Slimmer bezels could usher in a new golden era for compact phones

Apple iPhone sizes

It doesn’t seem as if it were all that long ago that the HTC EVO 4G came out. Not only was it the “first” 4G smartphone (albeit on Sprint’s WiMax network, which was very different from the LTE we know today), but people were also wary of how comfortable the device would be to hold because of its “whopping” 4.3-inch display. Little did we know that just seven years later, that same 4.3-inch display would be laughably pint-sized compared to the 5-inch plus displays that are commonly used today.

For a long time, I held onto hope for the return of compact smartphones. I went from the 3.5-inch iPhone 4S to the 5-inch Galaxy S4, which I felt was too big of a jump. Between its screen size and a couple of other issues, I switched to the 4.7-inch HTC One (M7); this size was more comfortable, and I adjusted really well to it. Eventually, I moved to the original Moto X – also a 4.7-inch device – but by the time I was looking to upgrade again after that, it felt like my choices were much more limited than they used to be. Many of the phones I was interested in had a 5-inch display or higher.

Fortunately, for people like me, there were still “mini” variants of flagships available, which typically ranged from 4 to 4.5-inch displays. Unfortunately, mini flagships shared few similarities with their respective counterparts aside from its design. Performance-wise, minis had a bad reputation for looking good while having subpar performance.

Not all the time, though. Sony, for example, has become well-known for taking good care of fans of their Xperia Compact series, as the Compact shares almost all the internal components of the original Xperia flagships. In March of 2016, Apple introduced a new device, the iPhone SE, which brought back the 4-inch form factor seen in the iPhone 5, 5S, and 5C, but shared many of the same internals of the then-current generation iPhone 6S.

These two devices serve as good examples of what a compact smartphone named after flagships should be, but they’re two of few mini devices left on the market. HTC gave up on the One Mini after the HTC One Mini 2, as did Samsung after the Galaxy S5 Mini. Even LG had a few mini variants, but stopped a couple of years ago as well. However, SamMobile recently reported on a rumor suggesting Samsung may be prepping to re-enter the mini market – or something like it - with a “full-screen compact smartphone”.

Rumors that Samsung would release another mini have circulated since the Galaxy S6, but the rumors never came to fruition. It’s best to take this latest rumor with a grain of salt all things considered, but considering the new bezel-less trend in flagship smartphones, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened. With more screen space but a smaller physical footprint, now is the perfect time for “compact” sized smartphones to make their comeback.

This is something I’ve thought about frequently since coming from the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge to the Apple iPhone SE earlier this year. The S7 Edge was too unwieldy for me, while the SE is small enough for me to comfortably operate one-handed – something I’ve sorely missed since upgrading to smartphones with 5-inch plus screens. On the other hand, I do miss having a larger display. When I see how much unused space the iPhone SE has, I wonder what it would be like with an iPhone X-like display. Having a larger screen without having to increase the size of the device too much would be nice.

The same could be said for a lot of devices. There’s obviously a healthy demand for large smartphones, but I think there’s still a need for a solid compact selection as well. Between smaller bezels and being able to fit powerful specs into smaller devices, now seems like the perfect time for compact devices to make a comeback. If the rumors regarding Samsung’s full-screen compact device end up being true, then it’s possible we are about to enter a golden age for compact devices. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.