In years gone by, there were typically only two types of pistols. There were service pistols built on large frames and then matched to full-sized barrels and there were pocket pistols that consisted mainly of breach-loaded single or double shot derringers. As materials, technology, and gun crafting methods have improved there has been a constant push to create compact pistols that perform as well as their full-sized counterparts while being produced in a smaller overall package.
This pattern of shrinkage has picked up steam in recent years as more and more people begin to get carry permits and most manufacturers have begun to answer the call. Many high volume producers will sell a compact model right along side the service model, and it is often difficult to tell the two apart. The Springfield Armory XD-45 and XD-45 Compact are a good example of how similar two variations of the same gun can appear to be.
In fact, true compact pistols are very often confused with their smaller sub-compact cousins. While both are typically built on the platform of the originating service model and keep key features such as the action and safety mechanisms, the differences between the two are easily identified if you know what to look for. Here's a list of the major elements that make up a true compact pistol:1) Shortened Grip - the majority "compact" space savings benefit on a compact pistol is accomplished by reducing the overall height of the pistol by cuttind down the grip. This seemingly simple modification goes a long way when carrying the gun concealed. The length of the barrel and slide are of little consequence if they are burried deep in a IWB holster(inside-the-waistband) that conceals that muzzel of the gun inside your trousers. The size of the grip is what matters at that point. A standard length grip of a service pistol will stick out and "print" under most cover garments while a compact pistol will avoid this often unnearving sticking point. The grip is not "drasticly" reduced however...at least not akin to the chop job that a sub-compact undergoes.
2) Similar Barrel Size - in most cases you find that both the barrel and accompanying slide lengths on a compact pistol remain the same as those found on their service counterparts. This works very well for law enforcement officers on a tight budget who do not wish to buy a smaller gun to carry while off duty because they can alternate between short and long magazines to meet the demands of their situation.
3) Multiple Magazine Lengths - naturally, one of the shortfalls that come with chopping down the grip of any gun is the fact that the number of rounds that the gun can hold will be reduced. This is a non-issue for those looking to trade firepower for conealability and they take the shorter grip and magazine in stride. In an effort to make their compact pistols as versitile as possible, however, gun producers have been typically found issuing extended grip magazines with their smaller variants. These larger mags enable the gun to practically be converted back to full-size service pistol while the convenience of carrying a smaller gun is retained by the use of the shorter magazines.
3) Near Exact Functional Components - as the grip and magazines are typically the only altered elements of a compact pistol you traditionally will find that all other aspects of the pistol remain the same. The safety systems, action, and trigger operation remain the same in most cases.
The compact pistol, with it's multiple magazine configuration, is one of the most versitle handgun variants made today. You can find the newest reviews of various models below. A link at the bottom of the page will take you to a more complete index of available reviews or you can use the search function at the top right of this page to find information on a specific gun more quickly.