You're not imagining things: phones are getting bigger. While the average screen size for a smartphone was between 4.5 and 5 inches in 2015 according to research firm IDC, that number has only crept upward, as phone makers flood the market with phones that are 5 inches or greater. And while some of those big screen phones are finding ways to keep things compact — LG, for example, made its new G6 quite narrow so that the 5.7-inch phone could fit in one hand — for some us, there's no beating the look and feel of a smaller smartphone.
If you're one of the people who thinks that good things come in small packages, you'd be well-advised to look at Apple, which continues to dominate the market for smart phones with several compelling compact options. Our choice for the top small phone is the iPhone 7, given its A10 Processor and improved camera. But if you want an even smaller phone than the 4.7-inch iPhone 7, the 4-inch iPhone SE delivers a small package for a lower price (and now with more capacity after Apple doubled the storage on the base model to 32GB). If you're looking for an Android phone, you may prefer Google's Pixel, which packs a staggering amount of features into a 5-inch device. Here's a closer at this trio of phones, along with some of our other favorites with screen sizes that are 5 inches or less.
The $649 iPhone 7 is our choice for the best phone under 5 inches, thanks to a processor that's the most powerful we've yet tested by a wide margin. The 12-megapixel camera's also better than on previous iPhones, thanks to a wider f 1/1.8 aperture that lets in more light, and the arrival of optical image stabilization on the iPhone 7 should mean for fewer shaky shots. With Apple boosting the base capacity on its phones to 32GB, the iPhone's an even more compelling buy than before.
As powerful as the iPhone 7 is, $649 is a big asking price for some fans of small phones. You can pick up the iPhone SE for $399 without having to make too many compromises. This slimmed-down iPhone has specs on par with the larger iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, including a 12-megapixel rear camera that can shoot 4K video, Apple Pay support and a fast A9 processor. Based on our review, the iPhone SE's battery lasts considerably longer than the iPhone 5s, making it a great overall value for those who want a smaller display. And Apple just addressed one of the phone's most glaring flaws by doubling the capacity on the base model to 32GB. (Previously, you had to make do with 16GB of storage.) For $100 more, you can get a 128GB iPhone SE, proving that the only thing small about this phone is its shape.
The slimmer version of Google's latest phones has a few notable differences from the 5.5-inch Pixel XL. Unlike that larger device's Quad HD display, the $649 Pixel makes do with a 1920 x 1080 resolution on its AMOLED display, and it runs on a smaller battery (2,770 mAh compared to the 3,450 mAh power pack in the XL). Otherwise, the features are the same, and that's good news for fans of compact phones who don't want to give up features for size. That includes an impressive camera that shoots auto HDR+ photos and the ever-helpful Google Assistant that taps into Google's vast knowledge base.
The bright 4.6-inch display on this latest member of the Xperia X family won't disappoint with its vivid, crisp colors. But it's the battery life on this small Sony phone that steals the show, lasting more than 11 hours in our testing. We're a little underwhelmed by the $400 Xperia X Compact's performance, especially when less expensive phones pack more powerful CPUs than the Snapdragon 650 inside Sony's device, and the 23-megapixel rear camera struggled in low light. Still, if you want a phone that can last all day on a single charge while also fitting comfortably in your hand, the Xperia X Compact delivers.
It's an aging phone that's a little bit hard to track down these days, but if you can find it, Sony's Xperia Z5 Compact ($325 used and unlocked) packs everything into a boxy phone with a 4.6-inch screen. The Z5 features a 23-megapixel rear camera that produced bright, crisp pictures in our testing, while its Snapdragon 810 processor lets it multitask with ease. Throw in nearly 11 hours of battery life, and this is a phone that can hold its own against most larger models.
It may not be the latest iPhone, but the iPhone 6s can still offer things the iPhone SE can't, such as support for 3D Touch to summon up shortcuts just by pressing more firmly on an app icon. And with Apple boosting storage on this model to 32GB while also lowering the price tag to $549, the 6s remains an option for fans of small phones.
Small doesn’t have to mean dainty. The extremely durable Cat S60 ($629) is built to take a beating while still managing to slip easily into the pockets of contractors, firefighters and others who work in physically demanding settings. The phone can survive 6 foot drops and spend up to an hour in 16 feet of water without winding up any worse for the wear. And even if your fingers are soaking wet, you can still use the S60’s compact touchscreen. Throw in a battery that keeps the phone chugging along after 12 hours, and the S60 proves even a small phone can be a powerhouse.