Where have all the good small phones gone?

Row of modern mobile phones on white

The recent rumors of the 2017 Google Pixel devices got me thinking; while the larger Pixel device appears to be a significant redesign, and looks very promising so far, the smaller regular Pixel device (made by HTC) will basically look very much the same in terms of design. While very little other info is currently available in the way of specs at this point, Google’s decision put more design and R&D into the Pixel XL is following the same trend as most of the larger OEMs in the last 2 years: larger smartphones are becoming more and more the norm. Which begs the question: where have all the good small smartphones gone?

An Android user has the absolute most options, but most are low end/mid tier devices. Taking a look at some of the bigger OEMs, or phones that were released in 2017, you can see where this is heading:

Device

Screen size

Galaxy S8/S8 Plus

5.8″/6.2″

HTC U11

5.5″

LG G6

5.7″

OnePlus 5

5.5″

Moto Z2 Play

5.5″

Huawei Honor 9

5.15″

Huawei P10

5.1″

Google Pixel/Pixel XL (2016)

5.0″/5.5″

Google Pixel/Pixel XL (2017)

rumored 6.0″

iPhone 7/7 Plus

4.7″/5.5″

The Android space is mostly touted as having the most choices, but if you look closely – 7 of these devices (6 already released and I’m including the rumored next Pixel XL 2 device) are all 5.5” display or larger in size. Even solid performing mid range devices like the Moto Z2 Play sport a 5.5” display. You can’t find a legit flagship style smaller display device until you get to Chinese OEM Huawei, with both their P10 and Honor 9 devices fitting this bill. Both are not household names in the US and likely aren’t going to be on the lists of the common lay person. Mostly because those types looking to buy a phone aren’t going to see them at a carrier presence on any of the 4 major US carriers. Both the P10 and Honor 9 appear to be quality options in the sub 5.5 space, but they won’t sell or be sold in the USA. So this is the question: what if you are an Android user and want a smaller than 5.5 device?

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND - JANUARY 04, 2015: Man hold Apple iphone 6

You could defect and look at Apple’s iPhones and have a real choice between a 4.7 and 5.5 display size. While I’m not a fan, I have a iPhone 6s through my employer and I use it every day. For me it’s too small when compared to my Pixel XL and I can’t stand typing on it in particular. I like my Pixel XL, and got rid of a Nexus 6P because it was just a little too wide, and a little too tall – the Pixel XL is the “right” size for me – but is still 5.5”

If you look at what we do with our devices now – we need unlimited mobile data because we are consuming audio and video at an exponentially growing rate. Tablets in both the Apple and Android space have fallen on hard times, in part because of having to be tied to data plans (or using WiFi only) when you can basically buy a larger smartphone which is going to have a data plan associated with it anyway. And since tablets are a luxury item really, it’s an easy decision to make between having a smaller tablet or having a larger smartphone. You move from a smaller display to a larger one, and then you don’t need a tablet to watch movies or video on – you can do it on your phone instead.

But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be choices for those that want smaller display size/footprint devices. But are there any of those people left? Is there anyone still asking that question? Rumors of the sales figures of the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus lines indicated that the larger device is selling in larger numbers, so maybe too few people actually want a pocketable smartphone that boasts top end specs. The iPhone SE sales figures are not broken out from the rest of the Apple portfolio, but this 9to5Mac report indicates that in early Q2 2017 after releasing both a specialty red color iPhone 7 and the refreshed iPhone SE, Apple’s sales figures remained flat from Q1 2017. That would seem to indicate that no new buyers walked away with any iPhone SEs in any significant quantities. So maybe it’s not that there aren’t any good small phones being made – maybe it’s that OEMs don’t make them because so few people actually want them anymore.

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