Best Small Phone 2021: Top Compact Phones

Best Small Phone 2021: Top Compact Phones

As with so many things, bigger isn’t always better with regards to smartphones and this list best represents the top picks for worthwhile small phones on the market in 2021.

Why get a small phone?

When the 4.7in iPhone 6 was released, many were outraged at the size increase. Nowadays, such a screen size is considered comically small.

Simply put, phones have gotten too big. Bezels on phones have shrunk significantly in the last few years, but that doesn’t mean people are suddenly willing to wield a 6.9in monster, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

People with smaller hands are going to find a permanently two-handed phone an inconvenience, not just when in-hand but when it’s constantly poking out the top of their jeans pockets too. Handsets of a smaller size can be used one-handed, fit in a pocket or bag far more easily, and can do everything a bigger phone can do in a more compact package.

There’s also the matter of foldables to now consider, with devices like the revived Motorola RAZR, along with Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip and Z Flip 3 embracing the clamshell designs of old but combining them with new foldable display technology, giving you the best of both – a larger-screened device in a compact package.

Best small phone 2021


iPhone 13 Mini – Best overall

Pros: Lightweight and compact | Powerful performance | Great cameras
Cons: Limited battery life | Relatively expensive | No ProMotion display

Easily the best small phone around – considering the size-to-performance balance it strikes with its (still 60Hz) 5.4in Super Retina XDR OLED display.

The 13 Mini runs on the same cutting-edge A15 Bionic chipset found in the rest of the series and it also benefits from more base storage and a bigger battery, compared to its predecessor (even if longevity is still behind that of rivals).

The dual rear 12Mp camera also gets last year’s improved stabilisation, better sensors and new shooting abilities – like Cinematic mode, while the selfie snapper is among the best in the business.

The screen might feel a little cramped to type on, so try one out in an Apple Store before you buy, if you can, and think hard about the price, as 2020’s iPhone 12 Mini is still a superb small phone offering that now costs even less.

Read our full Apple iPhone 13 mini review


iPhone 12 Mini – Fantastic all-rounder

Pros: Lightweight and compact | Powerful performance | Great cameras
Cons: Limited battery life | Relatively expensive | No ProMotion display

The iPhone 12 Mini serves as the smallest of the four handsets from Apple’s 2020 lineup and its successor notwithstanding, it likely still boasts the best size to performance ratio of any smartphone right now.

On the front you’ll find a beautiful 5.4in display that extends across the entirety of the phone’s front (save for the Face ID-capable notch).

It also packs in a pair of stellar cameras, MagSafe for iPhone-compliant wireless charging and what is still one of the most powerful SoCs out there in Apple’s own A14 Bionic. 5G is included too, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Read our full iPhone 12 mini review


iPhone 13 Pro – Best camera

Pros: ProMotion display | Superb cameras | Top-tier performance | Improved battery life
Cons: Cinematography Mode and HDR algorithm need work | Pricey

Even though is lacks a ‘Mini’ in its name, the size of Apple’s standard and ‘Pro’ phones still come in below the average, thanks to some sizeable Android alternatives.

The iPhone 13 Pro sits at the top of that pile, offering the latest and greatest in terms of raw performance – from its A15 Bionic chip, along with a trio of excellent cameras that boast support for Apple’s ProRAW and ProRes still and video standards, along with a few more experimental features – like Cinematic mode – that, after a little tuning from Apple, will leave you impressed.

Battery life is also hugely improved and the 13 Pro also finally integrates ProMotion onto an iPhone, with a 6.1in Super Retina XDR display that supports a dynamic refresh rate up to 120Hz.

Read our full Apple iPhone 13 Pro review


Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 – Best foldable

Pros: Elegant folding design | Water resistance | More affordable than ever
Cons: No telephoto camera | Middling battery life | Still needs to be tougher

Samsung took its already-groundbreaking Galaxy Z Flip foldable, improved every aspect – from design to performance – and then made it cheaper too!

The Z Flip 3 is a beautiful expression of the evolution of foldable smartphone tech and somehow manages to incorporate water resistance into its design. As such, you get a phone with a pretty sizeable 6.7in 120Hz Full HD+ AMOLED that folds in half, making it much more pocketable.

