Small is a relative term in 2022: smartphones that were once considered pocket-filling phablets are now par for the course. But if you want a mobile that’s easier to tote, what’s the best compact phone you can buy?
We’ll start by defining ‘compact’. It says a lot that some models with ‘Mini’ in their name still ship with 5.4in screens – and there’s no escaping that handset dimensions have expanded considerably over the last decade. But not all smartphones go big in 2022.
Some adopt form factors from five years ago, while others feature frame-filling displays that maximise every inch of available space. Sure, they’ll still dwarf the 4in phones of old, but they should at least be more manageable than your average modern flagship.
Whether you’ve got smaller paws or simply want a smartphone that doesn’t demand quite so much pocket space, you should find your ideal small phone below.
Apple iPhone 13 Mini
Want the full-fat Apple smartphone experience without, well, the fat? The iPhone 13 Mini improves on its petite predecessor to deliver a pint-sized experience that’s largely free from compromise.
Almost comically compact compared to its contemporaries, the Mini is a properly pocketable phone that you can comfortably use one-handed – and its flat-panel design looks as good here as on any other recent iPhone.
Whatever you’re using it for, the 5.4in OLED display is rich, sharp and brighter than before. The notch has also shrunk, although it does still intrude at the top. Refresh rates remain capped at 60Hz, but iOS is snappy enough that this rarely matters.
Shooting specs are solid, too: the 12MP main sensor produces deeply impressive results, with the help of optical image stabilisation and enhanced light-gathering skills. The ultra-wide is less special; a telephoto would have been more versatile.
Despite its dinky dimensions, Apple’s A15 processor means the Mini tops smartphone performance charts. You’ll regularly revel at how a phone of this size can deal with any app, task or game. Battery life is less impressive, but it’s improved over the previous Mini. And as a complete package, the iPhone 13 Mini is a little wonder.
Stuff says: ★★★★★
Compact packaging, full-size performance: this is by some margin the best small phone you can buy
Display: 5.4in 2340×1080 OLED ● Processor: A15 Bionic • RAM: 4GB ● Storage: 128/256/512GB • Software: iOS 15 • Cameras: 12+12MP rear, 12MP front • Battery: 2406mAh • Dimensions: 131.5×64.2×7.65mm • Weight: 140g
Apple iPhone SE (2020)
Apple’s revived iPhone SE is a uniquely compelling proposition. It adopts the familiar form factor of the iPhone 8, complete with a 4.7in LCD display that feels frankly tiny by today’s standards. Yet it also ships with a capable A13 processor inside, which has the power to zip through tasks with lag-free speed – and keep Apple’s latest iOS 15 interface running smoothly.
The design is obviously a throwback, with chunky bezels and a physical home button. But while it can’t match the immersion offered by full-screen flagships, the styling stops short of dated. The SE still feels premium in the hand – and the package is refreshingly light at 148g.
With just a single lens on the rear, the camera setup looks seriously streamlined next to the bumps found on contemporary range-toppers. The 12MP sensor itself is the same as the one found on the iPhone 8, but that A13 chip steps image processing up a gear, offering improved colour reproduction and low-light results.
Drawbacks? There’s no 5G connectivity or Night Mode for photography after dark. Arguably the bigger sacrifice is battery life: Apple’s claimed 13-hour figure is rarely achieved. But in every other way, this is an excellent small phone.
Stuff says: ★★★★☆
Solid performance in a compact form at an affordable price: the iPhone SE sets the bar for mid-range miniature mobiles
Display: 4.7in 1334×750 IPS LCD ● Processor: A13 Bionic • RAM: 3GB ● Storage: 64/128/256GB • Software: iOS 15 • Cameras: 12MP rear, 7MP front • Battery: 1821mAh • Dimensions: 138.4×67.3×7.3mm • Weight: 148g
Asus Zenfone 8
A full-fat flagship with a form factor that’s easier to stash in your trousers, the Asus Zenfone 8 combines portability with serious power. There’s a top-spec Snapdragon 888 processor inside, which can be paired with up to 16GB of RAM. The result is properly flawless performance, even when playing power-hungry Android titles such as Genshin Impact.
