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Best small phones in 2020

Best small phones
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

With smartphone screens stretching to nearly 7 inches these days, finding one of the best small phones to fit snugly in one hand has become increasingly difficult. Fortunately, there are still compelling options out there — you just have to know where to look.

If you believe good things come in compact packages, you'd be well advised to explore Apple's range, as the iPhone maker continues to dominate the market for small phones with a number of good choices — including the new iPhone SE. Google and Samsung are also keeping the segment alive with devices that are as pocketable as they are affordable.

A notable advantage to choosing a small phone is that they typically cost less than Plus- or Max-sized versions of the same device, so you won't be penalized by having to pay more for a handset that easily fits into your lifestyle.

However, one thing you won't find on this list — at least, not yet — are any 5G phones. That's because devices with 5G connectivity at this early stage tend to be larger, to accommodate the radios and antennas necessary for those networks. 5G phones also typically consume more power than their LTE counterparts, so the batteries have to be bigger as well.

What are the best small phones?

Small phone lovers who were also interested in snagging one of the best iPhones didn't have many reasonable options until late. Thankfully, that's changed now that the second-generation iPhone SE is now on the market, repurposing the iPhone 8's 4.7-inch design with Apple's latest A13 Bionic silicon for just $400.

But if a 4.7-inch phone is too small for you, the next-smallest iPhone is the 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro. This device is more compact than you might think, because it lacks the iPhone SE's bezels and pushes its display all the way to the corners. However, it's also $999, so it isn't the best alternative for anyone attracted to the SE's low price.

If you're looking for a small phone that runs Android, you can't do better than the just-revealed Pixel 4a, which has an OLED screen the same size as the one in the iPhone 11 Pro, for only $349. You'd also be wise to check out the Galaxy S10e, which has a similarly-sized panel but benefits from a faster processor, a slightly more premium design than Google's offering and the addition of an ultrawide camera for stunning landscapes.

Oh, and just one more thing — the entry-level iPhone 12 due out in the fall has been repeatedly rumored to come with a 5.4-inch OLED display. If true, that would make it one of the smallest iPhones in recent years, and an easy candidate for this list. This variant will also reportedly feature sub-6GHz 5G connectivity, an aluminum body and a dual-lens camera system all for about $649, so it could be worth holding out for if your next phone purchase can wait a few months.

Here's a closer look at some of the best small phones out there right now, with screens sized at or under 6 inches. For our overall favorite handsets regardless of size, be sure to take a peek at our list of the best phones available today.

The best small phones you can buy today

Best small phones: iPhone SE 2020

The new iPhone SE has nearly everything you could want in a modern phone, but it's incredibly compact and costs just $399. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. iPhone SE (2020)

The best small phone (and one of the cheapest, too)

Display: 4.7-inch LCD (1334x750) | CPU: A13 Bionic | RAM: 3GB | Storage/Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No | Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8) | Front camera: 7MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 5.22 ounces

Very affordable
Fast A13 Bionic performance
Excellent camera for the price
Supports wireless charging
Big bezels

They just don't make fast, premium small phones like the new iPhone SE anymore. This diminutive 4.7-inch handset packs Apple's best mobile processor — the lightning-quick A13 Bionic — despite the fact that it costs $300 less than the next most-expensive phone the company sells, the $699 iPhone 11.

It also brings more luxuries you rarely see in small and cheap phones, like wireless charging, IP67 water resistance and a premium metal-and-glass design. While most flagship phone makers have shunned developing high-end handsets with displays smaller than about 5.5 inches, the iPhone SE feels like a blast from the past in the best way possible — a time when you could buy a super small phone with big-time performance. It might not have the flashiest-looking design or a camera equipped with the Night Mode present in pricier iPhones, but the new SE handles just about everything else flawlessly.

Read our full iPhone SE 2020 review.

