Is Apple’s smallest, cheapest brand new iPhone too compromised to really enjoy games like Diablo Immortal?
What’s inside counts
The iPhone SE isn’t the first phone you think of if you’re planning to play a lot of games, but at $429, it’s very tempting if you’re looking for a cheap way into Apple phone ownership (or aren’t keen on very large phones). The specification doesn’t make any decision much easier, as this is a seriously powerful device.
The iPhone SE (2022) uses Apple’s A15 Bionic processor, which has masses of power and is also found inside the company’s top iPhone 13 models. It’s easily capable of running the latest, most hardcore games like Diablo Immortal. That soils well for the iPhone SE (2022) to play the game, right? It does, but you’ll be doing so on a 4.7-inch screen, which is mini by modern standards, and holding a phone with actual bezels at either side of the screen.
The screen’s size means it has a modest resolution of 1334 x 750 pixels, which equates to a 326 pixel-per-inch (PPI) density, far lower than the approximately 460 PPI of an iPhone 13 Pro. While it does come with Apple’s True Tone technology, it’s an LCD (Apple calls it a Retina HD screen) panel and not an OLED Super Retina XDR panel like the iPhone 13 Pro models.
With its top processor, small LCD screen, and big bezels, the iPhone SE (2022) is a mix of cutting-edge and old-school mobile gaming. How would it affect our enjoyment of Diablo Immortal?
A great, tiny handset for Diablo Immortal
Yes, the screen is small. It’s not quite “get-your-magnifying-glass-out small”, but it’s not far away from it, and my myopic eyes didn’t enjoy looking at it from a distance at all. However, this aside, I was surprised at how quickly I adjusted to playing on the 4.7-inch screen. And that’s after being used to playing on my recent array of daily phones, from the ROG Phone 6 Pro to the iPhone 13 Pro. Even the Asus Zenfone 9, a compact Android phone, is bigger than the iPhone SE.
What helps is the surprisingly high level of sharpness, the 60fps support, and the incredible performance of the A15 Bionic and resulting in-game smoothness. There’s nothing fatiguing about Diablo Immortal on the iPhone SE at all. It runs so beautifully with no hesitation, or obvious frame rate drops, that you’re never snatched away from playing the game due to technical issues. You quickly forget the size of the screen. Just remember to minimize the quest information and the chat window to make the best use of the space available.
What about those bezels? There’s a reason some mobile gamers don’t like bezel-less screens or curved chassis on phones, and it’s because there’s no obvious place to grip the phone without obscuring at least part of the screen. The iPhone SE’s throwback design means there’s a serious chunk of bezel on either side of the display, and it’s perfect for grip. It’s another contributing factor to the screen not feeling restrictive, as you’re not covering much of it up with your hands, unlike you do with a full, bezel-less screen.
The phone’s shape — with its curved chassis and glass — makes it very comfortable to hold for long periods of time in landscape orientation. And because it only weighs 144 grams, it never becomes bothersome. It’s a very different in-hand experience to the squared-off, flat-sided iPhone 13 Pro. I never accidentally pressed the Touch ID sensor, but do remember to turn off Silent mode using the side switch if you want to hear what’s going on in the game.
What holds the iPhone SE back
Diablo Immortal plays at 60fps and with all graphics settings at High. Although there’s an on-screen warning about heat buildup when you select 60fps, the phone stayed only warm even after playing for an hour. The A15 Bionic gives the game a wonderful smoothness that’s not always there on all Android phones, even with high-performance chips inside. Get past the screen size, and playing on the iPhone SE (2022) is basically the same as playing on an iPhone 13 Pro Max — for a third of the financial outlay.
The one big downside of this performance is the demands placed on the battery. The iPhone SE (2022) is not a big smartphone, and the battery inside doesn’t have the capacity of the cells inside the iPhone 13 Pro or Pro Max. It really starts to show when you push the phone hard with a game like Diablo Immortalparticularly when you select 60fps.
Over my longest gameplay sessions of about an hour, running it at 60 fps, a 25% reduction in battery life was common, but expect this to disappear in less than 30 minutes during some of the fiercer battles where a great deal is happening. If you play for more than an hour in a day, don’t expect the phone’s battery to keep up if you also use a cellular connection, the camera, and other apps. The iPhone SE (2022) doesn’t appreciate being pushed to this extent, and you’ll return it to the charger before the end of the night.
It’s not the screen — it’s the battery
Initially, I expected the iPhone SE (2022) to impress technically, but disappoint when it came to the visual and ergonomic experience. Having been spoiled by big-screen phones with hyped-up flagship processors, I hadn’t expected the little iPhone SE to not only compete, but in some ways, provide a better gaming experience than bigger phones that cost twice as much.
better? Yes, the ergonomic shape and low weight mean you can play for hours without the phone becoming annoying or uncomfortable to hold. It doesn’t get hot either, even during some of Diablo Immortal’s most challenging battles, and even the ROG Phone 6 — with all its cooling technology — gets seriously warm under load. The iPhone SE (2022) just shrugged the pressure of the game off.
Unfortunately, the battery doesn’t shrug off the strain. It’s the iPhone SE’s weakest link. You can quite easily strip 50% of the battery away in the morning, and that doesn’t leave much left for doing other things for long. It turns out the iPhone SE (2022)’s screen, once you’re used to it, is fine for Diablo Immortaland the processor’s power encourages you to play a lot. But the battery just doesn’t have the guts to keep up for more than a few hours.