Four great compact smartphones with outstanding battery life

We live in the age of handset screens getting ever larger, and it seems this trend will not be fading out anytime soon. Of course, with big displays come a lot of goodies – aside from the fact that the user can consume media more comfortably, the required bigger phone body can house this much extra hardware, and more potent batteries. Now, on the flip side, people that prefer to own smaller handsets still exist, however, it seems that they are generally not viewed as powerusers, since most of the demographic appears much more interested in having an easily pocketable device, able to keep them connected at all times, rather than owning a portable media-blasting machine.

But there is something that compact phone lovers can possibly find themselves envying in bigger handsets – the generous juicebox. Indeed, while a device with a 5.2”-plus display will usually have something around a 3,000 mAh battery, sub-4.7-inchers will usually linger around the 2,000 – 2,500 mAh mark. However, we've come to find that battery life is often much more than simple numbers – it's what the manufacturer does with the phone's optimization that can really count, as it can make or break battery life, regardless of what's powering the phone.

So, we decided to sift through the tests and see which compact smartphones still deliver some satisfying usage times, despite their smaller batteries. Of course, we still want them to be well-working, modern-looking handsets, so we added a couple more prerequisites in the mix. Here's what we are looking for:

  • A result of 7 hours and above in our battery life test
  • A display of 5” or less
  • A screen-to-body ratio above 65% - anything lower than that is just a waste of real estate, and doesn't look attractive by today's standards
  • A review rating of 7 and above

After put through these grinding filters, the sub-5-inchers that survived were the following 4 handsets:

LG Lucid 3

A Verizon-exclusive, which was released around April 2014, the Lucid 3 comes for free with a two-year contract to the carrier. It offers a 540 x 960 resolution, 4.7” screen adorning a 5.18" x 2.6" x 0.39" (132 x 66 x 10 mm) body. A Snapdragon 400, coupled with 1 GB of RAM hums under the hood, and the phone gets its power from a 2,440 mAh battery, which managed to keep the lights on for 8 hours and 20 minutes in our custom test – pretty impressive timing, indeed.

Now, it's not an extremely impressive handset – with a noticeably poor display, and very modest specs, it's aimed at the low-end crowd. Snatching it up when signing up for an extra 2 years with Verizon is a good option, however, it's off-contract price is $299.99, and we wouldn't recommend it at this price.

Nokia Lumia 635

OK, we have to bend our own rules here just a little bit – the Lumia 635's screen-to-body ratio is slightly below our limit, at 64.48%. However, it's frame is still easily palmable, at 5.10 x 2.63 x 0.36 inches (129.5 x 66.7 x 9.2 mm), and the handset lasted a very impressive 9 hours and 35 minutes on our battery test, plus, we regard it as one of the best budget-phone choices out there.

The Lumia 635 is an LTE-capable handset, powered by a Snapdragon 400, 512 RAM, and a 1,830 mAh juicer, all of which may sound underwhelming on paper, but we've found Windows Phone 8.1 to be perfectly capable of making the most of what hardware it has available, providing generally smooth performance as far as basic tasks are concerned. The whole package can be purchased for $99 - $150, depending on where one gets it from, and we find it to be a great choice for people who mainly want to use their handset for calls / texts / chat / emails.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha

The Galaxy Alpha was Samsung's first attempt at a contemporary "premium" design – doing away with a lot of plastic and adding a nice metal frame around the phone, with some very well placed accents and details all around the chassis, the Alpha definitely impressed us as one of the most beautiful Samsung phones to come out.

Powered by a homebrew Exynos 5 5430 (there is an alternative Snapdragon 801 variant), 2 GB of RAM, and a measly 1,860 mAh battery, this handset still kept going for 7 hours and 50 minutes in our benchmark test. All of this is neatly packed in a 5.21" x 2.58" x 0.26" (132.4 x 65.5 x 6.7 mm) body, adorned with a 4.7" 720p display.

The Alpha also proved to be more than looks, when it took 3rd spot on AnTuTu's ranking list for Q3 2014, beating the likes of OnePlus One, Moto X, Xperia Z3, etc.

Of course, good things come at a price – the Galaxy Alpha can be found for around $500 off-contract in the US.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

The king of battery life in sub-5” handsets, Sony's offering truly impressed us with a 10 hour and 2 minute time in our endurance test. Going against the trend of releasing underpowered “mini” versions of one's own flagship handset, Sony decided to build the Compact variants of its Z series to be on-par with the bigger sibling, with minor compromises. The Xperia Z3 Compact is powered by a Snapdragon 801, has 2 GB of RAM, and is juiced by a 2,600 mAh cell. Its display offers a 720p resolution stretched across a 4.6” diagonal and encased in a waterproof 5.00" x 2.56" x 0.34" (127 x 64.9 x 8.6 mm) body, making for a screen-to-body ratio of 70.64%.

A nigh-flagship device comes with a nigh-flagship price – the Xperia Z3 Compact can be found for around $450 off-contract nowadays.

So, it was a very close competition between the Galaxy Alpha and the Z3 Compact. However, performance aside, the reason we decided to give the Compact the crown in this particular competition is both because of its extreme battery life, and because of its IP67 rating – we are looking for pocketable devices that are more likely to be neglected, rather than very carefully cared after, therefore – are much more prone to accidental spills, drops, et cetera, so any form of additional protection is more than welcome.

Related phones

Lucid 3
  • Display 4.7 inches 960 x 540 pixels
  • Camera 5 MP (Single camera) 0.3 MP VGA front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1GB RAM
  • Storage 8GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 2440 mAh
  • OS Android 4.4
Xperia Z3 Compact
  • Display 4.6 inches 1280 x 720 pixels
  • Camera 20.7 MP (Single camera) 2.2 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2GB RAM
  • Storage 16GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 2600 mAh
  • OS Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Lumia 635
  • Display 4.5 inches 854 x 480 pixels
  • Camera 5 MP (Single camera) front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1GB RAM
  • Storage 8GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 1830 mAh
  • OS Windows Phone 8.1
Galaxy Alpha
  • Display 4.7 inches 1280 x 720 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP (Single camera) 2.1 MP front
  • Hardware Samsung Exynos 5 Octa 2GB RAM
  • Storage 32GB,
  • Battery 1860 mAh
  • OS Android 5.1 Lollipop Samsung TouchWiz UI


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