Shopping for a smartphone and navigating all of the technical specifications can be confusing. It’s a big purchase—you want to get it right to get the best value, and the best fit.
Devices have gotten so complex, there’s a litany of technical terms and jargon out there that can overwhelm even the experts among us. Awhile back, we outlined the basics of choosing a good smartphone camera. Here, we’ll explain a few other key smartphone specs to help you make sense of it all.
Processing: The processor is the heart and soul of your phone. Different processors are classed by speed, expressed in gigahertz, or GHz. Modern processors are made up of multiple cores, which are individual processing units that can handle separate tasks. Duties can be split among the cores, allowing for parallel computing, and thus, faster output. Simply put, the faster a processor is—and the more cores it has—the faster your phone should be.
Display: Display technologies are always changing, and there are a number of factors that affect the quality of a phone’s screen. One of the key factors is resolution, which refers to the number of pixels present in a display. Think of a pixel as one unit of the screen that is illuminated to compose an image. Modern displays contain millions of pixels, and the number is typically expressed in a “width by height” figure in landscape format, like 1920 x 1080. The higher resolution the display is, the more pixels it packs in a given space, and the sharper the image quality will be.
Battery: Battery size is measured in milliamp hours (mAh). The higher the mAh, the greater the capacity, and the longer your phone should last on a charge—though other factors, like the power efficiency of your phone’s operating system and software, the display type, and amount of usage will have a huge impact on battery life.
Memory: Memory on a smartphone is expressed in two ways. Random access memory (RAM) refers to memory used to store things like active operations and programs. When you load an app, close it, and move to another app, the first app is stored in your device’s RAM. Read-only memory (ROM) is more commonly referred to as “storage” because it refers to the amount of space you have to store new files and media, like photos, songs or apps, on your device. Most phones today come with at least 32GB of ROM, though higher amounts are becoming more common as the range of smartphone uses grows.
Smartphone technology just keeps getting better—today’s value or mid-range phones often match or better the specs of “premium” models from just a few years ago. By understanding what any phone you’re considering offers for these key items, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from its performance, and whether that phone will be right for how you intend to use it.