Looking to upgrade to a powerful handset that fits in your pocket? That may be a challenge: Most phone makers assume you want a huge screen.
Unfortunately, the carriers in the United States seem to have collectively decided that when it comes to expensive phones, bigger is better. There simply aren’t that many phones under 5 inches that have come out in the past 6 months — at least not phones with powerful processors and cameras.
That’s too bad. One of the reasons that big phones are growing in popularity is that for many people, they can replace the tablet and even the laptop. But plenty of consumers already have tablets, and some simply want powerful phones that are easy to carry.
If you never even considered the iPhone 6 Plus, you’re tired of big phones poking out of your skinny jeans or you simply want phablet-level power minus the tablet, consider this your guide to hand-sized phones.
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
Size and weight: The Sony Xperia Z3 has a 4.6-inch screen and weighs 129 grams.
Pros: The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is a “true flagship,” meaning that there are few to no compromises compared to Sony’s bigger flagship, the Xperia Z3. This phone is powerful: It’s got a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip and 3 GB of RAM, it’s waterproof and it has an expandable MicroSD card slot. Sony also has fantastic cameras on its phones. The one downgrade from the Z3 is that the Compact’s 4.6-inch screen is only 720p, but at 319 pixels per inch, it won’t make a huge difference during normal use.
Cons: Unfortunately, despite having a golden opportunity while announcing the Xperia Z3v, Verizon hasn’t announced Z3 Compact availability. The full size Xperia Z3 is headed to T-Mobile, but the Compact is missing on its roster as well. So for now, if you want this device, you’ll have to get your hands on one from overseas or from Sony directly, which means you’ll be paying full price for the device up front.
Compatible carriers: Although neither AT&T nor T-Mobile has announced if they will carry the Z3 Compact, an unlocked version will work on those networks. Unfortunately, the unlocked Z3 Compact won’t work on Verizon.
Best for: People looking for the highest-quality Android phone under 5 inches who don’t mind buying unlocked and skipping the carrier subsidy.
Samsung Galaxy Alpha
Size and weight: The Samsung Galaxy Alpha has a 4.7-inch 720p screen and weighs 115g.
Pros: The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is one of the most beautiful devices that Samsung’s ever made. It’s surprisingly light, has a solid metal construction and is small enough to fit in most hands and pockets. It’s got a Samsung fingerprint sensor that can be used with PayPal and a heart rate monitor. The U.S. version comes with a speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 — the same chip that comes in the bigger Galaxy S5.
Cons: The camera could be better. It’s not as good as the cameras on some of Samsung’s other phones and it isn’t nearly as good as Sony’s shooters. Unlike other Samsung devices, there isn’t expandable storage.
Compatible carriers: The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is currently available on AT&T, but unlocked versions can work on T-Mobile as well.
Availability: Samsung isn’t selling an unlocked version of the Galaxy Alpha on its website yet but you can find them from resellers on Amazon for $690. AT&T has the Galaxy Alpha for $200 with a two-year contract.
Best for: Samsung fans who found that the Galaxy S line outgrew their hands.
HTC One Remix
Size and weight: The HTC One Remix (known as the HTC One Mini 2 overseas) has a 4.5-inch, 720p screen and weighs 137 grams.
Pros: The HTC One remix is basically a smaller version of the HTC One M8, which got glowing reviews. It’s got a metallic body that feels very solid as well as HTC’s loud front-facing speakers.
Cons: The HTC One Remix won’t be as fast as the HTC One M8. It only has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor as opposed to the Snapdragon 801 you can find in high-end phones these days. Also, its camera isn’t the same at the HTC One M8 camera, dropping the UltraPixel sensor for a more traditional 13MP sensor.
Compatible carriers: The HTC One Remix will only work on Verizon in the United States because it only has LTE bands for 7 and 17. It isn’t available unlocked, but you might be able to import an overseas HTC One Mini 2 that works on carriers like T-Mobile.
Price: $100 with a 2-year Verizon contract, or $449 purchased outright.
Best for: Those who want a non-iOS device with a metallic rear case, or those looking for a smaller phone on Verizon.
Sharp AQUOS Crystal
Size and weight: The Sharp Aquos Crystal has a 5.0-inch 720p screen and weighs 141 grams.
Pros: This phone turns heads, thanks to its unique bezel which is almost nonexistent on three sides of the screen. It looks like the handset ends when the screen ends.
