t the best even in this budget class. It loses higher quality shooting modes, and its lack of a dual-lens systems leaves some shots wanting.

Performance Between Them Is Equal

While each phone has had an advantage over the other so far, both models offer 5G connectivity and are powered by the A15 bionic chip. Opening apps and loading webpages is equally snappy across the board. The A15 shines with some of the fastest Geekbench scores on a mobile phone processor. I ran my livestream battery test three times to get an average. Both phones pulled from the same Wi-Fi network, loaded the same comments in real-time, and played music at the halfway mark. I played games using XCloud, streamed through Twitch or YouTube, and worked on Google Docs in real-time, getting a good gauge for a mixed day of entertainment use.

iphone se v iphone 13
Trevor Raab

After two hours of streaming from 100 percent, the SE had an impressive 74 percent of battery life, while the Mini was just 2 percent lower with a more colorful and larger OLED screen. Gaming is as smooth across the board with no lag—but neither offer the same smooth ProMotion as the 13 Pro series, which allows for 120-hertz frame rates. Mixing down a one-minute movie clip with effects took just several seconds on both, with neither phone outpacing the other. While I didn’t have to top up the batteries throughout the day, the Mini drained slightly faster than the SE, but each phone still made it to bed before dying. This is especially surprising since the SE is expected to provide up to 15 hours of video playback to the Mini’s promised 17 hours.

The Verdict

The iPhone SE doesn’t feel like a budget phone, especially compared to other phones in the $429 range, like the excellent Pixel 5A. It makes it easy to switch to iOS or upgrade from an older iPhone for cheap. If you don’t spend hours watching HDR content or games on your phone, the screen gets the job done and you’ll appreciate the ease of the physical home button, slim easy-to-hold curves, and cheap price. If you’re the kind of person who consumes full-screen HDR iMax media and plays games, then you’re going to lean toward the budget Mini—it delivers entertainment in spades without distracting bezels or a lower quality screen.

As a basic iPhone that can smoothly and quickly sort through messages, make a call, pull up YouTube videos, and browse the occasional social media feed, the SE is a welcome addition to the lineup at a third of the price of the Mini. Its thick screen bezels and single wide camera for the $429 price tag stings a bit but doesn’t hamper what is overall a solid phone. The SE takes the iPhone back to basics to smoothly deliver a high performance iOS 15 experience in a retro body. Don’t let the Mini’s X fool you, it offers all the benefits of iPhone 13 in a smaller and more affordable package. It does what it sets out to do—put more power in your pocket without taking up a ton of space. Neither phone is perfect, but they come close for the more practical iPhone user.

iphone se v iphone 13
Trevor Raab
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