Not everyone can afford a smartphone costing $ 1,000 or more. We’re on a tight budget here at Casa Julio, for instance.
So when my wife’s nearly decade-old Apple iPhone 5s was rendered obsolete – its iOS operating system is no longer eligible for yearly updates, and it can only use a 3G wireless network that is being phased out nationwide – we started casting about for a not -exorbitant replacement.
The answer seemed obvious. Apple recently announced the iPhone SE 3 to anchor the low end of its smartphone line. At $ 429 and up, it is a steal (at least as iPhones go).
It has a retro appearance (its design dates back to the iPhone 8, released in 2017), and it is the only remaining iPhone model with a physical home button below the screen. None of this is necessarily bad since many Apple fans love this classic look.
Those wanting a lower-cost but high-quality smartphone have alternatives. Samsung, for instance, recently released the Android-based Galaxy A53, which has typically retailed for $ 449 but was going for $ 349.99 last I checked. This option seemed tempting even though my household has tended to be Apple-centric.
But how do the iPhone SE 3 and the Galaxy A53 compare? Each has distinct strengths and will appeal to different penny-pinching audiences.
The 4.7 inch SE 3 is compact and very thin with curved edges that feel fantastic in the hand – more so than fancier iPhones that are more angular with sharper edges I don’t like quite as much.
The 6.5-inch A53, by comparison, is a boring rectangular slab that is wider, longer and thicker than the SE 3. Its touch screen takes up the entirety of the front with no physical home button, and that display looks nicer than the one on the SE 3.
Here’s where the A53 stands out. Its front-facing or selfie camera has a resolution of 32 megapixels, compared to only 7MP on the SE 3. The Apple phone has one 12MP camera on the back while the Samsung phone has four cameras – a 64MP main camera along with depth, ultra-wide and zoom sensors.
Cameras are an important consideration for my wife because she has become more and more enamored with phone photography in recent years. Other iPhones provide two- or three-camera systems.
The SE 3 looks dated on the outside but is modern on the inside – It has the same A15 Bionic processor found in every other current-model iPhone. This is important if you plan to keep your phone for a long time – as my wife does. The 5s, released in 2013, was eligible for software updates through 2019, and got security updates through last year. This means an SE 3 would likely last my wife at at least six or seven years.
Android phones, by comparison, are notorious for becoming obsolete quickly. Galaxy devices are better than most, and are now being promised four years of updates (and security updates for five years), up from Samsung’s earlier guarantee of three years.
The SE 3’s A15 processor is important for another obvious reason: The phone is fast, just as fast as any other iPhone. The A53, by comparison, feels alarmingly sluggish.
At $ 429, the SE 3 offers a paltry of 64 gigabytes of storage. This borders on the inadequate. You can get 128GB for $ 479 and 256GB for $ 579.
With the A53, you get 128GB for $ 349.99. That’s a great deal.
Both handsets can tap into the super fast 5G wireless data networks offered by all the US carriers, with a caveat – Neither supports mmWave, the 5G variant that is by far the fastest but is available only in nooks and crannies of major US cities (such as St. Paul), which makes it irrelevant to most people.
So which bargain phone is right for you? If performance and longevity are a priority, the SE 3 is the best bet. Those focused on photography might regard the A53 as the better option, however, and its more-generous storage is a plus. It costs less, too. I’m leery of its lethargy, though.
WHAT DID MY WIFE GET?
As you may have anticipated, her story has a twist ending. I mentioned that our household has tended to be focused on Apple products, and my wife decided she could not leave this familiar ecosystem even though the A53’s camera system looks alluring.
So she went for the next-most-affordable iPhone, the 13 mini, with an all-screen design and dual cameras, plus 128GB of storage and that zippy A15 chip. This set her back $ 699 (ouch) – but she has no regrets.
If you are still mulling your options, read Macworld’s comparison of the SE 3 and A53. Spoiler alert: it is not bullish on the iPhone.