The best small smartphones you can buy in 2021

In a world of phablets, some of the smallest smartphones can still pack a punch. We take a look at some of the best smaller smartphones you can buy right now. …

While the biggest smartphones can still fit in our back pockets (barely), there are plenty of smaller smartphones that function as well, if not better, than their behemoth counterparts. Smaller cell phones are easier to carry and have easy-to-navigate screens that only need one hand. Thankfully, you don’t have to sacrifice performance with a smaller phone. If you’re on the hunt for the smallest smartphones that pack the biggest punch, then you’re in the right place.

The best small smartphone is now the iPhone 13 Mini. Apple’s return to a smaller sized iPhone is a triumph, and it’s absolutely the phone to start with if smaller is your top priority. But, while it’s far from the most expensive phone around, $700 is still a hard sell for many, and that’s why we have a number of other great smartphones on the smaller side, so you can find the perfect smartphone for you.

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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 thoroughly put through their paces. Here are some of the best small smartphones we have found.

The best small smartphones at a glance:

The best overall small phone: Apple iPhone 13 Mini

Hand holding iPhone 13 mini.
Jeremy Bezanger / Unsplash

Why you should buy this: It’s the best small smartphone in the world, right now, bar none.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants the best performance from a small smartphone, regardless of whether it’s iOS or Android.

Why we picked the iPhone 13 Mini: Apple’s iPhone 12 Mini rocked our world, so it makes sense to put its successor — the iPhone 13 Mini — at the top of this list. The new iPhone Mini is crammed with the same power as the bigger iPhones but in a much compact form. The iPhone 13 Mini shares many of the key specs with its bigger siblings, including the powerful A15 Bionic processor, which pits it against the heavyweights in the smartphone industry.

The iPhone 13 Mini continues to use pretty much the same design as the iPhone 12 Mini, although with a tweaked camera module. There are, however, several upgrades in the package other than just the A15 Bionic chip. The 5.4-inch display remains the same, but the notch on the iPhone 13 Mini is narrower than its predecessor. The Super Retina XDR OLED display is also much brighter with 800 nits of claimed maximum brightness measured using the High Brightness Mode (HBM) method.

With the new generation of the iPhone Mini, Apple has also removed the 64GB storage variant, and the minimum storage option is now 128GB. In addition, the highest storage option has also been increased from 256GB to 512GB. Like the iPhone 13, the Mini also features a larger primary camera sensor than the previous generation, along with sensor-shift optical image stabilization (OIS) in which the sensor moves to compensate for any changes in the phone’s orientation, to avoid shakes and blurs while taking photos or videos.

The iPhone 12 Mini had a weaker battery than most of its larger siblings, and that put it to a major advantage against other flagship phones. The iPhone 13 Mini is slightly improved in this respect and now features a 2,438mAh battery, which is about 10% bigger than the previous generation. For most casual users, this battery should be enough to last about a day if not more. The small battery, however, does allow for faster charging with claims of 50% charge in just 30 minutes of being plugged into a Lightning connector using an 18W (or higher) power brick. The smartphone also supports fast wireless charging at 15W using MagSafe and at 7.5W using other regular wireless chargers.

For anyone who had set their eyes on the iPhone 12 Mini but could not buy it for whatever reason, Apple is giving another chance to rejoice. The iPhone 13 Mini has the same starting price as the iPhone 12 Mini, with the 128GB variant starting at $699 or 679 euros. Given these features for an unchanged price, the iPhone 13 Mini is the best small phone of our choice.

The best small Android phone: ASUS ZenFone 8

Asus Zenfone 8 on a tabletop.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the most powerful small Android phone, offering a feature-packed camera, relentless performance, and long battery life — all crammed into a compact form.

Who it’s for: Anyone who isn’t an iPhone fan, or someone who loves having a small but very powerful phone that doesn’t compromise on performance.

