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

There is a great phone under $500 that I would recommend to just about anyone looking for the best midrange phone on the market. It uses the same chipset as the company’s much more expensive flagships, and it packs an IP67 rating, a very good 12-megapixel camera and a long lifespan with software support for 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 it’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 screen 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 good enough. The iPhone SE’s 60Hz screen isn’t because at 4.7 inches it’s just way too small for a phone in 2022. I say this as someone who likes small phones, so if l if you think it is too small, then it is really too small.

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

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 on the screen, both Apple and Google have made some tradeoffs to achieve a lower price. But with a screen that is too small, you can’t just manage it. Take wireless charging – the SE includes it, which virtually no other mid-range phone does, including the 6A. But that’s something I think most people can live without. On the other hand, we look at our phone screens ten thousand times a day; a fairly large screen isn’t a convenience feature – it’s your whole phone.

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

For reference, the iPhone SE I tested for a few weeks is already at 43GB, just between system files, apps, and my photo library. Getting 64GB would be all too easy in a year or two — or even sooner, depending on how much 4K video you shoot. Bottom line – even at a great price, 64GB really isn’t enough space. Google made the smart move by starting at a higher price with a livable amount of storage.

Both the 6A and SE pack very good mid-range cameras – 12-megapixel main rear cameras with OIS in both cases. But Apple made one unfortunate decision that left the 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 helping Apple differentiate its more expensive phones from this entry-level model.

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

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

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

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