iPhone SE (2020) vs. iPhone 8 (2017): Which should you buy?

Apple’s got a brand new iPhone SE and it starts at just $399. I’ve already compared it to the iPhone XR and iPhone 11, because I figured that’s what most potential customers would do.

But, a bunch of you asked me to also put the iPhone SE head-to-head against the iPhone 8.

Either because you’re considering the upgrade or you’re wondering if getting a discounted iPhone 8 from a carrier or big box store may be an even better deal than a new iPhone SE. And price isn’t always the same as value.

So, I’m Rene Ritchie and this… is the new iPhone SE vs. the old iPhone 8.

iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8: Design

Design is easy here. Design is a draw. Kinda. Because the new iPhone SE is based on the old iPhone 8. They’re almost identical. Almost.

The new iPhone SE ditches the word “iPhone” on the back of drops the Apple logo down to the middle to balance it out. Also to make it look like the new iPhones 11, which have bigger camera bumps up top.

I like the new branding better because, like I said in my review, it’s less, which isn’t just more confident on Apple’s part, it’s cleaner for us.

Is it odd that Apple didn’t change the design any more than that? Well, not really. When Apple designs a phone, they don’t just design the phone, they often design the machines that make the phone, and then they outfit a whole assembly system with them, which is expensive, especially at first.

Over time, though, it all gets paid off and becomes not very expensive. That means, as long as Apple doesn’t change anything significant, it stays not very expensive.

In other words, moving the Apple logo, fine. Changing the bezels or chamfering an edge, super expensive. Which is the exact opposite of what Apple wanted to do with the $399 iPhone SE.

And, pretty much what anyone who wanted to buy one for $399 wanted them to do.

iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8: Display

Both the new iPhone SE and old iPhone 8 have the same 4.7-inch LED backlit LCD displays. Both in Retina density, which means it’s hard to see the individual pixels at a regular viewing distance, and P3 wide gamut, for deep reds and lush greens.

The only real difference here is the iPhone 8 also comes in a larger version: The iPhone 8 Plus, with a 5.5-inch display.

The iPhone SE, at least for now, only comes in the standard 4.7-inch size.

iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8: Home & Touch ID

Home buttons and Touch ID are again easy because they’re again identical. Both have Apple’s iPhone 7-era virtual Home buttons and second generation Touch ID fingerprint identity sensor.

And both work exactly the same.

iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8: Colors

The colors are also slightly different. The SE is white instead of silver and black instead of space gray, both of which I also like better because they also just look cleaner.

There’s also product RED instead of Gold. The iPhone 8 got a RED version six months after it debuted, and I liked it enough to buy it, because RED, and I like it for the new SE as well. Mostly because the glass golds just never clicked for me the way the metal ones did on the iPhones 6 through 7.

Lastly, the face plate on the white iPhone SE is now black as well. On the iPhone 8, the silver and gold versions had white faceplates, the space gray and RED, black.

I know some people prefer the white in general, or because it looks brighter, or find it less claustrophobic for reading text on white backgrounds.

I like them both, but black does help make the bezels melt away for videos, especially movies.

iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8: Performance

Here’s where things get very different. The iPhone 8 has Apple’s A11 Bionic. The exact same chipset that shipped with the iPhone X in 2017.

The new iPhone SE has Apple’s A13 Bionic. The exact same chipset that shipped with the iPhones 11 in 2019.

And yeah, exact same. Not under clocked, not slowed down or missing or lesser in any way.

So, just a quick word on benchmarks: It’s totally cool to download an app, tap a button, and get a general sense of the relative performance of a device.

But real benchmarking, the kind that makes or amplifies headlines, should be left for the people who code those apps or the science-types that work for places like AnandTech.

Everything from battery to radio state to room temperature affects benchmarking, which is why I personally leave the serious stuff to serious engineers.

Anyway, there are several major differences between the A11 and A13.

The A11 Bionic has two 1.42GHz “Mistral” high efficiency cores, two high-performance 2.39 GHz “Monsoon” cores, three Apple custom GPU cores, and Apple’s first-ever neural-engine, at least in very nascent form.

All fabricated at 10 nanometers, where the smaller that number is, generally the better performance and lower the heat and power you get.

In addition to the neural engine block, the A11 also let Apple’s efficiency.performance fusion cores all operate independently, which was a big improvement over the A10.

The A13 Bionic has four 1.73GHz “Thunder” high-efficiency cores, two 2.65 GH “Lightning” high-performance cores, with machine learning accelerators, called AMX blocks, on those two cores. It’s also got four Apple custom GPU cores, and a new eight core, fully formed neural engine. All fabricated a 7 nanometers, under that lower is generally better rule.

I believe it’s also got a next-generation performance controller, which is like the cherry on top of Apple’s secret silicon sauce here. You know what I mean.

