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Best small smartphone 2023: Buck the phablet trend with these brilliant compact smartphones

If you’re not a fan of plus-sized displays, you'll appreciate this rundown of the best compact smartphones

Smartphones keep on getting bigger. So big, in fact, that the likes of Samsung feel they need to be folded up now. Apple’s iPhone is another classic example of this uncontrolled smartphone expansion; the original handset had a 3.5in display, which has now grown to a whopping 6.5in screen on the new Apple iPhone Xs Max. Even the smallest of Apple new phones, the iPhone XR, has a 5.8in display.

If you’re tired of manhandling unwieldy, borderline tablet-sized smartphones, there are plenty of smaller phones which offer a compact build without sacrificing much in the way of performance or usability. Read on for our buying guide to the best small smartphones on the market today.

READ NEXT: Best smartphones of the year

Best small smartphone: At a glance

Best overallSony Xperia XZ2 Compact | £170Check price at Back Market
Best small Apple handsetApple iPhone 8 | £112Check price at Back Market
Best budget but competent mid-range smartphoneApple iPhone SE | £125Check price at Back Market

How to choose a small smartphone

Why buy a small smartphone?

It’s simple enough – today’s smartphones are too large for some. If you’ve got smaller-than-average hands or small pockets or both, a massive phone can be plain impractical. While bezels on smartphones have shrunk over the past few years, resulting in a bigger screen-to-body ratio, it hasn’t stopped the continued growth of smartphone designs.

Compact phones weigh less, are easy to use with one hand, and include many of the same features as more popular, jumbo-sized devices. For our best-of, we’re limiting screen sizes to around 5in and under – that’s smaller than the majority of new smartphones which have come out this year.

Are smaller smartphones cheaper?

They certainly can be cheaper! Because of the tendency by phone manufacturers to make all their flagship devices as big as possible, there aren’t many super pricey medium or small smartphones out there.

As you’ll find in the list below, a lot of small smartphones are simply older, hailing from a bygone era when phones were made to fit in the palm of your rather than in your backpack. And due to their age, they do tend to cost less than the current generation of bulkier smartphones which you’re trying to avoid.

How we test small phones

With the caveat of these being the best small smartphones, the first thing we’ll be looking at is how snugly the phone fits into our hands, and how easy it is to reach a thumb across the display. From there, we’ll download the GFXBench and Geekbench apps to the phone, which test the GPU and CPU, respectively, delivering a set of scores we can use to compare to other devices. A colorimeter and DisplayCal software are used to test the screen, measuring how accurately colours are reproduced, as well as contrast and brightness.

We use the same software to lock the brightness to 170cd/m² when we test the battery, in order to maintain consistency across all tested devices. We then engage flight mode and run our standard looping video, noting the timestamp at which the phone died. Finally, we test the cameras in a range of settings, including low-light, indoors and landscapes, as well as rapidly panning the video to see how effective the stabilisation is at levelling the footage.

Best small smartphones to buy

1. Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact: Best overall

Price when reviewed: £170 | Check price at Back Market

The Xperia XZ2 Compact comes with almost every major feature that the Xperia XZ2 has but packed into a (slightly) smaller space. The internals, from the nippy Snapdragon 845 processor with 4GB of RAM to the 64GB storage, make it the most powerful phone on this list.

In addition to its CPU and storage, the XZ2 Compact also shares the same 19-megapixel and 5-megapixel cameras as the Xperia XZ2, though the latter was the first smartphone able to record 4K HDR video via its rear camera. The only real difference here is the size – there’s a smaller display, but the 18:9 aspect ratio is retained. The bezels might put some off, but in terms of design – and overall performance – it’s a cracking little phone.

Read our full Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Snapdragon 845, 4GB RAM; Dimensions: 135 x 64 x 12.1mm; Weight: 168g; Screen: 5in LCD, 1,080 x 2,160; Camera: 19-megapixel f/2.0 rear, 5-megapixel f/2.2 front; Storage: 64GB, microSD up to 512GB; Battery: 2,870mAh

Check price at Back Market

2. Apple iPhone 8: Best small Apple handset

Price when reviewed: £112 | Check price at Back Market

It may not be Apple’s best overall smartphone, having been superseded by the various iPhone X iterations, but the iPhone 8 is certainly the greatest compact handset from the company. The processor is Apple’s own A11 Bionic chip, a super-fast processor that can handle whatever you throw at it. Meanwhile, the camera is fantastic, capturing shots with excellent clarity and performing well in low light too.

As ever with Apple, the build quality is top class. There’s also TouchID compatibility, and the glass back allows for wireless charging alongside the regular cable-based fast-charging. There’s no 3.5mm headphone jack and the bezel-heavy design isn’t for everyone, but it’s still an exceptional phone.

Read our full Apple iPhone 8 review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Apple A11, 2GB RAM; Dimensions:138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm; Weight: 148g; Screen: 4.7in LCD, 750 x 1,334; Camera: 12-megapixel f/1.8 rear, 7-megapixel f/2.2 front; Storage: 64/256GB; Battery: 1,821mAh

Check price at Back Market

3. Apple iPhone SE: Best budget but competent mid-range smartphone

Price when reviewed: £125 | Check price at Back MarketiPhone SE screen

The iPhone SE is still one of the best small phones on the market, despite being two years old and potentially in store for an upgrade. The build quality is up to the usual Apple standards, while the 4in screen is sharp and clear with a high pixel density despite the lower resolution 640 x 1,136 resolution.

Apple’s A9 processor runs the show, backed by 2GB RAM. It’s the same chip used in both the 6S and 6S Plus and delivers a pretty speedy performance. The 12-megapixel rear camera is another plus, and the battery lasts for almost 17hrs of continuous video playback – more than adequate for most people’s needs. TouchID and Apple Pay via NFC are additional bonuses.

Read our full Apple iPhone SE review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Apple A9, 2GB RAM; Dimensions: 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm; Weight: 113g; Screen: 4in LCD, 640 x 1,136; Camera: 12-megapixel f/2.2 rear, 1.2-megapixel f/2.4 front; Storage: 16/32/64/128GB; Battery: 1,624mAh

Check price at Back Market

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