Friday, December 3, 2021
AndroidSmart Phones

The best compact smartphones: How many inches do you really need?


The hands that typed this article measure exactly 20 centimeters long! According to a NASA study, that’s a little above average for male hands, but I still rarely use new smartphones comfortably with one hand only. If you feel the same way, you can find the best compact smartphones below.

The best compact smartphones in 202

  Best Android option Best Apple option Compact foldable Versatile camera
Device
Image Asus Zenfone 8 Apple iPhone 13 Mini Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Sony Xperia 5 III
Specifications 5.9 inches Super AMOLED 
1080 x 2400 pixels (446 DPI)
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
128 / 256 GB ROM
6 / 8 / 12 / 16 GB RAM
Dual camera
Main: 64 MP
Ultrawide: 12 MP
4.000 mAh

148 x 68.5 x 8.9 mm
169 grams

5.4 inches, AMOLED 
1080 x 2340 pixels
Apple A15 Bionic
128 / 256 / 512 GB ROM
4 GB RAM
Dual camera
Main: 12 MP
Ultrawide: 12 MP
2.438 mAh

131.5 x 64.2 x 7.7 mm
141 grams

6.7 inches, Dynamic AMOLED 
1080 x 2640 pixels
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
256 / 256 GB ROM
8 GB RAM
Dual camera
Main: 12 MP
Ultrawide: 12 MP
3.300 mAh

86.4 x 72.2 x 17.1 mm
183 grams

6.1 inches, AMOLED 
1080 x 2520 pixels
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
128 / 256 GB ROM
8 GB RAM
Triple camera
Main: 12 MP
Ultrawide: 12 MP
Telephoto: 12 MP
4.500 mAh

157 x 68 x 8.2 mm
168 grams

Good
  • Compact and very sleek design
  • 120Hz AMOLED display
  • Powerful Snapdragon 888 chipset
  • Competitive price for a flagship
  • IP68 rating
  • 3.5mm jack with LDAC codec support
  • Amazing design
  • Flexible display
  • IPX8 certification
  • Four years of system updates
  • Rear camera doubles up as a front camera
  • Smooth 120Hz OLED display
  • Solid battery life
  • Versatile camera module with dual focal lengths
  • IP68 rating, 3.5mm jack, microSD
  • Clean, feature-rich interface
Bad
  • Camera module lacks versatility
  • Questionable long-term software support
  • 30-watts Fast Charging support
  • 4,000 mAh battery might be insufficient
  • Camera could have been better
  • Battery capacity is below average for its category
  • Overheating issues and and aggresive thermal throttling
  • Wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle sensors are a bit dated
  • No dedicated Night Mode
  • Simply too expensive
Rating Read review

Not yet reviewed

Read review Read review
Offers*

Jump to

  1. Best compact Android smartphone: Asus Zenfone 8
  2. Best compact Apple smartphonephone: Apple iPhone 13 mini
  3. Recommended handsets based on category
    1. Foldable alternative: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
    2. For camera buffs: Sony Xperia 5 III
  4. More tips for compact smartphones
  5. What are the pros and cons of compact smartphones?
  6. Alternatives to compact smartphones: Pop sockets and one-handed modes
  7. This is how we picked this list

We deliberately decided against sorting out this list based on display size, because it doesn’t correlate directly to size of the handset. Take the iPhone 13 mini, for example. Apple uses a 5.4-inch screen in a smaller body than the iPhone SE with its 4.7-inch display. In order to come up with the base classification, you are able to find out exactly how we picked our best compact smartphones list further down in this article.

The best compact Android smartphone: Asus Zenfone 8

If you are not a fan of Apple’s iOS, I would highly recommend this smartphone that kicked off this “Best of” list: The Zenfone 8. While Apple showed in 2020 that compact smartphones definitely have market demand, no other Android manufacturer has dared to compete in this segment – at least until May 2021.

NextPIT Asus Zenfone 8
With the Zenfone 8, Asus surprisingly launched a genuinely compact smartphone / © NextPit

Rating

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pros

  • Compact and very sleek design
  • 120Hz AMOLED display
  • Powerful Snapdragon 888 chipset
  • Competitive price for a flagship
  • IP68 rating
  • 3.5mm jack with LDAC codec support
 

Cons

  • Camera module lacks versatility
  • Questionable long-term software support
  • 30-watts Fast Charging support
  • 4000 mAh battery might be insufficient

The Zenfone 8 measures just 148 x 68.5 x 8.9 millimeters with its 5.9-inch AMOLED display while tipping the scales at 169 grams. This makes it the anti-Android flagship, according to Antoine’s review as it bucks the trend of ever-increasing display sizes. The ingenious thing about it: Compared to current Android flagships, you hardly have to make any sacrifices when it comes to performance.

