As with so many things, bigger isn’t always better with regards to smartphones and this list best represents the top picks for worthwhile small phones on the market in 2020.
Why get a small phone?
When the 4.7in iPhone 6 was released, many were outraged at the size increase. Nowadays, such a screen size is considered comically small.
Simply put, phones have gotten too big. Bezels on phones have shrunk significantly in the last few years, but that doesn't mean people are suddenly willing to wield a 6.9in monster, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
People with smaller hands are going to find a permanently two-handed phone an inconvenience, not just when in-hand but when it's constantly poking out the top of their jeans pockets too. Handsets of a smaller size can be used one-handed, fit in a pocket or bag far more easily, and can do everything a bigger phone can do in a more compact package.
There's also the matter of foldables to now consider, with devices like the revived Motorola RAZR and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, embracing the clamshell designs of old but combining them with new foldable display technology, giving you the best of both - a larger-screened device in a compact package.
Best small phone 2020
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1. Google Pixel 5
Google's first 5G flagship walks a different path to its predecessors, showcasing Android 11 to the best of its abilities but also shedding the more experimental features of previous generations and opting for more conservative hardware at the same time.
Its clean design and user experience are supported by a set of superb - and now more feature-rich - cameras, as well as an incredibly compact design and battery life that's actually usable.
Good small Android phones are hard to come by, and this is easily the best, in terms of its power-to-size ratio.
Read our full Google Pixel 5 review
2. Apple iPhone 11 Pro
We're not fully on board with the 'Pro' naming but there's no doubt this is the best iPhone to date for various reasons.
We like the matte finish which provides more grip than standard glass and helps negate fingerprint, too. The OLED screen is stunning, especially with Dark Mode in iOS 13, the cameras are excellent, performance is slick and battery life is better than ever so there's a lot to like.
Still, it's a lot more expensive than the regular iPhone 11 which has the things that most people want and doesn't really break any new ground. It's not even 5G capable.
Read our full Apple iPhone 11 Pro review
3. Samsung Galaxy S20
The Galaxy S20 is the best phone in Samsung’s S20 series, and simply the best phone the company makes right now. It’s compact, powerful, and packs a versatile camera system that may not match the top-tier S20 Ultra on zoom or detail, but it meets - and sometimes beats - it across the rest of the board, which means it's more than a match for just about any other phone out there too.
The wider 5G ecosystem isn’t quite there yet, but will be within the lifetime of this phone, making it almost worth the upgrade. And while battery life remains a slight concern, that’s really the only major fault here. The Android ecosystem offers more for less elsewhere, but usually without Samsung’s level of prestige or polish, and in this case we think that’s worth paying for.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 review
4. Apple iPhone SE (2020)
The iPhone SE is a phone devoted to function over form, prioritising raw performance and camera capabilities over design or aesthetics (though battery life gets caught in the crossfire), all in the name of hitting its £419/$399 starting price.
That makes it a very un-Apple iPhone, but that’s unlikely to help it win over Android users, who can still get a lot more for less by resisting the Apple allure - with the exception of the impressive inclusion of the top-tier A13 processor at a mid-range price, along with luxuries like wireless charging and waterproofing.
It’s hard to entirely forgive the choice to save money on a budget 720p LCD display and dated design, and you’ll be committed to carrying a battery pack with you every day. Still, if you want a reliable camera, fast performance, and guaranteed iOS updates for years to come without breaking the bank then this is the iPhone for you.
Read our full Apple iPhone SE (2020) review
5. Google Pixel 4a
If you're in the US and looking for a great mid-range Android phone then you should pre-order the Pixel 4a today. It really is a knockout handset from Google with so much on offer for an incredibly affordable price.
Things are a little more complicated in the UK where it doesn't arrive until October. There's also the issue of much tougher competition from rivals with things like 5G support and higher refresh rate displays if those are important features.
Otherwise, it's a charming phone with a rare compact design, smooth performance, excellent cameras and easy-to-use software with at least three years of updates. If you can't wait, the Pixel 3a is still available for £329.
Read our full Google Pixel 4a review
6. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
The Galaxy Z Flip isn’t a perfect phone. It’s expensive, there are only two main camera lenses, and the fingerprint sensor sucks.
Price aside, these are minor quibbles however, and even while this may not be the best phone we’ve used this year, it’s one of our favourites. With the Z Flip Samsung has nailed the compact foldable form factor, and by comparison every other 2020 flagship feels ungainly and oversized.
This phone looks great, offers solid performance and flagship features, and is just plain cool. Most people probably shouldn’t spend this much on a phone, but if you can afford to then nothing else right now can match the Z Flip.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Flip review
7. Sony Xperia 5 II
In a world where so many smartphones look similar, I have to admire Sony’s desire to be different. Having a notch-less display and 3.5mm headphone jack is practically unheard of in 2020, but after using the Xperia 5 II I wish they were still on more phones.
There are plenty more highlights here, which make it a big upgrade over last year’s model. The stunning 21:9 OLED display is now 120Hz a feature you won’t find on even the more expensive Xperia 1 II. Performance is superb across the board, while the all-too-rare front-facing stereo speakers are a delight.
However, it’s not all good news. The cameras flatter to deceive unless you’re willing to play around in the Photo Pro app, while a surprising amount of bloatware taints an otherwise excellent software experience. There’s also no wireless charging, a major omission at this price point.
There’s definitely a market for the Xperia 5 II, but it’s unlikely to contribute to a sudden increase in Sony’s slice of the smartphone pie.
Read our full Sony Xperia 5 II review
Related: How we test smartphones