iPhone SE vs. iPhone X: A cheaper refurbished model sure is tempting

iPhone SE vs. iPhone X: A cheaper refurbished model sure is tempting

If the iPhone X. The first debut in 2017 made headlines for several reasons. It was the first iPhone with Face ID, the first with OLED display and to have a notch on the screen first. At that time, it was a top-class device. Now, three years later, it’s just as reliable. Even though Apple has discontinued the iPhone X. Just 10 months after its launch, the company sells refurbished models at a substantial discount: $ 599 or £ 599 (64 GB) and $ 699 or £ 699 (256 GB). (Apple does not sell or ship refurbished iPhones to Australia, but this corresponds to approximately AU $ 940 and AU $ 1,100.)

While this may be an enticing option for those looking for a cheaper iPhone, Apple has also launched a new one iPhone SE this year for $ 399 (£ 419, AU $ 749). The technical data and the appearance of the iPhone SE are similar to those of the iPhone 8, which also came out in 2017, but has many new benefits that make it a better buy than an outdated iPhone X from Apple.

Angela Lang / CNET

Although it doesn’t have a second telephoto lens and its screen isn’t as brilliant as the iPhone X, the smaller iPhone SE still has some improvements that make it more affordable than a cheap iPhone X. This includes an A13 bionic processor, dual SIM features and a handful of camera upgrades. (None of the phones have a headphone jack, by the way.) If you’re looking for an affordable, brand new iPhone with the latest support, the iPhone SE should be your go-to.

Read our review of the Apple iPhone SE (2020).

Sarah Tew / CNET

If you have a working iPhone X, there is no reason to buy the iPhone SE. But if you’re tempted to buy a refurbished Apple at a reduced price, I only recommend it if for some reason you really only want this second telephoto camera. For one thing, it is likely that Apple software updates on a three-year-old device are not as robust as on a new one. Second, if you want all of the above iPhone SE upgrades or a bigger screen, it’s better to buy a new iPhone 11 that costs as much as a refurbished iPhone X.

Read our Apple iPhone X review.

Read on to learn more about how the two iPhones stack up.

Design: The larger and sharper display of the iPhone X.

Although the iPhone X is three years older, it still looks modern and its stainless steel design is higher quality than the aluminum case of the iPhone SE. In addition to its obvious notch, the iPhone X is also larger and has a sharper display with a higher resolution and pixel density. It has an OLED screen Also in contrast to the LCD display of the iPhone SE. In general, OLED screens are believed to have better image quality and color contrast, but they are also costing more and more can suffer burn-in. The screen of the iPhone X is much brighter, especially at different viewing angles, and a little more lively. I have been using an iPhone X for three years and have not found any burn-in problems.


The notch on the iPhone X.

Josh Miller / CNET

The iPhone SE is Apple’s only new iPhone with a physical home button. Some people may prefer this because it is intuitive to use and you don’t have to use swiping gestures to return to the home screen or launch up-to-date apps like you would on iPhone X. There is also a fingerprint reader on the start button to unlock calls and authorize digital payments via Touch ID. For biometric security, the iPhone X uses Face ID or face mapping sensors on the front camera.

IPhone X also features 3D Touch, an older feature that was introduced in iPhone 6S in 2015. It provides access to additional menu options and commands when you press your finger firmly against the screen. Apple started phasing out the feature in 2018 with the iPhone XR, and it’s now missing in new iPhones. Instead, the company replaced 3D Touch with Haptic Touch. Haptic Touch is available on iPhone SE and does pretty much the same thing, except that you don’t have to press the screen harder, but long-press the object.

Both devices have protection class IP67 for water protection. Both are available in black and white, but the iPhone SE has a third red variant.

Don’t dismiss the iPhone SE’s single rear view camera

Since the iPhone X has a telephoto camera and the SE does not, the X may have the upper hand when taking pictures. After all, the iPhone X can take beautiful portraits with the blurred bokeh background and achieve the double telephoto zoom without loss of detail. It also has a digital zoom that reaches up to 10x for photos and 6x for videos and zooms closer than the iPhone SE (with 5x digital zoom for photos and 3x for videos). You can take advantage of the fun with the face mapping selfie camera Animoji and Memoji functions.

