Would a Small, High-End Android Phone Sell? Phone Makers Don’t Want to Find Out

The HTC One Mini is the latest in a line of compromised small Android phones.

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It’s been a dream of gadget aficionados for years: a high-end Android phone that isn’t so friggin’ big. Every so often, someone writes an article bemoaning the fact that such a phone doesn’t exist, only to have their prayers ignored as Android phones get bigger and bigger.

The HTC One Mini could have been that little powerhouse. In rumors, it had a lot of things you’d want in a premium phone–aluminum chassis, speedy processor, high pixel-density display–but with a 4.3-inch display instead of the One’s 4.7-inch screen.

Now that the phone has been officially announced, we can see just how close the One Mini came to being that smaller, premium phone, while still falling victim to the idea that a small screen necessitates an inferior phone.

Though I haven’t used the One Mini myself, I expect that its dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor should be speedy enough for most tasks, and its 720p display should be sharp enough that it’ll be tough to tell the difference from the 1080p screen on the larger One. The “UltraPixel” camera and extra-loud front-facing speakers, both hallmark features of the HTC One, remain intact.

Unfortunately, HTC did make some sacrifices: It has half the RAM, at 1 GB, and half the storage, at 16 GB (with no memory card expansion); it lacks an IR blaster for controlling your television; its rear camera doesn’t have optical image stabilization; and its front-facing camera has a lower resolution of 1.6 megapixels.

oneandmini

HTC, Jared Newman for TIME

There’s also something a little different about the design of the HTC One Mini. If you look at photos of the device, you’ll see that the plastic frame on the edges of the phone extend all the way to the front and back panels. On the regular One, the black glass on the screen extends downward, flanked by shiny metal trim on either side. That same metal trim runs around the bottom panel of the phone. It’s a subtle design touch that really adds to the HTC One’s beauty, and it’s missing from the One Mini.

We’ve been down this road before. Samsung’s 4.3-inch Galaxy S4 Mini is even more compromised than its larger sibling, with merely a 960-by-540 resolution screen, a weaker processor and and half the storage. Last year, Motorola’s Droid Razr M had half the storage of the larger Razr M and a much uglier display. (Next week, Verizon is likely to announce a trio of new Motorola Droid phones; I’ll be shocked if the rumored Droid Mini isn’t somehow inferior to its larger counterparts.)

Just like Samsung and Motorola, HTC made sacrifices with the One Mini in pursuit of a smaller price tag, probably to appeal to overseas markets where subsidized phone prices aren’t an option. Although pricing hasn’t been announced, The Verge cites an unnamed HTC representative as saying the One Mini is “two price points below the HTC One.” The idea that people might be willing to pay just as high of a price for a smaller phone, particularly in the United States, seems lost on all the major phone makers.

And hey, maybe the phone makers are right, and the ever-complaining tech press is just a vocal minority. I’ll admit that for high-end Android phones, a larger screen makes for an easy point of differentiation against Apple‘s iPhone. Maybe a small, high-end Android phone would be total flop.

The frustrating thing is that no Android phone maker has even bothered to find out. Not a single company has stepped up and tried to make a no-compromise phone with a 4.3-inch or smaller display. For all the talk of how much choice Android allows, your options for high-end phones are limited to screens of 4.7 inches and larger. And those screens keep getting larger.

I’m not making a plea for my own personal gain. My day-to-day phone is a full-sized HTC One, and while my hands sometimes get tired of stretching across the large screen, I’m not sure if I’d ever go back to a smaller handset. Still, I’ve got to believe there’s a market for smaller phones that don’t skimp on quality, and that phone makers missing the opportunity. For now, that theory remains untested.

18 comments
mamad.ashari
mamad.ashari

I want a small high end android phone, the same size as iPhone for my girlfriend and didn't find anything yet but I hope the new  Sony Xperia Z1 Compact (CES 2014) do the trick. It seems to be both small and high end and meeting my expectations.

Jessirae
Jessirae

It's a shame that the HTC One Mini is still bigger than the iPhone 5. As a fairly tiny female, with tiny pockets, a tiny phone is a must! I was entertaining the idea of switching to the Android ecosystem (I should mention that I am an app designer for a company and responsible for app design on both iOS and Android), but after comparing the HTC One Mini, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and the iPhone 5, I just don't know if I, in good conscience, can downgrade to a lesser/larger piece of hardware.

shawnsBrain66
shawnsBrain66

I'd love to have a phone in the 4" range again. Easier to handle and I like to carry it in my pocket. I miss that.

