iPhone SE vs. Pixel 6A: What Google Did Right and Apple Got Wrong

There’s a great phone under $500 that I recommend to almost anyone looking for the best mid-range phone on the market. It uses the same chipset as the company’s much more expensive flagships, and it features an IP67 rating, a very good 12-megapixel camera, and a long battery life ahead of it with software support for many years to come. It’s not the iPhone SE, which I wish I could recommend as freely as the current category winner: the Pixel 6A. It’s a better phone, and that’s what the SE should have been. Here’s what Google did right — and what Apple should have done differently.

The Pixel 6A’s 6.1-inch display isn’t perfect. It’s not great outdoors, and it’s a 60Hz display in a world where faster refresh rates are becoming the norm. But here’s the thing: it’s pretty good. The iPhone SE’s 60Hz screen isn’t because, at 4.7 inches, it’s just too small for a phone in 2022. I’m saying this as someone who likes small phones , so if I think it’s too small, then it really is too small.

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The iPhone SE 2022 strikes a minimalist figure.
Photo by Allison Johnson/The Verge

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The Pixel 6A mimics the design language of the 6 and 6 Pro.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic/The Verge

You can’t have everything from a mid-range phone, and the display is where Apple and Google have compromised to achieve a lower price. But a screen that’s too small isn’t something you can just settle for. Take wireless charging – the SE includes it, which no other mid-range class phone does, including the 6A. But I think it’s something most people can do without. On the other hand, we stare at our phone screens ten thousand times a day; a reasonably large screen isn’t a convenience feature – it’s your whole phone.

Another place where Apple has gone too small: storage. The iPhone SE starts at $429 – a great price! But that only gives you 64GB of storage, and that’s not enough for all the apps we use and the 4K photos and videos we capture these days. The base Pixel 6A model costs a bit more at $449, but it offers 128GB of storage. That’s not huge, especially considering the phone is designed to last four or five years, but that’s what I consider a bare minimum.

For reference, the iPhone SE I tested for a few weeks is already at 43GB right between system files, apps, and my photo library. Getting to 64GB would be all too easy in a year or two – or even sooner, depending on how much 4K video you’re shooting. Ultimately, even at a bargain price, 64GB really isn’t enough space. Google made the right choice by starting at a higher price with a viable amount of storage.

The 6A and SE include very good cameras for the mid-range class – 12-megapixel main rear cameras with OIS in both cases. But Apple made an unfortunate decision that puts its otherwise very good camera behind the rest of the class: it excluded Night Mode from the SE. There’s really no good explanation for this other than that it helps Apple differentiate its more expensive phones from this entry-level offering.

A very low-light image of the iPhone SE without Night Mode (left) compared to Night Mode on the Pixel 5A (right) which uses a similar camera system to the 6A.

That, to put it bluntly, sucks. Even $300 phones offer usable night mode these days, and they manage to do so without using a flagship-level chipset. And it’s not like the 6A includes all the camera functionality on the Pixel 6 – it uses an older camera module than the flagship, and the Motion Mode feature isn’t enabled. But you know what it includes? Night mode. The SE doesn’t need to include the latest camera features; it just needs the bare essentials – and these days that includes night mode.

Between the Pixel 6A and the Samsung A53 5G, Android customers have some great options under $500. The features these models exclude, like wireless charging and more powerful cameras, are things most people can live without. It’s a shame that Apple users don’t have an equivalent option. Maybe Apple can borrow Google’s mid-range device playbook for the next version of the SE.

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