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Sorry Apple, I still much prefer Sony's compact flagship
There are plenty of options to consider when it comes to smaller flagship phones, even if few of them are really what anyone would consider compact. You could pick up early 2022’s Galaxy S22, the more affordable Pixel 7, or the latest iPhone 14, as just three rock-solid examples that would serve most people very well indeed.
However, at 6.3 inches and 197g, Google’s latest small phone is still a bit too bulky for those after something little and light. The Galaxy S22 and iPhone 14 are better suited to this role, but they’re still rather stout and wide and, therefore, not always especially usable in one hand. They won’t necessarily fit snugly in your pocket either, though they’re much more pocketable than their bigger siblings.
If you're after a truly compact phone, look no further than Sony's Xperia 5 IV.
There is a solution, though — grab a Sony Xperia 5 IV instead. With a comparatively slimline 67mm-wide body but a taller 21:9 6.1-inch display, this is a phone built for one-handed use. It’s also sufficiently lightweight, but, perhaps most importantly, remains incredibly well-built. You’ll have to pay for it, though, priced as it is at $999 rather than the $799 of its small rivals.
Having spent time will all of these recent handsets, it comes down to the iPhone 14 and Xperia 5 IV in terms of which phone is the most nicely constructed. Both metal-framed builds encase bodies with timelessly good looks that are more universally appealing than the odder (more unique?) designs from Google and Samsung. Still, Apple’s completely flat edges make the phone feel bulkier than Sony’s ever so slightly tapered edge.
It’s the little details, too, whether it’s Apple’s wonderfully tactile mute slider or Sony’s snappy and discretely embedded fingerprint scanner, that set these phones apart. Sony’s phone steals a few more wins, though: I adore the dedicated camera shutter button that endears itself to a quick snap. Meanwhile, Apple’s obsession with Face ID, while undoubtedly convenient, is an ugly blight on a phone that already offers limited screen space
Apple's dedication to Face ID convenience eats into precious small-screen real estate.
Then there are the cameras. Sony has managed to pack a robust triple camera setup in a phone that’s far narrower than the competition, albeit at the cost of a little extra thickness. Samsung provides a similar setup, giving users far greater portrait and zoom capabilities than the iPhone 14 and Pixel 7 — two small phones that stick with the less flexible main and ultrawide dual camera setup.
Read more: Apple iPhone 14 review — The old ways
In our reviews, we noted that the iPhone 14 is at best usable to about 3x while the Xperia 5 IV is functional out to about 4x-5x, thanks to its telephoto camera. I could go on about cameras much more, but it suffices to say that Sony’s eye-tracking and color science make the Xperia a more fun shooter too. Granted, you’d expect an especially robust camera setup for the extra money Sony is charging, but it’s managed to squeeze it into a phone that’s even more compact than its rivals.
Can we have uncompromising specs too?
As fawning as this article might sound, the Xperia 5 IV isn’t a perfect phone. It misses out on Sony’s innovative variable focal length camera hardware and doesn’t nail everything we’d like to see in the processing or software departments, either. It could be a bit better, and that’s a bit of a problem because there really aren’t any other compact flagship smartphones quite like it to serve as an alternative.
Small phones are, sadly, all too often compromised compared to their bigger siblings.
Whether it’s Apple, Samsung, or others, their smaller flagships are also their entry-level models. Unfortunately, you still have to go big to get their best technology. Compact phones with most of the bells and whistles are a rarity only Sony dares to tackle. While internal size constraints are an issue, the Xperia 5 IV’s huge battery and triple camera setup prove that it’s an engineering problem that can be solved.
Our recent survey on the subject reveals a decent-sized consumer base out there who likes phones with sub-6.5-inch displays. Sales figures of entry-level flagships echo the reality that bigger isn’t always better. Large phones are still popular, at least among the enthusiast community. I’m even sticking with the gargantuan Galaxy S22 Ultra for my daily driver, for now. But that’s mostly because I crave the raw specs.
But recently, using some of the latest smaller phones has convinced me that I don’t really need as much screen real estate as I thought. I’d happily trade down some of it for a discrete design, improved portability, and one-handed ease of use.
I'd happily trade-down some screen space to stop snagging my phone on my pocket.
I’ll leave you with one final anecdote that sums up what I really enjoyed about the Xperia 5 IV compared to every other phone I’ve used this year: effortlessly pulling it from my pocket for a quick snap or to glance at a message. No snagging it on the pocket corner and no oversized case digging into my thigh.
Small phones are effortless, and I really like them.