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With smartphones seemingly getting larger and larger with each year, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that the smallest smartphones out there can be just as good as the big boys on the block. Having a huge screen is great, but sometimes you just want something that you can easily use in one hand — and that’s why we’ve assembled this list of the greatest, smallest smartphones that will steal your heart, but sit comfortably in your palm.
Like the Pixel that came before it, the Pixel 2 is the best way to experience Android. That’s because it comes from the creator of Android, Google, and as a result, the Pixel’s hardware is closely tailored to complement Android’s every little need. And what hardware it is! The Pixel 2’s small frame is packed with the latest technological advances, including the raw power of the Snapdragon 835, the new Active Edge system, and quite possibly the best smartphone camera on the planet. It’s a little bigger than the first Pixel, but it still sports a 5-inch screen that makes it perfect for use with just the one hand.
There are downsides. There’s no MicroSD card slot again, and the headphone jack seems to have been taken around the back of the barn. The lack of an edge-to-edge display also means that the Pixel 2 looks a little dated when compared to the latest phones from Samsung, LG, and Apple — but if you’re looking for a phone that won’t stretch your hand, then the gorgeous and easily reached confines of the 1920 x 1080-pixel AMOLED screen should be right up your alley. The blacks are inky dark, the colors vibrant, and the details are crisp in all the right places. Despite the bezels, it’s still a gorgeous device.
The highlight of this phone is without doubt the camera. Google has snubbed the dual-camera trend again, instead rocking with a single 12-megapixel lens with an aperture of f/1.8. There’s nothing stunning about these numbers to indicate the incredible performance, and it’s within the camera’s software that we see the magic that Google has wrought. Simply put, Google has somehow created software that allows the Pixel 2 to perform the same photography trickery that other manufacturers use two lenses to create. This is no half-baked implementation either; we think the Pixel 2 beats most other smartphones, and it’s consistent, too. Quite possibly the best smartphone camera around at the moment.
Getting real for a second, it is expensive. Prices start at $649 for 64GB of internal storage, and it costs an extra $100 to upgrade that internal storage to 128GB. And remember, since there’s no MicroSD slot, that’s all you’re getting. Granted, Pixel owners do get unlimited high-quality photo storage on Google Photos for free, which goes some way to redressing that issue. Other issues persist from the first generation of Pixels, including the rubbish battery life. Though, like the Pixel, that’s countered by the exceptionally fast charging speed. Waterproofing has been added, with an IP67 rating, so you’re protected from some of the elements, though wireless charging is missing again. But if those downsides and the dated looks don’t bother you, you like the look of the camera, and you want the best Android performance possible, the Pixel 2 is the smaller screen for you. You can find more in our full Pixel 2 review.
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If you’re an Apple fan with a penchant for smaller screens, then this entry isn’t for you. Why? Because you already own the iPhone SE and are reading these words in teeny-weeny-vision. The iPhone SE has the smallest screen size on this list, measuring in at a practically minuscule 4-inches. But if you long for the days when you could reach the top of phone screens with no issue, then the iPhone SE is the phone you’re looking for.
Don’t be fooled by the small screen — the iPhone SE is no tiny performer. Apple has used dark magic to cram the powerful guts of the iPhone 6S into the SE’s tiny shell, and it works beautifully. The design is reminiscent of the iPhone 5S because, er, it is the iPhone 5S — but that shouldn’t put you off, because 2013’s iPhone 5S is still something of a looker four years later, and the retro look the 5S’s body affords the SE only adds to the charm.
There are downsides to the iPhone SE, of course. While the camera on the back is the same solid 12-megapixel snapper we saw on the iPhone 6S, the front-facing camera is something of a let down, with a puny 1.2-megapixel eye staring back at you. If you take a lot of selfies, then the front camera is likely to be something of a disappointment. 3D Touch is also missing from this, despite making its debut in the iPhone 6S, and the overall battery life might well struggle to make it through the day unaided. As is par for the Apple course, storage is limited to what you get onboard, with 32 GB and 128 GB options available.
However, these downsides are fairly minor, and regular for Apple fans. Apple’s usual polish is present throughout, and the SE’s performance is as smooth as you expect from the Cupertino giant. The iPhone SE also currently runs the latest version of iOS, with regular and prompt updates continuing to be Apple’s strength over the Android masses — and since it’s Apple, the SE will likely continue to be supported for a few more years yet.
