So long, small phones

small phones face down on a spiral rainbow background
The 2013 Moto X, Nexus 4, and iPhone 13 Mini. I pine for the days this size was normal. | Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

Ever Googled for “Best Small Phones”? I’ll save you the click: the guides you’ll find feature phones that are old, underpowered, or simply not small to begin with.

I’ve long been a small phone guy. I loved my 2013 Moto X, with its 4.7-inch screen, and I’ve used a 5.4-inch iPhone Mini for years. But when Apple discontinued the Mini last month, I decided it was time to jump ship. I saved my money for the Pixel 8, figuring I’d eventually learn to live with a “new normal” of 6.2-inch handsets.

But for gadget enthusiasts like me, Google had other plans: it’s arbitrarily pushing buyers to the ginormous Pixel 8 Pro instead, bragging about how its larger handset can handle niftier features even though both phones have the same cameras and chips.

That’s why I began my hunt for the last good small phones — but gosh is it slim pickings.

For example, perhaps you’ve heard the Asus Zenfone 10 is a small phone because it has a 5.9-inch screen — smaller than 6.1, 6.5, or 6.7. But did you know the phone itself is almost identically sized to a “normal” Galaxy S23 or iPhone 15, not counting camera bumps?

Colored size comparison boxes representing the Zenfone 10, Galaxy S23, and iPhone 15 side by side and front to back.
Images by
From left to right: Zenfone 10, Galaxy S23, iPhone 15. The Zenfone is slightly narrower — but thicker.

Some guides suggest the 2022 iPhone SE, perhaps because it’s got a 4.7-inch screen — even smaller than a 5.4-inch iPhone Mini, right? Wrong:

Colored size comparison boxes representing the iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone SE, and iPhone 15 show the SE is halfway between a Mini and a full-size phone.
Images by
The iPhone SE is smaller than a “normal” phone in 2023, but not by much.

Pixel 6A and Pixel 7A? Absolutely nope — both are bigger than a standard Samsung or Apple phone. Even unlocking their under-display fingerprint sensor feels like a stretch for my average-sized hand.

Colored size comparison boxes representing the iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 15, Pixel 7A and Pixel 6A show the Pixels are larger than the iPhone 15, and way larger than the Mini.
Images by
How are these Pixels making their way into “Best Small Phone” guides?

While Android Police calls the Sony Xperia 5 V “the compact flagship Android phone enthusiasts always wanted,” I think this size comparison speaks for itself:

Colored size comparison boxes representing the Xperia 5 V, Pixel 8, iPhone 15 and Galaxy S23 show the Xperia is the largest of the bunch.
Images by
The Xperia is slightly narrower than the competition, but taller.

And if you think folding flip phones are small, well…

Opened, the Samsung Z Flip and Moto Razr are roughly as big as the Pixel 8 Pro or iPhone 15 Pro Max, two of the biggest flagship handsets out there.

Colored size comparison boxes representing the iPhone Mini 13, Pixel 8 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro max, Z Flip 5 and Moto Razr Plus show the folding phones are quite large.
Images by
Folding screen phones are many things, but “small” is not yet among them.

Closed, the Z Flip’s girth doubles, making it that much harder to wrap a hand around — and it’s plenty wide, too. Plus, Samsung doesn’t actually let you use it like a small phone by default — you’ve gotta jump through hoops to use apps on the outer screen. Even with the Z Flip 5’s larger cover screen, it’s awkward.

Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge
Because I’m feeling nostalgic, here’s a 2013 Moto X vs. a 2023 Z Flip 5.

There is one company doggedly still pursuing small phones. It’s called Unihertz, and its Jelly line is tiny and has nifty features like a BlackBerry keyboard or programmable buttons and extra LEDs. But they’re also exceptionally budget, designed for minimalists, not those who want a great processor and a great camera like me.

Why isn’t someone building the iPhone Mini of Android, you might ask? They’re trying! But the latest dispatches from the Small Android Phone Project are… not great. The project hasn’t had a meaningful update in five months, and team leader Benjamin Bryant admits he had to pause to look for consulting work on the side.

“We didn’t have too much time to focus on the project over the summer” writes Bryant.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
Bryant clarified to us that BOE is responsible for the Find N, not the Find N2.

In some ways, they’re still at square one: the entire design revolves around the phone’s display, but display manufacturers don’t publicly offer the kind of small, high-end screen Bryant’s team is looking for — those are typically produced under contract to specific manufacturers.

“The problem is Apple has exclusive rights to [the iPhone Mini’s] display — so, even with the line being discontinued, [Samsung Display] isn’t going to give us access,” he told supporters last month.

The situation has slightly improved since then: Bryant says his team just had its first real call with Samsung Display US. “Samsung Display US is willing to champion us; the challenge will be convincing the Korean HQ that we are a viable enough project for them to invest time and resources into,” Bryant tells me.

Other options: there are “apparently more than enough” refurbished iPhone Mini displays on the market to fill the Small Android Phone Project’s needs; the external cover display on the Oppo Find N2 looks promising; and there are other displays that could work if they’re willing to build a phone with a chin.

But I would not expect a phone out of them anytime soon. Bryant admits that, in general, the small phone outlook is “bleak” and that some of his prospective customers “will be forced to upgrade in the coming year.”

Personally, I don’t feel forced: I could theoretically replace the battery in my Mini yet again and keep it running another year. But instead, I impulsively nabbed a Z Flip 5 at its Prime Day price to try something different for a change.

Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge
This is my life now. I call it the Z Flip Raptor Grip.

I’m on day four, and while I’m definitely not satisfied with the size, I don’t want to be stuck on small phones the way I was stuck on physical keys. A decade ago, smartphone manufacturers pulled the physical QWERTY keyboard from my cold Droid hands. This time, I’m getting out before I get left in the past.

Source: The Verge So long, small phones