The best small phones will continue to go the way of the dodo at this rate. We’ve seen that smartphone displays have continued to get larger and larger. That’s fine for people who like big screens, but there are precious few options for those who prefer something they can comfortably use one-handed. Trust us, we think this is quite the tragedy.
If you believe good things come in compact packages, you’d better check out Apple’s lineup. The iPhone maker continues to dominate the market for small phones with a number of good choices, including both the iPhone 13 mini and iPhone SE. 2020 phones from Google attempted to keep the segment alive with pocketable, affordable handsets, though the company moved away from that with its 2021 Pixels.
A notable advantage to choosing a small phone is that they typically cost less than Plus-, Max- or Ultra-sized versions of the same device, so you won’t be penalized by having to pay more for a handset that easily fits into your lifestyle.
Small phones are a rarity these days, with your best options limited to Apple’s offerings. In fact, we have to amend our definition of “small phone.” It’s sad to see this product category die out, but the writing’s been on the wall for a while now.
What are the best small phones?
Small phone lovers who were also interested in snagging one of the best iPhones didn’t have many reasonable options until recently. Thankfully, you’ve got two choices, and our pick for now is the iPhone 13 mini, a 5G-capable phone powered by Apple’s top processor. The cameras got an upgrade and the base storage was bumped to 128GB.
If the iPhone 13 mini’s starting $699 price is still too much, you can always opt for the iPhone SE. It repurposes the iPhone 8’s 4.7-inch design with Apple’s A13 Bionic silicon for just $399.
If you’re looking for a small phone that runs Android, you can’t do better than the Asus Zenfone 8. It packs top-tier specs in a little body and it’s a great phone. There’s also the discontinued Google Pixel 4a, which has an OLED screen the same size as the one in the discontinued iPhone 11 Pro, for only $349. Of course, you might be thinking about the new Pixel 5a, but unfortunately, that’s a much larger phone than the 4a.
You can also check out the older Galaxy S10e, which has a similarly-sized panel but benefits from a faster processor, a slightly more premium design than Google’s offering and the addition of an ultrawide camera for stunning landscapes. It is, however, getting old as far as Android phones go.
Finally, Google’s 6-inch Pixel 5 packs a display slightly larger than the 5.8-inch Pixel 4 it replaces, but embeds that panel inside a chassis with smaller bezels, making it one of the more attractive high-end handsets of the year. At $699, it’s quite affordable, too, even if it cuts some corners to hit its low price.
Here’s a closer look at some of the best small phones out there right now, with screens sized at or under 6 inches. For our overall favorite handsets regardless of size, be sure to take a peek at our list of the best phones available right now.
The best small phones you can buy today
Apple continued the small phone legacy laid down by the iPhone 12 mini with the iPhone 13 mini. This little handset is very powerful, thanks to the new A15 Bionic chip. There’s nothing it can’t handle, all while being easily pocketed or used one-handed. The 5.4-inch OLED display is still crisp with excellent colors and viewing angles.
This year, Apple kept the design the same, but improved the battery life — in the Tom’s Guide battery test, the iPhone 13 mini lasted for more than 1.5 hours longer than its predecessor. The cameras also got an upgrade. Both the 12MP wide-angle main and 12MP ultrawide cameras feature larger sensors now that let in more light. The ultrawide also has autofocus now. But also new this year are Cinematic Mode and Photographic Styles.
The former lets you record portrait videos with dynamically shifting focus for that artistic look. Photographic Styles are basically real-time filters that you can test out while you’re aiming the camera, letting you capture photos that match your personal taste.
The iPhone 13 mini is perfect for people who want a small phone with powerful hardware and great creative capabilities.
Read our full iPhone 13 mini review.
They just don’t make fast, premium small phones like the new iPhone SE anymore. This diminutive 4.7-inch handset packs the A13 Bionic processor — still lightning-quick even though newer iPhones feature the A14 and A15. And yet, even with all that power, the iPhone SE costs $300 less than our top pick, the iPhone 13 mini.
The iPhone SE also brings more luxuries you rarely see in small and cheap phones, like wireless charging, IP67 water resistance and a premium metal-and-glass design. While most flagship phone makers have shunned developing high-end handsets with displays smaller than about 5.5 inches, the iPhone SE feels like a blast from the past in the best way possible — a time when you could buy a super small phone with big-time performance.
It might not have the flashiest-looking design or a camera equipped with the Night Mode present in pricier iPhones, but the SE handles just about everything else flawlessly.
We expect the iPhone SE 3 to come soon, so you may want to hold off on buying the 2020 model. The new version is expected to add 5G and get the same A15 Bionic chip that powers the iPhone 13 family.
Read our full iPhone SE 2020 review.
