When it comes to smartphones, bigger always seems to be better. That’s why screen sizes get bigger every year, and Apple (AAPL) is expected to release a pair of much bigger iPhone 6 models this fall instead of sticking with the current display that helped sell 43 million phones.
However, despite their growing popularity, bigger smartphone displays aren’t welcomed by everyone. Small smartphones are easier to use with one hand. They can slip in a pocket and are often less expensive (those massive, high resolution displays don’t come cheap, after all).
While everyone is watching to see just how big Apple goes with the iPhone 6, many of its Android competitors are quietly releasing small smartphones based on their flagship devices. Samsung (SSNLF) has a Galaxy S4 Mini, HTC just announced the HTC One Mini 2 (based on the rather impressive HTC One M8 we reviewed in April), while Sony (SNE) made waves and gathered multiple awards at CES 2014 for its Xperia Z1 Compact.
Worried that the iPhone 6 will be so big it requires both hands to use it? Not interested in holding a 6.3-inch Galaxy Mega up to your ear in public? Here are 5 small smartphones that give you a premium experience without the phablet size.
Best Small Smartphones: HTC One Mini 2
The HTC One M8 is an excellent smartphone. But with a 5-inch display, it’s also a big smartphone. If you like the look of the HTC flagship but not the bulk, the company has you covered with the announcement of the HTC One Mini 2.
You get the same beautiful metal case (available in Gunmetal Gray, Glacial Silver and Amber Gold), same innovative software exclusives like BlinkFeed, Zoe and HTC Sense 6, the same BoomSound audio system — all in a more compact package.
HTC is using a less powerful Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon 400 CPU, and the 4.5-inch display is HD resolution (1280 x 720) rather than the Full HD of the larger HTC One M8. You also lose the UltraPixel camera, but the HTC One Mini 2 is one of those small smartphones that proves you don’t have to give up on flagship style if you want a device you can easily slip in a pocket or operate using one hand.
Best Small Smartphones: Motorola Moto E
Motorola — the Google (GOOG) acquisition now on its way to Lenovo (LNVGY) ownership — has been making some of the more popular and affordable Android smartphones over the past few years. Its latest offering, the Moto E, might not have the horsepower to challenge flagship devices like the Galaxy S5, but this small smartphone has a lot going for it.
The 4.3-inch display isn’t Full HD, but at 540 x 960 pixels (or 256ppi) it still looks reasonably sharp and the Snapdragon 200 CPU is good enough for most tasks. The Moto E has only 4GB of storage, but that’s user-upgradable to 32 GB using inexpensive MicroSD cards. It ships with Android 4.4, the latest version of Google’s mobile OS. Its battery is a champ, offering 24 hours of mixed use between charges. And if you don’t care for the black or white case options, colorful Motorola Shells let you customize your Moto E.
Best of all, the Moto E is the least expensive of small smartphones, costing just $129 — without a contract.
Best Small Smartphones: Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
The top-selling Android flagship phone of 2013 was the Samsung Galaxy S4. But if you have small hands or don’t feel like lugging around a nearly 5 oz device, the Galaxy S4 with its 5-inch display probably feels a bit on the big side.
Fortunately, Samsung recognized that a market for small smartphones still exists, despite the demand for ever bigger devices, and it released the Galaxy S4 Mini. While it’s not quite a match for the full-sized flagship namesake when it comes to specs, the Galaxy S4 Mini shares the same look, features like the built-in TV remote, motion controls and S Beam sharing, offers a 8 MP camera, and its 4.3-inch, 258ppi display is plenty sharp and bright.
Samsung hasn’t officially announced a Galaxy S5 Mini yet, but it’s sure to arrive soon, and in the meantime, the Galaxy S4 Mini is still being offered.
Best of the Small Smartphones: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Considering the push toward phablet-sized devices, Sony made a real case for the ongoing popularity of small smartphones when it unveiled the Xperia Z1 Compact at CES 2014, bringing home an armload of awards in the process.
One of the reasons for the excitement around the Xperia Z1 Compact is that, unlike some other small smartphones, the device doesn’t feel as though Sony is offering a diluted experience.
The Xperia Z1 Compact is waterproof, and features a range of available colors. It offers a powerful 20.7 MP Exmor image sensor in its camera, a quad-core CPU, 18 hours of talk-time, and Android KitKat. And its 4.3-inch HD display is one of the best, thanks to use of Sony’s Triluminos and X-Reality mobile technology.
Best of the Small Smartphones: iPhone 5s
While Apple seems determined to grow its smartphones — with the iPhone 6 expected to hit 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches in size — the iPhone 5s remains the single most popular flagship smartphone available. And with a display measuring just 4-inches, this is without a doubt the most compact and powerful of the small smartphones on the market.
With Apple’s high-performance, 64-bit A7 CPU, the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, a very well regarded (despite its low pixel count) iSight camera and Retina display, the iPhone 5s is popular for a reason. Of course, unlike its competitors in the small smartphones category, the iPhone 5s is priced as a full-sized flagship device and that means $199 on contract.
The one thing the iPhone 5s can’t do is Android. If KitKat is a must-have or you don’t like iOS 7, then you’ll need to consider one of the other small smartphones we featured instead.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.