Here's the BIG problem with small phones

androidpit xperia z3 compact vs xperia z5 compact 9
© NextPit

There has been a big problem with small Android phones in recent years. It’s such a prevailing problem that it’s having a massive impact on their sales. Yes, brilliant little phones are facing a real threat: they aren’t being made.

androidpit xperia z3 compact vs xperia z5 compact 10
Looking for a good, small Android? Get an Xperia Compact! Or perhaps an Xperia Compact? / © ANDROIDPIT

Smartphones have been increasing in size for years now. The trend might be reaching a plateau (the Nexus 6P is actually 0.3 inches smaller than its predecessor the Nexus 6) but it's of little consequence. Manufacturers have really left smaller smartphones by the wayside, and the number of high-performance phones that are small in size is almost zero.

How small is small? 

Many people prefer a larger display because they're better for viewing media on. I can't argue with this, but there is also a camp of people who prefer smaller phones because they are easier to hold, use and carry in a pocket.  

Galaxy Evolution
This is the Galaxy S series. See a trend? / © Flas100, Shutterstock, Samsung, ANDROIDPIT

But what size is small? It's difficult to give a categorical answer to this question because it’s all relative. One man's cool phablet is another man's ridiculous chunk of metal or plastic. But for the purposes of this article, we mean a phone with a display diagonal of less than a 5 inches. Why? Two reasons:

  1. It is possible to get a high-performance modern phone that's smaller than 5 inches, there just aren't very many of them (see Xperia Compact series and the iPhone 6).
  2. It’s a convenient cut-off point, and when you consider than the original Nexus ran Android software and was 3.7 inches, 5 inches is actually a rather generous definition of small.
sony xperia z4 tablet as phone de
This is an average size Android phone. / © ANDROIDPIT

How did small phones get in this mess?

It’s a problem exacerbated – if inadvertently – by Apple. Android manufacturers had to find a way to to fight the popularity of the iPhone, which prior to its Plus variants, was always less than 5 inches. One very tangible way to distinguish themselves from the likes of the 3.5-inch iPhone 4, was in screen real estate. 

And they did. And everyone followed suit. But now the problem is that iPhones and the Sony Xperia Compact are almost the only options if you want a small, high-end phone, because most devices in this size category are simply poorer cousins to the company flagships (yes, we're looking at you, Galaxy S Mini series).

I find this incredibly frustrating. I don’t want an iPhone. Not even if it were delivered to me personally by Johnny Depp riding a Charizard.

apple iphone 6 nexus 5 screen
The iPhone 5 (left) and the Nexus 5. / © ANDROIDPIT

For that reason, I resign myself to buying a Sony Xperia Compact. It's fine, they're good phones, but I wish there was a broader range of powerful handsets on Android.

Where do we go from here?

As it stands, my desire for a reasonably sized phone means I'm limited to two phone brands, and one means switching platform. But the problem isn't necessarily that screen sizes are too big, it's more about the body of the phone. Is it too much to ask for a phone with a 5-inch display to have sufficiently slim bezels to give it a 90 percent screen-to-body ratio? This would allow it to have a small frame and a relatively large screen, thus delivering the best of both worlds. 

Am I right? Or am I right? Let me know in the comments.

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  • Sterling Alexander Nov 13, 2016 Link to comment

    I think the problem has more to do with driving content (apps and advertising) than caring about what consumers want. Ideally, *they* want you to carry a large MMI with a link to your five senses (already mastered hearing, sight and touch--smell and taste are in development), so that *they* can drive content to you that you never knew you needed, make you sort through it, and possibly buy (or buy into) something in the process. If you can't see large, animated tiles and HD commercials, how can *they* stimulate you enough to look and buy? The garment industry is increasing the size of pockets as quickly as possible to compensate. I use a communication device as a business tool, not an entertainment one. So I haven't been excited about getting a new phone in a LONG time. I would fly to NYC, wait in a-new-iPhone-sized line and pay $3k tomorrow (I paid as much for StarTac, Vader, and Iridium devices in the 90s) for a new 4-in. phone that respected my time and suit pants pockets, allowed me to disable apps and updates, blocked all ads, interfaced properly with Windows and Adobe programs, and guided me but did not track where I was or what I purchase.

  • Lalit
    • Admin
    Feb 10, 2016 Link to comment

    @Scott I don't think there's much problem with big smartphones, except there is Big problems with Big smartphones and the problems are as follows:

    - Dam carrying them is a major pain.
    - You can't drink and drive while using a big smartphones (Parental Discretion is Advised :P )
    - While you are attending a call, most of the people will give you a look like you have done some sort of crime.