This tiny titan is definitely worth your time if you’re not opposed to picnicking in Apple’s walled garden — and you can check out our full iPhone SE review for more details on how well it handles. But if you’re not sold by the SE, it’s also definitely worth checking out the 4.7-inch iPhone 8 as another astonishingly good iPhone that fits the boundaries of the smallest smartphones.
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If you’re looking for something that won’t impact your bottom line as much as the first two entries, then you could do much worse than the Moto E4. It’s clearly a budget device, and the materials the Moto E4 is made from reflect this — as does the lack of NFC support. The 5-inch screen is decent, capable of outputting up to 720p — which is more than enough for most applications if you’re not squinting at the screen. The camera is similar budget stock, and pretty standard for the price-point. The battery is decent as well, and capable of making it through the day.
The real key with a budget device is getting enough bang for your buck, and it’s here that the Moto E4 really shines. In our review of the E4, we found the E4 to be a pleasant surprise, both smooth and responsive. The device is running the latest version of Android — Android 7.1.1, and the experience is as close to stock Android as you can get without going “full Google”, with a minimal amount of bloatware.
Yes, the Moto E4 has made compromises — but it’s nothing that you shouldn’t expect for such a budget device. We racked up the negatives in the early part of this entry, but it’s important to realize that it’s in spite of these limitations that the Moto E4 comes out as a great phone. If you can put up with a cheaper build, and not having top-of-the-line specs, the Moto E4 is a steal for its $130 price tag — and doubly so if you get it with an Amazon Prime Exclusive deal.
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Sony is one of the few manufacturers still making smartphones specifically for fans of smaller phones. The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact comes with a 4.6-inch screen running a 1280 x 720-pixel display. That may seem a little small in a time when even budget phones run a full 1080p resolution, but with a smaller screen than the majority of other smartphones, the XZ1 Compact gets away with the lower resolution.
Like many of the phones on this list, smaller doesn’t mean lacking in power. Sony has squeezed the Snapdragon 835 into the small frame of this phone, meaning that the XZ1 Compact should have plenty of power, sharing a chipset with modern flagships like the Pixel 2, the Galaxy S8, and the LG V30. It also comes with 4GB of RAM, and though having only 32GB of internal storage is a disappointment, the MicroSD card slot makes up for it.
Sony’s cameras are world renowned, and the camera on the XZ1 Compact shows that off. It’s a 19-megapixel (MP) monster, sporting an aperture of f/2.0, and featuring electronic image stabilization (EIS). Unfortunately, the software lets it down, and the camera’s performance falls short of where the hardware suggests it should be. Round the front, there’s an 8MP camera, and it’s good enough to give you the selfies your Instagram account needs. Video is where this phone really shines, with the ability to film 4K video at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 60 fps, but it can also shoot super-slow motion video, with the ability to shoot in bursts of 960 fps video. If you don’t know what that means, it means really, really slow.
We do have some issues with the phone. Sony has yet to embrace the edge-to-edge trend that we’ve seen most manufacturers pick up on. While that’s not a sin in itself, the lack of a design update to the Xperia range as a whole is a sore point. We’ve been seeing the same sort of look on Xperia phones for the last four years, and we had hoped that the XZ1 range would have seen an update. In addition, the lack of a fingerprint sensor on U.S. models could be a deal-breaker for some, and the phone is packed with extra apps from Sony.
Despite those drawbacks, the Snapdragon 835 provides extremely snappy performance, and the 2,700mAh battery can provide two days of battery life, and it’s quick to charge, thanks to the inclusion of QuickCharge 3.0. The XZ1 Compact certainly has its issues, but if you’re willing to look past them, then it’s a solid smaller smartphone with excellent performance. Check out our Xperia XZ1 Compact review for our full thoughts.
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One of China’s biggest phone manufacturers, Huawei has become known in the west for strong entries against some of the biggest flagship phones on the market — throwing its impressive phones into the ring, and backing them up with the members of its sub-brand, Honor. While it hasn’t yet achieved the dominance of Apple or Samsung, Huawei is well on its way to establishing itself firmly into the Android marketplace.