Battery life and the dual cameras could be better but despite flagship-class performance in a groundbreaking design, the Flip 3’s pricing also proves that foldables can tango in the same space as conventional high-end smartphones without any major sacrifices.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G review


iPhone 13 – Great performance

Pros: Brilliant performance | Capable cameras | Long battery life | Great value
Cons: Still a 60Hz display | No telephoto camera | Slow charging

While it loses out on the 13 Pro’s high refresh rate display, the iPhone 13 still boasts cutting-edge features like Apple’s newest A15 Bionic 5nm chip and the latest camera features, like Cinematic Mode.

The rear camera system now sits at a diagonal, primarily to accommodate the impressive sensor-shift OIS (optical image stabilisation) that was exclusive to 2020’s iPhone 12 Pro Max (although there’s still no telephoto), while on the front – despite the same 60Hz refresh rate as before – you still get a stunning 6.1in OLED display, complete with a 20% smaller notch.

Like the 13 Pro, some of the best battery life on an iPhone comes as part of the iPhone 13 experience, but fast charging speeds are still well behind the curve

Read our full Apple iPhone 13 review


Google Pixel 5 – Best for Android

Pros: Great long-term software support | Solid performance | Small 5G phone
Cons: Rivals offer nice displays | Uninteresting design

While the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are now here, neither could be considered ‘small’, leaving 2020’s Pixel 5 to do all the heavy lifting for those after one of the rare worthwhile small Android phones out there.

Upgraded to Android 12 with the Pixel 6’s arrival and benefitting from longer-term OS and security update support than your average Android phone, the Pixel 5 still has a lot to love beyond its size.

The company’s imaging smarts render the otherwise uninteresting camera hardware surprisingly formidable, while battery life proved hugely improved over that of its predecessor to something that’s actually usable.

Good small Android phones are hard to come by, and this is easily the best, in terms of its power-to-size ratio.

Read our full Google Pixel 5 review


iPhone 12 – Great all-rounder

Pros: Slick industrial design | Stunning display | Solid cameras
Cons: Still only 60Hz display | Slow charging

The Mini may embody the modern ‘small iPhone’ but at 6.1in, the display on the standard iPhone 12 is still pleasingly compact.

Although it may not be quite as pocketable, it boasts all the same great specs as the 12 Mini (including 5G) but leverages its larger footprint in order to accommodate a bigger battery and a faster 15W (up from 12W) wireless charging system.

The balance it struck also rendered it our pick of 2020’s iPhones overall, even over the 12 Pro.

Read our full Apple iPhone 12 review


iPhone 12 Pro – Still excellent

Pros: Slick industrial design | Stunning display | Solid cameras
Cons: Frame attracts fingerprints | Still only 60Hz display | Slow charging

The iPhone 12 Pro is a phenomenal smartphone, built around a 60Hz 6.1in Super Retina XDR display, that’s crisp and colourful.

Its price held it back from greatness last year, which is less of an issue now that the iPhone 13 line is here.

A trio of excellent camera on the rear allows for some in the best video capture in the business and general performance is still some of the best in the business.

Despite the addition of MagSafe for iPhone, we just wish Apple had focussed on faster charging instead.

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro review


Samsung Galaxy S21 – Great for ease of use

Pros: Nice 120Hz display | Nice user experience | Strong performance
Cons: Some downgrades over S20 | Plastic build

Samsung kicked 2021 off with a bang by releasing what is one of the world’s most power Android phones – thanks to the next-gen Exynos 2100/Snapdragon 888 at its heart (depending on market).

Beyond raw performance, the Galaxy S21 boasts a distinct design, comes jam-packed with features and undercuts its predecessor on price by quite a margin.

Its 6.2in display is already relatively compact, but One UI’s flexible one-handed mode also helps further the benefits of this compact Galaxy S phone.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review


Asus ZenFone 8 – Great Android alternative

Pros: Good small Android phone | Crisp 120Hz display | Great performance
Cons: Underwhelming battery life | Mediocre design | Poor heat management

Compact Android phones worth buying are few and far between, especially those with screens below six inches.

Asus surprised us with the more modest version of its 2021 ZenFone flagship. While the ZenFone 8 loses out on its sibling’s iconic flipping camera, it makes up for it with an impressive pocketable design, led by a 5.9in 120Hz AMOLED display.

It also folds in flagship-level performance and a suitable solid duo of rear-facing cameras. Battery life could be better, as could heat management but it’s still a worthwhile pick in our eyes.

Read our full Asus ZenFone 8 review

Related: How we test smartphones

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