The iPhone SE is Apple’s only 5G phone that costs less than $500. Android competitors are outpacing Apple in affordable 5G options, as proven by the Google Pixel 6A and other devices.
Why it matters
Apple needs to provide more choice when it comes to wallet-friendly 5G iPhones. 5G once demanded premium prices, but it’s become the standard in most new phones. Also check: Geek iPhone repair
Apple is expected to launch the iPhone 14 in September. When it does, the iPhone 12 Mini could see a price cut that brings it to $500.
Shortly after Apple launched the iPhone 13 in September, I wrote about why the iPhone 11 was (and is) still a great deal at $500. It has Face ID, a sharp dual camera system and a large screen for $300 less than the iPhone 13. What’s not to like?
There’s only one setback that gives me some pause when recommending the iPhone 11: It doesn’t have 5G. A few years ago, 5G was just a buzzword that tech giants used to get customers excited about new products. Companies like Samsung charged a premium for 5G phones back in 2019, even though 5G networks were in the early stages then.
In 2022, you can get by just fine without a 5G phone. But now that 5G has become standard in most moderately priced phones, there’s little reason not to buy one if you’re already upgrading. Unless you’re an Apple fan that doesn’t want to spend more than $500, that is.
Many US shoppers likely aren’t paying that price all at once since carriers offer monthly installment plans. Most carriers also promote deals to subsidize upgrades, but those discounts usually require conditions like opening a new line or choosing a pricier plan.
Apple launched the $429 iPhone SE in March to provide a wallet-friendly 5G option. But with its small 4.7-inch screen and single camera, it’s not for everyone. At the same time, companies like Samsung and Google have been releasing promising 5G phones with many of the same qualities found on more expensive models, like the Galaxy A53 and Pixel 6A.
All of Apple’s flagship phones come with 5G, starting with 2020’s iPhone 12. But compared to Android, Apple doesn’t offer many options when it comes to affordable 5G devices. That could change in the coming months when the iPhone 14 is expected to launch, and I’m hoping it does.
Do I really need 5G in my next phone?
The answer is complicated. In many everyday scenarios, you probably won’t notice the difference between 4G and 5G. And 4G networks aren’t turning off anytime soon, so you don’t need to worry about a 4G phone becoming obsolete.
But if you’re buying a new phone, it’s best to go with a 5G-enabled device if you can afford one. Carriers are expanding their midband 5G networks, which provide speedier performance than 4G LTE, and low-band 5G can function at longer distances than the super fast (but severely limited) millimeter-wave 5G.
If you want a phone that will last for the next three to five years, I’d recommend buying a 5G phone so that you don’t miss out on speedier midband networks as they continue to expand. If you think you’ll be upgrading again in the next year or two, it’s fine to buy a 4G phone.
The iPhone SE is Apple’s only sub-$500 5G phone… for now
With eight iPhones on the market, Apple certainly provides a lot of choice. However, the 2022 iPhone SE is the only 5G option under $500.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about the iPhone SE. It runs on the same processor as the iPhone 13, which means it has fast performance for the price. The camera takes great photos, and its battery life is longer than the previous iPhone SE’s. But it also comes with a lot of limitations.
The iPhone SE only has one rear camera even though most modern phones have at least two. That camera lacks night mode — another feature found on most phones released in 2019 or later. The iPhone SE also has the same design as the nearly 5-year-old iPhone 8, which means it has a small display and old-fashioned bezels above and below the screen. That can make it feel dated compared to many newer devices, like the Pixel 6A. It’s also not very different from the $400 iPhone SE that launched in 2020, aside from the new model’s 5G support and newer chip.
If you want 5G and more modern features like Face ID, a camera with wide and ultra-wide lenses, improved durability and a larger 5.4-inch screen, your closest option is the $600 iPhone 12 Mini. It’s more affordable than other devices in Apple’s lineup, like the $700 iPhone 13 Mini, $700 iPhone 12 and $800 iPhone 13. But it’s nearly two years old and is out of budget for anyone with a $500 limit.