Apple’s hot new iPhone SE and iPad Air are making an important 5G compromise

With “peek performance” being the catchy tagline of Apple’s first big product launch event of 2022, we’re obviously not shocked to see the third-gen iPhone SE “borrow” its A15 processor from the ultra-high-end iPhone 13 family, and even more impressively, the fifth-gen iPad Air share a state-of-the-art M1 silicon with the iPad Pro (2021) duo.

But (somewhat) surprisingly, it looks like “peek” speeds will not be part of the package for the upgraded budget-friendly 4.7-inch handset or the 5G-enabled version of the super-powerful new 10.9-inch tablet.

That’s right, both the iPhone SE (2022) and iPad Air 5 are sub-6 GHz 5G-compatible devices only, lacking mmWave support. If you don’t really know what any of that means, the simple way to put it is that these bad boys will not be able to deliver the highest 5G speeds currently available in the US.

How big of a difference will this make?

In short, not very big. That’s because mmWave 5G is an absolutely breathtaking technology… on paper, and a largely useless feature in reality. Okay, that might be a little harsh, so we’ll try to rephrase it in a way that won’t make Verizon’s head honchos too upset.

The problem is mmWave 5G signal doesn’t travel very far, can’t penetrate buildings or other obstacles, and isn’t even available in many cities to begin with, let alone rural areas.
Still, this can be a nice feature to have for the tiny fraction of Verizon (and AT&T, and T-Mobile) subscribers that are (sometimes) able to make good use of it, and perhaps more importantly, it’s something that the overwhelming majority of modern high-end phones (and even tablets) do offer as standard. Hence, it’s definitely a tad disappointing to see Apple cut this particular corner, especially given the iPhone SE 3’s price hike over its 4G LTE-only predecessor.

All in the name of affordability

While you could speculate this decision had something to do with the iPhone SE 3 and iPad Air 5 designs and Apple’s focus on making the two devices as sleek and as lightweight as possible by eliminating all “unnecessary” components, it’s way more logical to assume that the missing antennas helped the company keep the price points (relatively) low.

Google’s Pixel 6, for instance, costs $599 in an unlocked sub-6 GHz variant while fetching $699 at Verizon and as much as $739 at AT&T with mmWave 5G support. Even Big Red’s modest TCL 30 V 5G is a whopping $100 pricier than T-Mobile’s TCL 30 XE 5G, although in that case, there are a few more differences to note.
Still, it’s pretty obvious that Apple would have had to charge more than $430 for an iPhone SE (2022) with all the 5G bells and whistles baked in, which almost no buyers would have ever noticed or truly cared about. To be perfectly clear, this A15 powerhouse is capable of taking full advantage of low and mid-band 5G technology on T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T, and that includes the latter two operators’ recently deployed and somewhat controversial C-band spectrum.
The same naturally goes for the iPad Air (2022), which is pretty competitively priced in a 5G-enabled configuration, starting at the same $749 tag as its 4G LTE-limited 2020 forerunner while following in the non-mmWave-supporting footsteps of last year’s iPad mini 6.

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Last update was on: May 17, 2022 10:48 pm

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