The Zenfone 8 is powered by the Snapdragon 888 SoC, which is currently one of the most powerful smartphone processors around. Besides that, Asus has configured the smartphone with either 8 or 16 GB of fast LPDDR5 RAM and 128 or 256 GB of UFS 3.1 storage. However, you will have to make some sacrifices in the form of battery capacity and camera performance.

The battery capacity is rated at a mere 4,000 mAh. Power consumption is not exactly low due to the AMOLED display with a 120 Hertz refresh rate. The dual-camera configuration at the back is also not quite up to date, but Asus has commendably refrained itself from including basically useless macro and depth sensors. 

For the Zenfone 8, you would have to fork out around US$780 in the smallest storage variant at its release. Thus, this Android flagship is not only small, but also reasonably affordable. Its price drop should also be higher compared to Apple’s option, based on our experience!

The best compact smartphone: Apple iPhone 13 mini

After launching the iPhone 12 mini in 2020, Apple insisted on continuing the compact formula in 2021 with the launch of the iPhone 13 mini. With roughly similar dimensions to its predecessor at 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.7 mm while weighing in at 141 grams, it is slightly heavier than the previous model but still rather small when compared to other iPhone 13 models.

NextPIT Apple iPhone 12 mini
The iPhone 13 mini has a smaller notch than the iPhone 12 mini (above) / © NextPit

Just like the 2020 model, the iPhone 13 mini shares the same specifications as its bigger siblings, starting with the powerful A15 Bionic processor which Apple claims is around 50% faster than its closest Android competition.

The main advantage of this tiny iPhone, however, is related to something else entirely: Apple’s iOS operating system and the aforementioned SoC combine well to bring about pretty good power management, which Apple claims is “up to an hour and a half more” in the iPhone 13 mini compared to its predecessor, the iPhone 12 mini.

In terms of price, Apple also placed the compact iPhone below the normal model and the Pro variants. The recommended retail price stands at $699 dollars, which is a Benjamin less than the regular model.

Other recommendations for compact smartphones

I will check out other compact smartphones below by highlighting certain features like a good camera or a low price!

Smallest profile in your pocket: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

Not everyone is looking for a compact smartphone because their fingers are too short. The huge flagships from Xiaomi, Oppo, and others also really take up plenty of space in the pocket. So much so, in fact, that many people prefer to hang their smartphone around their neck using a lanyard as opposed to placing it in their pocket.

NextPit Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 open
Smaller foldables like the Galaxy Z Flip 3, are an alternative to flagships that are ever-increasing in size / © NextPit

Rating

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pros

  • Amazing design
  • Flexible screen
  • IPX8 certification
  • Four years of system updates
  • Rear camera doubles up as a front camera
 

Cons

  • Camera performance could have been better
  • Battery capacity is below average for its category

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a full-fledged flagship smartphone with a tiny profile. As the name suggests, it’s a foldable, i.e. a smartphone with a foldable display. Unlike the Galaxy Z Fold 3, however, you don’t fold the smartphone vertically, but it is more like a retro clamshell phone from the 2000s.

When folded, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 measures just 86.4 x 72.2 x 15.9 millimeters at its thinnest point. When fully opened, the handset ‘grows’ by a considerable margin, but you’re also gushing over the lush 6.7-inch display. But why did the Galaxy Z Flip 3 not make it to the number 1 spot in our “Best of” list?

Despite showing a strong improvement in terms of durability, including IPX8 water resistance, the battery that is rated at 3,300 mAh is still too small. And even taking into consideration how the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is cheaper than its predecessor, it is still more expensive than the other smartphones on this list.

For those after a more versatile camera: Sony Xperia 5 III

One common theme among the 3 suggestions above is the dual-camera system (with wide and ultrawide lenses), but the Xperia 5 III not only packs a triple camera configuration but has equipped its telephoto lens with dual focal lengths, which in reality results in two optical zoom levels: 2.9x and 4.4x. Besides that, the Xperia 5 III offers a physical shutter button that makes it satisfying to snap photos.