Its back might be bland, but the Asus Zenfone 8 is well-built. Front and centre is a 5.9in AMOLED panel that delivers dynamic refresh rates which top out at 120Hz, plus HDR10+ support for lifelike visuals. It’s also a cinch to swipe with one hand.
Camera performance is dependable. Using either the 64MP primary sensor or the 16MP ultra-wide, you’ll get crisp, natural results with plenty of detail. Low-light performance is hardly shabby, either.
5G and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity ensure speedy streaming, while the addition of a headphone port will please hard-wired audiophiles. As with many of the best small phones, the only real limitation is battery life: despite its decent 4000mAh capacity, the cell is often drained before the end of the day. If you’re happy to carry a power bank in your bag, this compact Asus handset offers plenty that’s worth praising.
Stuff says: ★★★★☆
If you can live with mediocre battery life, this is a diminutive smartphone with powerhouse performance
Display: 5.9in 2400×1080 AMOLED ● Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G • RAM: 6/8/12/16GB ● Storage: 128/256GB • Software: Android 12 • Cameras: 64+12MP rear, 12MP front • Battery: 4000mAh • Dimensions: 148×68.5×8.9mm • Weight: 169g
Apple iPhone 12 Mini
Apple’s first ‘Mini’ model remains a great small phone today. A down-sized iPhone 12, it adopts the same flat-back-and-sides styling and the same robust Ceramic Shield up front. It’s actually shorter and slimmer than the iPhone SE (above), but the absence of bezels means it can benefit from a bigger 5.4in display.
The panel itself is a sharp OLED number that serves up brilliant contrast and vibrant colours – although you’re still living with a notch and refresh rates that top out at 60Hz.
Running the show is Apple’s A14 Bionic chip – a properly capable processor that equips the Mini with super-size performance. The 13 Mini is technically more powerful, but you’ll only notice that difference if you really push the limits. For most people, the 12 Mini is more than fast enough to zip through daily duties.
The camera hardware is similarly convincing, producing well-defined, dynamic snaps in normal conditions. So what holds the original Mini back? Battery life. Where the 13 Mini is just OK, the 12 Mini has disappointing longevity. It’s simply not on a par with its larger siblings. That said, lower prices mean the iPhone 12 Mini still represents solid value a few years after launch.
Stuff says: ★★★★★
Battery life isn’t world-beating, but that’s a small price to pay for an iPhone that’s a miniature marvel in every other way
Display: 5.4in 2340×1080 OLED ● Processor: A14 Bionic • RAM: 4GB ● Storage: 64/128/256GB • Software: iOS 15 • Cameras: 12+12MP rear, 12MP front • Battery: 2227mAh • Dimensions: 131.5×64.2×7.4mm • Weight: 135g
Google Pixel 4a
Not the newest nor the most powerful, the Pixel 4a offers a lot of what you could want from a small, affordable smartphone. It might lack the premium finish of its glass-and-metal competitors, but its pocket-friendly polycarbonate shell doesn’t feel cheap. Likewise, bezels around the 5.8in panels aren’t the skinniest, but rounded edges and a hole-punch selfie camera give it a neat look.
Because it’s an OLED panel, contrast is impeccable, while a better-than-HD resolution delivers great definition. Brightness is less impressive, while refresh rates max out at 60Hz.
In the shooting stakes, the Pixel 4a sticks to a proven formula: a single 12.2MP sensor, inherited from the Pixel 4. Across almost any scene, subject and setting, the 4a captures fantastic photos with incredible dynamic range and excellent detail. It has the photography chops of some phones costing three twice the price.