Best small phones: iPhone 11 Pro

The 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro is considerably larger and pricier than the iPhone SE, but it's worth the upgrade for those who strive for the best photos and display. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. iPhone 11 Pro

The best premium small iPhone

Display: 5.8-inch OLED (2436x1125) | CPU: A13 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage/Expandable: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB / No | Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4); 12MP 2X telephoto (ƒ/2.0) | Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 6.63 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:24

Gorgeous OLED display now brighter
A13 Bionic CPU fastest around
Stellar triple cameras with Night Mode
Longest battery life of any iPhone
64GB of base storage

The 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro is no longer the smallest new iPhone you can buy, though it remains one of the best smartphones around if you can afford the privilege. Just like the 6.1-inch iPhone 11 and 6.5-inch iPhone 11 Pro Max, it's powered by Apple's state-of-the-art A13 Bionic chipset, which is powerful enough to enable unprecedented higher-order machine learning capabilities.

The iPhone 11 Pro leverages the A13's power to pull off some stunning photography tricks, like Semantic Rendering, which recognizes different objects in a scene and intelligently exposes each uniquely, for a better result. This iPhone also marks Apple's first with its Super Retina XDR display: an OLED panel that topped an almost unbelievable 752 nits of peak brightness in our lab testing. Couple all that with the convenience of Face ID, the versatility of a new ultrawide lens and 18W fast charging out of the box, and the iPhone 11 Pro is an all-around remarkable flagship handset — especially for those who prefer phones that are small (but not too small).

However, one point to note: It's been long rumored that the entry-level version of the upcoming iPhone 12 will have a 5.4-inch display. Insiders suggest Apple is looking to make the bezels and notch on its next flagships even more slender than on the iPhone 11 Pro, so it's quite possible the iPhone 12 will be a better fit for small phone lovers.

Read our full iPhone 11 Pro review.

Best small phones: Google Pixel 4a

The Pixel 4a is an incredible value for a device with a flagship-caliber camera, excellent software and 128GB of storage built in. It also happens to be a great small phone, too. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

3. Google Pixel 4a

The best small phone at an unbeatable price

Display: 5.81-inch OLED (2340x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 730G | RAM: 6GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB / No | Rear camera: 12.2MP (ƒ/1.7) | Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0) | Weight: 5.04 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:55

Best-in-class camera
Bright OLED display
128GB storage
Low price
Battery life could be better

With a 5.81-inch OLED display and very slim bezels, the Google Pixel 4a is one of the best small phones with a big screen. In fact, the OLED panel dominates the Pixel 4a’s footprint, thanks to a hole-punch selfie camera design and a very slender earpiece, keeping the border encircling the screen to its absolute minimum.

At a hair over 5 ounces, the Pixel 4a is also exceptionally light, owing to its polycarbonate-but-quality build, and it’s pretty thin too, despite having a healthy 3,140-mAh battery. Unfortunately, the battery doesn’t last quite as long on a charge as we’d like, but the Pixel 4a’s other benefits — from that beautiful screen to its software and update support, impressive camera, solid (if not iPhone-beating) performance and low price — complement its exceptional one-handed usability well.

It should be said that there is a 5G-compatible version of the Pixel 4a on the horizon, though it's expected to have a significantly larger display as well — perhaps making it a contender for our list of the best big phones instead.

Read our full Google Pixel 4a review

Best small phones: Google Pixel 4

The only downside to opting for the more compact 5.7-inch Pixel 4 in lieu of the XL model is its smaller battery. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Google Pixel 4

Android's premium best small phone

Display: 5.7-inch OLED (2280x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 855 | RAM: 4GB | Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB / No | Rear camera: 12.2MP wide (ƒ/1.7); 16MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0) | Weight: 5.71 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:03

Class-leading cameras
Smooth 90Hz display
Effective Face Unlock
Clever AI software features
Poor battery life

At 5.7 inches, Google's Pixel 4 isn't an especially small phone — though it is significantly more pocketable than many top-line flagships today, including the iPhone 11 and the OnePlus 8. With the Pixel 4, Google's trimmed out the bottom bezel, while leaving the Pixel 3's forehead intact, and repurposing that space for a sophisticated Face Unlock feature that rivals Apple's Face ID in terms of security. The top bezel is also where the Pixel 4's Soli radar system is stored, so the device can respond to hand gestures in midair.

