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Here's why Samsung should have launched a Galaxy S21 mini

Galaxy S10e
Galaxy S10e (Image credit: Android Central)

As a 5'2" woman without hands the size of a basketballer, I feel my heart sink whenever I see a phone series like the Galaxy S21 starts with a 6.2-inch screen and goes up from there. Don't get me wrong, the "baby" S21 is a great phone, and I'm very jealous of my coworker Hayato getting to review that lovely lilac lifeline, but like the Galaxy S20 that I reviewed last spring, it's small in name only.

In fact, ever since my Pixel 4a arrived in August, I have only touched my S20 to use the camera and take photos of my smaller, easier to use Pixel. The S20's screen may be prettier, but the Pixel is just hands-down easier on my smaller hands.

Like many, I'd held out a small bit of hope that Samsung would repeat the small surprise of a superphone that was the Galaxy S10e with a Galaxy S21 mini, but good fortune was not to be. And both Samsung and its customers are poorer for the omission, as it's time for Samsung to give us another small super-phone in the age of the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone SE (2020).

The Galaxy S210e: The last great small flagship

The Samsung Galaxy S10e was a stark contrast to the Galaxy S10 and S10+ — it eschewed both the curved screen and ultrasonic fingerprint sensor for a flat screen and capacitive sensor in the power button. The 5.8-inch screen wasn't a hit with reviewers too used to ever-growing screens, but it resonated with consumers who didn't want an oversized — and overpriced — phone overextending their thumbs and their budgets.

This wasn't just a small phone. It was a pocket-friendly flagship.

Unlike "mini" phones of the past, the S10e was a small phone that still offered the same powerful processor, RAM, and storage as its big brothers. It had the same main camera and ultra-wide, and it skipped out on the gimmicks of the larger S10s, as well as the $900-$1000 price tags. You still got a great-looking 1080p screen, even if it wasn't quite as high-resolution as the bigger ones — and let's not forget, the 6.2-inch Galaxy S21 went with 1080p this year, too.

Samsung Galaxy S10e

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

While the "regular" S10 had constant issues with the in-screen fingerprint sensor that didn't play nice with screen protectors, the S10e was simpler than ever. The fingerprint sensor in the home button meant that by the time you pressed down the button to turn on your screen, it was unlocked and ready to work. Granted, the battery wasn't huge, but it was enough to get through the average day with ease, and it was a practical phone for a practical buyer.

Unfortunately, the small but devoted following the S10e garnered wasn't enough to warrant a Galaxy S20e or a Galaxy S21 mini, but that's not shocking.

No company can justify having a great small phone every single year — not even Apple.

Today's small phone market — and the gap Samsung could fill

Pixel 4a Iphone 12 Mini Lifestyle

Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

You may have heard in the last few weeks that Apple has been disappointed by iPhone 12 mini sales, with many claiming that demand for the perfectly pocket-sized powerhouse was killed by the pandemic, but I don't think that's what happened. After all, the iPhone 12 mini is all our iMore compadres ever wanted in a tiny iPhone, so I don't think the problem is the phone itself.

The problem is that Apple sabotaged itself six months earlier with a small phone that was flawed but affordable and highly popular: the iPhone SE (2020). Apple broke sales records during a pandemic because the iPhone SE (2020) had three things going for it:

  • It was the classic iPhone design with a physical home screen button for users reticent to change.
  • It had Touch ID while the iPhone 11's face unlock was punked by the pandemic.
  • It was $400 in an age while most iPhones in the last couple of years were $800-$1000.

iPhone SE

Source: Jared DiPane / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jared DiPane / Android Central)

No wonder the iPhone SE (2020) broke records; there were a lot of reasons to hop on its bandwagon. But that also meant that most size-conscious iPhone users had upgraded to the SE by the time the iPhone 12 mini rolled around with its tiny bezels and the magnificence of MagSafe. By then, it was too hard to justify another upgrade, especially jumping from a $400 phone to a $700 one.

Small phones aren't as sexy. We're trained to want the latest and greatest, and to most buyers, bigger is better.

