Apple today updated its lower-end offerings, improving its smallest phone and standard tablet with higher-end technology.
New products include the iPhone SE–a spruced up version of the aging iPhone 5s–and a smaller, lighter, and cheaper version of the iPad Pro tablet.
The least expensive Apple Watch is cheaper still, and comes with new watch bands.
Finally, there’s news about the iOS 9.3 that Apple hopes will help late-night phone users rest easy. The new phone and tablet can be preordered on March 24 for delivery starting on March 31.
Here are the details.
The Apple iPhone 5s, still popular among smartphone shoppers who appreciate its small size and price tag, had become like the neglected step-sister in a fable, quietly shoring up company profits while its larger-screened, better equipped iPhone 6 siblings got all of the attention.
Welcome the iPhone SE, which has an iPhone 5s-size, 4-inch display and trim shape yet manages to cram in many qualities of the iPhone 6-series phones, including the 12-megapixel camera, the faster A9 processor, a promised longer battery life, and NFC and other hardware needed for Apple Pay transactions. With a starting retail price of just $399, it's cheapest new iPhone model you can own.
The iPhone SE has the same flat, rounded edges of the iPhone 5s, though the rear side is now made of aluminum, like the iPhone 6 models. It has the same A9 processor and M9 coprocessor found in the iPhone 6s and 6s plus, which Apple says will make it two to three times faster than the iPhone 5s. And in the new phone, the Siri assistant can respond to voice commands without you having to touch the home button.
The iPhone SE has the same 12.2-megapixel main camera that’s on the 6s iPhones; it can take Live photos and shoot videos in 4K resolution. In our tests of the iPhone 6s, we found the 12.2-megapixel camera was slightly better than 8-megapixel one in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, though there are several Android models with cameras that are better still.
The SE’s display is the same as the one on an iPhone 5s: 1136-by-640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi, which is very good for a 4-inch screen.
In terms of connections, Apple says the SE’s 4G LTE speeds are 50 percent faster than the 5s's, and that its radios support a wider spectrum of frequencies, which should mean better luck connecting when roaming on global networks. WiFi has been upgraded to 802.11 AC, a standard that supports Internet connection speeds of more than 1.3 gigabits per second. In reality, most devices rarely exceed a fraction of that speed under the best circumstances.
The 16GB iPhone SE will retail for $399; a 64GB model will cost $499.
9.7-inch iPad Pro
The iPad Pro, Apple’s laptop-killing, 12.9-inch tablet, now has a little brother: The 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The new iPad has the innards of the bigger device, but the best-selling screen size of the original iPad. The new version weighs slightly less than a pound and shares the same dimensions with the iPad Air 2. And its display is the same size and resolution (2048 x 1536) as the Air 2’s. But it’s much more capable.
For instance, the display can adjust its color based on the ambient light, to mimic the way a piece of white paper looks slightly different in different settings. Apple calls this feature True Tone. The tablet also has a 12-megapixel rear camera that can capture Apple’s Live Photos, as well as shoot 4K video. The 5-megapixel FaceTime HD camera can record 720p video. The A9X processor is the same found in the larger iPad Pro, as are the pair of speakers on each end of the device.
More important, like its bigger brother, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro works with the $99 Apple Pencil and uses the Smart Connector for attaching accessories like a $149 Smart Keyboard.
Apple also announced new adapters for the iPad Pro, including its Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, making it a more feasible laptop replacement for many shoppers.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro starts at $599 for 32GB, is available in 128GB and 256GB varieties, and comes in the now ubiquitous grey, gold, silver, and rose gold. iPad Pro models with cellular support will run an extra $130.
Our prediction: This new entry could mean Apple will be phasing out its less-capable iPad Air models in the near future, as it did with MacBook Pro line.
iOS 9.3 Upgrade. Apple announced an upgrade to iOS 9.3, available today for all iPhone 5s models and newer. Among the more significant improvements is Night Shift, a feature that automatically shifts the color temperature away from blue to the warmer end of the spectrum. Apple says studies have shown that “exposure to bright blue light in the evening can affect your circadian rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep.” Night Shift kicks on at sunset based on your iPhone’s clock and location. At sunrise, it returns the display to its regular settings. While we may never know just how much of an impact Night Shift will have on sleep patterns, we will be checking its effect on display quality. And we suspect the best display mode for a good night's sleep is Off.
Cheaper Apple Watch, new bands. Apple dropped the price of the Watch Sport by $50 to $299, and added new choices in bands for the Watch Sport and premium-priced Watch. These include a woven nylon band, new leather straps, and a black version of it Milanese Loop band for the premium priced Apple Watch, as well as a few new colors for the rubber-like bands that adorn the Watch Sport.
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