Our test candidates: Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, Sony Xperia Z1 Compact and HT One Mini

At a press conference in 2010 Steve Jobs said that a 3.5-inch screen was a perfect size for consumers and no one was going to buy a big phone, referring to, at the time, new models from Samsung and Motorola that featured larger screens. While Apple has stuck with the mantra of its co-founder and limited the screen size of its latest flagship device, the iPhone 5s, to a very moderate 4 inches, outside the iOS universe smartphone displays have grown larger and larger.

Virtually all current Android flagship smartphones come with at least 5-inch screen diameters, the LG G2 and the brand new Sony Xperia Z2 even feature 5.2-inch variants. Those who want it even bigger can choose from a variety of phablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note III, HTC One Max or the Windows Phone powered Nokia Lumia 1520, which offer displays that range from 5.5 to 6 inches in size.

Thanks to advanced display technologies and ever thinner bezels the overall dimensions of the devices have proportionally grown less than the screens but nevertheless large pockets are required for carrying the latest generation of Android and Windows Phone flagship devices. That said, despite the trend toward almost tablet-sized smartphones there is still a large demand for smaller smartphones from users who are contemplating a switch from iOS and its smaller phones to another mobile OS. 

Size comparison: our test devices next to the 5.2-inch LG G2

Most manufacturers have realized that, too, and have designed smaller versions of their flagship smartphones to cater to those user who prefer more pocketable devices. In this shootout we pit three of those models against each other: the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, HTC One Mini and Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini. LG also just announced the G2 Mini but the device is not available yet at this point. We will have a closer look at it once we get our hands on a sample unit.

The manufacturers of the three devices in this shootout have approached the compact smartphone topic in different ways. While Sony's Xperia Z1 Compact is pretty much an Xperia Z1 in a smaller body, including the 20.7MP camera module, HTC and Samsung have not only shrunk the dimensions of the One Mini and Galaxy S4 Mini but also downgraded some of the components. 

Both come with slower CPUs than their bigger counterparts and the camera modules are less advanced as well. The Galaxy S4 Mini has swapped the 13MP sensor of its larger sibling for an 8MP chip and the HTC One Mini loses the One's optical image stabilization system. The table below provides a more detailed overview of the specifications of our test models: 

  Sony Xperia Z1 CompactHTC One Mini Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini 
 Image Sensor 1/2.3-inch CMOS, 20.7MP 1/3-inch CMOS, 4MP 1/3-inch CMOS, 8MP
 Aperture F2.0 F2.0 F2.6
 OIS No No No
Camera Aspect Ratio 4:3 (16:9 in 8MP mode) 16:9 4:3
 Focal Length*  31mm 28mm  31mm
Video  1080p, 30fps 1080p, 30fps 1080p, 30fps
Screen  4.3-inch, 720p 4.3-inch, 720p 4.3-inch, 960x540
CPU  Snapdragon 800 Snapdragon 400 Snapdragon 400
 Dimensions 127 x 64.9 x 9.5 mm 
5.0 x 2.56 x 0.37 in
132 x 63.2 x 9.3 mm
5.20 x 2.49 x 0.37 in
124.6 x 61.3 x 8.9 mm
4.91 x 2.41 x 0.35 in
 Weight 137 g / 4.83 oz 122 g / 4.30 oz 107 g / 3.77 oz
Current Sim Free Street Price  USD 525
GBP 385
EUR 465
USD 410
GBP 220
EUR 340
USD 320
GBP 220
EUR 235

*35mm format equivalent

For the purpose of this shootout we have taken sample images in a variety of light situations and compared the results. All shots were taken handheld from the same position. We took between five and 10 pictures of each scene with each device and picked the best one for the comparison.

In its default Auto mode the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact captures downsampled 8MP images but you can access the full 20.7MP files by switching into the camera's Manual mode. We have included both image versions in our shootout to show you what the Sony's camera is capable of in both modes. Click through to the next page to see how the candidates performed in our test scenarios.