EdF1958
EdF1958

I could not emphasize and sympathize more with that sentiment! I have small hands. I  don't care for the bigness of cars, phones, and other things... I can't wait to have a small phone in my hands with all the bells and whistles of the big dogs...

eddie864
eddie864

I have an HTC desire s coming to the end of it's contract too.  My missus has an HTC One X.  I find the screen of the Desire S at 3.7" just a little too small but find the very pretty, One X just a little too big.  I didn't fancy the One S with it's slightly smaller 4.3" screen purely because it only has 16Gb of memory (and it also has a dual core processor rather than the quad core of the One X - although this isn't an issue as the dual core seems as fast as the quad).  As you can't expand the memory via a card on the One S it was a big issue for me.  All I want is a 4" smartphone with a high res screen, a decently fast processor and at least 32Gb of memory.  It would be too much to ask for an MicroSD slot as well I suppose... Why can't they make a  smaller screen version of the top end phones with all the high end features?

oliver.philp
oliver.philp

Great article, I would say "couldn't agree more" but it seems you don't even want a smaller form factor, you just want the option to have one!

Anyway I am nearing the end of a two year contract with an HTC Desire S and I think the 3.7" is just about right, I'd be happy to go up to 4" but a 4.3" screen is already getting too big for me. It's not even as if I have small hands, I just find bigger phones make you look like you've got a canoe in your pocket and they are difficult to use one-handed.

I don't know what to get when I renew as there doesn't seem to be anything under 4.3" on the market with anywhere near decent specs, TBH I think I'll just go onto a SIM-only annual contract and halve my monthly payment - stuff 'em!

Lemons
Lemons

I sometimes find it pretty ironic how cell phones were created so that you could have a small and portable phone with you. Now the development is heading in the opposite direction and companies are constantly pushing out larger and larger phones (granted they are getting thinner, but still). I for one would much prefer a somewhat smaller form factor for a phone, this 4.3 inch screen is a good step in keeping these phones from becomes phablets.

Please stop by my blog to read about some other perspectives on current tech, I appreciate it: http://thetechstylemuseum.wordpress.com/

metman
metman

The manufacturers don't make high end phones because they are businesses run by business people, not R&D labs run by geeks.  I'd bet they've done plenty of market research, and found that a smaller high-spec phone would primarily cannibalize sales of larger models rather than attracting customers from competitors' phones or enticing mid-market consumers to step up to the premium price tier.  Top end consumers in the phone market are mostly geeks, who will sacrifice smaller size before performance/specs, and people who primarily buy products based upon flash and marketing bullet points (as an example, ask the typical hipster what benefit the retina display on his MBP gives him while browsing low res pictures of hand-knitted PBR cozies on etsy is).  Producing a smaller high-end phone means the increased overhead of additional supply chain and manufacturing processes without a significant boost to sales or revenue.  There's no market incentive.  This article is even anecdotal proof of that; neither the author nor any of the commenters seem to be saying, "I'd really love a premium phone, but I'm going to get one of the minis because the premium phones are too big."

soulbrother1
soulbrother1

What is the point of coming out with these mini phones and skip on the features of the larger ones. If they choose to do that keep the same specs for those who don't need the super sized phones.

AlexanderBurr
AlexanderBurr

I have gone from a 2 inch Nokia feature phone to a 3.5 inch Android, to 4.3 to 4.5 to 4.65...Next will be closer to 6.

This article sounds like an apple shill spreading the coolaid.

I want 2 or 3 day batteries on smartphones that are rugged.

This thin/ small phone fashionista bull HAS to stop.

pigtail
pigtail

There is no need to create high-end Android phones because they cost a lot less than iPhone and their technologies are equal or better than iPhone. http://t.co/Xhru19yRCp

Portal
Portal

I just bought a Nokia Lumia 720 , and i am loving it. HD Scree , smart camera , cinemograph and various other features make this way too awesome. And moreover windows 8 as OS is new and better to look at. Android is too common and has got boring. So this new HTC mostly have the same features as that of Lumia. Hope its a success too.

metman
metman

*Should say "...don't make smaller high end phones..."  They clearly do make high end phones.

neowiz73
neowiz73

@AlexanderBurr I've used Android since the OG droid and the 4.3" screen is more preferred to me as well. I currently use a 4.6" galaxy nexus which is nice.  But I'm a little set back myself on all the lackluster 4.3" models of popular well made devices.  

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@AlexanderBurr From the article: "My day-to-day phone is a full-sized HTC One, and while my hands sometimes get tired of stretching across the large screen, I’m not sure if I’d ever go back to a smaller handset."

Derp!

TXP
TXP

@As01234 I was thinking the same thing. The Xiaomi Mi2s would appear to be exactly what the author wants -- a phone with all the features and performance of an S4 or One (1.7 Ghz quad-core Snapdragon 600, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB storage, 13 MP camera, Jellybean, etc.), but in a smaller form factor....and with a much smaller price to boot. I'm probably going to get one for my girlfriend, because big phones in her small hands tend to become dropped phones with broken screens.