Going back to a small phone is a really big deal

Some reflections on size and our most personal handheld gizmos.

Small Android Phone

Folks, I can officially end the age-old debate: Yes, size matters. It really, really matters.

(When it comes to smartphones, that is. Get your mind out of the gutter, would ya?)

One year ago this month, I wrote a column called "Why I'm finally giving in to the big phone craze." In it, I described my long and rather reluctant journey into the land of plus-sized phones -- and how I begrudgingly gave into the large phone phenomenon with last year's Nexus 6P.

Or, to be more precise, how I begrudgingly gave in with last year's Nexus 6P and the context surrounding it. As I said at the time:

Now, would I go with a smaller "5P" model, given the choice? Absolutely -- and without hesitation. The size of this phone is something I'm accepting, not something I'm cherishing. But I really am okay with it. Given the fact that there's no smaller device out there that provides all the same qualities I want with no meaningful downsides, I've recognized that the 6P is as close to my ideal as I'm going to get.

In other words, I compromised. I wanted a high-end phone with an optimal user experience and timely ongoing upgrades, and the 6P was the only option that fit the bill. So I accepted a larger-than-I'd-like size in order to get pretty much everything else I needed.

And by and large (!), it was okay. The 6P was a fine phone, and it served me well. But I always resented having that hulking rectangle in my pocket -- a presence I was acutely aware of around the clock. In day-to-day jeans, it was more of a persistent mild awareness. In dress pants (which, for whatever reason, seem to have relatively shallow pockets), it was fairly annoying. And in athletic attire (even smaller pockets and with a more slippery material), it was an outright nuisance.

I started making more compromises in order to accommodate my original compromise. I left my phone at home more frequently, because I often just didn't feel like carrying it around. (Unexpected lesson: Turns out not having your phone on you sometimes is actually kinda nice.) I used my smaller old 2014 phone to listen to music at the gym so I wouldn't have to fret about the 6P falling out of my pocket whilst performing wildly impressive feats of strength and agility. I even seriously contemplated the notion of "upgrading" my entire pants collection in order to better suit my, erm, oversized apparatus -- which I realize now is a ridiculous thing to consider.

If I had any doubt remaining, spending time this summer revisiting my ultra-ergonomic 2013 Moto X confirmed to me I was ready to ditch the bulk and go back to a more manageable mobile gadget. And so when this fall's 5-in. Google Pixel phone came along -- a smaller device with the user experience I require and no real drawbacks compared to its XL-sized sibling -- I knew what I had to do.

I purchased the Pixel and have been carrying it for nearly a month now. And let me tell you: Going back to a smaller phone makes an enormous difference -- far more than I ever expected. I've made lots of phone "upgrades" over the years, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that moving from the 6P to the Pixel has brought about one of the most meaningful improvements I've ever experienced in real-world usability.

Nexus 6P, Pixel Phone Size

My downsized upgrade: The Nexus 6P, left, and Pixel, right

Yes, the phone itself is delightful in most regards (not least of all its cohesive and holistic nature -- it really is more than the sum of its parts, as I've pointed out before). But truthfully, most of its advancements over the 6P are pretty incremental in practical terms. The biggest contrast is simply in comfort -- both with passively carrying and actively using the thing. Several millimeters may not seem like much on paper, but it definitely adds up in practice. (Hey. Mind. Gutter. Out. Sheesh, can't I take you anywhere?!)

For me, it's been a revelation to have a top-notch device that I barely notice throughout the day and can hold and use comfortably with a single hand when I want it. The phone actually fits my needs instead of my needs having to adapt to fit it. The craziest part is that the Pixel isn't even what I'd consider compact; it just isn't enormous -- which makes it a relative rarity for its class in this day and age.

The difference is significant enough that when I go back and pick up my 6P -- which I haven't even powered on since the day I made the switch -- I actually get a look on my face like I've eaten a lemon. (For context, my normal resting expression is only slightly sour.) More than anything, I just feel relieved that I don't have to lug that beast around anymore. The 6P was the compromise I had to make at the time, and I made it through a full year with it, but man: I definitely wouldn't want to go back.

Some people prefer plus-sized phones, and that's certainly A-OK. But plenty of people simply accepted them because there was no better choice at the time. Plenty of people wish they could toss their device in the dryer and shrink it down a notch. Plenty of people feel like they're the only sane souls left who don't want to walk around with a cantaloupe-sized slate weighing down their britches all day. (Believe me: I hear from such outcasts all the time.)

For those folks, I'm here to tell you: This is no longer a tradeoff you have to accept. There is a better way. If you think you've gotten used to the plus-sized smartphone life, spend a few days with something smaller. A low-compromise low-profile option is finally available -- and once you drop down, you'll never want to size back up again.

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