Why we picked the ASUS ZenFone 8: The ASUS ZenFone lineup has garnered a lot of interest due to the ZenFone 6 and the ZenFone 7’s flipping cameras, and while the ZenFone 8 does not feature such a camera, it instead has a small form factor that is ideal for single-handed usage. The ZenFone 8 uses Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 processor and has up to 16GB of RAM for absolutely stellar performance. Buyers can also choose between 128GB and 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage.

Unlike its siblings that flip a single camera module to use it as the back and the front camera, the ASUS ZenFone 8 has fixed cameras. On the back, you’ll get a 64MP primary wide-angle camera and a 12MP ultrawide-angle camera. It produces strong results, with perhaps a touch too much HDR, but on the whole, positive. Around the front, there’s a 12MP camera, and the cameras on both sides can record 4K videos with the rear camera supporting 4K recording at up to 60fps.

On the front, the ASUS ZenFone 8 has a 5.9-inch AMOLED display with a tiny hole-punch cutout. Protecting this display is the most durable version of Gorilla Glass, Gorilla Glass Victus. The back of the phone is also made of glass and protected by Gorilla Glass 3, and connecting the two glass panels on both sides is an aluminum frame. Despite the phone’s compact form, ASUS does not compromise on safety; the ZenFone 8 comes with an IP68 rating making it water and dust resistant. However, it is certainly on the boring side where design is concerned, so it’s not the phone for you if you like your heart to skip a beat when you look at it.

You might expect the ZenFone 8 to last a long time, since it comes with a 4,000mAh battery — but that’s unfortunately not the case. Use this phone a lot and it’s unlikely to last until the end of the day, which is a big disappointment. Charging is fast though, with a full recharge taking 90 minutes. There’s no wireless charging either, which is another disappointment on a flagship phone. In terms of the user experience, Android 11 runs out of the box, and the company claims it will provide two more years of software updates.

The ASUS ZenFone 8 hits a sweet spot with its performance and its size, even if there are some problems with its battery and design. If you’ve been on the lookout for an Android flagship that is powerful but fits in the palm, then the ZenFone 8 might be the best small phone for you.

Read our full Asus Zenfone 8 review

The best small folding phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

Galaxy Z Flip 3 open on a table.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It offers impressive performance with a cutting-edge foldable glass display and an improved secondary screen.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants to experience the latest technologies without making compromises in performance.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3: Samsung has patched a lot of loose ends with the Galaxy Z Flip 3. The phone now gets a much more durable foldable display, a solid hinge, and the assurance of safety with water resistance. These features make the Galaxy Z Flip 3 a device for a larger audience than just early adopters.

The primary display measures 6.7 inches so you don’t compromise on real estate. Samsung achieves a bigger display size by using a longer-than-usual 22:9 aspect ratio, and this means that it will still be fairly easy to use with a single hand despite its large display. Besides adding comfort and flexibility, the display uses an AMOLED panel inside with a peak brightness of over 1200 nits. The display has a refresh rate of 120Hz, which means you can see a considerable difference in scrolling as compared to displays with a 60Hz or 90Hz refresh rate. Besides using the Z Flip 3 completely open or completely shut, it can be opened partially at 90 degrees. This splits the display into two halves, allowing users to use two apps concurrently.

Meanwhile, the display on the outside measures 1.9 inches with a resolution of 260 x 512 pixels. While the display isn’t as big as the Motorola Razr 5G, the Galaxy Z Flip gets a colored Super AMOLED display, which is a considerable upgrade over the tiny monochrome display of the previous generation. Being a color display, it can be used for viewing notifications, caller ID, battery status, music controls, or some other features. Samsung also offers various widgets for you to control several apps right from this tiny screen, though its uses are somewhat limited. Another benefit is that you can use this display as a viewfinder for the rear cameras.

Talking of cameras, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 comes with a 12MP primary and a 12MP ultrawide-angle camera. There is a 10MP camera when you flip the phone open for bigger selfies and video calling. These cameras take good pictures in well-lit scenarios and do not require a lot of manual tweaking. You can also fold the screen partially and use the angled phone to secure the phone sideways on a flat surface without any additional stand or tripod. The selfie camera on the Z Flip 3 can also be used for face unlocking. For security, Samsung has also provisioned the Galaxy Z Flip 3 with a side-mounted fingerprint scanner.

