Phones with immense displays like the Pixel 6 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra certainly have their advantages. Top specs and stellar cameras are often packed into those larger bodies, while the big screens themselves can be great for watching videos on the move. But there’s no escaping that sheer size. The 13 Pro Max’s 6.7-inch display means squeezing it into those tight jeans pockets is unlikely and using it with one hand is pretty much impossible for anyone with hands smaller than continents.
Phones have increased in size steadily over the years, with 6-inch or bigger phones being the norm now. That’s great for watching videos or playing games while you’re on your way home on the bus, but what if you don’t care about the screen real estate and just want a great phone that you can actually fit into your jeans pocket?
Get the CNET Mobile newsletter
Find the best phones, apps and accessories with our CNET Mobile newsletter. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Your options are, I’m sorry to say, limited, but there are still some great compact phones to consider. Everyone’s definition of “small” is different and a comfortable size for you may feel uncomfortably large to someone else. Keeping that in mind, I’ll be including phones that are 6 inches and under in screen size, but if you’re worried about the size, it’s worth trying to get hands-on with a phone at your nearest store.
Google Pixel 5
At 6 inches, the Pixel 5 is towards the top end of this list’s size scale, but the narrow bezel around its screen makes it a surprisingly compact smartphone to hold. It’s a hell of a lot more pocket-friendly than the immense 6.8-inch S21 Ultra. It has a solid camera setup, 5G and a fast and smooth interface that impressed us in our review.
It’s not the most recent flagship from Google — that’s the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro — but even the smaller of the new flagships measures in at 6.4 inches. And that, sadly, isn’t small.
The iPhone 13 Mini is one of few small phones that don’t force you to make any compromises on power and performance. It has the same A15 Bionic processor found in all of the 13 series phones and more battery life than its iPhone 12 Mini predecessor. This iPhone Mini is a great all-round phone and at only 5.4 inches, it’s one of the best small phones money can buy.
We liked the Pixel 4A’s balance of decent overall performance with its low price when it launched in 2020. Its screen size of 5.8 inches puts it on the smaller side of today’s phones. But what this small Android phone doesn’t have is 5G, which may be a problem if you want to get on those super-fast data speeds everyone’s talking about.
So, get the 4A 5G, right? Not so fast. When Google added 5G to its cheapest mobile phone it also bumped the smaller screen size up to 6.2 inches, while its newer Pixel 5A has an even bigger 6.34-inch display. Boo and, indeed, hiss.
Apple’s cheapest iPhone packs a punch for the price, with a powerful processor and a single camera that’s capable of taking beautiful photos. Like the Pixel 4A, it doesn’t have 5G, but that may be a sacrifice you need to make if you can’t stretch your budget to the 5G-enabled iPhone 12 Mini. Its screen size of 4.7 inches is small, but its wide bezels at the top and bottom mean the phone itself isn’t that much smaller than the standard iPhone 13.
Wallet can’t stretch to Apple’s latest iPhone 13 Mini? Last year’s 12 Mini is still being officially sold by Apple and now starts at $599 — a decent saving off the new model. Its 5.4-inch screen makes it certainly pocket-friendly, while its solid camera and strong performance make it generally great to use.
At 6.1 inches, this Android phone technically falls outside of the 6-inch threshold I put on this article. But hear me out before you take to Twitter and call me a buffoon. The phone has a 21:9 aspect ratio, which makes it much longer than it is wide. At only 2.68 inches wide, it’s actually narrower than the Pixel 4A listed above, which makes it as comfortable to hold as any other small phone.
It’s packed full of top tech too, including a cracking camera setup and 5G connectivity (although 5G is only supported on Xperia 5 II phones sold outside of the US). The screen is beautiful and its aspect ratio makes it great for widescreen videos. It could be a smart compromise if you want a more hand-friendly phone but you still want to enjoy videos on the move.
Apple has officially discontinued 2019’s iPhone 11 Pro, but you can still find it at various retailers. Its screen measures 5.8 inches. This, together with narrow bezels, makes it comfortably pocket-friendly.
It’s packed with power and its triple-camera system blew me away with its quality when I took it for a road trip in a supercar when it launched. No, it doesn’t have 5G, but if you can stomach that then it’s a superb smaller phone to consider.
A special mention has to go to the Z Flip 3. While its main screen measures a whopping 6.7 inches, this compact smartphone fully folds in half. It can close up to sit comfortably in the palm of your hand or fit in your pocket without causing any awkward bulges. It could be the ideal compromise of portable size, but with a nice big screen for when you do want to use it.
You’ll be paying handsomely for that compromise, as folding phones like the Z Flip (or Motorola’s Moto Razr 5G, which offers much the same concept) cost a lot more than regular smartphones. You’ll have to decide whether you’re willing to splash that much cash just for the convenient size.