I recently made the decision to buy a smartphone that’s smaller than anything I’ve owned in the last three years. Here’s why, after two weeks with a truly pocket-friendly device, I don’t miss my phablet one bit.
Smartphones have never been bigger. Some the largest phones on the market, such as the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and Huawei Nexus 6P, clock in at six whole inches in length, and even the smaller devices that form part of the same companies’ smartphone ranges hover around the 5.5-inch mark. But after more than three years using smartphones with five-inch screens (a Sony Xperia Z1 and an HTC One M8) and a brief spell with a 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 4, I found myself wondering whether I might be better off with something a little more compact.
After a bit of online browsing and trying out phones in-store, I ended up picking up a Sony Xperia X Compact for a handful of reasons: although I wanted to try something with a smaller footprint, I didn’t want to sacrifice features for the sake of size and, while the Xperia X Compact doesn’t have the most cutting-edge of chips inside it (it’s packing a Snapdragon 650 — considered fairly mid-range these days), I was quietly impressed with how quick it was when launching and switching between apps. I’ve also always liked Sony’s approach to smartphone cameras, integrating a dedicated shutter button into most of its models, so the X Compact seemed like a good fit for me.
Xperia X Compact dimensions: 5.08 x 2.56 x 0.37 in, with a 4.6-inch 720p screen
Ignoring the slight nagging feeling that I’d regret my experiment in mobile minimalism before the day was up, I shifted all of my files and photos onto my new device and set about using it as my main phone. Two weeks later, I’m convinced that bigger isn’t always better. In fact, I’d argue that compact smartphones are the future. Here’s why.
1. Smaller phones are comfier
It’s an obvious point, I know, but smaller phones are just plain easier to hold. Once a smartphone creeps over about five inches in length, using it one-handed becomes quite awkward unless you happen to have especially monstrous hands, and slipping a phablet into your front pocket while you’re out on the town makes you look like you have some kind of maintenance hatch built into your thigh. Compared to the now ten-year-old original iPhone, which stood just 4.5 inches tall and had a modest 3.5-inch screen, my Xperia X Compact is far from tiny, but it’s small enough to sit comfortably in the palm of the hand and can be operated with just your thumb, without being so small that the on-screen keyboard feels cramped or text difficult to read.
I have my gripes about the Xperia X Compact, certainly (why Sony put that volume rocker so low, I’ll never know), but in terms of its physical size and comfort, it’s great. The iPhone SE, Apple’s response to consumer demand for a more compact iPhone, is even easier to operate single-handed, all while boasting enough grunt to run all the latest applications with ease.
From left to right: iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 6s, Xperia X Compact
2. Smaller = cheaper
Considering that many of us replace them every two or three years, the cost of smartphones today is mind-boggling, especially if, like me, you hate being tied to a contract. The 5.5-inch-screen Samsung Galaxy S7 edge currently costs a whopping £599-630 ($726-763) in the UK, while the iPhone 7 costs upwards of £650 ($790). True, Apple especially likes its products to be thought of as premium, so its prices are somewhat inflated, but that’s a crazy amount of money to pay for a device that usually ends up being shoved into a pocket with a set of keys, dropped on the floor, shut in a car door, or have coffee spilled on it before its relatively short life comes to an end.
By comparison, the four-inch-screen iPhone SE retails for £379.00 ($459.00), while the above Xperia X Compact — which was released only last September — costs just £350 ($425). While that’s far from cheap by anyone’s standards, it isn’t anywhere near the same kind of financial investment as the current crop of larger, non-budget smartphones, so I wouldn’t be quite as devastated if my phone met with a sticky end or a person with similarly textured fingers.
3. A smaller phone for a simpler life
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have noticed how much time you spend with your smartphone in your hand, even when it doesn’t need to be there. When I’m out for drinks with friends or family, I often find myself checking my email or responding to Twitter and Facebook notifications — a terrible habit that’s only exacerbated by the sheer size of a phablet, which in the past forced me to take the device out of my pocket and put it on the table in front of me the moment I sat down.
Will a smaller phone automatically make me less anti-social? Will it stop me reading Reddit while purportedly watching TV at home? Of course not (that would require a little thing called ‘willpower’). But by intentionally choosing a phone that’s not trying to be the biggest, best, fastest thing on the block, I now tend to use my mobile phone mostly where it was designed to be used — when I’m mobile and actually need it. Life feels somehow simpler with a phone lacking a few of the bells and whistles offered by those giant-screened smart-slabs, and, knowing that I didn’t pay the best part of £1,000 for it, I don’t think twice about throwing my phone in my bag or leaving it in my coat pocket once I’m home. In short, I’ve stopped feeling the need to keep my mobile phone with me so much, and it feels great. Besides, when you have a laptop computer, tablet or games console at your disposal at home, any smartphone, big or small, suddenly becomes the inferior option…
Inches apart: an iPhone 7 Plus (left) and an Xperia X Compact (right)
As nice as it was to have a smartphone with a big screen, for me, the cons of owning such a device have become glaringly obvious. Phablets are undeniably capable, impressive to behold devices, but they’re also costly, comparatively lacking in portability and awkward to hold for any length of time. After all, wasn’t the whole point of smartphones that we can stay connected without feeling over-encumbered?
Those who need a single device that does everything — phone calls, email, web browsing and a platform on which to play games and watch movies for hours on end — may well be better suited to the phone with a six-inch screen. But, as capable as they are, these devices are destined to always inhabit an awkward middle-ground: so big that they’re impossible to ignore, yet unable to match the functionality and performance of a notebook computer or a dedicated games console. Phablets and big-screen smartphones are so tempting because they can do so much and make it all look so good in the bargain. But maybe it’s time we as consumers started asking ourselves if we really need all of it, or whether we’d be just as happy, if not happier, with a smaller, simpler option?