Snapdragon 765 silicon isn’t top-spec, but it punches high enough. It’s responsive in day-to-day use, with no stutter when switching apps. It helps that the Pixel 4a runs bloat-free Android as standard. And while its small battery doesn’t look promising on paper, modest hardware – plus Google’s Adaptive Battery smarts – mean you can still get through a full day.
Stuff says: ★★★★☆
A no-frills phone with all-day battery life, streamlined Android software and a form factor that’s friendly on the pocket
Display: 5.8in 2340×1080 OLED ● Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 • RAM: 6GB ● Storage: 64/128/256GB • Software: iOS 15 • Cameras: 12+12MP rear, 12MP front • Battery: 2227mAh • Dimensions: 144×69.4×8.2mm • Weight: 143g
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
With a 6.7in screen, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3 doesn’t sound like a small phone. But its party trick gives it proper portability: like a classic clamshell, it can flip satisfyingly shut to form a square. Yes, it’s as thick as two phones when folded (17.1mm), but it also measures a miniature 72.2×86.4mm.
Premium materials make it one of the sturdiest foldables to date. That AMOLED main panel is likewise a thing of beauty, with vivid colours, rich blacks and smooth 120Hz refresh rates. Plus its narrower 22:9 aspect ratio makes it ideal for streaming movies. A smaller 1.9in display on the outside is big enough for framing selfies, controlling music and checking notifications.
Dual 12MP wide and ultra-wide main cameras are perfectly capable, but not excellent. They perform well enough in good lighting, but struggle in dimmer conditions. More convincing is the engine: a Snapdragon 888 chip keeps things swift, with the help of 8GB of RAM. And while the cell is smaller than many flagships, it still delivers a full day’s use.
Foldables aren’t the best small phone option for everyone. They’re expensive, for starters – and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 opens up to become palm-filling device. But if you want a powerful phone with the convenience of a clamshell setup – plus lashings of wow-factor – the Z Flip 3 is the most accessible.
Stuff says: ★★★★☆
Beautifully built and bold by design, the Flip 3 is a pocket-friendly clamshell that makes folding phones more accessible
Display: 6.7in 2640×1080 AMOLED ● Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G • RAM: 8GB ● Storage: 128/256GB • Software: One UI (Android 12) • Cameras: 12+12MP rear, 10MP front • Battery: 3300mAh • Dimensions: 166×72.2×6.9mm • Weight: 183g
Google Pixel 5
Google trimmed the hardware of the Pixel 5 in the name of attainability. Its spec sheet is a clear tier down from today’s flagships: it’s a mix of useful features (5G, 90Hz refresh rates and IPX8 water-resistance) and cost-saving limitations (a mid-tier Snapdragon processor and pared-back design). But it does the basics extremely well, with dimensions that just about count as ‘compact’ by contemporary standards.
The edge-to-edge 6in OLED is bright enough and nicely saturated, while its Full HD resolution is sufficiently sharp. Refresh rates are adapted at the Pixel’s discretion, mind, so you can’t force the display to stay at the silkiest 90Hz setting.
Back again is Google’s tried-and-tested 12.2MP main camera, which still performs consistently in virtually all conditions, relying on clever algorithms to do the heavy lifting. The 16MP ultra-wide that flanks it is less useful – and less detailed – than a telephoto, though.
Snapdragon 765G silicon has enough oomph to make vanilla Android feel responsive, especially with the 8GB of RAM in support. Gaming is the main area you’ll notice a lack of muscle. There’s also enough battery capacity to last from breakfast to bedtime, with Extreme Battery Saver available if you need to eke out the juice.
Stuff says: ★★★★☆
With less-than-flagship specs, the Pixel 5 won’t set your world on fire – but it’s still a reliable option for stock Android in streamlined Google packaging
Display: 6in 2340×1080 AMOLED ● Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G 5G • RAM: 8GB ● Storage: 128GB • Software: Android 12 • Cameras: 12+16MP rear, 8MP front • Battery: 4080mAh • Dimensions: 144.7×70.4x8mm • Weight: 151g