Cons: Although the Aquos Crystal is roughly the size of other 4.7-inch devices thanks to its slim bezel, it actually has a 5-inch screen. And 720p over 5 inches works out to 294 ppi, which is below the arbitrary “retina” cutoff, so you might be able to see individual pixels during regular use. It won’t work on GSM networks in the United States or overseas. It’s equipped with a Snapdragon 400 processor, which, while capable, isn’t nearly the fastest chip available.
Compatible carriers: It’s available on Sprint and its prepaid affiliates, Boost and Virgin, in the United States.
Price: Sprint starts selling the AQUOS Crystal on October 17. It will cost $240 when purchased separately, or 24 installments of $10, although you can get one for $150 on a prepaid plan from Sprint Prepaid or Boost.
Best for: Sprint subscribers, or anyone looking for a phone that stands out at a low price.
Moto X (first-generation)
Size and weight: The Moto X has a 4.7-inch screen at 720p resolution and weighs 130 grams.
Pros: The Moto X feels like a much smaller phone than its 4.7-inch screen would indicate because it’s got slim bezels on the top and bottom. When it was developed, Motorola was part of Google, and because of that the Moto X sports several nifty tricks, like always-on voice activation. Using Moto Maker, you can customize your back panel with materials like wood. Great build quality.
Cons: It’s not the latest and greatest anymore — and its Snapdragon S4 Pro chip wasn’t cutting edge even last year when it came out. There are also mixed reviews on its camera. Unfortunately, the new Moto X, which seems like a great device, bumps the screen up to 5.2-inches, which takes it out of consideration for many people looking for smaller phones.
Compatible carriers: The Moto X is available on all major U.S. carriers as well as unlocked.
Best for: Those who love Motorola’s voice activation features, or want to save money by buying an unlocked device.
Size and weight: The iPhone 6 has a 4.7-inch screen running at a 750 x 1334 resolution. It weighs 129 grams.
Pros: The iPhone 6 is one of the world’s bestselling smartphones and is currently the most powerful iPhone that Apple makes. It has a very nice screen and perhaps the best camera on a smartphone today. Apple’s App Store continues to be the most mature marketplace for mobile apps.
Cons: For Android fans, this device is a nonstarter because it runs iOS.
Compatible carriers: The iPhone 6 works on all four major U.S. carriers, although there are two separate versions that have different compatibility. Although it’s billed on Apple’s website as a “T-Mobile” iPhone, Apple does sell an unlocked iPhone 6 that works on AT&T as well.
Price: $650 without a contract for a 16GB model, or $200 with a two-year contract on most major carriers.
Best for: Those who want to pick a new phone and get on with their lives.
Size and weight: The iPhone 5S has a 4-inch screen with a resolution of 640 x 1136. It weighs 112 grams.
Pros: You can expect the iPhone 5S to continue to be supported for a number of years. Even though it’s a year old, it still has Apple’s Touch ID sensor, and according to some tests, the 64-bit A7 processor in the iPhone 5S is still one of the fastest chips available. This is the smallest high-performance phone currently on the market. Apple supersized its phones earlier this year, and the 5S could be the last high-end 4-inch device for a long while, unless Cupertino is planning a surprise iPhone Nano.
Cons: Not the latest and greatest anymore. It won’t work with Apple Pay because it lacks the NFC chip needed. No expandable storage.
Compatible carriers: The iPhone 5S is available for all four major carriers as well as most of the smaller, regional ones as well. You can buy unlocked devices from Apple directly.
Price: $100 on a two-year contract, or $550 unlocked. 32GB models only cost $50 more.
Best for: Those who want the smallest possible device with the fewest compromises.
Amazon Fire Phone
Size and weight: The Fire Phone has a 4.7-inch screen at 720p resolution. It weighs 160 grams.
Pros: The Fire Phone has good build quality and a decently-sized screen for one-handed usage. It also comes with a free year of Amazon Prime, which is a $100 value.
Cons: The Fire Phone has been somewhat of a flop and has been poorly reviewed. The Amazon Appstore doesn’t have nearly the selection of Google Play or Apple’s App Store. Dynamic Perspective, Amazon’s 3D effect which uses four front-facing cameras on the Fire Phone, is a gimmick.
Compatible carriers: The Fire Phone is currently an AT&T exclusive, but unlocked models can work on T-Mobile as well.
Best for: People who want free two-day shipping.