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Opinion: The Blind iPhone Is Back!

For those of you who have listened to me on my radio shows and more recent TV shows over the last decade you might have come to the conclusion that I’m a bit impulsive when it comes to buying new tech… and you’d be right!

Which is why it wont surprise you that I was one of the first opening and re-opening the Apple Store app when it was pre-order day for the new iPhone SE. Incidentally my choice was the black version with 256GB of storage; more on that later.

Tim Cook said on a recent earnings call that people who are most likely to buy the iPhone SE are those who enjoy the smaller form factor or are coming to Apple from Android. He also said it was unlikely that people would downgrade from the 11 or 11 Pro to an SE.

While I agree with Tim on the first two points, I cannot agree with him on the third. I am one of the people who most certainly has downgraded from my 11 Pro to the SE. But why? Here’s my top reasons.

Screen

The 11 Pro boasts an incredibly bright and vivid 5.8-inch OLED Super Retina XDR display. If you have the benefit of 20/20 vision this is a no-brainer, you should absolutely buy this phone. If you are low vision and have enough vision to read, let’s say, 24 point print or above, you should absolutely buy this phone. However, if you are like me and your vision means you can no longer read for any length of time if at all, this screen alone is reason enough to avoid the phone. Think about battery life and how much will be consumed by its power. Some blind users like me use Screen Curtain to temporarily disable the screen while we use VoiceOver but there is little evidence that it enhances battery life as the screen itself merely switches off the pixels. It is still active.

Let’s look at the SE in comparison. It’s got a smaller 4.7inch LCD screen based on IPS technology. It’s not quite as vivid obviously but it is still decent enough for most and certainly won’t weigh as heavily on the battery. If you switch it off with Screen Curtain you will probably notice a small increase in battery life, most certainly bigger than the Pro range.

Home Button

The home button may seem like old tech these days, with more and more phones using facial recognition to unlock their devices. For a blind person this isn’t impossible and Apple have done a great job at making it work for us. Even if you can’t see the screen or even use your eyes to look at the screen Apple has you covered. However, as I mentioned earlier, I use my phone screen as a touch pad more than anything else; more recently I have started using my braille display or Bluetooth keyboard. On the road I will often keep my phone inside my jacket pocket or trouser pocket as I have no need to see the screen. So imagine my frustration every time I need to use Face ID on the Pro. I have to pull out my phone, try and look at it and then put it away again. With the SE, I can now quietly and simply rest my thumb on the Touch ID panel and I’m in; no pulling out phones or having to awkwardly place the phone in front of my face hoping it works so I don’t have to battle with the pass code!

Form Factor

Size isn’t everything of course, but when it comes to comfortably using my smartphone the smaller the better. The original iPhone SE had a 4-inch screen which was nice and the build was solid. The new iPhone SE is built in the same form factor as the iPhone 8 and indeed the 7, 6s and 6 before it; the only difference between the older phones and this new SE is the lack of a headphone jack, although this has been the case since the launch of the iPhone 7. I often find that these phones slip out of my hands so I opted for a Spigen case that covers the back and edges of the display. It’s also in black although who really cares about that! The weight of this phone is noticeably different too. The 11 Pro weighs 188 grams and the SE weighs 148 grams. Doesn’t sound like much, but it is much lighter to hold.

Other Observations

Some of the other things that stand out for me as a reason to downgrade is the processor built in to the iPhone SE. It’s exactly the same processor used in the 11 Pro and it really shows; and the camera is really good too. The 11 Pro has three cameras built in (a triple 12mp ultra  wide, wide and telephoto lenses with Night Mode) while the SE comes with one single 12mp wide camera. Again this wide camera is the same one in the 11 Pro.

Conclusions

My conclusion really is that if you are someone who is severely sight-impaired, or have no vision at all, this is probably the best phone out there you can buy. The 4.7 inch screen is nice and a good size to hold and use giving you that little bit more width than the previous SE phone. The processor and camera are the same in the top end of current iPhones so nothing to lose there. The inclusion of a Touch ID sensor and home button combined is great for those of us who pop our phones in our pockets and use keyboards alongside them. And battery life is good too. According to Apple’s website, the battery will last as long as the iPhone 8.

I honestly cannot name one thing I don’t love about this phone. Having made the switch I doubt I’ll either look back or even forward to the next iteration of the iPhone coming later this year.

The iPhone BE is finally back. No that’s not a typo. It’s what I’m calling it from now on. The iPhone Blind Edition.

Steven Scott View All

I am an absolute geek who loves technology. I also happen to be severely sight impaired and that has meant my journey with new technology has been challenging. What I've learnt is what I want to share with others and I do that on air in the UK on RNIB Connect Radio's weekly Tech Talk radio show and podcast, and on AMI-Audio's Double Tap Canada radio show and podcast. I'm also a very lucky husband and the owner of the world's coolest dog!

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