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Sales of flagship compact smartphones continue to miss the mark

According to industry sources, compact versions of flagship smartphones are falling short of sales expectations, due to high price tags and a lack of premium hardware. What can vendors do to make mini handsets more appealing?
July 31, 2014

The Android market is a wonderfully diverse place, with various manufacturers catering for all tastes and budgets. All but one that is – the compact smartphone with premium hardware .

According to sources in Taiwan’s smartphone supply chain, Samsung, LG, HTC, and Sony, are all apparently struggling to shift “Mini” variety handsets in the numbers that they desire. Sources suggest that uncompetitive performance to price ratios are to blame, and I think that’s probably something that we all agree with.

Looking back at the range of mini handsets produced over the past few years, they share little in common but their names with their flagship brothers. As an example, the Galaxy S4 Mini dropped the Galaxy S4’s 1080p display down to just 540 x 960 pixels (that’s not even 720p) and came with just a dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor. The HTC One Mini was not much better, with a 720p display, Snapdragon 400 processor, and a cut down 4 megapixel camera.

This generation things have barely improved. No-one is going to call the 5-inch LG G3 Beat a compact smartphone, and the similarly sized HTC One E8 doesn’t quite fit the bill either. HTC’s One Mini 2 makes only minor changes to the formula from last year, and Samsung again has its 4.5 inch Galaxy S5 Mini. However, you’re looking at a considerable downgrade in camera and display quality, as well as a slower processor and less memory than the full Galaxy S5 experience.

Price is the second major issue here, with these devices often retailing for only marginally cheaper than their flagship counterparts. Not exactly a bargain considering the cut down hardware.

htc one mini 2 first look (10 of 22)
The HTC One Mini 2 may be HTC’s best compact smartphone to date, but it still falls short of a full premium model.

As a result, the 4-5 inch market segment is an area that the big Android players are struggling to compete in, especially when cheaper Chinese manufacturers offer the same specs at half the price. There are plenty of great mid-range Android handsets out there, boasting similar hardware and a lower price tag than the big vendors. HTC, LG, and Samsung, need to do more to differentiate their products from the other mid-range manufacturers, and better specs could be the answer.

Historically, Sony is the only big brand to get the premium mini smartphone right, and we are anticipating a similar setup from the Xperia Z3 Compact. Sadly though, it seems that even sales of Sony’s Xperia Z1 Compact, which packs Z1 specs into a 4.3 inch form factor, are falling short of expectations, although availability has been somewhat scarce in places. Perhaps there just isn’t a sizable market portion interested in smaller devices with premium hardware specs?

Let’s open up this question to the floor. Would you choose a smaller flagship over a larger smartphone, all other specs being equal? What is your ideal size for a smartphone, and what features, if any, do you want to see make their way into the 4.5 inch space?

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