    Deactivated Account

    •   32
      Deactivated Account Feb 13, 2016 Link to comment

      I like the 2nd point you mentioned

  • Shakti Somadutt Rout Feb 10, 2016 Link to comment

    I would prefer a flagship phone with all high end specs, to come with 4.7, 5, and 5.5 screen size. The specs should not change, only the battery capacity and resolution need to be tampered with. My dream phone would house 4GB ram, 2+ GHz processor, 32GB ROM, SD card optional, 13MP camera with good sensor and aperture. The camera software should be something like samsung's flagships. The color reproduction matters. This is a basic need. Other addons are welcomed

  • William K. Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    I always want the ability to use my phone one handed. I couldn't imagine using a phablet. Even my One M9 feels a little big at times depending on the app I am using. But you never know. Maybe I will get a phablet *cough* Nexus 6P *cough* and never look back.

  • Bryce Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    I love my Xperia Z3 compact. It is the best phone I have had. I do wish that there was a smaller version still and I am hoping that the rumors for a Z6 mini are real.
    I also totally agree that a 5" phone with good screen to body ratio would be great. Check out the Xperia ZL, it was released in 2013 and had a 5" screen and was nearly as small as the compact series. I really don't understand why they don't try to go for smaller form factors.

  • storm Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    I'm also bothered by how Android tablets have followed Apple into the 4:3 screen ratio size. I think that's the wrong dimensions. Jobs talked about how it mimicked a magazine page. Except that it really doesn't. Magazines are usually in 2 or three colums. It's simply easier for us to read and keep our place in a line of text. It was in smaller columns because the default size of printing and mailing was geared around the type paper. In a paperback or hardback, a page of text is much more like a widescreen dimension in portrait. And that's still what works best for media and even content in split windows.

    I would argue that in a small phone, powerful hardware is less necessary. High resolution is less useful, and so would be playing games and other tasks for which powerful hardware is needed. If you want a small phone it's mostly about portability and connectivity and those tasks are not hardware intensive. Sure, there are smaller parts of the market that would like powerhouse small phones, but it probably isn't one that's profitable to make powerful phones for.

    Dumping physical home buttons would give you a big phone in a smaller package. We don't need top and bottom bezels as much as we do side bezels for grip.

  • Fernando Alonso Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    You are right!!!

  • Abhyuday Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    5 inches is actually just perfect. It's the best size for displays.

  • hassan bouchta Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    Yep ur right im just used to have big screen phones

  • Rudi Ristow Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    Man, we really are on the same page! Slim bezels and "small" screen.

  • lianne john Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    Interesting Read!

  • eddy de neve Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    you are absolutely right. 4.7 inch seems to be the standard. If apple can why Android phones not ?

  • McLaren F1P1 Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    Hmmm 5-5.2 inch phone with 90% stb ratio = dream phone! Man, you should try the Sharp phones! Quite different experience. Not that difficult to get if you have a Japanese friend!

    • Dan C. Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

      Too bad Sharp has just been bought by Foxconn.

  • Jeff Garland Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    I agree, I would like to see a phone with a 5 inch s reenactment and less body, 90 percent seems perfect, I've wondered why it hasn't been done yet. but in my opinion I think it would look sharp, and there would definitely still be plenty of internal room to where it wouldn't effect the specs.

  • Ronald D. Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    I am an avid believer that flagships should come in various sizes, my preference is 4-4.5 inch screen but in recent years it seems the manufacturers think the next model should be larger. I would wager many people would like to get smaller phones without sacrificing high specs (may lose in screen reseloution but hey 720 is good).

    Remember when the competition was how small a phone can we build now it is reversed!

  • Dean L. Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    Size is okay but some phones are approaching sizes where they don't fit in "normal" size pockets. I don't think I want to replace my clothes so that my phone fits in my pocket. Just saying.

  • Pankaj Saini Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    The iPhone in last image is not 4S is iphone 5. Please keep a check on what you post. Errors are not accepted at this point.

  • The Jornado Feb 9, 2016 Link to comment

    These are my feelings exactly. I've got a z3 compact and I love it. It's scary to consider what'll happen when I need to replace it. No matter what, unless I go with another Z series compact, I'll be settling for something I don't really want. I think there really is a market for smaller flagships. Even if it's considered a niche market... There are successful phones for nearly every niche demand. Why is Sony the only company making a decent small phone?

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