First off, some definitions might be in order. While the concept has been around for a while, the category really took off with the SIG Sauer P365, launched in 2018. Since then, the P365 sparked a revolution in full-capacity, micro pistols. Generally, these are handguns with 10 or more rounds in a flush-fit magazine, with a 3- to 3.5-inch barrel, overall length at or under 6 inches, and weights somewhere around 20 ounces. This class of pistols is smaller than even subcompact models like the Glock G26 or Smith & Wesson M&P Subcompact.
We’ll give some basic specifications and some of what we like to call on-target/off-target points of each entry, along with basic information and impressions.
Yes, it’s the same thing, but for a reason: the same small size that makes the P365 such an easy gun to conceal means it’s going to take a little extra work on the range. This is arguably the snappiest of the group, especially when using +P ammunition. Until the addition of the P365X this year, the lack of the optics cut would have been the P365’s off target.
Off target: Aggressive texturing can catch cover garments
I kind of had to struggle to come up with both of the targets, because the Hellcat really is right in the middle. The size is excellent, capacity is tied with the Taurus GX4 for highest with a flush magazine and it comes with an optics-ready version at a tiny premium. However, I own and carry a Hellcat, so I’m quite familiar with the aggressive texture that, while anchoring the pistol superbly on the range, tends to grab sweatshirts and other cover garments.
On target: Designed to fit existing Shield holsters, so there’s lots of gear
Off target: Largest of the bunch
Smith & Wesson used some crafty engineering to give the M&P Shield an extra 3 rounds without adding significantly to the pistol’s width, resulting in the Shield Plus. What this means is that the overwhelming majority of holsters for the original Shield will fit the new Shield Plus. Since the original Shield has been in circulation for nearly a decade and has millions of units sold, that’s a major bonus. The downside is that the Shield Plus is the largest of this group, as well as leaving us scratching our heads why Smith & Wesson didn’t design it this way in 2012…
Ruger’s Max-9 is the second-most recent offering, launched in 2021 between the Shield Plus and the GX4. It builds on the striker-fired American series to offer a micro-9 variant of Ruger’s popular and affordable line of handguns. The sight arrangement is quite good, with a flat-black rear sight contrasting beautifully with a green fiber-optic pipe/tritium arrangement up front. This gives an unmistakable front sight upon which to focus in any light condition. Downside currently mainly has to do with the newness of the pistol and hopefully temporary dearth of gear.
I struggled with dinging the GX4 for the lack of an optics cut for a very simple reason: I suspect that Taurus will be remedying that shortly. Now, I don’t have any advance knowledge of this, mind you; it’s that Taurus has been really good about reading the market and providing affordable firearms that work well. Red dot sights all the rage? Taurus launched the TORO setup. Micro 9 double stacks are super-hot? Here’s the GX4. I’d be surprised if Taurus didn’t figure out a way to add a mini-red-dot sight to the GX4 in the near future.