But this being a Pixel, the biggest improvements have been levied at the camera, as you'd expect. The Pixel 4 features Google's first dual-lens imaging system, partnering a telephoto lens with a standard wide angle one for improved zoom shots. Our lone complaint about the Pixel 4 lies with the device's poor battery life; at just 8 hours, it's far and away eclipsed by the iPhone 11 series, and an eternity away from the handsets with the best phone battery life. But if you can deal with that, the Pixel 4 will delight you with its clever uses of machine learning and stunning photography.

While we expect to see the Pixel 5 soon, leaks and reports have hinted that Google are readying a major shift for its premium phone brand, by moving to a lower-spec processor to keep costs down while doubling down on the camera quality the series has become known for.

Read our full Google Pixel 4 review.

Best small phones: Samsung Galaxy S10e

Because the Galaxy S10e's bezels are so scant, it's second only to the new iPhone SE in terms of having the smallest footprint of any device on this list of the best small phones. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

5. Samsung Galaxy S10e

The most compact flagship you can buy

Display: 5.8-inch OLED (2160x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 855 | RAM: 6GB, 8GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / Yes | Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.5, ƒ/2.4); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2) | Front camera: 10MP wide (ƒ/1.9) | Weight: 5.29 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:21

Incredible display
Delightful, compact design
Headphone jack
Cameras could be better
Battery life is so-so

The Galaxy S10e is a different kind of flagship phone from Samsung. At $749 when new, the S10e was a bit cheaper than the 6.1-inch S10 and 6.4-inch S10 Plus, which started at $899 and $999, respectively. There are a few concessions for that lower price — namely a dual rear camera setup instead of a triple one, and a side-mounted fingerprint sensor replacing the regular S10's in-display technology.

Yet the S10e is every bit as powerful and fast as its more expensive S10 siblings, despite the fact that it's also one of the best small phones available. The handset's 5.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel is quite large, but because it's wrapped in a body with extremely slim bezels, the result is one of the most compact premium phones on the market today.

The Galaxy S20 may be the newest Samsung flagship on the market, but it doesn't grant performance in this tiny a package. But an even better reason why you should opt for last year's smallest premium Galaxy is its price. These days, you can nab an unlocked version from Samsung's website for as low as $349, which is a stellar value for one of the best small flagships to come out in the last five years.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S10e review.

Best small phones: Samsung Galaxy Note 10

6.3 inches isn't small, but because the Note 10 utilizes nearly the entirety of its front surface for its display, it feels compact for a phablet. (Image credit: Future)

6. Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The smallest phone with the biggest screen

Display: 6.3-inch AMOLED (2280x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 855 | RAM: 8GB | Storage / Expandable: 256GB / No | Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.5, ƒ/2.4); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 12MP 2X telephoto (ƒ/2.1) | Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 5.9 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:25

Compact design with huge display
256GB storage standard
Live Focus now for video
No headphone jack or microSD
Battery life a bit underwhelming

We know what you're thinking — a 6.3-inch smartphone is not small, and doesn't even adhere to the criteria of this list! We understand, but take our word for it: the Galaxy Note 10 is more compact than you'd ever imagine, and it's all thanks to the phone's minuscule bezels, which deliver an all-screen experience in the truest sense. Plus, the panel Samsung shoehorned into its latest phablet is a beaut — a rich Dynamic AMOLED display with curved edges, shrouded in shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass 6.

Under the hood, the Note 10 boasts Qualcomm's latest premium processor as you'd expect, as well as a sizable 3,500-mAh battery fitted with Samsung's new 25-watt fast charging technology. Meanwhile, the S Pen has learned some clever new air gestures that allow you to navigate the phone simply by waving the stylus in front of the screen.

And it must be said that while the new Galaxy Note 20 offers more of everything, at 6.4 inches, it's also too larger to slot into this list. Fortunately, the Note 10 will receive many of the Note 20's clever productivity-minded features, like wireless DeX mode and the ability to append audio recordings to written notes, as part of Samsung's upcoming One UI 2.5 update.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 10 review.

