In just a few short years, big phones have gone from being an outlier to the norm in the smartphone industry. Just about every major device released these days has a larger physical size, and while that’s great for watching movies and playing games, it can be a challenge for those who prefer phones to be small and compact. Thankfully, there are still plenty of options, including the Google Pixel 6a as our top overall pick.
You won’t have to squint to see the best small phones
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Google’s Pixel A-series has long been a value leader since the series was introduced. While most A-series phones have been on the smaller side, they often pair the diminutive size and price with equally diminutive specs. This time around, however, the Pixel 6a can be considered a “value flagship” phone that also doubles as the best small phone you can buy.
While phones like the Asus Zenfone 9 offer better performance and battery life, no phone on this list offers the camera quality or quality haptics of the Google Pixel 6a. It’s also got the most unique build, and design of any phone on the list, and only Samsung offers a longer software support promise.
Every time I pick the phone up and use it, I marvel at how this phone only costs $450 and yet feels so darn premium in every way. The processor inside is the same one in the more expensive Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, offering the same advanced camera features from those Pixel phones.
While the Pixel 6a uses the same camera hardware as the Pixel 5a, that Tensor processor inside ensures that the photos you capture are crystal clear every time. Google has long been a master at this but took it to the next level with Tensor, which offers Face Unblur technology, automatically capturing crisp faces even when there’s movement. It’s one of the many reasons the Pixel 6 series is the best phone for parents (opens in new tab).
Google outfitted the Pixel 6a with a different fingerprint sensor than the Pixel 6, and even though there were some issues at launch, Google fixed those issues with the release of Android 13 last month. The phone also features no wireless charging or headphone jack, and the display is only 60Hz, and that’s compared with many other phones on this list that offer 90Hz or 120Hz displays.
But, really, how can you argue with this price? It might not have every flagship feature but, in my opinion, sacrifices the right ones to fit the best components in a small package while still maintaining an incredible price. It’s a bit of give and take, but, ultimately, it’s the best overall small Android phone you can buy.
The baby Samsung Galaxy S22 is the perfect small phone in terms of size alone, touting an adorable 6.1-inch Dynamix AMOLED 2X display. In addition to the petite dimensions, it’s also a seriously great package that you won’t want to overlook.
The Galaxy S22’s small screen and overall slim build make it extremely comfortable to use in the real world. With tight bezels, a flat display, and a lightweight design thanks to the matte glass back, the Galaxy S22 is one of the most user-friendly flagships we’re bound to see in 2022. The display is also top-notch, with a fluid 120Hz refresh rate for buttery smooth animations, and impressive brightness under the sun.
Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset is at the heart of the S22, and as you’d expect, this allows for some of the best performance currently available in a smartphone (in addition to sub-6 and mmWave 5G support). There’s also 8GB of RAM and your choice of 128 or 256GB of internal storage. The triple-camera system is reliable and versatile. Between the 50MP primary camera, 12MP ultra-wide camera, and 10MP telephoto camera, you’ll be able to take some nice shots with the S22.
The biggest downside to the S22 is, unfortunately, battery life. It’s far from unusable, but if you’re rocking the 120Hz refresh rate and have an active 5G connection, don’t expect to make it through one whole day of use.
If there’s any one specific reason to get a foldable phone, it’s to fit a bigger display in an actual pocketable form factor. That’s precisely why the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 is the best foldable phone for fans of smaller phones.
Case in point, it might have a giant 6.7-inch display on the inside — which is anything but “small” or pocketable — but the Flip 4 folds in half when you’re done with it, giving you the convenience of a small phone size and a big screen when you need it.
With the Galaxy Z Flip 4, Samsung upgraded the battery size and added in a more powerful and power-efficient processor, meaning you’ll easily get all-day battery life on a single charge. The charging was also upgraded from 15W on the Flip 3 to 25W on the Flip 4, meaning it won’t take more than 20 or 30 minutes to juice it up enough to get you through a particularly busy day.
The camera experience has also been upgraded, as I pointed out in our Galaxy Z Flip 4 camera review (opens in new tab). It now takes better low-light shots faster than the Flip 3, and Samsung’s software has gotten smarter, too, handling things like motion better than ever.
On the software front, the Z Flip 4 launched with One UI 4.1, which is built atop Android 12 and is slated for four major Android updates before the end of its support life. That’s more than any other major Android manufacturer, and Samsung’s regular cadence of feature additions only adds to the value you get with this amazing phone.
Ready to jump to the next big, small thing? A Flip should be in your future, then.
Asus’ Zenfone 9 is an incredible phone that would have easily won the best overall if it weren’t for two big things: no 5G bands or Verizon support in the U.S.