The Huawei P10 has the largest screen on this list (with a whopping 5.1-inch display), but the comparatively large screen belies a slim and svelte body that won’t be hard to operate with a single hand. Only .4 of an inch taller than the Moto E4, but slimmer in every other dimension, Huawei has done an amazing job creating a device that gives you plenty of screen real estate in a form that doesn’t need a huge hand. Sure, it’s no Galaxy S8 or LG G6 with slim bezels, but it’s a great showing nonetheless. That great show extends to the design of the P10. It’s a sumptuously premium glass and aluminum affair, and if you’re an Apple fan you might notice that the P10 has more than a passing resemblance to the iPhone 6S — but this is not a bad thing, and there are enough differences that you’re unlikely to mistake one phone for the other.
As mentioned, the screen is a 5.1-inch LCD, capable of outputting up to 1080p. But where Huawei really slips up is the lack of an oleophobic layer on the screen itself. Why it chose to not include this is unknown — and baffling — but an additional screen protector can do wonders to stop your screen from accumulating the layer of grease that an oleophobic protector would have prevented.
As with all of Huawei’s phones, the P10 runs Huawei’s latest version of their proprietary EMUI operating system. Based on Android, criticism was leveled at earlier versions of EMUI for looking far too much like iOS. Thankfully, the latest version, EMUI 5, has addressed a lot of these concerns. However, if you’re coming from a predominantly Android background, you might still be put off by what looks like a totally different operating system, and the P10 is definitely not the phone for you if you want a “purer” Android experience. But it works, and it works well.
Most of the rest is all good; the camera is amazing, capable of taking wonderful shots, even in low light conditions. Huawei’s Kirin 960 processor means that the P10 is capable of beating the LG G6 in benchmark tests, and 4GB of RAM is more than enough. The 3,200 mAh battery is more than capable of a day’s work, with Huawei’s quick charging technology there to pick up the slack, just in case, and is capable of charging the P10 from zero to full in 90 minutes.
The only real gripe against the Huawei P10 is the fact that it’s not officially available in the US. And while getting an international model and importing from the EU is easy, the P10 is GSM-only, meaning it’s not the phone for Sprint or Verizon customers. T-Mobile and AT&T should have no problems though, and outside of this point (and it will be a deal breaker for a lot of people), the P10 is a fantastic phone, and one you should definitely consider. Check out our review of the Huawei P10 for the full break down.
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Essential Phone (PH-1)
We hesitated in putting an edge-to-edge display on this list. The recent trend for minimal bezels can be seen as bad for those who want a smaller screen they can easily reach all around. A loss of bezels on a modern phone usually means screen sizes in excess of that we previously saw on phablets. It also means that the frame itself is of a significantly smaller size, so we feel we can recommend these handsets to a few people who might be curious to try out the benefits of a bezel-less future. Such is the case with the Essential Phone (or Essential PH-1). With a 5.7-inch screen it’s easily the largest display on this list, but the body of the phone itself is about the same size of that of the Pixel 2. The result is a front area dominated by a screen, and it’s utterly gorgeous to see, in fact, we could barely keep our eyes off it. The back is minimal, clad in ceramic over titanium. It’s minimal, but also really quite hefty, though we didn’t mind that, as it added an extra premium feel to the phone.
The internals are pretty much what you’d expect from a flagship. Our old friend the Snapdragon 835 is here again — give it a wave — as is the Adreno 540 you’ll find on the Pixel 2 and various other flagships in 2017. It’s a great combination, and it keeps the Essential Phone running vanilla Android 7.1 Nougat smoothly. An update to Android 8.0 Oreo is on the way, though, so no need to worry about be stuck in Nougat-land while everyone else is enjoying the new Android. The Essential Phone also employs a system of modular attachments that can be stuck onto the two shiny pins on the back of the phone. At this time, there’s only a 360-degree camera available, but Essential is supposedly working on a wireless dock that uses the system too.
It has a few downsides. The 3.5mm jack is missing, presumed dead, and there’s no MicroSD card slot either — though the one option of 128GB of internal storage should be enough for anyone. It’s also lacking in some of the waterproofing you might expect from a flagship phone, and only includes protection against water spray with an IP54 rating. The largest let-down has to be the camera, and while it has improved since our first review, it’s still lacking in what you should be expecting from this price range, and falls well short of the leaders in smartphone photography.
Despite those few downfalls, the Essential Phone is still a great phone, and since its launch, it’s suffered a few drops in price. You can currently pick it up for $499 from Essential themselves, for just $449 from Amazon, or pick it up from Sprint starting from $5 a month. A great phone for those who want to look into this new trend of maximum screen size and minimal phone footprint, and who aren’t bothered by the shortcomings. You can read more about the phone in our full Essential Phone review.
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