Mobile Specifications Simplified

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Buying a new phone? Here’s how to make sense of listed specifications such as Display, RAM, Camera, Processor, and Battery.

For the question “with whom you spend the most time” , two decades back, parents or friends would be the typical answer, but now life has changed. Now a new acquaintance has come into our lives. When we get free time, even if it is just 5 minutes, we try to spend it with them. By now you would have guessed — this inseparable entity is our mobile phone.

Unfortunately, mobiles don’t last long. Within two to three years, either the phone gets damaged or we feel the need to upgrade the phone. Either way, the hunt for a new phone starts once in three years. And along with it, our review reading marathon.

During this hunt, we would come across some review praising “this phone is the best value for money”, and we blindly believe those words and purchase the phone. Buying a phone based on just reviewers comments without proper insight on phone specification is wrongdoing. On the other hand, buying a phone solely based on specification is also wrong. Hence to find a good phone, the act of going through reviews must be complemented with the “right” knowledge on smartphone specs.

There is a major misconception that the higher we pay, the better the product. It may not be the case every time. With proper exploration, we can find a better phone for $400 which is better than a $500 one. For this, you need to have a good idea about the specification of the mobile, the features you need and the ones which are not necessary. Hence it’s about time we learn about the basic terminologies and tech terms associated with mobile phones and its components.

Note: This article emphasizes on explaining how a component affects the user experience rather than the technical aspect of it.

Display:

1. Types:

LCD or AMOLED screen is used in modern day mobile phones. The basic difference is, every pixel in the AMOLED screen is lit individually, while the LCD screen is lit as a whole. This helps AMOLED to have pitch-blacks and high contrast.

Let’s say you are displaying a black and white photo. In an LCD screen, all pixels will get lit up no matter what colour you are displaying. But in AMOLED screen no pixel is lit to display black (since the screen is by default black). Pixels are lit only where shades other than pure black is to be displayed. So you get the best possible inky black with AMOLED compared to LCD and also power saving is better since no pixel is lit to display black.

The drawbacks of AMOLED screen are, it is expensive compared to LCD and some low-quality AMOLED screen undergoes colour shift when viewed from the sides.

2. Brightness:

Brightness is an important aspect of the display. It is measured in a unit called “nits”. To check the brightness of a smartphone, go through its respective reviews in websites like “phonearena” or “gsmarena”. The average brightness of mobile range from 450 to 500 nits, anywhere between 600 to 800 nits are more than enough, even to handle phone under direct sunlight.

3. Resolution :

Resolution refers to the number of pixels in the screen. Higher the number of pixels to be lit, higher will be battery consumption (-_-), higher processing power will be needed(-_-), but in turn, you get a sharper screen(•‿•). It’s said that anything above the pixel density of 326 PPI(pixels per inch) will result only in a subtle improvement.

Common display resolution includes HD, full HD, quad HD. Usually, full HD hits the sweet spot between battery consumption and the sharpness(pixel density) required.

You would have heard the term retina display from Apple, what’s special about them, all iPhone seems to have the retina display. Nothing…Yes, nothing. It’s just a marketing ploy used to make it look like high tech, but it just refers to display having PPI more than 326.

4. HDR:

HDR stands for High Dynamic Ranging. HDR compliant screen helps in viewing HDR content brighter with more punchy colours and high contrast. But you need HDR content to take advantage of this feature. Nowadays, all the premium midrange phones are coming with HDR compliant screen. This feature is becoming more common, but not a lot of HDR content is available on the internet. Only streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, YouTube offer HDR content. If you have to access to lots of HDR content, then it’s a nice feature to have.

5. Aspect ratio:

With time, the mobile display’s evolved from 4:3 screen aspect ratio to 16:9 which then paved the way to the new modern 18:9 aspect ratio. So what’s this aspect ratio? Its the ratio of the screen height to the screen width. It’s not a very crucial feature to be considered before buying a phone. Just knowing that there exists a term called aspect ratio and what it means is more than sufficient.

Summary: Try to get a bright full HD screen. Don’t care about aspect ratio. HDR is a kind of luxury. If budget allows go with AMOLED screen.

Battery:

It is expressed in mAh. Battery life not only depends on how large the battery capacity is but also depends on the software tweakings and the processor efficiency. So a phone with 3500 mAh can have better battery life than the phone with 4000 mAh. We don’t have much choice than to depend on customer reviews to know the battery life of a phone.

Summary: check reviews for battery life, no other go

Processor:

What as customers we should try to learn is, how much processing power is offered by the SOC.

Since each company has its own naming scheme, one can’t compare processor based on their names. Trying to know which is powerful, Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 vs Huawei Kirin 710 (two different companies with the same model number ), Snapdragon 835 vs Snapdragon 660 ( same company but 8xx flagship series has 35 and 6xx midrange series has 60🤔) might just leave us in a lot of confusion.

Use benchmark apps, like “Antutu”, to see the processing power offered by the SOC. Compare the scores given by benchmark apps to see which processor is powerful.

Higher benchmarking scores might not always translate into real life performance, it just gives an overview of the processing power available. Day to day performance not only depends on raw processing power but also on software, display touch latency and many other things. For the most part, comparing benchmark scores is sufficient to know which processor is powerful.
(Snapdragon 710 and Snapdragon 835 are the winners of the above comparison)

Summary: Use benchmark apps to know about the CPU & GPU.

Camera:

The camera department is the section where every company is trying to stand out. The image quality depends on sensor size, aperture size, the ability of the SOC to process the data from the image sensor, focusing mechanism and the software. You might find the best specs and think, “with this specs, it’s impossible to get a bad photo”. No, you are wrong. Many factors, invisible to you, contribute to the image quality. So the happy news is you need not bother reading about the specs. Just examine the uncompressed photos available on the internet. Better still check out gsmarena or phonearena website. They have a photo comparison tool. Compare the images of your interested phone with that of flagship phones or your current phone. Be your own judge.

Higher Megapixel doesn’t mean higher clarity.

The PR team of mobile manufacturer makes us believe that. Megapixels just refers to the total pixels count in the camera sensor. Just by considering Megapixel count, one shouldn’t think that 48Mp is superior to 12Mp cameras.

Nowadays, having a dual or triple camera is the trend. Wide angle lens, telephoto(zoom) lens adds value to the camera. But the depth sensor is there just to increase the count. Nothing else. Yeah, they say depth sensor helps in creating bokeh(artificial DSLR like blur) but it can be created using software too, with no substantial difference. If the phone is being marketed as a dual rear camera with the second being a depth sensor, then consider it as a single camera rather than a dual camera.

Summary: Check image samples to know about the quality. No need to have in depth knowledge on camera specs . Don’t fall for depth sensor gimmick.

RAM:

So how much RAM we really need? Does it increase the speed of the phone??? Does it boost gaming performance ???

Phones are being stuffed with tons of RAM(for marketing purpose mostly), 4gb of RAM has become the de facto standard right now. Unless many apps are running in the background, you won’t see a performance difference (in both gaming and day to day usage ) between the 4gb ram model and 6gb ram model. Sometimes apps may reload in 4 GB RAM phone, but it will not be a deal breaker. Phones with 6gb RAM is future proofed for the next 3 years, anything above 6gb RAM is overkill. A normal user doesn’t need an 8GB RAM.

Summary: 4 to 6 Gb RAM is sufficient.

Conclusion:

The best possible specifications on paper are only not enough to make a phone the best. Hardware and software should be well tuned keeping in mind the customers. Since we have a better understanding of the basic specifications of the mobile, we can now choose a well suited best friend(mobile) next time.


Mobile Specifications Simplified was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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