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Best small phones in 2021

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

It's harder than ever to find the best small phones, as screens are getting larger and larger. That's good news if you're comfortable operating a bigger phone, but if you prefer to use a phone one-handed — or to slip it comfortably inside your pocket — nothing beats a handset with a screen that's less than 6 inches.

If you believe good things come in compact packages, you'd better check out Apple's lineup. The iPhone maker continues to dominate the market for small phones with a number of good choices, including both the iPhone 12 mini and 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-, Max- or Ultra-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.

Best of all, the days of 5G connectivity being restricted to larger phones is ending, thanks to the arrival of the iPhone 12 mini. We're hoping to see more compact 5G phones in the future.

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, you've got two choices, and our pick is the iPhone 12 mini, a 5G-capable phone powered by Apple's top processor. 

If you don't want to pay up for the iPhone 12 mini, you can always opt for the iPhone SE. It repurposes the iPhone 8's 4.7-inch design with Apple's A13 Bionic silicon for just $400.

If you're looking for a small phone that runs Android, you can't do better than the Google Pixel 4a, which has an OLED screen the same size as the one in the discontinued iPhone 11 Pro, for only $349. You'd also be wise to check out the older 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.

Finally, Google's 6-inch Pixel 5 packs a display slightly larger than the 5.8-inch Pixel 4 it replaces, but embeds that panel inside a chassis with smaller bezels, making it one of the more attractive high-end handsets of the year. At $699, it's quite affordable, too, even if it cuts some corners to hit its low price.

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 right now.

The best small phones you can buy today

Best small phones: iPhone 12 mini

The iPhone 12 mini is actually more compact than the iPhone SE despite having a larger screen, and it also includes 5G connectivity. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. iPhone 12 mini

The best small phone you can buy

Display: 5.4-inch OLED (2340x1080) | CPU: A14 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage/Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No | Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 4.76 ounces

Capable dual cameras
Comprehensive 5G support
Incredible A14 Bionic power
Base model has only 64GB of storage
No charger in the box

The iPhone 12 mini isn’t just Apple’s best small phone, topping the also-impressive iPhone SE — it’s the best small phone you can get right now. Even though the 5.4-inch OLED screen is bigger than what you’ll find on many phones including the SE, Apple managed to squeeze it into a super-slim 5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29-inch form factor that fits easily into the palm of your hand.

There’s more than just size at play here, though. A powerful A14 Bionic processor powers the iPhone 12 mini, meaning Apple’s smallest device has just as much processing oomph as the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The dual rear cameras on the iPhone 12 mini turn out some of the best photos we’ve seen, and while we wish the small phone lasted longer on a charge, Apple’s MagSafe accessories make charging up the device a breeze. If you like phones that are comfortable to hold and use with one hand, the iPhone 12 mini is the one to get.

Read our full iPhone 12 mini review.

best small phones: iPhone SE 2020

The 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)

2. iPhone SE (2020)

Apple's cheapest small phone

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 the A13 Bionic processor — still lightning-quick even though newer iPhones feature the A14. And yet, even with all that power, the iPhone SE it costs $300 less than our top pick, the iPhone 12 mini.

The iPhone SE 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 SE handles just about everything else flawlessly.

Read our full iPhone SE 2020 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 the Pixel 4a 5G offers 5G connectivity, though it has a considerably larger 6.2-inch display. Fortunately, small phone fans have a 5G option available from Google, which you'll find below.

Read our full Google Pixel 4a review

Best small phones: Google Pixel 5

The Pixel 5 may have less powerful hardware than the Pixel 4, but it has a much larger battery. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Google Pixel 5

A pocketable, premium Pixel

Display: 6-inch OLED (2340x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 765G | RAM: 8GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB / No | Rear camera: 12.2MP wide (ƒ/1.7); 16MP ultrawide | Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0) | Weight: 5.3 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:29

Gorgeous compact design
Excellent camera, now with ultrawide lens
Solid battery life
Underwhelming performance
Expensive for what it is

Google's Pixel 5 isn't an improvement over the Pixel 4 in every respect, which is likely why it's somewhat disappointing. The new flagship Pixel's battery life is much better and it supports 5G across millimeter-wave and sub-6GHz bands, but it's less powerful than the old model, and lacks 3D Face Unlock and the capability to read Motion Sense air gestures, which were quite unique features.

But the Pixel 5 still has a lot going for it. It retains its class-leading camera, now armed with a secondary ultrawide camera sensor; it's cloaked in a distinctive all-aluminum design; and of course, it benefits from Google's latest exclusive Android features, like Hold For Me for phone calls. And it packs all of this into a supremely pocketable footprint, making for perhaps the most trimmed-down small phone I've ever seen in terms of screen-to-body ratio. The Pixel 5 isn't perfect, and the Pixel 4a 5G can claim a lot of the same features for $200 less, though the 4a 5G is larger and lacks some luxuries, like wireless charging.

Read our full Google Pixel 5 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 Android 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. It cost $749 when it debuted back in 2019, and these days, you can find the phone for $580 or less.  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, not to mention an older Snapdragon 855 chipset.

Yet the S10e is every bit as powerful and fast as more expensive S10 models, 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.

But what of the newer Galaxy S20 FE? While the Fan Edition is a replacement of sorts for the S10e, both because it had a similar debut price and because it sits at the bottom of the S20 range, it's also considerably larger than the S10e, with a 6.5-inch display. In other words, while the Galaxy S20 FE certainly presents an enticing package for an agreeable price, it's simply too large for inclusion on this list.

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 a still-powerful Qualcomm's processor as well as a sizable 3,500-mAh battery fitted with Samsung's 25-watt fast charging technology. Meanwhile, the S Pen supports some clever 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 has received many of the Note 20's clever productivity-minded features, like wireless DeX mode and the ability to append audio recordings to written notes, thanks to updates to Samsung's OneUI interface.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 10 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 2021.

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