At first glance, its 6.1-inch display may look large, but since Sony uses a 21:9 aspect ratio on the Xperia 5 III, the device is quite pocketable, with a thin form factor.

NextPit Sony Xperia 5 III display
The tall aspect ratio makes the Xperia 5 III easier to handle / © NextPit

Rating

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pros

  • Smooth 120Hz OLED screen
  • Solid battery life
  • Versatile camera module with dual focal lengths
  • IP68 rating, 3.5mm jack, microSD
  • Clean, feature-rich interface
 

Cons

  • Overheating issues and aggresive thermal throttling
  • Wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle sensors are a bit dated
  • No dedicated Night Mode
  • Simply too expensive

Yes, the 157 mm height might make it tall, but the remaining dimensions are equivalent to the Zenfone 8’s, as is the weight. The main problem with the Sony Xperia 5 III is actually its price, which is higher than the Asus and Apple models.

Honorable mentions

If you are looking for a compact smartphone, I hope that one of our four recommendations above suits you and your needs. However, purchasing decisions are down to individual preference, which is why I’ll provide you with a few more alternatives. Since we’re talking about size here, I’ve picked out the dimensions and the display size for you as the main factors.

Honorable mentions

Model Display size Dimensions More Info
Samsung Galaxy S21 6.2-inches 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm Read review
Apple iPhone SE (2020) 4.7-inches 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm Read review

Please forgive me for not going into each device in as much detail as before. Articles that carry too many words are just as off-putting for many readers as smartphones with a 7-inch display. Of course, if you have any questions or tips, you can always get in touch with us via the comments section.

What are the pros and cons of compact smartphones?

Apple’s sales figures for the iPhone mini models were not exactly outstanding. The manufacturer even placed focus on the Pro Max version – which is currently the largest iPhone model, due to low sales figures of the compact iPhone. But why are compact smartphones so unpopular? Let me briefly elaborate a bit on the advantages and disadvantages of such handsets.

Advantages of compact smartphones

The biggest advantage is, of course, the usability of the small models. It is simply pleasant to not always have to reach around when using the handset with just one hand. In addition, the risk of accidentally dropping the smartphone is greatly reduced and physically, small displays should also be less prone to cracks due to drops. 

IMG 0503 capa whatsapp
Small displays are theoretically also more shatter-proof. However, the type of glass display used also plays a role in this matter / © NextPit

Besides being easier to use, compact smartphones also take up less space in your trouser pocket. I’ve already mentioned it once, but large smartphones are often packed in a handbag, hung around a lanyard, or is stuffed into the back pocket of your pants. That doesn’t necessarily happen with the iPhone 13 Mini or the Z Flip 3.

Right here is where we have arrived at the end of the advantages of having a compact smartphone! If you don’t value a device’s handiness above all other features, you can work your way through a longer list of disadvantages.

Disadvantages of compact smartphones

The cell phone has morphed over the years to a multi-tasking entertainment device. Many people watch YouTube videos in bed in the morning, and then play mobile games on the commute to work, before winding down in the evening with the Netflix app – all using the same device.

Of course, a larger display is an obvious advantage here. Fonts, movies, and TV series are easier to see. When you are gaming, your fingers don’t cover up as much of the gameplay action when you’re using the virtual controls.

NextPit Samsung galaxy S21 Ultra camera screen
Many applications are simply more fun on a large smartphone! / © NextPit

When gaming and using multimedia applications, there are two other things that are important on large models: long battery life and good heat dissipation. It goes without saying that there is more room for a large battery in a larger chassis. In the meantime, battery capacities of 5,000 mAh have become the standard in “normal” smartphones, and you can easily get by for two days without having to be hooked up to a power outlet.

Heat dissipation is not quite as self-explanatory though. Since no fan should be integrated into the smartphone, manufacturers decided to install metal sheets and other materials to dissipate heat. Heat is normally generated during operation, especially when the SoC is working hard. Another source of heat is quick-charging when you charge your device.

The largest possible surface area for dissipating heat on a smartphone is, of course, located at the back. The larger it is, the better the rate of heat dissipation due to the law of physics. Antoine attested to the Zenfone 8’s heat issues in his review, and that’s certainly due to the small form factor in addition to the powerful Snapdragon 888 that chugs underneath the hood.

