Prompted by a post on Micro.blog , I did a bit of a deep dive into what genuinely small phones are available on the market now. By “genuinely small”, I mean preferably the size of the original iPhone SE, or smaller. Personally I’m OK with the size of the iPhone mini range, even though anything at the top of the screen is still a pain to reach one-handed. However, the post I was replying to was by a guy who is not OK with the size of the iPhone mini, hence why he made the post. And while I don’t plan to replace my phone any time soon (having only had it less than two years), tbh, if I could get something “good” which was more like the size of the original SE, or my first Android phone, that’d be a pretty tempting proposition for when the time comes.
To give a bit more background: I have a disability that really limits the dextrousness of my right arm and hand. My extremely strong preference is therefore that I have a phone that I can hold and operate easily with my left hand alone. (On the flipside, though, I also value having a good camera included, because if you try to use a standalone camera with your left hand alone, that left hand covers the entire preview screen, since every single manufacturer puts the shutter button on the right-hand side of the camera.) All my pre-smartphone era phones, as well as my first-ever smartphone (an LG phone I got in 2011 running Android 2), were easily operable one-handed, so much so that it never occurred to me phones wouldn’t always be that way. My Samsung Galaxy S3 was just barely OK, and then the Samsung Galaxy S4 I upgraded to after that was not really good enough any more. I spent three years straining to reach the far end of the keyboard, and hitting “O” half the time when I wanted “P”. In 2017 I replaced that with an original iPhone SE, and omg… it was amazing. So easy to type on, so easy to fit into a pocket, just a great device. Then when the 12 mini came out, I upgraded to that (I wanted the better camera), and it’s still comfortable enough to type on, but reaching stuff at the top of the screen can be challenging. Either I use iOS’s “reachability” feature, or I temporarily pass the phone to my right hand so I can use the left to tap the screen. That said, I think the overall “package” of the 12 mini (camera, software, etc.) is more than enough to counterbalance that minor annoyance for me.
However, Apple dropped the mini model from its latest iPhone 14 line-up. My hope is that the next iPhone SE is going to reuse the mini chassis (just like the first two SEs reused the iPhone 5S and 8 chassis) and so there’ll still be a modern smartphone option small enough for me to deal with whenever I next need to upgrade. For the sake of having a backup plan, though, I’d like to keep an eye on the “small smartphone” market. And also, for the sake of other people who want small phones (perhaps phones even smaller than I do), I thought I’d publish the findings of this quick investigation I did.
What I’ve discovered is that genuinely small phones are a pretty niche offering these days. Some of them are marketed more as “minimalist” phones, or as a second phone for people who get too distracted by all the possibilities of their main phone 🥴 So, the following are the most promising options I’ve found for people who are like, “I really just want a smartphone, but smaller.” These are phones 65mm wide or less.
- Unihertz Atom L/XL: This is a “rugged” phone 65mm wide, with a 4in screen like the original iPhone SE, but it’s heavy (243g). It’s intended primarily for people who do lots of hiking or outdoor sports, although the screen is apparently hard to see in bright light. The XL model includes a walkie-talkie so you can communicate with your hiking partners without reception. The camera is 48 megapixels, but not fantastic (considering the price point hardly a surprise though). USD$280/$330. See Lifewire review.
- Unihertz Jelly 2: This is smaller, with only a 3in screen, and its target market is really just normies who want a phone with a small screen. The phone’s 49mm wide, which some find too small for comfortable typing. Its performance is reportedly good. The cameras seem basically on par with the Android phones I had almost a decade ago, which is to say: OK in bright light (still not as good as a modern larger smartphone), but crap in dim or dark lighting. Also, indoor pictures aren’t that sharp. But bad cameras are virtually inevitable with very small phones just because of physics. USD$200. See PCMag review.
- Cubot Pocket: A visually attractive phone with a 4in screen that’s 58mm wide and 150g in weight. The performance is a bit weak and the camera is, again, not that good. In Australia it’s not advisable to use it on a Telstra network, because you’ll have no 3G connection (Optus/Vodafone seem fine though). USD$110. See TechXReviews review. Also, here is a Reddit comment comparing it to the Jelly 2 .