It’s a terrible shame to start with such a negative — because we absolutely adore what Asus did here — but it’s the thing that’ll keep most U.S. buyers from ever experiencing the phone. If you’re on T-Mobile, AT&T, Mint Mobile, or another supported carrier (opens in new tab) and don’t mind only 4G coverage — or, better yet, are located outside of the U.S. — the Zenfone 9 is the best small phone you can buy.
It all starts with the size. Most small Android phones can’t be called small by the same definition we had just five years ago, but the Zenfone 9 eschews that thought and delivers a true one-handed experience. Even the side-mounted fingerprint sensor can be used to scroll content on the screen, enabling new ways of one-handed use that aren’t often seen.
In addition to that, Asus packed a big, huge battery inside as well as the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor. That means you’re going to get the best performance from an Android phone right now and battery life that’ll make you wonder what sort of voodoo magic Asus worked on the phone. 2-day battery life is normal with the Zenfone 9, and that’s almost hard to believe when a phone is this fast.
Asus also packed in some truly superb cameras, as Harish pointed out in his review here on Android Central. There’s even a 3.5mm headphone jack onboard, making us wonder why other OEMs can’t get their act together and include one. It’s a great overall experience that’s really only hampered by carrier compatibility in the U.S.
This phone borrows heavily from the Sony Xperia 1 II, making cuts in size inside and out. The smaller frame still gives you a 6.1-inch FHD+ OLED with a 120Hz refresh rate and 240Hz touch sampling rate, so visually, there’s something neat to look at. You won’t be getting 4K resolution on this panel, but that’s fine if you don’t mind a step or two lower at 2520×1080.
The Xperia 5 III is also easier to wield, not just because of its smaller stature, but also a wise decision to go with rounded corners. Strangely, Sony opted to go with an enlarged lock button to double as the fingerprint sensor when just doing an onscreen one would have probably made more sense. You are likely to hit it accidentally or have trouble locking/unlocking your phone.
In any case, there are some decent performance specs, courtesy of the Snapdragon 888 5G chipset, along with 8GB of RAM and 128GB/256GB storage (there’s also a micro SD slot if you want more space). That makes it more than capable of handling pretty much any task, even if the look of the phone may feel a bit aged. Streaming media is easy, and if you want to do some gaming, that’s easy enough, too. There’s even a headphone jack in case that’s useful.
A good IP68 rating gives the phone some decent water resistance, which may compel you to take a few risks when shooting with its capable camera. The triple camera array in the rear can take good shots, with more true-to-life color that might please your eye if you take photography more seriously. However, the front-facing sensor is a modest 8MP and not quite as good as other comparable phones.
The 4,500mAh battery holds up well because of its larger size relative to the phone’s slimmer frame, and that’s more than enough to last a full day, every day.
Camera output is going to be as good as it gets for something in this price range. Decent shots in good conditions and not so good when the lights dim. That’s the same for the battery, which lasts a long time, thanks to its 4,000mAh size and the lighter specs. So you should breeze through a full day with plenty left to spare.
It’s always nice when hardware and software can run this well on a device this size. The A15 Bionic chip is a steady performer, and with iOS 15 running smoothly, it’s as intuitive as you’d expect an iPhone to be. Apple’s tendency to also support its phones with years of updates (assuming they won’t throttle it in any way) will also keep the iPhone SE 2022 relevant for some time.
Trimming things down also means a smaller battery. However, the 2,018mAh cell keeps the device up for a decent amount of time. Unfortunately, there’s still no USB-C, so you will have to charge via Lightning or Qi wireless charging. The single 12MP main camera takes decent shots, leveraging the processing powers of the A15 Bionic and software improvements. You do miss out on Face ID, but there’s the throwback home button with Touch ID built-in for biometric security.
Not everything’s about size
The market for small Android phones isn’t as expansive as it used to be, but there are still plenty of choices out there if you know where to look. Among everything currently available, we think the Google Pixel 6a is the best one you can get.
Google found a way to perfect the small phone formula with the Pixel 5a, which was attractive and well-built. The Pixel 6a gets bigger and badder in every aspect, with a flashy new design that dresses to impress. It may not be what everyone considers “small” but it has amazing specs across the board, comes in at a price that’s more than reasonable, and can still be considered small by modern phone standards. Using the Pixel 6a is pretty darn great no matter what you’re doing, often punching above what you’d expect from a phone this cheap.
What’s special about the Pixel 6a is that it goes above and beyond regarding camera and software. These are two areas that the Pixel does better than anyone else, and with the Pixel 6a, you get those benefits while staying within your budget.
If you need a phone that’s truly designed for one-handed use, then look no further than the Zenfone 9. ASUS somehow managed to deliver high-end hardware, great cameras, and a large battery into this small phone, and it is a truly standout package.