Bigger isn’t always better: 5 of the smallest smartphones worth buying

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

With smartphones seemingly getting larger and larger with each year — the Galaxy Note 9 has a 6.4-inch screen — you’ll 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.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact

Sony is one of the few big names still in the business of regularly updating its range of small smartphones. The Xperia XZ2 Compact, the most recent addition to the Xperia’s Compact range, is Sony’s most powerful yet, and a great choice for a smaller smartphone that’s squat in the hand but doesn’t compromise on power.

Sony has finally moved away from the old Omnibalance design philosophy and embraced “Ambient Flow,” a new design based on water. It may look a little dated when paired with the flagship competition, but it’s ergonomic and comfy to hold. The Compact isn’t much larger than the iPhone SE, but it still manages to squeeze an 18:9, 5-inch screen that displays a Full HD, and there’s IP65/IP68 waterproofing. There is no headphone jack (a 3.5mm to USB-C adapter is in the box), but there is now a fingerprint sensor on the back, ending the long tradition of Xperia phones shipping without fingerprint support in the U.S.

It’s similarly impressive on the inside, with the latest Snapdragon 845 taking up residence with 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage. You won’t have a problem with performance on this phone.

The camera is as impressive as in past Xperia phones. The XZ2 Compact has a hefty 19-megapixel, f/2.0 camera that delivers good photos — even in low light. The standout feature here, though, is the super slow- motion video, which is now capable of capturing 960 fps at 1080p HD quality. It’s tough to capture the moment easily, but when you do, it looks amazing.

You can buy the Xperia XZ2 Compact for $650, and it’s available now from Best Buy, Amazon, Focus, and BuyDig. You can read more about the phone in our XZ2 Compact review.

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Sony Amazon

Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 best smallest smartphones
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Like the Pixel that came before it, the Pixel 2 is the best way to experience Android. That’s because it comes straight from Google, which owns and manages the Android operating system, and as a result the Pixel’s hardware is closely tailored to complement Android’s every little need. The Pixel 2’s small frame is packed with the latest technological advances, including the raw power of the Snapdragon 835, the Active Edge system — where you can squeeze the phone to trigger Google Assistant — 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 one hand.

There are downsides. There’s no MicroSD card slot, and the headphone jack is gone. 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 1,920 x 1,080-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 snubbed the dual-camera trend again, instead rocking a single 12-megapixel lens with an aperture of f/1.8. There’s nothing stunning about these numbers to indicate the incredible performance, but it’s within the camera’s software that we see the magic that Google has wrought. 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: We think the Pixel 2 beats most other smartphones, and it’s consistent, too.

Getting real for a second, it is expensive. Prices start at $650 for 64GB of internal storage, and it costs an extra $100 to upgrade that internal storage to 128GB. Pixel owners do get unlimited high-quality photo storage on Google Photos for free, which goes some way to redressing the lack of a MicroSD card slot. Waterproofing has been added, with an IP67 rating so you’re protected from some of the elements, though wireless charging is missing. If the dated looks don’t bother you, and you want the best camera around as well as the latest version of Android (Android 9.0 Pie), the Pixel 2 is the smaller screen for you. You can find more in our full Pixel 2 review.

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Google Amazon

iPhone SE

iPhone SE - smallest smartphones
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

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. 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 letdown, 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 on board, with 32 GB and 128 GB options available. The device is now quite old, but you’ll be able to nab the latest version of iOS 12, which is something that can’t be said for most Android phones.

Apple’s usual polish is present throughout, and the SE’s performance is as smooth as you expect from the Cupertino, California, giant. 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.

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Apple Amazon

iPhone 8

Apple iPhone 8 review keyboard front
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus may be Apple’s most popular smartphones, but the humble iPhone 8 shouldn’t be forgotten. While it’s not as small as the iPhone SE, the iPhone 8 only has a 4.7-inch screen, which is minuscule compared to the rest of the smartphone market today.

The LCD screen has Apple’s True Tone technology inside, which adjusts the screen’s color based on the lighting in the room you’re in, and it has a resolution of 1,334 x 750 pixels. The iPhone 8 is powered by Apple’s powerful A11 Bionic processor, which means it can go toe-to-toe with almost any other flagship smartphone. Wireless charging is a new addition, and the phone is IP67 water-resistant.

The 12-megapixel, single-lens camera isn’t as exciting as the dual-camera systems on the iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X, but the iPhone 8 doesn’t disappoint. You’ll be more than happy with the photos this phone can capture, and the selfie camera is pretty great too. What’s most important is that this phone can run the latest version of iOS 12 without any hiccups, and it will likely stay updated for quite a few years, keeping it up-to-date.

The iPhone 8 costs $700, though you can likely get it for slightly cheaper now. You can check out our iPhone 8 review to learn more.

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Samsung Galaxy S9

galaxy s9 Plus hands-on review front full
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

OK, so we’re really starting to push the acceptable boundaries for “small” here, but hear us out. The Samsung Galaxy S9 is the largest phone on this list, and while it’s rather larger than entries like the iPhone SE and the XZ2 Compact, it’s only fractionally larger than the Pixel 2. That still doesn’t make it the smallest phone around, but it’s an excellent phone that packs an awful lot of features into a relatively svelte body.

The S9 is dominated by a 5.8-inch display that curves around the edges and takes up almost the entire front of the phone, save for slim bezels at the top and bottom of the screen. The display has received some accolades, with DisplayMate awarding it an A+ rating and praising Samsung’s screen tech. It’s as gorgeous as you’d expect from an AMOLED display, with deep inky blacks, vibrant colors, and a super-crisp pixels-per-inch measurement of 570.

It’s not all beauty and no brains either — it’s powered by Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon 845, which blew away our benchmarking expectations in our S9 Plus review. The 4GB of RAM means it can multitask beautifully, while 64GB of internal storage and space for a MicroSD card means you shouldn’t be running out of space any time soon. Best of all if you’re still rocking a pair of wired headphones, the S9 comes with a headphone jack.

If you’ve been following our camera tests then you will know the S9’s camera is top-of-the-range, and possibly one of the finest in the world. While you won’t find the dual-lens setup from the S9 Plus, the single snapper on the S9 is more than up to the job with a mechanically altered aperture that delivers excellent low-light performance.

It’s not the most affordable of smartphones. Prices for the Galaxy S9 start at $720, and while there are plenty of carrier deals that can snag you money off with trade-ins and the like, it’s an undeniably expensive phone.

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