Unihertz has some other niche offerings too, like its Titan range with QWERTY keyboards, but the other lines don’t fit my criteria for “small”. Even the Titan Pocket is 73.2mm wide, which is too wide, IMO (certainly too wide for me).
Just a few years ago (2018–9), there was also the Palm Phone, which came in at 51mm wide with a 3.3in screen. Unfortunately, it looks like the manufacturer has dropped support for it, last released a software update in April 2021, and pivoted to making earbuds instead of phones.
Beyond those, you also have these boutique “minimalist phones”. There are often purposely limited in features so as to force you to use your phone less. Some examples of this type of product are:
- Light Phone 2: A “credit card-sized” phone with an e-ink screen. The original version did calls only; the second edition has SMS messaging, a music player, podcasts, a calculator, and an alarm. USD$299.
- Punkt MP02: Has a very small screen, with most of the device being taken up by hardware buttons (numbers and functions). Offers calling, SMS messaging, Signal messaging, calculator and alarm functionality. USD$349.
- Mudita Pure: e-ink screen (not touch-activated) with hardware buttons, but it is not good . USD$370.
Finally, you have the option of using a “feature phone”, which generally do still have some internet functionality (as well as, obviously, calls/SMS functionality) while also having smaller screens and a hardware numberpad. Dumbphone Finder is a website that aims to help people find an appropriate feature phone (or a “dumbphone”, offering calls and texts only, if you prefer). For example, if it’d be a deal-breaker for you if a phone didn’t have Spotify, WhatsApp, Google Maps, or a camera (even though you shouldn’t expect any of these to have a really good camera), you can filter that out of the search. There’s also a subreddit, /r/dumbphones , where people share reviews and experiences. The same basic phone designs we loved in the 2000s (flip-phones, slide-out numpad, candybar) are still being made now.
Some of the brands of modern feature phones include Nokia, Sunbeam, Kyocera, Doro, Opel, Sonim, Alcatel and Xiaomi. Two of the major operating systems for feature phones are KaiOS (used by Alcatel and on many Nokia phones, for example) and souped-down versions of Android. There are also some bespoke operating systems used by different manufacturers.
So there you have it. My own personal take-away is that I’m gonna keep using my iPhone 12 mini for as long as I can (maybe getting a battery replacement somewhere along the way), and when the time comes to replace it – which ideally wouldn’t come for 3–4 years, at least – my hope would be that there’d be another iPhone option available, regardless of whether it’s an SE.
If I have to replace it and there’s no longer an iPhone small enough for me, then probably all the other options I’ve outlined here will also have been superseded, so this post will not be very helpful to future me 🙂 That said, I’d be inclined to go for something like the Cubot Pocket (while hoping that by then it would have performance more like the Jelly 2). I could live with a feature phone if it wasn’t too minimal, but I think it’d have to be Android-based and let me install apps of my choice. I don’t think I’d enjoy having a minimalist phone, and the pricetags on them also make me balk. I just think I’m not the target market – not having a budget for “toy” or experimental gadgets, not feeling beholden to smartphone addiction, and not especially interested in a phone that doesn’t even let me, e.g., check my bank balance on the go. But I think it’s good that they exist for people who are into that.
Smartphones over time have been getting bigger and bigger, which is said to reflect consumers’ preferences for bigger screens to watch movies and TV shows on. That as well as the reality that for many people, their smartphone is their only device; they don’t necessarily have a computer they can just boot up to complete a task that benefits from a bigger screen. But I’m not the only one who cares more about portability and one-handed usability than about screen size, and it seems like a shame that (Apple’s iPhone mini line notwithstanding) devices catering to us are so thin on the ground, and relatively obscure. When “Best Small Phones of <Year>” articles include phones larger than my old Galaxy S4, there’s a problem 🙄 So, hopefully this post enlightens at least some people about what options for genuinely small phones really are out there.