Don’t Be Like Me, Wait to Buy Your Next Phone

Apple’s iPhone SE update is causing me a world of trouble at home.

Full disclosure, I bought my wife an iPhone 8 for Christmas. I know, why didn’t I get her at least an iPhone 11 or spring for an awesome iPhone 11 Pro?

Man and woman on phones
Lifewire / Michela Buttignol

This all made sense in my head. She owned an iPhone 6 and has never shown much interest in a large-screen phone (her hands are a lot smaller than mine). I also worried about making too many technological changes, like swapping the Touch ID for Face ID and losing the home button (I had no choice when it came to losing the 3.5 mm headphone jack). My wife is tech savvy, but that attribute is often in direct opposition to her total distaste for tech change. She will use the heck out of technology, but woe to those who change the menu or drop a feature.

I was also being price conscious. My wife is not cheap, but she can be frugal, and I know the difference in reaction between, “Honey, I spent $499” and, “Honey, I spent $800” could be significant. Plus, this would be the first phone I bought in a lump sum, instead of paying off my carrier for two long years. $499 for a phone that upgraded her processor (from A9 to an A11. Yay!), converted the mechanical Touch ID Home button to haptics, and gave her a small camera boost (8 MP to 12 MP) sounded like the sweet spot.

I thought I was being smart.

Then Wednesday happened and with it came the possibly awesome Apple iPhone SE (2nd Generation). It’s basically an iPhone 8 on steroids (Apple simultaneously discontinued the iPhone 8 I bought my wife). The new SE has the same 4.7-inch Retina HD screen and the same sleek lines and design language first introduced with the iPhone 6, but it also has a new six-element, 12 MP camera and the mobile processing beast also known as the A13 Bionic (same as in the iPhone 11 Pro). And though it’s called SE, this device has iPhone 11-level storage (it starts with 64 GB).

Kid opening present
Not my wife, not the iPhone 8, but you get the idea.  A Christmas Story / MGM

Portrait of a Phone

Here’s the thing, my wife is smarter than me. She quickly assessed that I bought her a two-generation-old iPhone and that she did not have the latest and greatest technology. In particular, she lamented the lack of Portrait Mode photography, which I have on my iPhone 11 Pro and which even the dual-camera iPhone 8 Plus had. She looked at me and then her new phone and wondered aloud why this brand-new mobile device, one that was probably manufactured in China just months before, did not have the ability to take background-defocused photos.

Despite this, she told me she liked her new phone, and, for a few months, I felt pretty good about myself. I have not yet told her that the new $399 iPhone SE (2nd Generation) has Portrait Mode photography through both the rear and front cameras. I honestly don’t know how to tell her.

To be clear, the iPhone SE (2nd Generation) is not just an iPhone 8 with a new name. The camera is in fact brand new and the ability to shoot portrait mode photography with a lower-resolution front facing camera is a big deal and probably would not be possible if Apple hadn’t paired the cameras with its A13 Bionic. That on-board Neural Engine powers a lot of in-phone machine learning, including the stuff that analyzes your FaceTime camera photo to figure out what a bokeh photo should look like.

iPhone SE
The new Apple iPhone SE (2nd Generation).  Apple

What to Do

I started to wonder if there was a way to unwind my mistake. My wife’s phone is barely six months old. Would Apple allow me to trade it in? I mean literally trade the basically new iPhone 8 for the iPhone SE (2nd Generation). I would even accept trading a phone I paid $499 for an SE that costs $449 (then I’d get 128 GB of storage).

Apple does, of course, have a trade-in program in place for the new phone. And for my wife’s still shiny and unblemished iPhone 8, she could get $170, bringing the price down to $229. But that means I’m covering the $329 left over from my wife’s original iPhone 8, plus the remaining $229 for the new phone, which means I’ve now spent $558, not counting tax.

This is not a terrible deal, but it’s also a reminder that, after 30 days, your smartphone starts its way down a wicked depreciation curve. My wife’s iPhone 8 with a totally healthy battery, great performance, and virtually no scratches is basically worth just $90 more than an iPhone 6s.

All My Fault

I blame myself. I heard the rumors about another iPhone SE, but then they’d been around for a while and I couldn’t be certain Apple would make the leap to a larger screen and who would’ve predicted Apple’s best smartphone CPU in its cheapest phone? Clearly not me. In my defense, iPhone launches haven't happened in the spring in, like, forever. It's like a snowflake appearing in June. I thought I was safe until the fall.

In my defense, iPhone launches haven't happened in the spring in, like, forever. It's like a snowflake appearing in June.

I have yet to tell my wife my thinking on this. I guess I just don’t want to face the music. I imagine she’d smile and, in that endearing way she has, call me “an idiot.” She’d be right of course. I bought her the wrong phone and now I have to convince her that we should consider dipping into a little cash to get her an upgrade and the portrait mode photography she probably wanted all along.

So What

Let this be a lesson to you. Those distant hoof beats of a new iPhone galloping over the horizon are almost always accurate. Pay attention, take out your binoculars, get a good look at those equines in the distance, and do not buy now unless you are 100% certain you’ll be happy with the horse you chose to ride out on.

Like this column? Get more like it delivered directly to your inbox. Sign-up for Untangled, a more sensible approach to technology.