Pebble alumni are trying to build a small phone to fill the iPhone 13 mini’s shoes

iPhone 13 mini
An iPhone 13 mini (Image credit: TechRadar)

Just the other day a report emerged that showed Apple might have been right to end the iPhone mini line with the iPhone 13 mini. But Apple’s absence doesn’t mean the end of small phones, as alumni from the Pebble smartwatch team are looking to create a compact Android handset.

They’ve formed a community project (not even a company yet) called the Small Android Phone, but there’s a lot of talent on board, including Pebble’s founder Eric Migicovsky, alongside other Pebble alumni.

As per an interview with The Verge, it also sounds like this project is well on the way to becoming a reality. While not much seems to be set in stone yet, the team have a lot of ideas, including various possible camera designs, with the goal of making it look “very uniquely recognizable and very iconic” according to Alex De Stasio, who previously worked as an industrial designer at Pebble, Go Pro, and elsewhere.

You can see how some of these potential camera designs look in the image below. Whatever design the team ultimately goes with, the hardware would likely include a sensor of around 50MP, according to Benjamin Bryant, who also previously worked at Pebble.

A selection of possible camera designs for the Small Android Phone project

(Image credit: Small Android Phone project)

That would likely be paired with camera software that the team produces itself, with the goal – according to Bryant – of “something that’s going to result in photos that look good.”

As for the rest of the phone’s body, De Stasio claims they’re aiming for “a nice soft slab, that’s very high quality, very nicely put together, very solid feeling, and that just has very soft details that feel really nice on your fingers.” Lots of materials are apparently being considered for it, but the team’s focus will be on attention to detail, rather than unusual materials (looking at you, OnePlus).

The chipset also hasn’t been decided upon, but the choice seems to be between either the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, which was the best Android phone chipset of last year but isn’t quite the best anymore, or “a yet-to-be-released mid-tier Qualcomm chip,” according to Bryant.

Even the name of this small phone hasn’t been decided on yet, but some possibilities put forward include Pico, Atom, Bud, Mato, and of course Pebble, among many other options.

Now for the less good news: Bryant claims that it’s likely to cost around $850 (roughly £690 / AU$1,265). For reference, the iPhone 13 mini currently starts at $599 / £649 / AU$1,049, and even at launch it was less expensive than this proposed price.

The Asus Zenfone 9, which is one of the most recent compact  Android phones, also costs less, with a starting price of $699 / £699 / AU$1,199. So this planned small phone could be a hard sell.

An Asus Zenfone 9 in someone's hand, with the screen on

The Asus Zenfone 9 is currently the last noteworthy small Android phone. (Image credit: Future)

An experiment worth doing

There are good and understandable reasons for the likely high price of this unnamed phone. For one thing, the team hopes to work with a “tier one” manufacturer, so hopefully the construction will be high quality.

Also, this isn’t aimed at being a mainstream device. The price above is based on pre-orders of around 50,000 units, which is a tiny number compared to big-name phones.

If more people pre-order, then the price will likely lower, and it also sounds like the price may drop for future units, once the phone is out; with Bryant saying “the bet is there’s enough people willing to overpay for a phone. That can get it out the door, and then we’ll move down to the market price for the phone.”

So in a sense, this a call for people who lament the lack of small phones to support one, and show that such devices can be viable. So far, the project's website cites over 38,000 supports, meaning there's a ways to go before they reach their goal of 50,000 and that's not to mention the even greater hurdle of turning those supporting fans into paying customers.

If this device succeeds, then it could show that there is still an appetite for the best small phones, though it sounds like this will probably always be a niche device – which is fine if that’s what the team are planning for. But niche isn’t a word Apple seems very interested in when it comes to smartphones, so whether this succeeds or fails, it probably won’t convince Apple to build another iPhone mini.

James Rogerson

James is a freelance phones, tablets and wearables writer and sub-editor at TechRadar. He has a love for everything ‘smart’, from watches to lights, and can often be found arguing with AI assistants or drowning in the latest apps. James also contributes to, and and has written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV.