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Why a tiny Palm phone comeback makes sense in a Note 9 world

In a world of massive and massively expensive phones, a smaller, cheaper Android handset that still delivers great features could have great appeal.

Phones like the Galaxy Note 9 keep getting bigger and more expensive. But is bigger better?
Sarah Tew/CNET

Heidi Klum was only half correct on Project Runway. It's true that one day you're in and the next day, you're out. But a few years after that? You could be in again.

That pendulum swing applies not just in fashion -- though I refuse to believe that pleated pants deserve a comeback -- but also in technology. Consider the rumor that ground through the mill yesterday that Palm (yes, that Palm) will strike a much-needed blow against the scourge of Hindenburg-size phones with a 3.3-inch Android phone possibly coming to Verizon.

With a display almost half the size of Samsung's new and massive Galaxy Note 9, the Palm Pepito (its rumored name) would take us to a simpler time when phones could squarely fit in your hand and even get lost in your bag.

Forget big is the new small. No… small is the new big.


Remember this little guy? The rumored Pepito could be even smaller than 3.6-inch Palm Pre 3.


Whoa, if true

Granted, one small phone, and an unofficial one at that, does not mark a new trend. But at some point, a backlash to big was bound to happen. Phones the size of a football field (or pitch, if you prefer) let you use fancy electronic pens, but God help you if you're so bold as to leave the house without a purse or a jacket pocket. Really -- just how are you supposed to carry a phone the size of a romance novel?

Many of the things we do on a phone like text, tweet and scroll endlessly through Facebook are perfectly accomplishable on a smaller screen. You can even use a small screen to make a call -- if you still happen to do that sort of thing. Yes, you are allowed to complain that the virtual keyboard is too cramped, but big displays can result in another problem: sore thumbs as you strain to close you hand around a wider keyboard. Laugh if you must, but I have the aching thumbs to prove it.

Of course, history shows us that small can be a success. Consider that the first iPhone's display measured just 3.5 inches (which I unabashedly called "generous" at the time) and the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1/HTC Dream, was smaller (3.2 inches). Though displays grew progressively after that, Apple shifted gears two years ago with the iPhone SE. As CNET's Scott Stein said, it was "amazingly pocket-friendly" and it carried an equally pocket-friendly price of just $399. Or see above for what I said after the SE's launch in my wittiest tweet ever.

Now playing: Watch this: Galaxy Note 9's S Pen stylus is a remote control

Though we tend to get distracted by the shiniest object, we can't forget that a great deal of people just want an affordable phone with respectable features (which the Pepito appears to have) that performs well. There are a lot of people who can't afford the four-figure price tag of an IPhone X or the Note 9, and there are others who understandably refuse to pay it. As CNET's Jessica Dolcourt told us this week, flagship phones are only going to get more expensive.

Before we went big: the Pantech C300


I'm not suggesting we return to the days of the ridiculously small Pantech C300 with its 1.5-inch display. But I'd love to see the Pepito make a go of it. Likewise, though the Palm brand is now owned by Chinese company TCL, I'd enjoy seeing a phone pioneer that gave us Pilots, Treos and the 3.5-inch Pre (not to mention, the slick WebOS) come back from the dead. Nostalgia by itself isn't enough to make a phone popular, but top quality, a fantastic price and a a vote of confidence by a big-name carrier like Verizon are a great start.

Cell phones that changed the world: Or, what we used before the advent of the smartphone.

The worst cell phone names of all time: G'zOne, anyone?