Best compact phones 2021 - buyer’s guide

GSMArena team, Last updated 20 October 2021.

Last updated: October 20, 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.

Editors' choice

Apple iPhone 13 mini

Apple iPhone 13 mini

  • Tiny OLED, high-res, bright
  • Iconic design with ceramic shield, aluminum frame, IP68
  • The latest Apple A15Bionic chip with 5G
  • The cameras take some great photos and videos
  • Night Mode and Dolby Vision available
  • Loud stereo speakers
  • Improved battery life over 12 mini
  • Potential throttling under certain conditions
  • No charger, no headphones

The new Apple iPhone 13 mini is a smaller version of the iPhone 13 and it's lost nothing. The most important updates over the 12 mini are the larger battery capacity, the smaller screen notch, and the doubled base storage. We sure don't think iPhone 12 mini owners should update, but we do consider the 13 mini as the best compact phone there is right now!

The iPhone 13 mini packs a 5.4" OLED screen of 1080p resolution and the powerful Apple A15 chip with 5G connectivity! It has the same dual-camera as the regular iPhone 13, complete with sensor-shift stabilization, Night Mode and Dolby Vision video capturing. It also enjoys loud stereo speakers and improved battery life. Another best bits - the mini is one of the most durable phones to date as it has the same Ceramic Shield and IP68 water proofing as the standard and Pro models.

The iPhone 13 mini is the best compact smartphone to date, and we wholeheartedly recommend it. You should also consider the Apple iPhone 12 mini as it is now cheaper, and the differences with the 13 mini aren't exciting.

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Apple iPhone SE (2020)

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

  • It's an iPhone, and a 'cheap' one at that, as iPhones go.
  • TouchID!
  • 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.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 5G

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.

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Asus Zenfone 8

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 13 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 price of €699 is more in the upper mid-range territory.

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Sony Xperia 5 III

Sony Xperia 5 III

  • It's not Xperia Compact, but close. IP68, lightweight, too.
  • Excellent OLED 120Hz display
  • Versatile triple camera setup (wide, ultra wide, tele) with great image and video quality
  • Dependable battery life, quick top-ups
  • Snapdragon 888, 5G
  • No wireless charging
  • No 4K60 video recording in the native app
  • Outdated selfie camera

The Sony Xperia 5 III absolutely deserves a spot here. While it isn't the next Xperia Compact, the Xperia 5 III is compact enough in Android's universe. 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 III 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 13 mini.

The Xperia 5 III also offers this unique feature-set for a fairly compact phone with possibly the most versatile camera for the size and we like what Sony did with the telephoto camera. The advanced photo and video capture apps are a boon if you know what you're doing, too.

The things we did not like - the selfie camera and the complicated 4K60 video capturing. But it is what it is.

Read full review
Google Pixel 5

Google Pixel 5

  • 144 x 70.4 x 8 mm, 151 g, IP68
  • Great OLED display, 90Hz, HDR10+
  • Dual outstanding camera
  • Stereo speakers
  • Snappy Android from Google
  • Expensive, limited availability
  • Computational photography is not a Google exclusive anymore

The Pixel 5 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 90Hz OLED HDR10 screen and the stereo speakers.

The Pixel 5 is quite nice phone with aluminum IP68-rated body, and dependable battery life. The Pixel 5 is based on the rather average Snapdragon 765G 5G chipset, though it can still handle gaming and whatnot.

This small 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 and it's rather expensive, meaning it's more of a niche option rather than a mainstream recommendation.

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Most recent updates

Oct 20, 2021: Replaced the iPhone 12 mini with the iPhone 13 mini. Replaced Xperia 5 II with the Xperia 5 III. Replaced the Pixel 4a with Pixel 5. Removed the Galaxy A41.

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

Reader comments

  • Anonymous

would be best overall S21 5g 256gb exynos variants £605 S21 fe 5g 256gb snapdragon variant £584 Both priced within 10 20 pounds of each other with right promotions

  • dia6olo

Anything above 5" is not compact and I personally find it baffling that there is literally ZERO choice for a smart phone of 5" or bellow apart from apple of which I will never entertain! I am stuck on an old oneplus 3T which I consider la...

  • Sin

All of the phones here are big phones or mid size phones The screen should be 5 inch or lower but no smaller then 3 inch none the phones listed here i buy there all too big for me