Inside, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC in all regions worldwide. With the chipset, you get 8GB of RAM as standard on the phone, but Samsung offers options between 128GB and 256GB for storage. You also get a 3,300mAh battery with about a single day’s use and a rather slow charging rate at only 15W. You can charge the Galaxy Z Flip 3 wirelessly, but once again, the rate is limited to 10W, which may only be ideal if you either always have a wireless charger at your disposal or prefer charging your smartphone overnight.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review

The best midrange small phone: Apple iPhone SE (2020)

An iPhone SE (2020).
Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

Why you should buy this: It’s small, it’s powerful, and it comes at a low $400 price.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a smaller, more easily pocketed phone that’s very capable, but not too expensive.

Why we picked the iPhone SE (2020): The original iPhone SE had been a mainstay of this list for a long time, precisely because it offered the best possible iOS experience on a small screen. While the more recent iPhone SE model isn’t quite as small as the original, it’s still small and combines the iPhone 8‘s svelte frame with the iPhone 11’s flagship hardware. It’s our pick for the best small midrange phone.

While most of the other options have displays well over 5 inches, the iPhone SE is a tiny breath of fresh air. It packs a relatively minuscule 4.7-inch LCD running a 1334 x 750-pixel resolution. Thanks to the smaller size, it’s sharp, and while it’s not as beautiful as the iPhone 13 Pro‘s AMOLED display, it’s on par with the $500 iPhone 11‘s display. On the minus side, the design is based on the iPhone 8, which makes it dated. However, the glass body means it feels far more premium than its price tag, and the IP68 rating for water resistance means it can also withstand an accidental tumble into the pool.

You’ll find the same Bionic A13 chip as in the iPhone 11 range. A 1,821mAh may seem small, but it still manages to pump out a solid day of power, and there’s fast charging and wireless charging support as well.

Is the camera where the iPhone SE falls down then? Surprisingly, no. The single 12MP lens on the back of the phone may not be up to the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s standard, but it’s still a solid shooter, and one of the best in the price range. While the lack of a Night mode hurts, Apple has tuned up the iPhone 8’s camera, and the iPhone SE takes good shots in most circumstances. The lack of a second lens does mean it’s not as good at portrait mode shots.

The price is another major draw — the iPhone SE starts at just $400, and that gives you 64GB of storage. The 128GB or 256GB storage options set you back $450 or $550 respectively and considering there’s no MicroSD card slot, we recommend paying the extra $50 for 128GB of storage. But even at $450, the iPhone SE is an incredible small phone that’s hard to pass up.

Read our full Apple iPhone SE (2020) review

The best budget small phone: Moto G7 Play

A Moto G7 Play Review in hand with a conference table in the background.
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s a small phone you can get for a fraction of the price of an iPhone.

Who it’s for: Anyone who loves a small phone, but really doesn’t want to pay a lot of money for one.

Why we picked the Moto G7 Play: With the top flagships exceeding $1,400, you might assume there’s no point in even looking at a phone priced at $200. Well, you’d be wrong, and the Moto G7 Play is the perfect phone to pick up if you’re looking for a pint-sized phone on the cheap. The 5.7-inch LCD runs a 1512 x 720-pixel resolution, and you’ll find a Snapdragon 632 paired with 2GB of RAM on the inside. While that’s a far cry from the more expensive phones, the Moto G7 Play showcases smooth and snappy performance on this budget hardware and keeps up well with its more expensive brethren in the Moto G7 range.

That power-sipping hardware means the decent 3,000mAh lasts even longer than you’d expect, and when it runs out, the included 10W USB-C charger shouldn’t take too long to recharge. There’s only a single camera lens on the back, a 13-megapixel shooter, which performs well enough as long as the lighting is good. You’ll find compromises though: There’s only 32GB of internal storage (though a microSD card slot helps), there are a big notch and chunky bezels, and it has a cheap-feeling plastic back.

