That’s my iPhone SE, pictured above. It’s mostly looked like that — with one recent minor change — for the past 12 months. A little over a year ago, I attended Intel’s Architecture Day. On the last evening of the event, I dropped my phone in the lobby while saying goodbye to a few friends. The phone fell straight down onto bare tile, aerodynamic as a brick. There was a sickening crunch.
When I lifted the phone, it looked almost as bad as it does in the above. There was still some shattered glass clinging to the lower-right-hand corner and the Home button was still attached, but the screen had assumed its, erm, aliased appearance. That was mid-December, 2018.
I was pretty unhappy with myself. I’d picked up an Apple iPhone SE case when I bought the device in April 2018, and I’d noticed that it didn’t appear to provide much of a lip around the outer edge of the phone. I’d decided that Apple probably knew what they were doing, and surely wouldn’t design a completely useless phone case. I’d taken care to buy one — after all, I had broken my iPhone 4S just two weeks after buying it, after I dropped it on a popcorn kernel without a case. After my iPhone 5c made it more than four years without a break I felt like I’d turned the corner on breaking screens. That lasted from March through December.
I didn’t fix it. I could’ve done so. A friend of mine even offered to cover it, as a Christmas present. I said no. I was angry at myself for breaking it in the first place, and I felt too ambivalent about having a smartphone to want to invest more money in them. I was angry at myself for breaking a device after five years with the iPhone 5c. I was angry at the idea of paying someone else to repair a phone when I’d had an Apple case on it. I was angry at myself for trusting Apple to manufacture a decent product.
A year went by. The phone kept working until two days ago. You can see directly into the LCD when the display is on and it responds spectacularly badly to even the slightest amount of water on the screen. Pieces of glass mostly stopped falling out by May, though a few work their way free from time to time.
Two days ago, the Home button fell off. I was quite surprised. The glass around the button had been shattered since the accident, but it hadn’t actually detached from the phone.
For most of the day, I thought my strange, vaguely self-punitive experiment had come to an end. Apple devices cannot be used without a Home button, after all. But late in the day, I had an idea.
“Self,” I asked me, “Did you check the Accessibility controls?”
“No. What for?”
“Well, there might be a virtual ‘Tap for Home button’ option.”
And wouldn’t you know? There it was.
As of today, my iPhone SE is back in business. It doesn’t have a Home button. It’s missing a non-trivial percentage of its screen. It’s easily the most smashed device I’ve ever seen in daily use and I’ve already been using it for more than a year. If I’m being honest, I’m impressed as hell. I expected it to die within a week or two, a month at the outside. I love the “Unable to Initialize Touch ID” error message. Having to devote a fraction of my shattered display to the virtual Home button is a little annoying, but if some spiderweb cracking was going to bother me I would’ve repaired this thing already.
The iPhone SE is an absolute tank, as long as you don’t sweat the small stuff… for a certain definition of small stuff.
So here’s the deal: It’s December 18, 2019. I’m going to do my damndest to either get another year out of this device or to coax it along at least until Apple announces an iPhone SE 2 later in 2020. Why? I don’t know. It’s an objectively bad experience. Why did somebody decide to try and beat Diablo II using a Sorceress with Lvl 1 Fireball and no gear? Why did somebody beat Fallout New Vegas without ever healing or using a stimpack?
Because they could. That’s why.
And because “Unable to activate Touch ID on this iPhone” makes me laugh every single time I see it.
- PCMag’s Best iPhone SE Cases [Joel, hello? -Ed]
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