Compact smartphones are a rare breed these days as companies generally tend to focus on large displays since that's what's in greater demand. However, I still think there is a market for small phones, or devices like the iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini wouldn't exist. This got me thinking – what is the best compact smartphone in the Indian market today? Looking around, we only really have two worthy contenders, the Apple iPhone 13 mini and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3.
Both are flagship-equivalent offerings from their respective companies and even though their target audiences are a bit different, they meet the main criteria for today's comparison perfectly. Some other options such as the Google Pixel 4a are also, technically, great compact phones but we're looking for the absolute best, so our focus is only on flagship offerings.
Most of us typically have a budget in mind before we set out to buy a new phone. Interestingly, the iPhone 13 mini and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 are similarly priced in India. Neither is cheap by any means, but then again, high prices are to be expected in flagship territory. The iPhone 13 mini starts at Rs. 69,900 with 128GB of storage, and goes up to Rs. 79,900 for 256GB and Rs. 99,900 for 512GB.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 on the other hand is priced at Rs. 84,999 for the 128GB variant and Rs. 88,999 if you want 256GB. You get 8GB of RAM across both variants of the Galaxy Z Flip 3, while the iPhone 13 mini has 4GB of RAM. On paper, the iPhone might look like it's at a big disadvantage but you have to remember that the two phones run on very different software platforms, so the amount of RAM is not nearly as important on an iPhone as on an Android phone.
In terms of pure value, the iPhone 13 mini takes the lead as it costs less than the corresponding Galaxy Z Flip 3 variant. Apple also has a 512GB option, which is nice considering neither phone has expandable storage. The iPhone 13 mini scores another point for the variety of colours it's available in; five in total, compared to just two for the Galaxy Z Flip 3.
In terms of sheer engineering prowess there's no beating the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, but if I were to judge both phones purely on how small and compact they are, then I'd call it a tie. You'll have no trouble keeping either the iPhone 13 mini or the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 in a shirt or trouser pocket. Both are very comfortable to hold, and both are built with premium materials such as glass and aluminium.
The iPhone 13 mini is fairly slim, measuring 7.65mm in thickness and is incredibly light at just 140g. It's not as small as the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 (when folded) but it's enough to not be a bother when you're out and about.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is one of the most compact phones on the market today (the only other such design being the Motorola Razr 5G), at least in its folded state, which is how you'll be carrying it around. While it is shorter than the iPhone 13 mini by a good margin, it is twice as chunky when folded (up to 17.1mm at its thickest end) and noticeably heavier too at 183g. Its shape does take some getting used to, but overall I think it's just as portable as the iPhone 13 mini, if not more so in some ways.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 pulls an easy win here thanks to its large 6.7-inch folding AMOLED display. This makes viewing and interacting with content a little bit easier, especially if you have large hands. Another ace up its sleeve is the 120Hz refresh rate, which adds a sense of fluidity to scrolling and animations. Even though this is the second generation of the Z Flip, the crease where the display folds is still very visible at certain angles. You also get a secondary outer display for checking alerts, etc.
The iPhone 13 mini's 5.4-inch display doesn't fold, and it doesn't have a high refresh rate either, but it's still by no means bad. The size definitely takes some getting used to, especially if you're coming from a big-screen phone, but the specs are still solid. It has a satisfyingly high brightness of 800nits, supports HDR playback, and has great colour accuracy plus Apple's True Tone feature for automatic white balance adjustment. The notch does eat into the screen space, and even though Apple has reduced its width with this generation, it still looks massive on such a small screen.
The iPhone 13 mini and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 both feature current-gen flagship SoCs. The former uses Apple's own A15 Bionic while the latter uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. Both phones support 5G and other fast wireless connectivity standards that you'd expect in a 2021 flagship. You also get stereo speakers, wireless charging, dual-SIM support (physical + eSIM) and biometric authentication for security. There are some differences between the two phones though, which are worth noting.
The iPhone 13 mini has an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, whereas the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is only IPX8 rated. While it's still impressive to see a folding phone that's safe from exposure to liquids to some extent, the fact is that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is not dust-proof so you'll need to be careful with your usage. Another difference lies with security. The iPhone 13 mini only has face recognition, while the Galaxy Z Flip 3 gets that plus a fingerprint sensor in the power button. The latter also has the ability to wirelessly charge other Qi-compatible devices like earphones and phones, but you can't do this on the iPhone.
This is going to be subjective as everyone will have a different usage style, so I'm just going to point out some of the positive and negative things that I noticed when using both these phones. I personally found the iPhone 13 mini a lot less stressful to live with, mainly because all my content was readily accessible the moment I took it out of my pocket, thanks to the standard candybar form factor. It might look dainty but the internal components and the display are all well protected against the elements. The high brightness of the iPhone 13 mini's display also made content very legible even under direct sunlight. What I enjoyed most though is that I could easily interact with buttons anywhere on the screen, with just one hand.
The flipside to having such a compact phone is, of course, that not all interactions are easy to perform. The keyboard feels very cramped for two-thumb typing, and that will be a bigger challenge if you have large fingers, although the ‘Slide to type' feature does ease some of the pain. The video watching experience isn't as good as it is on the Galaxy Z Flip 3 either, purely because of the smaller screen and the notch. Finally, unlocking the iPhone 13 mini is a chore if you have a face mask on, as Face ID does not work. You can circumvent this problem if you have an Apple Watch paired with the phone, but it would have been nice to have had Touch ID in the power button as a failsafe.
