iOS 18 + iPhone SE 2: Does it suck?

Apple just wrapped up its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which brings significant updates to Apple's major platforms. During their most anticipated event of the year, they announced iOS 18, the latest iteration of Apple's mobile operating system. iOS 18 brings new features like an updated and fully modular control center, even richer customization options, and a fully redesigned Photos app. These features promise to deliver richer experiences to iPhone users globally in terms of performance and functionality.

As the first developer beta of iOS 18 is seeded to beta testers globally, developers, everyday users, and tech enthusiasts alike are eager to see how iOS 18 performs on their devices. Among these devices is the iPhone SE 2. Despite its modest hardware like the Apple A13 and 3 gigabytes of RAM, the iPhone SE 2 is among the devices compatible with the first developer beta of iOS 18. The iPhone SE series is a popular choice for those who want 90% of the iPhone experience at a budget price. It's also a good choice for those who prefer a sleeker, more compact device. As one of the lowest-end iPhones supporting this upcoming iOS version, how does it hold up?

Initial impressions reveal that iOS 18 isn't flawless on the second-generation iPhone SE. As expected of any beta release, iOS 18 still needs some work on the iPhone SE. Brushing aside minor flaws in the UI (like elements overlapping with each other sometimes) because of its smaller display, iOS 18 runs decently well on this dated hardware. Apps run decently well, and core functionalities are still readily accessible. In fact, Apple's new Game Mode delivers excellent gaming performance on the iPhone SE, running Honkai: Star Rail – one of the most demanding mobile games – smoothly on iOS 18. From a general user's perspective, iOS 18 on the iPhone SE 2 remains reliable and perfectly usable, indicating that future refinements to iOS in the coming months could offer a more robust and solid experience for those still using this budget-oriented device.

The new and fully modular Control Center in iOS 18.

One of Apple's new additions to iOS 18 is a fully modular Control Center. You'll find easy access to your device's most accessed settings, like WiFi, Bluetooth, AirDrop, and Cellular Data. What's new this year, however, is that these familiar toggles are now resizable and freely movable to any location. Adding to this already modular Control Center are pages. Like iOS 10's Control Center, swiping up and down reveals pages dedicated to your media controller, connection settings, and HomeKit devices. You can customize or remove pages like the main page. Though it looks slightly jarring when you open the new Control Center for the first time, customizing it to exactly how you want it makes the new Control Center feel like it's made just for you.

Another welcome change to iOS 18 is the ability to tint all your home screen app icons (including third-party apps) to any color, in addition to adding a Dark Mode icon variant to all system apps. Personally, they're different from the prettiest, so I still use the default icons. But it is a welcome addition nonetheless. It's just not my cup of tea. Minor yet thoughtful additions like the new queue system in Apple Music and the ability to (finally) lock apps with Touch ID or passcode are also present and work well on the iPhone SE. To read more on what's new with iOS 18, you can check out Apple's website for the complete list of features.

Unfortunately, Apple Intelligence, a suite of advanced AI-powered functionalities, is incompatible with the iPhone SE. This cutting-edge feature demands computing power only available in the iPhone 15 Pro series, as well as iPads and Macs equipped with M-series processors. These devices possess the high-end hardware capabilities necessary for running intensive machine learning and neural network tasks essential for Apple Intelligence's functionality. As a result, iPhone SE users will miss out on these innovative features, highlighting the performance gap between entry-level and flagship devices in Apple's lineup.

As of writing, I haven't experienced a direct impact on battery life on the iPhone SE, so I can't comment much. However, given the iPhone SE's reputation for having subpar battery life from the get-go, your mileage will vary depending on how much you use the phone. If you're still using your original battery and want to keep using the SE, I suggest getting a replacement or keeping a charger with you because, like most batteries, it will worsen over time.

Going back to performance, the iPhone SE 2 from 2020, despite its modest hardware compared to Apple's current flagship, the iPhone 15 Pro series, runs iOS 18 relatively well on Day 1, and as more updates are seeded during the Developer and Public Betas, it's only going to get better from here. Whether or not you should install it is up to you, but in my experience, iOS 18 is perfectly serviceable, minus the minor hiccups here and there. If you can live with apps opening another quarter of a second slower and love being at the forefront of technology's bleeding edge, I'd say go for it! If you're the average user, however, I'd say stay on iOS 17 until the Public Beta comes out or when iOS 18 officially releases in September just to avoid any potential headaches in the future.