Home Why Can’t I Find An Awesome Compact Smartphone?

Why Can’t I Find An Awesome Compact Smartphone?

Last year, I couldn’t wait to give the bigger iPhone 5 a whirl. Now I can’t wait to give it up.

Although I loved the way the 4-inch screen made reading, gameplay and video-viewing feel more immersive, over time that love turned to hate. Fighting to cram it into my small go-bag is no fun, and yanking it out sends credit cards and cash flying.

So I switched to a bigger bag, cursing my phone the whole time for the extra bulk. Or worse, I shoved it in my jeans pocket without thinking. D’oh! I keep forgetting that this tall phone tends to ride up and fall out. Twice this has happened in the past week, once while I was riding my bike. 

Let me tell you, I have stared down the barrel at tech horror, and it looks like my iPhone lying helplessly in a busy street. 

Tech Companies’ Phabulous Phones

I’m acutely aware that phone makers couldn’t care less about me. I have small hands. I don’t wear clothes with enormous pockets, or voluntarily schlep fat purses around. And I have the audacity to wish for a small, lightweight device that doesn’t compromise on specs. Too bad that the world defines “advanced mobile device” with massive screens and super-sized form factors. 

Case in point: I myself can hardly believe that I’m complaining about a phone that is, by today’s standards, actually quite modest. 

Yes, the display went up to 4 inches from the previous iPhone 4S’ 3.5 inches, but that’s positively puny compared to the Nokia Lumia 1020’s 4.5 inches, the HTC One’s 4.7 inches and the Samsung Galaxy S4’s 5 inches. Those don’t even cross the line into “phablet” territory. Samsung keeps upping the ante on its Galaxy Note: The first version featured a 5.3-inch screen, the Note 2 cranked that up a notch to 5.5 inches and now rumors peg the Note 3 with a 5.99-inch screen. And that still can’t touch the Sony Xperia Z Ultra‘s absurd 6.4 inches. 

Not that phablets haven’t earned their place. They work for people who need a tablet and phone on them at all times. But one size does not fit all, and some of us won’t stop yearning for lightness and portability. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra pictured nearby? That obviously isn’t it. 

We live in a world where women coat check their devices because they’re so gigantic (which sort of defeats the purpose of a mobile device). I’ve gotten finger cramps from using huge test devices. My colleague tells me his stretched-out pants pocket has permanent marks and impressions due to his big phone. It seems we’re now expected to adapt ourselves and our lives to our technologies, not the other way around. This is the new normal.

It’s hard to believe that phone makers once touted compactness and portability. Back before smartphones became a thing, the mantra for cell phone makers used to be “the smaller, the better.” The notion even landed its own pop culture reference. (See: Zoolander.) 

I remember those days fondly. Back then, my Motorola StarTac was no compromise, but the epitome of cool. It also fit in my skinniest jeans and clutch bag. It was easily operable with one hand. And without a big screen to power, its battery life felt endless.

That clamshell phone was my constant companion, and it guaranteed that I’d never be stranded with no way to call for a tow. I miss those days. And I’m not alone. 

The Big Deal About Small Handsets

Anyone remember the Kin? Or the Palm Pixi? Or HTC’s first Facebook phone, the HTC ChaCha? Me neither. The limited, half-hearted choices cranked out through the years suggest that the industry despises the idea of small smartphones—so much so that they consistently save the most mediocre specs and odd specialty initiatives for them. 

And yet, the need for compact handsets persists. In fact, there’s a bizarre retro tech trend underway: Some users are actually running back to feature phones. 

You can thank tablets for that. These days, all kinds of people—from kids and seniors to tech-savvy pros—are questioning the need for large, expensive smartphones when they already have a tablet for their mobile app needs. So they’re saying good-bye to big, redundant devices by either becoming single phablet users or picking up smaller, cheaper feature phones instead. A quick Internet search for “smartphone downgrade feature phone” reveals a whirlwind of opinions, advice and articles on the topic. 

I’m tempted to give up on my dream of a decent compact smartphone and fling myself onto this bandwagon too. After all, I have a tablet. And if all the industry can give us are “dumb” smartphones, I might as well jump all the way down to a “dumb phone.” At least I’ll save a few bucks and get my stress-free, go-anywhere lifestyle back. But talk about a major compromise. 

As if to pour salt in the wound, the major tech companies are now rallying around so-called “mini” offerings now, which are just scaled-down versions of their flagship smartphones for emerging markets. They’ve clearly hijacked the word. With all due respect to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and the HTC One mini, there’s nothing miniature about a 4.3-inch smartphone. What’s more, Apple may even follow suit too. If its long-rumored iPhone Mini really is in the pipeline this time, it will likely be either a budget, stripped-down device or a compact handset. 

The jury’s still out on which it will be. But for the record, I fervently hope it’s the latter. Because, for crying out loud, someone has to bring a decent compact smartphone to market. 

Feature image screencapped and cropped from YouTube video by user movieclipsSony Xperia Z Ultra image courtesy of Sony MobileMotorola StarTac image courtesy of Flickr user Generation X-Ray

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