Help us find the endangered compact phone
July 28, 2018 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Mrs Vegetable needs a new phone. We’re people from a simpler phone time and bewildered in the modern marketplace. She has three requirements (small size, continued updates, not super expensive), which seem to be mutually incompatible. Do you know of a unicorn phone we’re missing?

1) The optimal size for her hand is smaller than is currently popular; she likes the iphone 5 (124 x 58.5mm). The iphone 6 (138 x 67) is already somewhat uncomfortable to use.

2) We would like the phone to work for several years and worry about continued security updates. For example, our older iphones were not included in iOS updates at some point, which is insecure, and several apps build against newer API features. On the android side, some manufacturers are bad both about security updates and android letter upgrades. Something in the AndroidOne or Android Enterprise Recommended family seems advisable, but we’d be open to others that have a good reputation. My understanding is that android has security patches now and is less dependent on the letter upgrades, but don't really know how much that matters.

3) Value. We would like neither the poor responsiveness of very cheap phones nor to break the bank. She uses her phone for minimal apps (maps, email, messaging, web while traveling primarily) and does not need a monster. It would be nice if we were in the sub $300 range.

We aren’t married to the apple or android ecosystems. Looking at the below we may just accept that a ~2-year lifespan is all we’re going to get.

The iphone SE seems like a great fit, except it’s from 2016. My understanding is that it will get the iOS 12 update this year, but that’s likely the end of the road (it's a 6s derivative so maybe EOL 2020?).

Sony’s Xperia XZ1 is also a reasonable fit, but on the pricey side (seems ~$360); the XZ2 is the same but more expensive.

Samsung’s A3 seems like it would be fine, except my understanding is that Samsung is pretty bad on android updates. I see that they are rolling Oreo out for the A3; have they heard the music on the importance of android updates?
posted by a robot made out of meat to Technology (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, the XZ1 Compact very much fits the bill apart from price. It is a superbly well made phone, though, and I'm very pleased with mine, and expect to get plenty of years from it.

That was the nearest fit that I could find, and I had had the same requirements.
posted by ambrosen at 9:03 AM on July 28, 2018

Would a used iphone SE (from Swappa or something) work? That way you will spend less $ on it so if you eventually need to replace it sooner than hoped, it’s not such a big deal.

I switched to iphones about three years ago specifically because there were never updated OSes for my (inexpensive, to be fair) Android phones and it was a pain. My needs are somewhat modest but I have yet to encounter an app that my iphone 5c (!) can’t use.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:21 AM on July 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

I’m testing iOS 12 on my 5S and it’s working pretty well. Performance has improved in some places. Seconding a used 5S or SE with a new battery (appx $50 in most shops).
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:37 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I get the Sony compact phones, currently on my 3rd - the z5 compact. They're great phones and seem to be the only ones that are powerful, sensibly sized and not apple prices. But they don't get continued updates - my android security patch level is showing as September 2017!
posted by JonB at 9:48 AM on July 28, 2018

Nthing used 5S
posted by humboldt32 at 11:53 AM on July 28, 2018

I highly recommend Ting and their refurbished phones. They have a personal shopper service that has really worked for me in the past as a cell phone neophyte and hooked me up with a cute little htc phone that lasted me for years and years until... three weeks ago when I splashed out a huge chunk of savings on a pixel2. (Part of that savings was that I pay about $17 a month for my phone bill. Memail me for a referral code if you'd like.) They are very straightforward and clear about phone specifications.

Another thing to consider about size - what about a case to help a larger phone be more comfortable? There are some now with loops on the back to rest your finger in and help support the phone in a different way, or wallet cases with hinges or high friction patches to help keep a more relaxed grip. Could be that there's an ergonomic solution out there.
posted by Mizu at 12:15 PM on July 28, 2018

The Motorola E4 is the smallest android phone I've been able to find. It's gotten more security updates than either the Sony or Samsung phones I had previously (not high praise exactly, since the number to beat was 0). It's currently at android 7.1.1. I got it for under $100 about a year ago.
posted by clockwork at 12:28 PM on July 28, 2018

Loving my SE, Will run it into the ground.
posted by Iteki at 4:27 PM on July 28, 2018

The Nokia Android devices are rather nice. Most of them are too small for me, so maybe one of them will be right up your wife's alley. They are essentially stock Android as seen on a Pixel and get updates reasonably quickly, which is my #1 requirement in an Android phone. As long as the hardware is to your liking, it's a solid option.
posted by wierdo at 10:16 PM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all, we ended up with a refurbished SE with new battery. It checks the boxes pretty well. Here's hoping it does the distance.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:31 PM on September 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

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