When Did Small Phones Become Crappy Phones?

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There was a time when you could buy something that was compact, fast, and beautiful. That time is over. "Smaller" is just a polite way to say "here's the bad version for cheap people." And that's really awful.


The 4.3-inch HTC 8X looks like a tremendous phone—the ultramodern, ultrafunctional WP8 software paired with killer hardware: LTE, super-dense display, thin, and fast. And it has a little brother: the 4-inch 8S. But instead of just being the smaller version of what looks to be a very good phone, it's the good enough version. The affordable version. The watered down version: worse camera, less storage, less memory, a slower processor—and an obviously inferior build quality. The 8X is Glock, the 8S is Nerf.

This isn't to say there shouldn't be low-cost smartphone options that will, of course, have to skimp on power—smartphones should be accessible for everyone, regardless of income. But HTC is saying the small one is the handset you get if you don't have the money or just don't care. They're not alone.

Nokia recently pulled the exact same maneuver with its Lumia 920, a 4.5-inch masterwork of industrial design. Its 820 counterpart? Not so much. It'll be a decent phone, but it's obviously inferior in every way, inside and out, unless you care more about early-2000s throwback swappable backplates. It feels like a phone for tweens or the elderly, relegated to mediocrity and punted out of memory just because it's smaller.

In both cases, each company has given us two obvious options: you can have a power, fat phone, or a compact, slower phone. There's no sport coupe. There's no very-pocketable power choice. Big and good, small and worse. There are always engineering snags, of course—sometimes you just can't pack as much stuff into a smaller body, particularly when battery life is a big concern. That said, there's no plausible excuse for cheap-o build quality and exterior attention to detail. None.


But it doesn't have to be this way. Motorola proved it on the same day Nokia presented this false dilemma, stating, poignantly, "Some people just want a smaller phone." Those people don't want a slower phone, or a weaker phone, or a chintzier phone—just one that's not as large. They want the same power and capability without all of that taking up more space. And so Motorola now sells the svelte and snappy RAZR M, a 4.3-inch handset (about as "small" as small gets these days, sadly) that still packs the LTE, processor, and memory of its big counterpoint, the HD. It feels like a bullet, not a counterfeit. It's possible. If Motorola could create a compact performer without compromise, then there's zero reason why HTC and Nokia can't (and should't) do the exact same thing.




Goin hardcore curmudgeon at 47 years old. I hate big phones. Fucking hate that I can feel them in my pocket. Despite the thickness, I still like my Palm Pre2. Don't need faster internets. I'm not in a hurry. Don't stream, don't watch, just need basics: Phone, Email, Chat, Text, GPS. Control my DVR, check the weather, and not be $200 deep in apps to any OS. Christamighty, just give me my basics that will fit in my front jeans pocket, even when I sit down, and not make me feel like I have a tablet in there. They can make One Direction sound musical, and they can't make a decent phone that's smaller than a or super-sized Hershey bar?