Also, the new iPhone SE has 3 GB of memory to the iPhone 8’s 2GB.

All that to say, the A13 can do far, far more in the same chassis and at around the same power consumption levels as the A11.

So, not only will everything feel quicker and more responsive day to day, it’ll handle more complex filters and AR experiences more smoothly, but it’ll hand app and operating system updates for 3-5 years longer.

Which means, if you have or get an iPhone 8 today, you’re looking at updates until about 2021 or 2022. Just like the 2015 iPhone 6s was updated to iOS 13 in 2019.

If you get a new iPhone SE today, you’re looking at updates until about 2024 or 2025. And the longer out that goes, the bigger a difference it makes.

iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8: Battery Life

Because the A13 Bionic in the new iPhone SE is 7 nanometer instead of 10 nanometer, even though it’s faster and has more cores, it’s also more efficient, which average battery life ends up being about the same as the iPhone 8.

And yeah, that’s why, Apple doesn’t give out milliamp hour data for their devices because, they want to be judged by their performance. If two devices have the same battery size but one lasts twice as long with the other, that’s the part that really matters.

According to Apple, the iPhone SE will tap out after about 13 hours of video playback. Same as the iPhone 8. It can just flex way harder, when it needs to, during that time.

To show the other extreme, I ran both the new iPhone SE and iPhone 8 on Pokemon Go, which is GPS, data, graphics, and at max brightness, pretty much everything that can kill a battery fast, during the Abra Community Day event.

And they both died in about the same 3 hours.

And, yeah, both come with the same USB-A 5 watt charger in the box, which is so 2014, but can use more powerful USB-A chargers if you buy them.

The iPhone SE is also optimized for much faster charging on the 18w USB-C charger, also if you buy it.

iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8: Radios

Where the iPhone 8 supported LTE Advanced, the new iPhone SE supports Gigabit LTE.

That’s also single SIM on the iPhone 8 and dual SIM, one physical, one eSIM on the new iPhone SE.

Where the iPhone 8 supported 802.11ac, or what is that, Wi-Fi 5? The iPhone SE supports 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6.

Where the iPhone 8 supported Bluetooth 5… the iPhone SE supports… Bluetooth 5. But you get the idea.

If you move between carriers, dual SIM is a real difference. The rest really depends on which carrier, and what kind of router you have, whether you’ll see any real-world improvements or not. But, the potential is there.

iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8: Cameras

In terms of hardware, the new iPhone SE and iPhone 8 cameras are the same.

Same 12 megapixel, f/1.8, optically stabilized 4K 60 fps wide angle on the back, same 7 megapixel, f/2.2, 1080p 30 fps selfie on the front.



The old iPhone 8 has the A11 image signal processor to handle those photos, and the new iPhone SE has the A13 image signal processor to handle these photos.

And George Takei Oh My what a difference those two generations of silicon make.

The end results is that the iPhone SE just shoots circles around the iPhone 8. It shoots better than the iPhone XR in most situations as well, falling equal only in low light. I even like some of what it does better than the Pixel 4, which is consistently cooler and contrastier, as is Google’s want.

That’s thanks to things like second generation smart HDR which stacks multiple exposures and uses things like semantic rendering to pull out the best image possible.

Also better segmentation masking, so, unlike the iPhone 8, the iPhone SE does full-on portrait mode, including Portrait Lighting, front and back.

Now, you can get portrait mode on the iPhone 8 Plus, thanks to its dual cameras, but at a slightly higher price and bigger size.

The iPhone SE can also do extended dynamic range on video up to 4K 30, which is the same as the iPhone XR.

If all you care about is the Gram or the Tok, you may not see a big difference. But if you want the best possible photos of your family, your pets, your life, preserved for future you, you’re always going to want the best photos and video you can get.

iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8: Price

Pricing on the iPhone SE is stone stump simple. It’s $399 U.S. for 64 gigabytes, just $50 more for 128 GB, and a $100 more than that for 256 GB. AppleCare+ is also just $79.

It can be more, much more, internationally, which totally sucks, but is true of most of Apple’s current product line.

Pricing on the iPhone 8 depends a lot on where you’re looking. You can find them second hand on Gazelle or Amazon starting at around $300 for 64GB for excellent condition. You can get them cheaper though Craig’s List or Ebay, if you’re willing to put in more work and sometimes risk things like water damage you can’t easily see. You can also find some really good deals from carriers and big boxes that are still selling out their stock, sometimes discounted.

So, my recommendation is this: If you already have an iPhone 8 and it’s fine and you’re fine with it, stick with it. If you don’t, and you need to upgrade, go with the new iPhone SE because it’s simply the better upgrade and you’ll be able to stick with it longer.

There’ll always be something new and next, so by when you absolutely need to buy and then enjoy the hell out of what you bought.