Review: The iPhone 9

Who else would you turn to for a review of the 2020 iPhone SE than the person who has not bought a new phone for four years?

What do you mean “Literally everyone else.”?


I’m going to let you in on the dirty secret of the iPhone SE reviews you might have read on those other sites. All those people — your Grubers, your Sterns, your Panzarinos, your Bohns, your Brownlees — have all used other phones between the previous iPhone SE and this iPhone SE.

They didn’t love the original iPhone SE like I loved the original iPhone SE.

Let’s be clear right off the bat: the 2020 iPhone SE is not a real iPhone SE. And rather than keep referring to it as the iPhone SE Second Generation throughout this review, I’m going to just call it what it is: the iPhone 9. In fact, that’s what I’ve named mine.

iPhone 9

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what Apple calls it and I know that “SE” is an acronym that stands for “sell [it] e-gain”, but the reason I bought the original iPhone SE after owning an iPhone 6 and then an iPhone 6S was not because it was cheap, although that was nice. It was because it was small. Wonderfully, perfectly small.

And the iPhone 9 is simply not as small as I’d like.

Har har, Trump hands, LOL. Yes, you’re so funny. It’s unbelievable that your jokes have yet to convince me that my hand size is somehow incorrect. Surely it is pure stubbornness on my part as the jokes are devastating.

True story, though: it’s actually more about my lifestyle than the size of my hands, which are skeleton-like in their thinness, but not particularly remarkable in their breadth. Even before All This™, I didn’t spend a lot of time outside the house. For me an iPhone is for quick jaunts to the store, picking up the kid from school and nights out at the bar with friends when I’m conversing more than looking at my phone (or, well, it used to be). If I’m going to play a game or watch something or read something, I’m going to grab my 11-inch iPad Pro.

My dissatisfaction with its lack of compactness doesn’t mean that the iPhone 9 isn’t a nice phone. It might not be much better kit than the iPhone 8, but it’s substantially better than the iPhone 6, 6S and 7. If you’re upgrading from those devices, you’ll really like the finish and feel of this device.

I got the Product Red version, my first red cellular phone since my Sony Ericsson T610. And the red is very nice. The edges are metallic, the back a glass-covered cherry red and the face black, all almost exactly like the iPhone 8, which is just another sign this is the iPhone 9.

If, like me, you’re a crazy person and you haven’t bought a phone for four years, you’re going to like the camera. Even if you haven’t bought a phone for two years you’re probably going to like the camera. My wife has an iPhone XR which I tell her has the same camera as this phone, but with this phone’s enhanced processing capability, it actually has a bit of an edge on the iPhone XR. She does not need to know this.

Portrait mode works great, even if it doesn’t work on dogs which is mostly what I take pictures of during quarantine because everyone in the house looks like jumbled piles of bewildered dirty laundry that don’t know what day it is. Fantastic time to suddenly get portrait mode. A+.

Unlike the iPhone SE, the iPhone 9 (YES, WE’RE STILL CALLING IT THAT) taps when you complete certain actions. Like a tweet in TweetBot: tap. Swipe to delete an email in Mail: tap. This is how phones that have been purchased since we entered the darkest timeline apparently react. Is there a correlation? It doesn’t seem like it? It seems like a nice feature. But, I’m not a theorist in quantum causality.

As others have noted, there are no haptic interactions for notifications on the lock screen. I guess this is a bummer, but I never would have noticed this for two reasons: first, coming from an iPhone SE, I didn’t have this feature and, second, because I mostly work by myself at home where my wife also works, I don’t get that many notifications, unless you count yelling up the stairs. Your mileage may, and probably should if you care about the financial welfare of your family, vary.

Overall, I would say I have done it again: I have purchased a very nice phone. Yay, me. It is not, however, exactly what I want in an iPhone. Rumors indicate that Apple will be releasing another small phone this year, a 5.4-inch edge-to-edge phone that will be slightly larger in area than the first generation iPhone SE but significantly smaller in area than the iPhone 9. This is probably the phone I want but I couldn’t wait for it. I had already asked too much of my iPhone SE, the poor thing.

Before All This™, I repeatedly joked that Apple was cleverly timing the release of the 2020 iPhones in order to catch up on me by making me buy two phones in one year. Now, however, I’m probably not going to do that, even if the iPhone 12 is priced at the rumored $649 level. I’ll probably wait another year and hop back on the fall release schedule in 2021, assuming the murder hornets haven’t killed us all by then. (Spoiler: they will kill us all by then.)

It is frustrating to have had my desires be at odds with what Apple wanted to ship for four years. I’m sure the company knows the size of the market for small phones better than I do. I only have my anecdotal evidence, but it is very much at odds with whatever spreadsheet they’re looking at. Everyone I know who had an iPhone SE loved it for its size more than its price. If the company does release a smaller iPhone in the fall, to my mind the lineup will be set straight: new phones ranging from small to very large and a low-cost option in a previous format. Perhaps at that point I’ll be able to recognize the iPhone 9 as the new iPhone SE and all will be right with the world. It’s just a shame they couldn’t have done it six months earlier.