Best small phones: Samsung Galaxy S9

Samsung's 2018 flagship is well worth a look for those searching for a premium small phone on the cheap. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

7. Samsung Galaxy S9

A great small flagship now on the cheap

Display: 5.8-inch AMOLED (2960x1440) | CPU: Snapdragon 845 | RAM: 4GB | Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / Yes | Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.5, ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/1.7) | Weight: 5.8 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:52

Bright, colorful display
Great battery life
Includes headphone jack
AR Emoji is dismal
Bixby isn't useful

A screen measuring 5.8 inches doesn't sound like it would make for a particularly small phone. But what you have to remember is that the Galaxy S9 isn't like other phones — and that's all thanks to its wraparound Infinity Display. Samsung's ability to curve its OLED panel around the sides, while trimming the bezels above and below, allows the Galaxy S9 to shoehorn a massive display into a very compact form factor. In other words, you're not sacrificing on screen size for comfortable one-handed operation.

It also helps that the panel itself is among the brightest and most vibrant in its class (only eclipsed by the newer Galaxy S ranges, as well as Apple's latest iPhones) and that the Galaxy S9 still boasts respectable performance and photography even though it first released in 2018, between its speedy Snapdragon 845 processor and solid photography in low light.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S9 review.

How to choose the best small phone for you

You usually have to sacrifice something when buying a small phone. Of course, screen real estate is part of the tradeoff; but small phones also have smaller batteries, and sometimes less RAM or fewer camera lenses than larger, more expensive versions of the same device.

If you prioritize a compact form factor over all else — and you probably do if you're reading this page — these tradeoffs will likely be well worth it. Apple and Google are featured prominently on our list of the best small phones because they don't eliminate critical features from more compact handsets. That's illustrated by the fact that the new iPhone SE utilizes the same A13 Bionic chipset found in more premium Apple handsets, and how the Pixel 4 uses the same great dual-lens camera hardware as the larger Pixel 4 XL.

Samsung, on the other hand, usually scrubs something from their smaller models. The Galaxy S10e, which has a dual-lens camera compared to the triple-lens module inside the company's Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus devices, is a prime example of that. The S10e also lacks an in-screen fingerprint sensor and has less RAM than its bigger, pricier siblings. Alas, that's the price you pay for wanting a phone that can fit in your pocket in 2020.

How we test smartphones

In order for a smartphone — any smartphone, and not just the best small phones — to make our list, it needs to excel on several tests that we run on every handset. We perform some of these tests in our labs and some in the real world.

When it comes to performance, we rely on such synthetic benchmarks as Geekbench 5 and GFXBench to measure graphics performance. These tests allow us to compare performance across iPhones and Android devices. We also run a real-world video transcoding test on each phone using the Adobe Premiere Rush app and time the result.

To measure the quality of a phone's display, we perform lab tests to determine the brightness of the panel (in nits), as well as how colorful each screen is (DCI-P3 color gamut). In these cases, higher numbers are better. We also measure color accuracy of each panel with a Delta-E rating, where lower numbers are better and score of 0 is perfect.

One of the most important tests we run is the Tom's Guide battery test. We run a web surfing test over 5G or 4G at 150 nits of screen brightness until the battery gives out. In general, a phone that lasts 10 hours or more is good, and anything above 11 hours makes our list of the best phone battery life.

Last but not least, we take the best phones out in the field to take photos outdoors, indoors and at night in low light to see how they perform versus their closest competitors. We take shots of landscapes, food, portraits and more, and also allow you to be the judge with side-by-side comparisons in our reviews.

  • k0pernikus
    This article is rather pointless and disappointing due to its "under 6 inches" criteria. In which world are 5 inch smartphones considered small? I'm looking for a phone in the 3.5 to 5 inch range that still packs a punch. I'm not looking to buy something cheap.

    Seems to be a true unicorn, it just doesn't exist.

    It appears the smartphone market is completely broken for people with small hands and somehow phablets have become the norm.
    Reply