The iPhone SE can still take great portrait photos with its software, and it has one big advantage that the iPhone X doesn’t offer: that A13 Bionic processor. Thanks to this newer chip, the iPhone SE can take brilliant photos with its 12 megapixel rear view camera. This is comparable to the latest iPhone 11. With this chipset, Apple can also add camera upgrades under the hood that improve both photo and video quality. These include:

  • Depth control for taking portrait photos and adjusting the bokeh effect
  • Smart HDR to improve highlights and shadows
  • Red eye correction
  • Quicktake, which allows you to quickly record videos without leaving photo mode
  • Video enhancements: Extended dynamic range for 30 fps, cinematic video stabilization up to 4K (the iPhone X has up to 1080p) and stereo recording
  • Front camera: depth control for portrait mode, cinematic video stabilization up to 1080p (the iPhone X has none) and an additional portrait lighting effect (high-key mono)

In general, despite only having a rear view camera, the iPhone SE should meet most of your photographic needs, unless you need a telephoto zoom or a more powerful digital zoom. Read more about camera quality CNET iPhone SE review.

Processor, battery, dual SIM and memory

The iPhone SE is equipped with Apple’s latest proprietary device A13 Bionic chip. The iPhone SE achieved similar results to the iPhone 11 in the benchmark tests 3DMark and Geekbench 5, which means that it is also comparable to other top-tier phones like the one Galaxy S20, Pixel 4 and OnePlus 8 Pro. The result of the iPhone SE for the Ice Storm Unlimited test from 3DMark was 97,415, compared to 62,206, significantly higher than the iPhone 8 with the same A11 processor as the iPhone X.

Apple's A13 processor in the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max

Apple’s A13 processor.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland / CNET

Apple never announces the battery capacity of its iPhones. However, the company lists the same 13-hour video playback time on both phones, and sets the iPhone X’s audio playback to 60 hours compared to the 40 hours of the iPhone SE. However, when we ran our own battery tests for video playback in airplane mode, the iPhone SE lasted almost 4 hours longer than the iPhone X. (More specifically, the iPhone SE lasted about 15.5 hours, while the iPhone X lasted 11.45 hours. )

IPhone SE offers options for a nano-SIM and an E-SIM, so you can have two numbers on the same phone. Dual SIM functions This is also useful if you are traveling a lot and need a phone abroad or want to consolidate both your personal and business phones. While both phones have 64 GB and 256 GB storage options, the new iPhone SE has a third model with 128 GB. This capacity is generally considered a “sweet spot” for storage. This is because 64 GB may not be enough to take all of your photos and 4K video, but 256 GB may be too large.

iPhone SE (2020) vs. iPhone X.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

iPhone X.

Display size, resolution

4.7-inch Retina HD LCD; 1,334 x 750 pixels

5.8-inch Super Retina HD OLED; 2,436 x 1,125 pixels

Pixel density



Dimensions (inches)

5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches

5.7 x 2.79 x 0.30 inches

Dimensions (millimeters)

138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm

143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm

Weight (ounces, grams)

5.22 oz; 148 g

6.14 oz; 174 g

Mobile software

iOS 13

iOS 11 (can be upgraded to iOS 13)


12 megapixels

12 megapixels (standard), 12 megapixels (telephoto)

Front camera

7 megapixels

7 megapixels

Video recording




Apple A13 Bionic

Apple A11 Bionic


64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB

64 GB, 256 GB


Not revealed

Not revealed

Expandable memory




Not revealed

Not revealed

Fingerprint sensor

Home “button





Headphone jack



Special features

Waterproof (IP67); Dual SIM functions (nano-SIM and E-SIM); Wireless charging

Waterproof (IP67); Wireless charging; Face badge; Animoji

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