Still, those issues are fairly small when you consider the price is so low. The $200 price is a lot easier on the wallet than most phones out there, and this packs good performance, a big battery, and an easy one-hand-friendly design.

Read our full Moto G7 Play review

The best small rugged phone: Unihertz Atom

An Unihertz Atom in hand.
Mark Jansen/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s a tiny titan with more durability than most flagships.

Who it’s for: Anyone who needs a small phone that can be tucked away easily, or tossed into a bag without worry.

Why we picked the Unihertz Atom: 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 it. 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 at the corners. The 2.4-inch LCD 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. Let’s face it—having a quality camera is vital when you consider social media, picture messaging, and the fact that virtually no one uses their phone for calls anymore. The single 16MP camera around the back isn’t as good, and while we got some decent shots, image quality went down with the lights. There’s only a 2,000 milliampere-hour (mAh) battery, but due to the energy-sipping hardware and tiny display, this is enough to power the Atom through two days in one charge. It also has IP68 Waterproof capability and is resistant to dust, vibration, extreme hot or cold temperatures, and shock.

For the Unihertz Atom, the downside is that it only runs Android 8.1 Oreo, which hasn’t had any updates — security or otherwise — since April of 2018. It’s not the phone for you if you care about having the latest and greatest OS.

Additionally, while this phone doubles down its small form factor, that same small size makes it hard to use every day. It has decent keyboard tracking, but it can still be a struggle to do specific tasks on the tiny 2.4-inch display. At that size, it’s no surprise that the colors and graphics aren’t crystal clear, so if you need an impressive display, you won’t find it here.

If you’re looking for a small phone to tote around, it’s worth looking past those negative factors to get a perfect size. The Unihertz Atom starts at $260, and it would be perfect for an active individual who wants a small, compact smartphone on a budget and doesn’t use it for much during the day. For such a small device, it certainly packs a punch, too.

Read our full Unihertz Atom review

Small smartphone FAQ

Extremely large phones are popular but controversial. Despite the call to provide a smaller phone like the ones of old, for many people, it’s hard to scale back down. Should you opt for a smaller phone with your next purchase? Read on.

Why should you consider getting a smaller smartphone?

Smartphones started growing larger when user preferences turned to all content all the time, especially in the form of reading, watching video, and playing games. These activities benefit from increased screen real estate. The problem is that larger phones are heavier, harder to carry and use with one hand, and more expensive. Large phones are inconvenient for people with small hands or with those who do not have 100% use of both hands. If you prefer to stash your phone in a shirt or pants pocket, want to or must use your phone with one hand, do not mind watching videos on a slightly smaller screen, and appreciate a more compact, lightweight unit, a small phone may be the optimal choice for you.

How do I choose the best small smartphone for me?

The immediate impact of a small smartphone is the size of the screen, but secondary attributes like smaller batteries, less powerful processors, inferior cameras, and less storage space will likely factor in to how small you want to go. Notice we said nothing about the price. While large phones are more expensive, choosing a small phone may not save you significant money, and the price may even be on par with some of the larger models. That’s because a high-quality small smartphone cleverly packs high-end features into a small package, and you are still paying for that high quality. Thus our favorite iPhone Mini or SE or the Google Pixel are great choices for a small size phone that do not skimp on features or materials.

Who should not consider getting a smaller smartphone?

Smartphone sizes are a matter of personal style and necessity. If you appreciate having a phablet that fits into your backpack or purse for cinematic video, conference calls, report reading, art creation, gaming, or any other work or entertainment-related activities that are better suited to a spacious canvas, then stick with a larger smartphone. If you are a traveler who is not toting around a full laptop array of tech gear, a large phone will serve many purposes exceptionally well. You’ll benefit not only from a large bright screen, but likely a larger, long-lasting battery, and even extra RAM built in.

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