Moving on to the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, the larger display makes watching video an infinitely better experience than on the iPhone 13 mini. Keep in mind that most videos will have thick black bars on either side due to the panel's taller aspect ratio. Samsung also offers a neat software trick that it calls ‘Flex mode' to take advantage of the folding display in several apps. Typing is also much easier, although still not as comfortable as using a phone with a conventional aspect ratio. Finally, I like that this phone has face recognition as well as a fingerprint sensor, which makes unlocking it much easier when wearing a mask.
As cool as the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is to use, some of its novelty features can quickly become annoyances, the biggest being the folding display itself. While it's a great conversation starter, folding and unfolding the display becomes a chore pretty quickly as you have to open it to perform any kind of meaningful interaction. This wouldn't have been so bad if you could flip it open with one hand or use the outer display for menial tasks, but you can't do either. Even though the outer display is larger and more responsive than the one on the first-gen Z Flip, it still lacks crucial functionality, and this is a lost opportunity for Samsung, in my opinion.
It's also worth noting that the Galaxy Z Flip 3's display isn't as legible under direct sunlight as the iPhone 13 mini's, and neither is it as well protected. You need to make sure you don't apply any undue pressure or let any sharp object near this panel, as it could easily get damaged.
The iPhone 13 mini and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 deliver superb performance as you'd expect from any flagship phone. iOS 15 runs great on the iPhone 13 mini, and even though it lacks the 120Hz display refresh rate of the Galaxy Z Flip 3, it doesn't feel slow or laggy at all. Games run very well, and even when playing taxing 3D games, heat is distributed well along the metal body so there are no uncomfortable hot spots when holding it. Considering its size, the speakers on the iPhone 13 mini sound superb, with great detail and clarity. They also get much louder than the ones on the Galaxy Z Flip 3.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 handles One UI like a champ. In games such as Asphalt 9: Legends, the 120Hz display makes gameplay feel smoother than on the iPhone 13 mini. Continuous gaming does make the Galaxy Z Flip 3 run quite hot, but the heat is contained within the top half of the phone, which gets a little uncomfortable to hold after a while.
The iPhone 13 mini and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 both have wide and ultra-wide cameras on the back, and a single selfie camera. After shooting stills and videos side-by-side with both phones, I'd put my money on the iPhone's cameras because it captures better detail and more natural colours in stills, and has far better stabilisation for videos than the Galaxy Z Flip 3. The ultra-wide cameras on both phones are relatively weak, especially in low light. For selfies too, the iPhone 13 mini captures more natural-looking skin tones and better details. Low-light selfie performance with Night mode is also quite impressive on the iPhone, and all of this works intuitively, which is not always the case with the Samsung.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 can capture some pretty stunning photos too, and these look great on the phone's display. However, most of its photos tend to have an overprocessed look with boosted colours. If you're into that style, you might prefer the output of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 over the iPhone 13 mini.
The iPhone 13 mini and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 both have smaller batteries than standard form-factor flagships, and understandably so. Apple and Samsung make similar claims for how long each phone should last on a single charge, but in reality, the iPhone 13 mini easily outlasted the Galaxy Z Flip 3 in my testing. To make this a fair comparison, I loaded similar apps on both phones, and each had an active 4G SIM in it.
With both phones' batteries fully charged, I started with an hour of streaming video, followed by half an hour of gaming (Asphalt 9: Legends and PUBG: New State). This was followed by some camera testing and another hour of watching videos. I did take some breaks in between to allow the phones to cool down after some activities like gaming, but background processes such as Slack and Gmail were running throughout. After roughly 19 hours, of which the screens on both phones were on for about three and half hours, the Galaxy Z Flip 3's battery was at 22 percent, while the iPhone 13 mini's battery was at a solid 45 percent.
The smaller display on the iPhone 13 mini, compared to the Galaxy Z Flip 3, is definitely one of the reasons it has such good battery life, which is why I think Samsung should have gone with a higher battery capacity for the Z Flip 3 even if it would have meant making it slightly thicker and heavier.
Both phones are capable of fast wired and wireless charging. The iPhone 13 mini supports up to 15W wired charging and up to 12W wireless charging if you use an approved MagSafe charger. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 supports up to 15W wired charging and up to 10W wireless charging. You will need appropriate adapters to achieve these speeds as both phones only ship with a Type-C cable in the box.
If you've been following the comparison so far and haven't skipped directly to the verdict, you might have guessed which of these two phones I'm leaning towards. If I had to choose one, I'd go with the iPhone 13 mini. It's tiny and rugged, and it has excellent performance, great cameras, and very good battery life for a phone its size. Plus, the fact that it's a little more affordable than the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a nice bonus. With the iPhone, you can also be assured of timely software updates which should keep things fresh for years to come.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a strong contender too, and is an excellent compact flagship in its own right. The novelty of folding it is hard to match, especially when you see peoples' reactions. However for me, this is a bit of a double-edged sword since it quickly becomes a chore. Also, flipping it open or closed is a two-handed affair, which is the exact opposite of what I want from a small phone. The other kicker is the battery life, which even for my moderate daily use, falls short.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 still offers the best flaunt value, but the iPhone 13 mini just makes better sense as a daily driver. I'm curious to know your thoughts about this. Which of these two compact phones would you pick?