It’s been a bad year for small phone lovers. It’s no secret that the average size of new smartphones has increased dramatically over the past few years. But this year it feels like the idea of a small phone you’d actually want to use as a primary device (read: not whatever that Palm phone was trying to be a couple years back) is truly dead and gone.
Earlier today, Apple announced the second-generation iPhone SE, which is basically an iPhone 8 with the processor of the iPhone 11. It officially replaces the first iPhone SE, which Apple released in 2016 and stopped selling some time in 2018. The new SE shares the original’s attractive price point and fingerprint-scanning home button, but it’s a significantly larger device. It has a 4.7-inch display compared to the original’s four-inch screen and the entire phone is almost 30 percent bigger.
Sure, the new SE is smaller than the rest of Apple’s current lineup and is smaller than basically any Android phone you can buy now. But if you were holding out for something truly small, along the lines of the original, it’s not what you’ve been waiting for.
This trend is also reflected in Samsung’s recent Galaxy S20 lineup. The smallest model available has a 6.2-inch screen and is undeniably a Big Phone. The step-up S20 Plus and S20 Ultra go out of their way to push the boundaries of how big a phone can be. A year ago, Samsung released the 5.8-inch S10E alongside its bigger phones, but this year there’s no such option.
Perhaps the worst offender of calling a big phone small is OnePlus. This week, the company had the gall to introduce its new OnePlus 8 as having a “compact” design, despite the fact that it has a 6.55-inch screen and is bigger than most other phones on the market right now. The OnePlus 8 may be slightly smaller than the even-larger OnePlus 8 Pro, but it’s laughable to think that a phone that measures over six inches tall and almost three inches wide is “compact.”
If you’re a fan of bigger phones and all of the benefits they bring, such as more immersive screens, bigger batteries, and more wireless radios, you may think the idea of a small phone is quaint in the middle of 2020. After all, your phone is likely to be your most-used computer and the most important gadget in your life.
But if you’re someone who has trouble using today’s phones in one hand, or keeping them in the pocket of your favorite jeans, you know that the 4.7-inch iPhone SE 2 is still a big phone, regardless of the fact that Apple referred to it as having a “small 4.7-inch design” in the hype video introducing the product. Today’s phone makers are basically saying, “suck it up and deal with a big phone that may not fit your needs.”
It’s easy to see why Apple went with the larger design for the new model: the company claims this size is the most popular iPhone ever released, and on a technical level, it’s easier to fit components into a larger frame than a smaller one.
Plus, Apple has years of experience with this basic form factor, going all the way back to the iPhone 6. In fact, if you cast your memory back to that time, you might recall that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were worldwide blockbusters because Apple was finally meeting demand for big phones. What was big in 2014 is now small in 2020.
We can talk about those industry trends for days, but all that would be little consolation to those that just want a smaller phone.
Rumors have it that Apple is planning to release a multitude of new iPhone models later this year, including one with a 5.4-inch, edge-to-edge screen (read: without the chunky bezels found on the SE 2) that should be smaller than the 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro is now. But it’s unlikely that new model, should it be released, will reach the compact dimensions of the original SE, and small-phone wanters will likely be left in the cold once again.