Best compact phones 2020 - buyer’s guide
The trend towards growing displays seems to be plateauing, but even in the current state of things, most phones are just too big for easy handling with one hand. This is why we always enjoy it when we come across the occasional competent compact handset. In this section of our buyer's guide, we'll try to point out the ones we think deserve your attention.
Apple iPhone SE (2020)
- It's an iPhone, and a 'cheap' one at that, as iPhones go.
- TouchID is back and we love it!
- IP67 rating is rare for a smartphone at this price
- Chipset is so powerful it's almost overkill, but you do get all the future-proofing
- The camera takes some great photos and videos
- These stereo speakers are loud
- While technically 'compact', the massive bezels mean small usable screen area
- Apple’s excellent Night mode is sorely missed here
- Battery life is only so-so
Apple released a new SE this year and it's an instant Editors' choice in our compact phones chart. It's hardly perfect - it revives a form factor introduced 6 years ago and last touched up in 2017 and reuses a lot of that 2017 iPhone 8 bits. That means a single camera, a small battery, giant screen bezels and the return of an almost forgotten means of authentication - TouchID. Wait, that's a good thing - we missed TouchID, in a way.
Speaking of good things, perhaps the best one is the chipset - the SE (2020) has the same SoC as the proper iPhones of the day, so it's more powerful than even the beefiest Android, and it'll remain capable for years to come, during which time it'll keep getting software updates - the iOS way. It's a very affordable entry into that iOS world too - relatively, of course - the next cheapest iPhone is the XR at roughly a 50% premium.
Like it or not, there simply hasn't been a high-end smartphone this small since the Xperia XZ2 Compact from April 2018.Read full review
Samsung Galaxy S20
- 128GB 8GB RAM $ 654.99
- It's a true flagship - materials, fit, IP68 rating
- Superb 120Hz AMOLED display
- Versatile triple camera that goes from ultra wide to 3x zoom (if in its own special way) with excellent performance across the board
- Heat and thermal throttling under load
- Flawed experience from the ultrasonic fingerprint reader
- Unimpressive battery life
- The bitter taste in your mouth from calling the 64MP camera telephoto
Samsung switched up its approach to the flagship roster this year and delivered a compact that's as full-featured as the plus-sized model.
The Galaxy S20 comes with essentially the same camera system as the S20+ (sans the ToF modul) that's fully capable for stills and video, day and night, and goes from ultra wide to tele - sort of losslessly up to 3x, though we just wish they communicated it better. Display parity is also there - the 120Hz-capable 1440p AMOLED may not be able to get you both numbers at the same time, but it's the exact limitation that you'll encounter on the Plus, and even the Ultra. If anything, the S20 looks best of the three at 1080p/120Hz thanks to the small diagonal.
The smallest Galaxy S20 can't match the others for battery life, and offers just satisfactory endurance. The compact size surely doesn't help with the thermals, and the S20 heats up a lot when stressed, but to be fair so do the bigger ones in the Exynos trim that we've reviewed them. And, yeah, unlike that old and trusty TouchID above, all three S20s do a less-than-stellar job of fingerprint recognition - but the parity is there.Read full review
Samsung Galaxy S10e
- 128GB 6GB RAM $ 439.00
- Superb display
- Great battery life, two-way wireless charging
- Nice camera output across the board
- Has a 3.5mm jack
- Awkward fingerprint reader placement
- No tele camera
While the Galaxy S20 is, indeed, quite a pocketable phone, you can go a full centimeter shorter with Galaxy S10e. It may be part of the last generation and comes stripped of some S10 features, it's still not half bad, particularly for its size. It's got the flagship's chipset (last year's but still), a display that's as good in most aspects (no HRR), and longer battery life than the S20 or the S10 proper.
A couple of things did fall victim on the S10e for the sake of compactness (or market segmentation). For one, it's missing a telephoto camera and only comes with a dual setup of a regular wide and an ultra-wide module, but they do produce the same quality photos as the S10 and that's no bad thing. Additionally, the under-display fingerprint reader of the most Samsungs is replaced by the thin side-mounted capacitive sensor - maybe try it beforehand.
Being part of the flagship lineup, the S10e should be getting software updates as the big boys, so you don't have to worry about sacrificing future-proofing for compactness by getting a year-old device.Read full review
Apple iPhone 11 Pro
- Superb display
- Great (screen-on) battery life, wireless charging
- Class-leading performance
- Proper triple camera (wide, ultra wide, tele)
- Best video capture on the market
- Very expensive
- May be compact, but it's not light in weight
- Lightning port, no storage expansion, pricey storage upgrades
Okay, the iPhone SE is the most compact iPhone, by a little, and the lightest one, by a lot. But what if you want more cameras, Night mode, or an OLED display? The iPhone 11 Pro is for you - a reasonably pocketable phone (if quite hefty at 188g), and an all-out flagship one at that.
The beefiest chipset currently available is a given, the splendid display makes no compromises other than the notch, and a triple camera with industry-leading video recording quality outperforms the SE's by a factor of, say, the price ratio between them. All of that goes hand in hand with more than decent battery life and (at last!) fast charging to sweeten the deal.Read full review
Samsung Galaxy A41
- 64GB 4GB RAM $ 300.81
- Great Super AMOLED screen, small notch
- Outstanding battery life
- Consistently good camera even if it lacks a Night Mode
- Great portraits, good selfies
- Android 10 and One UI - a combo we like
- USB-C, 3.5mm jack, microSD, FM radio
- No 4K video recording
- Uninspiring graphics performance
On the opposite end of the price spectrum is the Galaxy A41, replacing the A40 we had here before it - easy on your pocket in more than one way. It stands out thanks to a high-density Super AMOLED display, excellent battery life (quite an improvement over the A40) and a decently capable camera system for the money.
What helped Samsung make the budget is the unpretentious chipset. It's acceptable for routine tasks, but heavy gaming is not its strong suit. There's also no 4K video recording capability, though certain users may not mind one bit.Read full review
Xiaomi Mi 9 SE
- Proper triple camera setup (wide, ultra wide, tele) with great image quality
- Excellent display
- Dependable battery life, quick top-ups
- Plenty of performance for the money
- It’s getting hard to find and it’s not exactly cheap for what it is
- No storage expansion
- No 3.5mm jack
Our previous top pick, the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE remains a compelling offer a year after its release - it's still the most smartphone for the least money in the smallest package. It's the only phone in its class with a real triple camera - one that includes a telephoto next to the regular and ultra-wide modules. It's also solid on the other two smartphone pillars - battery life and display. And while the Snapdragon 712 isn't quite a flagship chip, it's a sensible choice that has enough oomph for everything you throw at it.
Xiaomi did make a few questionable choices for the SE, which we're not entirely on board with. To make it more in line with the flagship Mi 9 or for deliberate segmentation reasons, the Mi 9 SE is missing a headphone jack and a microSD slot, which takes away some of its practicality. It does sport an IR emitter, for what it's worth.
unfortunately, for whatever reason - COVID-19 or discontinuing the product, the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE stock is running out fast and it’s almost impossible to find online in the EU. We hope other markets have more luck.Read full review
Best phones by category
Does anyone know about a compact affordable smartphone coming up in the next few months?
- 14 Oct 2020
So gsmareana, is there a compact affordable android on the hirizon?
- 10 Oct 2020
What about Pixel ones?
- 21 Sep 2020