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iPhone 5s vs SE (2021): A True Upgrade

It took more than two years before Apple finally decided to offer a successor to their well-loved iPhone 5s. Sporting brand new technology in the same premium shell, the iPhone SE did not disappoint, and it capped the 4-inch iPhone era in spectacular fashion. Exactly how much better is the SE over the 5s? We compare their specs and discuss key differences below.

iPhone 5s vs SE Comparison Chart

ModeliPhone 5s 32GB (GSM Unlocked)iPhone SE 64GB (GSM Unlocked)

Display4″ Retina4″ Retina
Resolution640 x 1136 pixels640 x 1136 pixels
Pixel Density326 ppi326 ppi
Screen-to-Body Ratio60.66%60.66%
Height4.87 inches4.87 inches
Width2.31 inches2.31 inches
Thickness0.30 inches0.30 inches
Weight3.95 oz3.99 oz
System ChipApple A7Apple A9
ProcessorDual-core 1.3 GHzDual-core 1.84 GHz
Internal Storage16GB, 32GB, 64GB16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB
Front Camera1.2MP1.2MP
Rear Camera8MP12MP
Video1080p at 30 fps, 720p at 120 fps4K at 30 fps, 1080p at 30/60/120 fps, 720p at 240 fps
ColorsSpace Gray, Gold, SilverSpace Gray, Gold, Rose Gold, Silver
Battery Capacity1560 mAh1642 mAh
Talk TimeUp to 10 hours on 3GUp to 14 hours on 3G
Internet UseUp to 8 hours on 3GUp to 12 hours on 3G
Apple PayNoYes
ReleasedSeptember 2013March 2016


Both phones have identical designs.

iPhone 5s vs iPhone SE Design
Here are the Space Gray versions of the iPhone 5s (left) and iPhone SE (right).

Apple created an iconic design when they released the iPhone 5 back in 2012. It was easily the best-looking phone of its time, and it influenced succeeding generations of smartphones. Fans of its all-metal finish rejoiced when the iPhone SE was announced, since the new iPhone 6 and 6s was a significant departure from the iPhone 5s.

As such, the iPhone 5s and SE look like identical twins and you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart when looked at up front. They have the same exact dimensions with only a minute weight difference. Even the locations of buttons and cameras are the same. The only significant change is that the shiny chamfered edges of the 5s is now matte on the SE. Oh, and if you see a Rose Gold version then that’s an iPhone SE as that color is not available for the iPhone 5s.


Both phones have identical displays.

iPhone 5s vs SE Display
It’s the same fantastic Retina display on both phones.

Once again, there are no appreciable differences between the Retina displays of the iPhone 5s and SE. They’re the same 4-inch screen with 1136 x 640 pixels. Even though Apple improved the ones on the iPhone 6 and 6s, they opted to stick to the plan in keeping the SE look exactly like the 5s. This also allowed them to offer the iPhone SE at the lowest starting price ever for an iPhone.


The iPhone SE is twice as fast as the iPhone 5s.

iPhone 5s vs iPhone SE Performance
Open apps faster and enjoy smoother responsiveness on the iPhone SE.

Finally we come to the most important discussion. There’s a massive jump in computing power from the iPhone 5s to the iPhone SE. In fact, the SE is superior to the iPhone 6 in terms of overall performance, and is more on par with the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

Inside the iPhone SE is an Apple A9 chip with M9 motion coprocessor, 2GB RAM, and a six-core GPU, whereas the iPhone 5s has an A7 chip, M7 coprocessor, 1GB RAM, and a quad-core GPU. You shouldn’t need more than that to be able to tell that the SE will be faster than the 5s, but here are benchmark scores anyway.

On Geekbench 4, the iPhone 5s has single and multi-core scores of 1265 and 2147, but the iPhone SE received double that, with 2409 and 4169, respectively. Opening documents and starting apps will be faster on the newer phone, and you’ll feel the speed difference especially on graphics-intensive games.


The iPhone SE has better cameras.

iPhone SE Cameras
The iPhone SE has more advanced cameras than the iPhone 5s.

Just like its upgraded processor, the iPhone SE’s cameras are also the same as those of the iPhone 6s. This gives its rear main camera the edge over the iPhone 5s, since you can take 4K videos with the SE. Megapixel count was also bumped up from 8 to 12 MP, while pixel size has been reduced from 1.5 µm to 1.22 µm, resulting in greater image quality and sharper detail when you zoom in on the SE’s photos.

Not much has changed for the front-facing camera, as they still use a 1.2 MP sensor. There are new features on the iPhone SE though, such as Live Photos, which lets you view the moments before and after a photo was taken, and Retina Flash, which flares up the Retina display’s brightness to give your selfies better illumination.

Battery and Other Features

The iPhone SE has a bigger battery as well as Apple Pay capability.

iPhone SE Apple Pay
Pay with your phone and finger on the iPhone SE.

Despite their virtually identical measurements, Apple was able to cram a bigger battery on the iPhone SE. As a result, you can use the iPhone SE for a few more hours on average than the iPhone 5s. Talk time via 3G on the 5s is rated at up to 10 hours, while it’s up to 14 hours on the SE. Internet use via 3G, LTE, or Wi-Fi also have similar discrepancies, so the iPhone SE definitely has better endurance than the older model.

Wireless mobile payments are also possible on the iPhone SE through Apple Pay. Combined with Touch ID, you can simply pull out your iPhone and place your finger on the Home button to pay in stores or within apps.


The iPhone SE is the best 4-inch iPhone ever.

It’s fitting that the last ever 4-inch iPhone is also the best. The iPhone SE features substantial internal upgrades over its predecessor while keeping its beautiful exterior. If you’re in the market for a compact iPhone, or you’re experiencing some nostalgia for the iconic design of the iPhone 5, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth on the SE. It’s a lot faster, lasts a lot longer, and takes better photos and videos, too.

Last update on 2021-07-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Derick Bondoc

Managing Editor at Compare Before Buying. Writer and researcher passionate about gadgets, gaming and snacks.