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Best small phones to buy in 2021

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We love the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with their incredible lineup of top specs and ability to take truly stunning photos. But there’s no escaping their immense size. The 12 Pro Max’s 6.7-inch display means getting it into those tight jeans pockets is a real stretch and using it with one hand is pretty much impossible for anyone with hands smaller than continents. 

Phones have steadily increased in size over the years with 6-inch or bigger phones being the norm now. Sure, that’s great for watching videos or playing games on the move but what if you don’t care about the screen real estate and just want a great phone that can fit in your hand?

Your options are, I’m afraid to say, limited, but there are still some phones to consider. Everyone’s definition of “small” is different, though, and a comfortable size for you may feel uncomfortably large to someone else. Bearing that in mind, I’ll be including phones that are 6 inches and under in screen size, but it’s worth trying to get hands-on with a phone at your nearest store (remember to take hand sanitiser!)  if you’re concerned about the size. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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 surprisingly compact to hold. It’s a hell of a lot more pocket-friendly than the immense 6.8-inch S21 Ultra. Google’s current flagship includes a great camera setup, 5G and a fast and smooth interface that impressed us in our review. 

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The iPhone 12 Mini is one of few small phones that don’t force you to make any compromises on power and performance. It has the same A14 Bionic processor found in all of the 12 series phones and it has the same dual rear-camera setup found on the standard iPhone 12 (albeit lacking the triple setup of the 12 Pro models). It’s a great all-round phone and at only 5.4 inches, it’s one of the best small phones money can buy. 

Read our Apple iPhone 12 Mini review.


Angela Lang/CNET

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 it 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 phone it also bumped the screen size up to 6.2 inches, while its brand new Pixel 5A has an even bigger 6.34-inch display. Boo and, indeed, hiss. 

Read our Google Pixel 4A review.


John Kim/CNET

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 12. 

Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review.


At 6.1 inches, this 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 68mm (2.68 inches) 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. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

2019’s iPhone 11 Pro is still officially on sale from Apple and will continue to get full software support for at least the next few years so it’s still worth considering if you want a high performance handset. 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 the phone first launched. No, it doesn’t have 5G, but if you can stomach that then it’s a superb smaller option to consider. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

Sara Tew/CNET

A special mention has to go to the Z Flip 3. While its main screen measures a whopping 6.7 inches, this phone 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. 

Of course 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. 

Read our Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review.


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