Update: Here’s our new list of best small phones in 2017
Bigger doesn’t necessarily equal better. It’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it. We mean the phone, you perverted oddballs! You may find it hard to score a half-decent small Android handheld these days, but despite the undeniable mainstream rise of phablets, there’s still demand for devices you can easily slide in and out of your standard-issue trouser pocket.
A compact form factor, proper one-hand maneuverability and sensible design will always go a long way with certain mobile consumers, especially if they’re linked to affordability, a high-res screen, and generally respectable hardware specifications.
Before setting out on a quest to find the best small Android phone in the world prior to the 2015 holiday season, let’s land on a display diagonal range. Can we all agree 4.7 to 5.2-inch handhelds are “normal” nowadays, 5.5 inchers start feeling a bit uncomfortable, and anything beyond 6 inches is excessive, unless your job is to make a dozen slam dunks a few times a week in NBA games?
Good, then we can probably also agree 4 to 4.5 inchers are “small” by today’s high-end standards, yet remain crowd pleasers for those who like to effortlessly manage mobile business with one normally-sized hand. That said, here are the top ten contenders to the title of best small smartphone, ordered as usual from cheapest to costliest:
- LG Leon – $78 for MetroPCS; $83 for T-Mobile
- Motorola Moto E (second-gen) – $90
- Motorola Moto G (1st generation) – starting at $92
- Huawei Ascend P7 Mini – $144
- Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – $192
- Samsung Galaxy A3 – $201
- HTC One Mini 2 – $239
- Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – $250
- Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini – $267
- Kyocera DuraForce – $0 down with AT&T financing; $419 outright
It’s perhaps not fair to compare unlocked and carrier-restricted prices, but at the end of the day, CDMA networks like Verizon or Sprint rarely support gadgets not specifically made for them, so the only important thing that’s lacking at the Leon is AT&T compatibility.
Outside of the connectivity spectrum, the elegant, slim-bezeled 4.5 incher also disappoints with 854 x 480 screen resolution, though the quad-core 64-bit Snapdragon 410 CPU isn’t half bad… for a lot less than 100 bucks. Oh, and you get Lollipop goodies pre-installed as well.
Possibly the most appealing sub-$100 proposition, the E2 can be had in US and global GSM configurations, including with 4G LTE speeds, and the 4.5-inch panel is slightly sharper than that of the LG Leon, at 960 x 540 pixels.
Too bad the 2015 Moto E is only around 64 percent screen, massive bezels occupying the rest of the space, and making it a tad cumbersome, with 129.9 x 66.8 mm height/width measurements. On the plus side, the ultra-low-cost Android soldier already runs 5.1 Lollipop, and should be further upgraded to 6.0 Marshmallow sometime next year.
It’s old, not very attractive from a design standpoint, lacks microSD storage expansion possibilities, provides a measly 8 GB ROM in an entry-level variation, and tips the scales at a fairly chunky 143 grams while sizing up at 129.9 x 65.9 x 11.6 mm.
But it’s super-affordable, offers close to stock Android 5.1 user experience, and above all, it sports a beautiful 4.5-inch 720p IPS LCD screen.
Don’t hold your breath for a Marshmallow makeover in the near future, as even Lollipop is yet to land on the China-imported qHD 4.5 incher. Be happy the P7 Mini is phenomenally skinny (7.8 mm and 115 grams), and pretty gifted in the selfie-taking department, thanks to a 5 MP front-facing camera.
Also, the 2,000 mAh battery is decently spacious, all things considered, and the quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip takes good care of your basic web browsing, multimedia and even gaming needs.
The tiny Super AMOLED 4.3 incher has turned two a few months back, which amounts to 50 or 60 in human years, yet a timeless design, hefty 1.5 GB RAM, satisfactory 8 MP LED flash main cam, and appropriate 1,900 mAh cell keep it in the spotlight for fans of pocket-sized gizmos.
The screen borders aren’t exactly unnoticeable, but the diminutive sibling of Samsung’s 2013 flagship measures just 124.6 x 61.3 x 8.9 mm, and weighs 107 grams.
Unusually inexpensive for an all-metal device, especially one manufactured by a profit-hungry company, the A3 falls short of impressive aesthetics, with a mediocre 65 percent screen-to-body ratio, and also settles for a so-so 960 x 540 Super AMOLED 4.5-inch display.
Then again, 1.5 gigs of memory, 16 GB on-board hoarding room, Snapdragon 410 muscle, 8 and 5 MP photographic equipment, and Android 5.0 software all feel like the absolute cream of the $200 crop.
Why on earth didn’t HTC renew this aging thing to try to squeeze M9’s magic in a smaller package? Granted, the latest hero and the One M8 the Mini 2 is based on are extremely similar, but a One Mini 3 could have brought SD410 power, 1.5 or even 2 GB RAM, and a refined exterior to the table.
Nonetheless, the 4.5 incher on tap offers a lot for a reasonable price tag, starting with 13 and 5 MP cameras, and of course, a premium aluminum unibody build.
Sony made the sequel, confusingly named Z3 Compact, a bit too large to be considered here, and the Z5 Compact will also go on sale soon with a 4.6-inch display in tow. It’s all for the best however, as it allows us to remember this oldie but goldie 4.3-inch HD slab, capable of great things to this day.
Silky smooth multitasking? The 2 GB RAM have you covered. Overall system speed? There’s a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor inside. Shutterbug satisfaction? And then some, as the 20.7 MP shooter is simply amazing. And let’s not forget 2,300 mAh battery juice, 16 GB local storage, microSD support, as well as water and dust protection.
It seems Sammy inexplicably took a page from HTC’s undependable playbook, and decided to skip or greatly delay the Galaxy S6 Mini. Is last year’s Liliputian flagship still worth around 270 clams in this context?
Yes and no, given we very much dig the 4.5-inch 1,280 x 720 AMOLED panel, 1.5 GB RAM, quad-core Exynos SoC, 8 MP LED flash rear cam, microSD card slot, fingerprint sensor, and IP67 certification for water and dust resistance, but we’re not fans of the cheap plasticky construction or Android 4.4 KitKat flavor.
This expensive (off-contract), muscular 4.5 incher has a crystal clear target audience – people that constantly drop and damage their phones. By no means a featherweight, at a whopping 200 grams, the DuraForce withstands shocks of different nature, and produces HD images, driven by a Snapdragon 400 chip, and backed for stellar endurance by a colossal 3,100 mAh battery.