Asus decided not to the use the flipping camera module with the Zenfone 8 (that’s a separate device, the Zenfone 8 Flip), instead opting for a compact device with the best hardware available. Top all of that off with clean, stock Android and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a great phone.
In practice, the Zenfone 8 is the best small Android phone you can get, hands-down. While it can’t quite keep up with the Pixel 5 in terms of the camera, it runs laps around anything else that isn’t an iPhone in this category. That’s not to say that it can’t take good pictures, quite the opposite.
Asus knocked it out of the park here and the price is something else awesome about this phone. It’s truly a wonderful phone.
Read our full Asus Zenfone 8 review.
While it’s been supplanted by the new iPhone 13 mini, 2020’s iPhone 12 mini is still a great small phone. From its compact 5.4-inch display to its dual camera system, the iPhone 13 mini is still the little phone that could. If we had to level any true complaint against it, it’d be that the battery life is pretty poor. Oh, and the base storage is just 64GB.
Even so, you get the powerful A14 Bionic chip powering the whole experience, making for a handset that can run laps around the best that Android has to offer. The main wide-angle and secondary ultrawide angle can take some beautiful photos thanks to Apple’s computational photography skills.
Best yet, you can probably find the iPhone 12 mini on a good sale right now since the iPhone 13 mini is out.
Read our full iPhone 12 mini review.
With a 5.81-inch OLED display and very slim bezels, the Google Pixel 4a stands out as one of the best small phones with a big screen, even with the larger Pixel 5a now available. In fact, the OLED panel dominates the Pixel 4a’s footprint, thanks to a hole-punch selfie camera design and a very slender earpiece, keeping the border encircling the screen to its absolute minimum.
At a hair over 5 ounces, the Pixel 4a is also exceptionally light, owing to its polycarbonate-but-quality build. It’s pretty thin too, despite having a healthy 3,140 mAh battery. Unfortunately, the battery doesn’t last quite as long on a charge as we’d like, but the Pixel 4a’s other benefits — from that beautiful screen to its software and update support, impressive camera, solid (if not iPhone-beating) performance and low price — complement its exceptional one-handed usability well.
The Pixel 5a has landed, but a small phone it is not, with a display greater than 6 inches. So turn to the Pixel 4a if compact size is what you value, though the phone is getting increasingly harder to find. And bear in mind that Google has officially discontinued the Pixel 4a, so you may have a harder time finding one.
Read our full Google Pixel 4a review.
Google’s Pixel 5 isn’t an improvement over the Pixel 4 in every respect, which is likely why it’s somewhat disappointing. The new flagship Pixel’s battery life is much better and it supports 5G across millimeter-wave and sub-6GHz bands, but it’s less powerful than the old model, and lacks 3D Face Unlock and the capability to read Motion Sense air gestures, which were quite unique features.
But the Pixel 5 still has a lot going for it. It retains its class-leading camera, now armed with a secondary ultrawide camera sensor; it’s cloaked in a distinctive all-aluminum design; and of course, it benefits from Google’s latest exclusive Android features, like Hold For Me and Call Screen for phone calls.
And it packs all of this into a supremely pocketable footprint, making for perhaps the most trimmed-down small phone I’ve ever seen in terms of screen-to-body ratio. The Pixel 5 isn’t perfect, and the Pixel 4a 5G can claim a lot of the same features for $200 less, though the 4a 5G is larger and lacks some luxuries, like wireless charging.
Of course, the Pixel 6 is here with a return to the two model sizes. However, the Pixel 6 is not a small phone with its 6.4-inch display. But it’s a serious upgrade over the Pixel 5 in every regard except maybe battery life — Google just can’t seem to get battery life right. But if you’re not set on a small phone, the Pixel 6 is worth your time.
Read our full Google Pixel 5 review.
How to choose the best small phone for you
You usually have to sacrifice something when buying a small phone. Of course, screen real estate is part of the tradeoff; but small phones also have smaller batteries, and sometimes less RAM or fewer camera lenses than larger, more expensive versions of the same device.
If you prioritize a compact form factor over all else — and you probably do if you’re reading this page — these tradeoffs will likely be well worth it. Apple and Google are featured prominently on our list of the best small phones because they don’t eliminate critical features from more compact handsets. That’s illustrated by the fact that the iPhone 13 mini packs the same punch as the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Or how the iPhone SE (2020) utilizes the same A13 Bionic chipset found in the more premium iPhone 11 series.
Samsung, on the other hand, usually scrubs something from their smaller models. The Galaxy S10e, which has a dual-lens camera compared to the triple-lens module inside the company’s Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus devices, is a prime example of that. The S10e also lacks an in-screen fingerprint sensor and has less RAM than its bigger, pricier siblings. Alas, that’s the price you pay for wanting a phone that can fit in your pocket in 2021.