Small phones aren't as sexy. We're trained to want the latest and greatest, and to most buyers, bigger is better. This means that unless you're going to be releasing a budget-minded small phone like the Pixel 4a — which is one of the best Android phones because of its compact size and $350 price tag — manufacturers need to think in cyclical terms that are much longer.

Apple and Samsung don't need a good small phone every single year; they need a good small smartphone once every three years.

No brand can justify a yearly small flagship — but maybe once every few years

Galaxy S10 series

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Samsung did well with the Galaxy S10e, and the S10e was still a good phone in 2020. In 2021, though, it would've been long in the tooth had Samsung still been selling it. Now would've been the perfect time to launch a Galaxy S21 mini — or make the regular S21 a truly small flagship while the 6.2-inch model took the Plus moniker and allowed us to have a noticeable difference between the S21+ and Ultra.

Now that Galaxy phones are promised three years of Android updates, buying a Galaxy S10e refurbished and holding onto it for a year or two wouldn't be the worst idea if you're a Samsung die-hard that likes phones you can easily use one-handed.

By releasing a small model once every 2-3 years, both manufacturers and buyers could benefit in a few specific and demonstratable ways:

  • It would give those who love a small phone a regular timetable of when to expect a new model.
  • The small model wouldn't face as much competition from its predecessor/successor if they're more spaced out.
  • Small models could generate more buzz due to the longer production cycle.
  • A longer production cycle can allow for more refinement and innovation to fit more battery and features in a compact frame.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

Now that we're seeing another year where the Plus model is ending up the unappreciated middle child, maybe Samsung will finally wise up and give us the mini majesty we deserve with the Galaxy S22 or with a Galaxy S22 mini.

In the meantime, at least we have the Pixel 4a.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

13 Comments
  • Unfortunately the S10e fingerprint sensor is also pretty horrible. I'm a 6'1" man, while I don't really have trouble holding a large phone, it's still easier to one hand the S10e. My main gripe with big phones came from pocketability and awkwardness, which doesn't apply so much now I never leave the house. Totally agree about the iPhone. Apple cannibalised it's own sales with the SE. You can't have your cake and eat it.
  • Yes, the S10e fingerprint sensor was unreliable at best. Otherwise, I liked that phone a lot. I eventually went back to the Pixel for the better camera/image processing. The S21 seems like the closest to the S10e but could've been smaller.
  • I agree with you Ara, we need more quality small phones! As a man with large hands I was getting sick and tired of using such a huge pocket unfriendly Note 9 and moved down to a S20.
    I love it! Easier in the pocket, can use one handed, and cases dont make it unusable. I probably would have gone with an even smaller S20e if it had been made.
  • If they could give small phones the best internals and a great battery life, I'd be all over it.
  • Amen. Completely agree. 6" is just too damn big for a phone screen.
  • Love this article and 100% agree. When I bought my most recent phone I wanted one that didn't feel like I had a tablet in my pocket. It's hard to find, what I'll call, a "normal" sized phone. I now have a Google Pixel 5 and absolutely love it. Perfect size and the battery life is actually really great.
  • The Pixel 5 is unnoticeably bigger than the 4a. I think Samsung missed the boat unless you really like Samsung (I don't, I like their washing machines but their phones have let me down too often.)
  • Uhhh....let's be real. If Apple can't sell a small phone, Samsung wouldn't be able to either. Small phones are a waste of resources. While I do agree small phones should be an option, the market as a whole has spoken. No sense in dropping resources into something that won't sale.
  • I was going to agree but even Apple are struggling to sell small phones now. The iPhone 12 Mini didn't fail because of the SE 2020 but because it's expensive. Small phones must now be cheap.
  • The S10e is a great product. It sold less well because Samsung didn't promote it properly--free Galaxy Buds only with the larger models (in the U.S.), etc.
  • I was hoping for a s20e and then a mini s20 FE :(
    regular s20 is great but just a tiny bit too big
  • People wanting small phones are minority. And there are reasons for that. Small phones with top notch specs? Sounds like a dream to you? How about 3 hours screen time? A small phone means a very small battery. And going back to times when users were running after power outlets or always carrying power banks. Thanks but no thanks.
  • But I thought the pixel was the greatest all around phone and no one should look at anything else? Seriously though like someone said before if Apple has a hard enough time selling small phones Samsung won’t fair any better