The Best of the Smallest Smartphones in the World

The best small smartphone right now is still the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact. It’s a truly tiny phone compared with most other devices, but it offers plenty of power, a 5-inch display, and a decent camera.

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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 put through their paces thoroughly. If you don’t fancy Sony’s last Compact, then we have some alternatives from Apple and a couple of the best Android phones around.

The best small smartphones at a glance:

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact
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Sony isn’t making any more compact Xperia phones, which means the Xperia XZ2 Compact is likely to be the last ever. But even in late 2019, this little phone is still plenty powerful. As such, it’s still a great choice for a smaller smartphone that doesn’t compromise on power.

The XZ2 Compact sat at the start of Sony’s Ambient Flow design philosophy, a design based on flowing water. It definitely looks a little dated when compared to more modern phones, but that’s countered by an ergonomic and comfy design. The Compact isn’t much larger than the iPhone SE, but it still manages to squeeze an 18:9, 5-inch display with a Full HD resolution. There’s IP65/IP68 waterproofing too, but no headphone jack (a 3.5mm to USB-C adapter is in the box). You’ll find a fingerprint sensor on the back.

The Snapdragon 845 is getting on a bit now, but it’s still a flagship-level processor, and it’ll provide more than enough power for most modern games or apps. That premium silicon is joined by 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage. That’s not much storage in this day and age, but thankfully there’s also a MicroSD slot to expand your options by up to 512GB. You shouldn’t have a problem with performance or storage on this pint-sized phone.

The camera won’t be up to the standard of modern flagships, but it’s still an acceptable snapper. 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 can be tough to capture the right moment, but when you do, it looks amazing.

The Xperia XZ2 Compact isn’t in production anymore, so it can be hard to find. It’s still able to be found for around $500 though, and you can find it at Walmart and Amazon. The black variant can be a little harder to get a hold of, but if you’re not worried about your color options (and you can always put a case on it) then you can get the coral pink or liquid silver at a bargain price. You can read more about the phone in our XZ2 Compact review.

Google Pixel 4

pixel 4 xl hero shot
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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 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’s 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. 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 can be seen as 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. Still, recharging is pretty quick.

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
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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 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 now almost 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. However, 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 $329 iPhone 8 below might be a better option. Also, the widely-rumored iPhone SE 2 may also finally surface in 2020, so it may be worth holding fire for now.

iPhone 8

Apple iPhone 8 review keyboard front
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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 $329 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.

Samsung Galaxy S10e

Samsung Galaxy s10e hands-on
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Alright, so we’re pushing the acceptable boundaries for “small”, but hear us out. The Samsung Galaxy S10e is one of the largest 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.

But that’s only a small concession when the power inside remains unchanged. The S10e packs top flagship power with the Snapdragon 855, 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 you’ll find the same wireless power-sharing, and a 3,100mAh battery that should last a full day, even if it’s nothing special.

Unfortunately, the S10e isn’t using the same triple-lens set-up as the S10 and S10 Plus, but the dual-lens system 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.

The S10e is the cheapest of the Galaxy S10 range, but 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.

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