Technology

The big problems with small Android phones

iPhone SE Small phones
Written by admin_3fxxacau

Ryan Haines/Android Authority

In case you missed it, Eric Migicovsky, the founder of Pebble, wants bring back the small android phone. He went so far as to create a website and start collecting signatures on a petition. It’s a big goal – as a short person, I like smaller phones that even I can use with one hand. However, Migicovsky’s wishlist paints a picture of the tiny Android phone that never was. It glosses over some pretty big issues that are preventing the beloved little phones from being brought back.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tear up his wish list. I would love to see the phone come to fruition. That said, it’s important to sit down and think about why small phones disappeared in the first place. After all, if the market really demanded them, don’t you think we’d still have a few to choose from?

See also: The best small Android phones to buy

Big goals, small footprints

Google Pixel 4a screen in hand 3

David Imel / Android Authority

Everything has a cost, especially when it comes to smartphone design. Every feature you add to one device is bound to come at the expense of another. Samsung has decided to go small (at least smaller) with its Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus, and the battery suffered. The Galaxy S22’s 3,700mAh cell is the smallest since the Galaxy S10’s 3,400mAh, and Samsung is asking a lot more from its new flagship.

Fancy a walk in the past? Samsung Galaxy S10 redux review

The base Galaxy S10 was just sitting around with 4G LTE and sipping power from its cell, but the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is a different type of beast. We’ve seen many times what this does to battery life and device temperature in the name of power. Migicovsky wants to take that same powerful chipset – or another flagship equivalent – and cram it into a much smaller body. That means an even smaller battery that struggles to meet the same demands.

A tiny battery with a power-hungry chipset is the perfect recipe for disappointment, fast charging or not.

Yes, we’ve seen Apple push tiny iPhone batteries quite far, but even the iPhone SE and iPhone 13 Mini are disappointing in the long run. They’re tuned to near perfection and push sub-2,500mAh batteries the length of much larger Android cells, but they can’t come close to the longevity of the regular iPhone 13 or 13 Pro Max. Combine a small battery with high power demands and I don’t know how this dreamy Android phone can live up to Migicovsky’s wish list.

I had the pleasure—if you can call it that—of putting together our iPhone SE (2022) review. I drove Apple’s little phone, with its powerful chipset, daily for a long time. As soon as we clicked “Publish”, my SIM card moved on to something else, anything else, with more substance. I liked the Touch ID sensor and the A15 Bionic chipset, but typing felt like a chore on the 4.7-inch screen. Video streaming of any kind made me feel like one of the parents of Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

That said, I have no argument against the camera choices on the wishlist. Pairing the Pixel 5 with a wide and ultra-wide camera has already proven to be a great approach, and a punch-hole front camera seems like an obvious choice. (A single rear lens like the one in the iPhone SE isn’t enough in 2022.) Sure, processing will go a long way in determining the cameras’ effectiveness, but expectations seem reasonable for once.

See also: The best Android camera phones

What does the market do really want to?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max, not so small phones

Robert Triggs/Android Authority

You and I can sit here and ask for an amazing little Android phone, but the market has spoken. People overwhelmingly want bigger phones, and the small phone crowd is just a vocal minority. There are dozens from U.S. Okay, there are more than dozens, but it’s hard to argue with cold, hard data. Samsung released the results of a study which listed expansive display as a top customer priority. Expansive isn’t exactly a word that gives little phone enthusiasts much hope.

The data doesn’t just paint small Android phones in a harsh light either. Consumer Intelligence Research Partners Group found that Apple’s iPhone 12 Mini and 13 Mini sales accounted for just 3% of purchases in the second quarter of 2022. That doesn’t exactly fill you with hope when Migicovsky’s wishlist basically asking for an Android version of the iPhone 13 Mini. Those dismal sales numbers were enough for Apple to (probably) drop the tiny phone from its next iPhone 14 rangeso why would an Android maker line up to get into this segment?

Apple’s small phone sales should be enough to deter any manufacturer from a small phone project.

It’s hard to say how many units account for 3% of iPhone sales, but it’s bound to be more than Migicovsky’s goal of 50,000 signatures. Apple moved millions of iPhone 13 units during the 2021 holiday season, so it’s hard to see a fraction of that number moving the needle in the production phase. Remember that these 50,000 signatures are for interested people only, there is no guarantee that they will buy the phone.

Beyond the tough numbers, the phone’s content is no longer optimized for small screens. High-quality Netflix content doesn’t have the same impact when streamed on an iPhone SE – trust me, I’ve tried it. Mobile games demand big screens and big batteries if you really want to stay in the action for a long time. A small phone won’t tick any of these boxes.

Migicovsky also uses his dreamy little phone to run stock Android out of the box with an unlockable bootloader. There’s nothing wrong with wanting stock Android, but there’s a reason other OEMs don’t use it anymore. Samsung has put a lot of twists on Android in its A UI skin, usually for the better. Google doesn’t even use its stock operating system, instead adding a light layer of Pixel UI at the top.

The many flavors of Android: Our favorite Android skins

Make do with not-so-small phones

Google Pixel 5 using the phone on the back 2

David Imel / Android Authority

Let’s all accept that we’ll never see a truly small Android phone again, at least not in the 5.4-inch sense. It’s not such a bad thing. Instead, it’s time to accept that small phones aren’t so small anymore. The bezels shrink, which means we can fit a bigger screen into a smaller case.

Can you guess the height difference between the 4.7-inch iPhone SE and the 6.1-inch Samsung Galaxy S22? It’s about 8mm. The width difference? About 3mm. There’s a bit more of a gap between the Galaxy S22 and Migicovsky’s prized iPhone 13 Mini – around 15mm in height and 6mm in width – but your pocket won’t notice too much of a difference. The results are the same even if you bring the pint-sized Pixel 4a into the picture. Samsung’s small flagship is 2mm taller, 1mm wider and 0.6mm thinner than Google’s budget offering, but packs a larger 0.3-inch display.

Small phones are great, at least as long as we redefine the boundaries of the word small.

As mentioned above, I used the iPhone SE as my daily driver for several weeks. I’ve also spent time with the Galaxy S22 and the Pixel 5, both of which I consider “small” phones. My pocket couldn’t tell this a lot of difference between them, but my experience has certainly changed. The Pixel 5 was probably the nicest of the bunch, despite having a midrange processor and two cameras instead of the Galaxy S22’s three. It also ticks most of Migicovsky’s boxes while punching holes in some of his other must-haves.

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I’m not going to sit here and tell anyone to give up on their dreams. Like I said, I want to see this phone come to fruition. I want to see how a small Android phone holds up and where it falters in predictable ways. It’s not impossible to overcome some of the biggest problems with small phones, but this project has an Everest-like mountain to climb. If it’s a resounding success, I’ll shave my head. You heard it here the first time.

Are you interested in Eric Migicovsky’s small Android phone?

577 votes

If you’re interested, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. See you at Eric Migicovsky small android phone site to sign his petition.

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