ZDNet independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.Our process
'ZDNet Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNet's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNet nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNet's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
The new iPhone SE is here and has once again stolen the spotlight for potential iPhone adopters on a budget. Starting at $429, the 5G-enabled, A15 Bionic-powered handset is Apple's most affordable iPhone. But priced just $70 more is the older, but larger, iPhone 11 -- also available for purchase via the Apple store.
Whether you're eyeing a new iPhone for a family member, significant other, or yourself, there's no question that both the iPhone SE and iPhone 11 deliver exceptionally good value mobile experiences. To help you best decide which of the two sub-$500 smartphones you should spend your hard-earned money on, we've compared the design, performance, cameras, and overall value of both below.
iPhone SE (2022)
4.7-inch Retina HD
6.1-inch Liquid Retina HD
TouchID (fingerprint unlock)
FaceID (face unlock)
Midnight, Starlight, Product Red
Purple, Yellow, Green, Black, White, Product Red
Single 12-megapixel camera
Dual 12-megapixel cameras
IP67 (one meter deep for 30 minutes)
IP68 (two meters deep for 30 minutes)
One of the major crossroads that you'll encounter when deciding between the iPhone SE (2022) and the iPhone 11 is design. While the former was released in early 2022, its hardware is practically indistinguishable from the iPhone SE (2020), which shared the same design as the iPhone 8 of 2017. That's not to say that this year's iteration falls short in the performance side of things. Just don't expect the near-bezeless figure that modern-day iPhones have embraced and, instead, look forward to the nostalgia that is 4.7-inch iPhones with physical home buttons.
Likewise, the iPhone 11 offers a recycled design of its predecessor, the iPhone XR. (Apple clearly likes to recycle things.) But unlike the SE, the iPhone 11 has a much more screen-dominant appearance, with a notch at the center for FaceID (face unlock) instead of the old and reliable fingerprint sensor. It's also significantly larger than the SE, with a 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display. For entertainment lovers who desire the best viewing experience, the larger iPhone may be of greater use than the SE.
Both iPhones are equipped with a 12-megapixel wide camera at the back, but the 11 takes it a step further by tossing in a 12MP ultra-wide lens for those head-turning landscape shots. How the two perform in actuality will be broken down in the camera section later on.
The iPhone SE sports an IP67 rating, which certifies it as water-resistant of up to one meter deep for 30 minutes. Comparably, the iPhone 11 has an IP68 rating, protecting it from a swim of up to two meters deep for the same time. Both devices should hold up in the rain or shine in the grand scheme of things.
In terms of color options, the iPhone SE comes in Midnight (black), Starlight (white), and Product Red. The iPhone 11 can be purchased in Purple, Yellow, Green, Black, White, and Product Red, though availability will vary, given it's a three-year-old device.
Putting the iPhones side by side, design alone may be enough to sway you to one side. The iPhone 11 is the phone of choice for a more modern feel and finish. But if you long for the familiar, compact, and reliable iPhone 8 design, then the SE will do you no wrong.
For how much smaller and cheaper it is, the iPhone SE packs enough firepower to rival that of Apple's flagships. That's largely due to the A15 Bionic chip -- the same processor found in the iPhone 13 Pro -- under the hood. When ZDNet's Jason Cipriani benchmarked the iPhone SE, it scored 1,731 and 4,316 on the single and multi-core tests, respectively, doubling that of Google's highest-end Pixel 6 Pro. From a real-world perspective, that basically means the iPhone SE can run apps games and multitask with little to no stutter.
Still, the iPhone 11 treads closely behind, with its A13 Bionic processor being just as reliable for social media browsing, movie streaming, and capturing 4K video. The older iPhone is also equipped with 4GB of RAM, and by operating on the same versions of iOS, all the software perks of one iPhone are ever so present on the other. It is worth noting, however, that Apple typically honors between five to seven-year software updates. Given the three year gap between the 11 and new SE, you can expect the latter to receive longer support if purchased today.
To 5G or not to 5G? You'll have to answer another question when deciding between the two iPhones. To simplify the process, the new iPhone SE only supports sub-6 GHz, not the considerably faster mmWave 5G. So not only is the difference in networking speed less noticeable, but you'll have to opt into a 5G data plan with your carrier of choice in order to take full advantage of the fifth-gen technology.
Both iPhones start at 64GB storage sizes, upgradeable to 128GB for an extra $50. The iPhone SE takes it a step further by offering a 256GB variant for those who seek extra space. In an ideal world, 128GB would be the base configuration of all iPhones, but if you're tight on budget, there are plenty of free, high-quality cloud services worth considering.
Apple claims that the new iPhone SE can provide an additional two hours of use compared to its predecessor. From our testing and full review, the SE got "over 3 hours of screen-on time during a typical day" before needing a charge. As ZDNet's Jason Cipriani points out, "If you consider yourself a power user, you'll likely find the iPhone SE's battery life lacking."
The same cannot be said about the iPhone 11, which garnered close to five hours of screen-on time when we first tested the device. While Apple remains secretive about battery capacities, it wouldn't come as a surprise to find a larger size housed in the iPhone 11 than the SE. The 11 is the clear winner if battery life and endurance is one of your main priorities.
For casual and professional use, both the iPhone SE and iPhone 11 do an exceptional job at capturing photos and videos in the day or night. The same 12MP wide lens can be found on the backside of the two devices and allows for 4K video recording, optical image stabilization, and all of Apple's computational chaps -- including Deep Fusion, Smart HDR, and Night Mode.
The biggest difference comes in the form of the iPhone 11's 12MP ultra-wide lens. With a 120-degree field of view, the iPhone 11 can capture a wider range of subjects and provide more context than the default camera. The ultra-wide lens also allows for macro photography -- or close-up shots -- thanks to the smaller focal length. In general, the iPhone 11 offers more flexibility with your picture and video-taking.
On the camera front (literally), the iPhone SE houses a 7MP FaceTime camera for selfies and 1080p video, but nothing more. The front-facing camera does not support FaceID and, therefore, cannot be used to create Animojis, Memojis, and other facial-driven features. Like many of its other hardware limitations, this is mainly because the SE uses the older iPhone 8 design.
Relatively speaking, the iPhone 11 fields a 12MP TrueDepth camera for sharper video recording of up to 4K, FaceID, and the same picture capabilities as the SE. It also supports Apple's slow-motion selfies, or "slofies," for what that's worth.
In general, you can't go wrong with either camera system, but if you spend a good amount of time capturing pictures and video with your smartphone, the iPhone 11 may be the better of the two. Not only does it give you more flexibility with your shots, but it has a longer-lasting battery to keep the camera rolling.
While the iPhone 11 debuted with a $699 price tag, the phone has since dropped to just $499 on the Apple store. That puts it within arms reach of the newly-released iPhone SE, which starts at $429.
The iPhone 11 is the better buy if you desire a large-screen phone, reliable battery life, an uncompromising camera system, and can do without 5G. The iPhone SE gets our recommendation for users in search of a compact smartphone that doesn't hold back in performance and speed. It's also a future-proofed investment that should fare well five or six years down the road.
If you're open to other smartphone prospects, consider these ZDNet-tested offerings: