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

The best small smartphone right now is the iPhone 8. While it’s not the latest or most powerful smartphone, the iPhone 8 offers a beefy processor, excellent camera, and great software, crammed into a compact package. Though it’s not the smallest smartphone, it’s definitely the best smaller smartphone for your money.

Further reading

After years in our list, we’ve had to bid a very fond farewell to the Sony XZ2 Compact. While Sony’s last phone in the Compact range was great, even by today’s standards, it’s simply not available in enough places anymore, making it impossible to continue recommending. However, we still have a solid list of smaller smartphones to satisfy your one-handed needs.

We’ve tested hundreds of smartphones at Digital Trends and we know that some people prefer a phone they can comfortably manage one-handed. All the diminutive devices that made our list have been thoroughly put through their paces. If you don’t fancy Apple’s iPhone 8, then we also have another Apple iPhone, and a couple of the best Android phones around.

The best small smartphones at a glance:

iPhone 8

Apple iPhone 8 review keyboard front
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, and iPhone 11 may be Apple’s latest and most popular smartphones, but don’t forget the iPhone 8. While it’s not as small as the iPhone SE, the iPhone 8 only packs a 4.7-inch screen — which is minuscule compared to the majority of modern smartphones. That smaller screen makes it much easier to handle than most of the huge-screened smartphones today, and that’s why it’s a good pick if you’re wanting a smaller smartphone.

But the size isn’t the only thing the iPhone 8 has going for it. 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, making it sharp and clear in most circumstances. The phone itself is powered by Apple’s powerful A11 Bionic processor, and though it’s no longer the top performer, it’s still powerful enough to handle pretty much every game and app out there. Wireless charging is another new addition, and the phone is IP67 water-resistant, so it’ll be able to survive a dunk in the pool or the bath.

The 12-megapixel single-lens camera isn’t as exciting as the multi-camera systems on the iPhone 11 Pro or even the iPhone 8 Plus — but the iPhone 8 still 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 13 without any hiccups, and it will likely stay updated for quite a few years, keeping up to date with the latest additions to Apple’s range.

Best of all, the iPhone 8 has seen some significant discounts, so it now costs just $449 from Apple, and you’ll be able to get it for even cheaper if you get it refurbished. You can check out our iPhone 8 review to learn more. However, rumors are saying we’ll soon be seeing an iPhone SE 2 based on the iPhone 8’s design — but with heavily upgraded specs. With that in mind, it might be worth holding fire on a new iPhone until we know whether the iPhone SE 2 has arrived.

$449 from Apple

Google Pixel 4

pixel 4 xl hero shot
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Designed by the developer of Android, Google’s Pixel 4 is the best place to go if you’re looking for the quintessential Android experience. As such, buying the Pixel 4 will mean you’ll be among the first to receive new versions of Android and security patches.

While not a small phone in the traditional sense, the Pixel 4 is still on the smaller side compared to most modern phones. Though it’s slightly larger than the Pixel 3, that additional size has been used well, with smaller bezels and a larger 5.7-inch display.

It’s also packed with 2019’s top-flight flagship specs, including the Snapdragon 855, a silky-smooth 90Hz display, and Google’s new gesture controls and face unlock. The face unlock feature uses radar to detect your face in 3D space, and that same tech can also detect certain hand gestures with Motion Sense — so you can wave above your phone to skip Spotify tracks, snooze an alarm, or automatically drop your ringtone volume when it detects your hand approaching your phone. It’s some seriously impressive tech.

But as always, the camera is the Pixel’s strongest point. This time, Google has added another camera lens — a 16-megapixel telephoto lens with optical image stabilization. Google has also added to its roster of A.I.-powered camera features, adding an astrophotography mode to the already impressive Night Sight feature. While a Pixel phone may no longer inhabit the top spot in our best camera phones list, it’s still an absolutely stellar option if you love smartphone photography.

There are downsides. The 64GB of storage really isn’t enough, and that’s compounded with the lack of a MicroSD card. There’s also no headphone jack. The bezels are chunkier than most modern flagships, and despite the “Pixel Square” housing the camera module, the design is definitely a little safe. The battery life is probably the worst aspect though, and on a busy day, the Pixel 4 will struggle to make it to bedtime. Google’s fast charging will refill the cell quickly, but it’s not much of a

While it’s not “modern $1,000 flagship” expensive, it’s still a pricey phone. Prices start at $800 for 64GB of internal storage, and it costs an extra $100 to upgrade that internal storage to 128GB. If the allure of having one of the best cameras around and the latest version of Android (Android 10) is too much to pass up, the Pixel 4 is the smaller screen for you. You can find more in our full Pixel 4 review.