Conclusion

I hope that my little pros and cons list is visually very clear! There are many advantages for a larger body when it comes to smartphone design. Fittingly, the usage behavior of many smartphone users also developed in alignment with this direction. However, since the user’s hands do not grow in proportion to the size of the handset, problems have arisen over the years in terms of operational use.

At a glance: Advantages and disadvantages of compact smartphones

Pros Cons
Practical Smaller displays
Lighter Fingers cover more of the screen
Easy to use with one hand Shorter battery life
Less clunky in your pocket Poorer heat dissipation

Manufacturers are trying to counter these using software tricks and accessories. As this topic is particularly exciting, I’m including a short special paragraph about other alternatives!

Alternatives to compact smartphones: Pop sockets and one-handed modes

The seemingly inevitable growth of smartphones has brought about some creative solutions. After all, the unwieldiness and unreachable notification bars in Android and iOS can be countered through other means. Without further ado, below are a few solutions that may help those of you using large smartphones:

One-handed mode in iOS and Android

Perhaps your smartphone display has already been ‘halved’ by accident. You have not discovered a software error, but have activated the one-hand mode. On iOS, all you have to do to activate it is swipe down on the bottom half of the screen. The screen content will then slide down and you can access the control center and the notification bar. For iPhones with a home button, two taps (not presses) on the home button are required instead.

OxygenOS 11 One Handed Use
The optimal ratio for one-handed operation of OxygenOS 11 according to OnePlus / © OnePlus

On Android, this mode is only available natively in Android 12. As the software developer announced at Google I/O 2021, the new operating system version delivers easier operation across the board. Until it arrives on your device, you’ll have to take a look at whether your smartphone manufacturer has plans to include your device in its upcoming software update. 

Pop sockets and other holders

With the so-called pop sockets or special smartphone accessories, you can significantly improve the feel of your handset! You install pull-out or fold-out holders at the back of your device. You can then slide them between two fingers when holding the smartphone or simply hold it without them.

If you don’t want to stick anything to the back of your smartphone, you can also buy an appropriate case. The cost is well under $10 and before you buy a new handset, it is worth trying them out! The shame usually disappears after a few weeks, I promise you.

Smartphone lanyards or other bags

Does your smartphone bother you not when you hold it, but when you carry it? Then smartphone lanyards are a possible solution to this problem. As already mentioned, you hang your smartphone around your neck. In a previous article about accessories, this solution did not encounter too much approval, but I am starting to see such lanyards becoming more commonplace. 

Jalouza.Handykette.UrbanXBody band.MODEL02
Special lanyards allow your smartphone to hang out with you 😉 / © Jalouza

For those who lead a more active lifestyle, there are also holders that you can attach to your upper arm. This way, you are able to get your smartphone out of your pocket and still listen to music while jogging. The same goes for driving, cycling, and all kinds of other scenarios. Just take a look at your local electronics store or Amazon to see what is available on offer.

Companion devices and smartwatches

A very strange (and growing) trend is the so-called companion devices like the new Palm. These are tiny secondary phones that are not meant to replace your primary smartphone. Instead, you’re supposed to remain reachable while exercising or wearing skinny pants! But basically, they are almost smartwatches without a wristband.

Lifestyle 7
The Palm is a companion device / © Palm

Because models like the Apple Watch are already amazingly independent with LTE and WiFi. This means you can leave your primary smartphone at home when you’re exercising. But for more information, I’ll point you to our best smartwatch list.

Compact smartphones or small displays? That’s how we chose this list

Last but not least, I’d like to briefly share what went into my decision-making process when drawing up this list! Basically, it reflects the smartphone market from November 2021, and of course, I wanted to present you with the most up-to-date handsets as possible. I put my pre-selection up for discussion in the editorial office and the Galaxy S21, for example, fell out of favor, despite me actually finding it to be rather compact in the review.

Of course, this list is not set in stone. If another manufacturer comes around the corner with a compact smartphone over the next few weeks, I will update this article accordingly. Of course, I will also incorporate your criticism and objections from the comments.

Fundamentally, though, this article is a buying guide, and is not a list of all available compact smartphones. Readers who looking for a compact phone should find the best currently available options above. If there is nothing that catches your fancy among the four recommendations, there are also other alternatives presented.

So, what do you think of this list and what is your opinion about compact smartphones? Let’s discuss it in the comments and please don’t judge anyone who thinks this trend is either super good or totally stupid.



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