Best compact phones 2021 - buyer’s guide
Last updated: August 02, 2021 (Changelog)
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 12 mini
- Tiny OLED, high-res, bright
- Iconic design with ceramic shield, aluminum frame, IP68
- The latest Apple A14 Bionic chip with 5G
- The cameras take some great photos and videos
- Night Mode and Dolby Vision available
- Loud stereo speakers
- Battery life is only so-so
- Potential throttling under certain conditions
- No charger, no headphones
We sure thought Apple was done with the small iPhones after the new iPhone SE premiere. Yet, Apple managed to surprise us with a proper mini flagship with no missing features. Indeed, the new iPhone 12 mini is a smaller version of the iPhone 12 and it's lost nothing. There is a 5.4" OLED screen of 1080p resolution and the most powerful Apple chip to date, with 5G at that!
The mini has the same dual-camera as the regular iPhone 12, complete with Night Mode and Dolby Vision video capturing. It also enjoys loud stereo speakers and decent battery life. The best part - the mini is as durable as the rest of the iPhone 12s as it has the same Ceramic Shield and IP68 water proofing.
The iPhone 12 mini is probably the only properly small flagship and it does a fabulous job at what it was designed to do. And we wholeheartedly recommend it.Read full review
Apple iPhone SE (2020)
- It's an iPhone, and a 'cheap' one at that, as iPhones go.
- IP67 rating
- Chipset is so powerful it's almost overkill, but you do get all the future-proofing
- The camera takes some great photos and videos
- Stereo speakers
- 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 in 2020 and it's definitely among our top picks in this Compact chapter. It's hardly perfect though, but Apple has the iPhone 12 mini for those seeking perfection. So, the SE revived 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 Apple A13 Bionic chip, which is just 10% less powerful than the A14. There is no 5G though. The A13 chip is 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 iPhone 12 mini is going at roughly a 75% premium.Read full review
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G
- IP68 rating, Gorilla Glass Victus, metal frame, 169g
- 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
- Stereo speakers
- Plastic back
- The bitter taste in your mouth from calling the 64MP camera telephoto
The Samsung Galaxy S21 is one of the most compact Android flagships available and the small size didn't come at the cost of cut features. Well, if we don't count the lower screen resolution across the non-Ultra S21 models, that is.
The new Galaxy S21 comes a 1080p 120Hz AMOLED and flagship hardware, be it Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100. It has the same camera system as the S20 that's fully capable for stills and video, day and night, and goes from ultrawide to tele - sort of losslessly up to 3x.
The smallest Galaxy S21 offers a decent battery life and sustained performance even if it scores a bit lower than the rest of the series, probably due to thermal constraints. Still, it is one of the most compact droids available right now and an easy enough recommendation.Read full review
Asus Zenfone 8
- IP68-rated, GG Victus, metal frame, grippy, lightweight
- Excellent 120Hz OLED screen
- Class-leading performance and reliable sustained performance
- Class-leading speaker quality
- Has a 3.5mm jack
- Outstanding photo and video quality across the board
- €599 launch price
- Gets hot, but does not throttle much
- No wireless charging
The Asus Zenfone 8 is probably the best compact Android flagship you can get today and if weren't for the iPhone 12 mini existence, it would have been our top pick for this category. Now, let's say it's the runner up.
The Zenfone 8 has commendable qualities across the board. It's built as flagship as it can be - IP68 rating, GG Victus front, metal frame, GG3 back. There is the latest Snapdragon 888 5G chip with great sustained performance even when the phone gets hot. The camera quality turned out brilliant, no matter day or night, photo or video, or the type of camera you are using.
That's not all. The Zenfone 8 impressed us with its speakers quality, the excellent OLED, and rich connectivity options, including a 3.5mm jack.
Finally, the Zenfone 8 may be a flagship, but its launch price of €599 is more in the mid-range territory and that's why we also nominated it for a flagship killer.Read full review
Sony Xperia 5 II
- It's not Xperia Compact, but close. IP68, lightweight, too.
- Excellent OLED 120Hz display
- Proper triple camera setup (wide, ultra wide, tele) with great image and video quality
- Dependable battery life, quick top-ups
- Snapdragon 865, 5G
- No wireless charging
- No 4K60 video recording in the native app
- Outdated selfie camera
The Sony Xperia 5 II absolutely deserves a spot here even if it's soon to be replaced by (the much more expensive) Xperia 5 III. While it isn't the next Xperia Compact, the Xperia 5 II is compact enough. Tall, but thin and lightweight. It is also one of the most powerful Sony smartphones, which means you are getting the best of everything - build, camera, performance, connectivity.
We liked handling the Xperia 5 II a lot and it fits well in a hand and in pockets. It is unusually tall and yet compact and that has a certain charm we just can't explain. Plus, once you feast your eyes on that 120Hz OLED screen you may reconsider the iPhone 12 mini.
The things we did not like - the selfie camera and the complicated 4K60 video capturing. But it is what it is.Read full review
Samsung Galaxy A41
- 64GB 4GB RAM $ 226.00
- 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 aging but still good Galaxy A41 - easy on your pocket in more than one way. It stands out thanks to a high-density Super AMOLED display, excellent battery life 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
Google Pixel 4a
- 128GB 6GB RAM $ 349.99
- 144 x 69.4 x 8.2 mm, 143 g
- Great OLED display, HDR10
- Single, but outstanding camera
- Stereo speakers, 3.5mm jack
- Snappy Android from Google
- 60Hz screen
- Plastic back and frame, no ingress protection
- Average battery life
The Pixel 4a may be a year old device already, but it is still one of the most compact smartphones you can get today. And being a Pixel has some cool benefits, like great photography skills and pure Android OS from Google. We also liked its OLED HDR10 screen and the stereo speakers.
The Pixel 4a is not perfect, nor fast. It is mostly made of plastic, has no ingress protection and the battery life is not great. Then, it is based on the rather average Snapdragon 730G chipset, though it can still handle gaming and whatnot.
The smallest Pixel is quite likable for its compact no-nonsense design and signature Pixel treats. While not perfect, it can still be a great fit for many. It's availability is a bit limited, though if you decide in favor of its purchase, we are sure you can order one from a nearby online retailer.Read full review
Most recent updates
Aug 02, 2021: Added the Pixel 4a. Removed the 'Almost There' suggestions.
Nov 27, 2020: Replaced Galaxy S20 with Galaxy S21. Added the Asus Zenfone 8. Removed the Galaxy S10e.
Best phones by category
The list has phones bigger than the regular iphone 13, so might include that as well.
- 16 Oct 2021
Totally agreed. All Brand making Race into doing screen size Bigger and bigger.. That is not good For some people who wants a compact phones. (below 6" )
- 07 Oct 2021
check out Sharp Aquos R2 compact same form factor as iphone 13 mini
- 04 Oct 2021