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 tiny iPhone you’re looking for.

Don’t be fooled by the small screen — the iPhone SE is no slouch in performance. While the SE is four years old, the powerful specs from the iPhone 6S still hold up admirably today. 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, selfies with the puny 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera are likely to be disappointing. If you take a lot of selfies, then the front camera isn’t likely to light your fire.

3D Touch is also missing from the SE, despite making its debut in the iPhone 6S. The battery life may also 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 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB options available. Even though the device is now very old for a mobile device, you’ll still be able to nab the latest version of iOS 13 — you’ll rarely find this level of update support on 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. Unfortunately, the iPhone SE is officially discontinued, so new units are hard to come by. However, you can still pick it up refurbished from some vendors for a bargain price. Check out our full iPhone SE review for more details on how well it handles.

Of course, keep in mind that this is an extremely outdated phone now, and if you can deal with the slightly larger screen, the iPhone 8 might be a better option. However, with the iPhone SE 2 heavily rumored to release this year, we may soon be able to bid a very fond farewell to Apple’s tiny iPhone.

Samsung Galaxy S10e

Samsung Galaxy s10e hands-on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Alright, so we’re pushing the acceptable boundaries for “small”, but hear us out. The Samsung Galaxy S10e is one of the larger phones on this list, and while it’s significantly larger than traditionally small phones like the iPhone SE and the XZ2 Compact, the cheapest member of the S10 range is still one of the smallest modern flagships you’ll find.

The 5.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display is the most obvious feature of the Galaxy S10e. It’s one of the best around, sporting a sharp Full HD+ resolution, and breaking records in DisplayMate’s screen tests. Like the rest of the S10 range, there’s a hole-punch for the selfie camera, and this addition has allowed Samsung to shrink the device’s bezels even further. It’s not exactly the same as its more expensive siblings though — there’s no curve on the screen edges, and there’s no ultrasonic fingerprint scanner. However, neither is a huge loss.

It’s an even smaller concession when the power inside remains unchanged. The S10e packs 2019’s top flagship power with the Snapdragon 855 processor, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. If you need more power, then there’s a version with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The headphone jack is still there, and it features reverse wireless charging and a 3,100mAh battery that should last a full day, even if it’s nothing special.

The S10e isn’t using the same triple-lens set-up as the S10 and S10 Plus, but the dual-lens rear module is still excellent. You’ll find a variable aperture 12-megapixel lens and an ultrawide 16-megapixel lens on the back of the phone and a 10-megapixel selfie lens around the front. There’s A.I.-optimization here too, and the phone will suggest simple fixes to common problems and can recognize even more scenes through the Scene Optimizer.

However, while the S10e is the cheapest of the Galaxy S10 range, it’s still not an affordable smartphone. Prices for the Galaxy S10e start from $750, though there is a range of deals you can keep an eye on to try and save some extra money. Check out our Galaxy S10e review for our in-depth analysis of the phone.

Unihertz Atom

Unihertz Atom Review
Mark Jansen/Digital Trends

“Small” doesn’t have to mean “weak,” and the Unihertz Atom is proof of that. It’s small enough to fit comfortably in one hand, yet it’s tough enough to bounce down a set of stairs without damage. We know, because we tested. The Unihertz Atom is the small phone if you need something a little more solid than your average phone.

As a rugged phone, it’s wrapped in protective materials. Rubber covers the tough polycarbonate body, and it’s reinforced in key areas like the corners. The 2.4-inch LCD display is a little disappointing, with washed-out colors and faded blacks. It’s surrounded by chunky bezels, and you’ll find a fingerprint scanner beneath the screen, flanked by a pair of capacitive buttons. It’s certainly not fashionable, but it’s not trying to be. It’s functional, and because of its size, a little cute.

Performance is smooth thanks to an octa-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage. The single 16-megapixel camera around the back isn’t as good though, and while we got some good shots, image quality went down alongside the lights. There’s only a 2,000mAh battery, but due to the energy-sipping hardware and tiny display, this is enough to power the Atom through two days of battery life.

There are a few downsides to picking this phone though. It runs Android 8.1 Oreo and hasn’t had a security update since April 2018, and it’s unlikely it’ll ever see any updates. So it’s definitely not the phone for you if you want to be on the latest version of Android. Its size is also a detriment to regular use, and while it does a good job at knowing where your fingers are on the touchscreen, fiddly tasks and readers will struggle to get by on the tiny 2.4-inch display.

But those downsides are relatively minor when weighed next to what it does well. The Unihertz Atom starts from just $260, and would be the perfect phone for an active person who prefers a smaller phone. You can read more about the Unihertz Atom in our review.

Editors' Recommendations