How To Read Smartphone Specs – Part 1

When it comes time to buying a smartphone, what criteria should you use to determine which option is the best for you? The software experience and extra features will have the most immediate impact on your user experience, as it determines how you interact with your phone. But in addition to that, each phone has a long list of hardware specs that, to the uninitiated, just looks like a long string of numbers. What does this information mean, how do you read it, and how does it impact the experience you will have with your phone? Here’s what you need to know about smartphone specs.

To get started, let’s take a look at the HTC One’s hardware specs.

SmartPhone Specs - HTC-One

You could call the specs listed in this image the essentials. The phone is 137.4 mm tall, 68.2 mm wide, and 9.33 mm thick. If you’re in a physical store and have already held the phone in your hand, these numbers don’t matter, as you already know whether the handset is comfortable to hold. Yet for people shopping online, these numbers can help you get an idea of what to expect.

Judging a smartphone display should be easy if you’re already accustomed to shopping for TVs. Our example phone’s screen is 4.7-inches tall measured diagonally. The display is 1080p, which means it has a resolution of 1920 by 1080. This is what’s common on TVs these days, but since the same number of pixels are crammed into a much smaller space, you can expect a drastically sharper picture on your phone. Text will look clearer on a 1080p 5-inch handset than it would on a 1080p 24-inch computer monitor, which in turn looks sharper than a 1080p 60-inch TV. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at a device’s PPI (pixels per inch). In the case of the HTC One, there are an impressive 468 pixels per inch, much higher than most other displays found on smartphones (and the majority of those that are).

Next to CPU (central processing unit, i.e. the phone’s brainpower), we see that the HTC One is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, quad-core, 1.7GHz processor. “Qualcomm Snapdragon 600″ is the actual name of the unit, and while it was the top-of-the-line when the HTC One first launched, it’s slightly less so today. The “All New” HTC One set to replace it soon will likely have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor. To know what that means, though, we look at the remaining information.

SmartPhone Specs - Qualcomm-Snapdragon

Both the Snadragon 600 and the Snapdragon 801 are quad-core processors, meaning they have four processing cores operating in a single chip. The difference is that the HTC One has a 1.7GHz of performance, while the Snapdragon 801 has at least 2.3GHz. This means that it should be able to run more intensive software, such as games and image editors, while providing a zippier experience. That said, the HTC One remains a very powerful device, as its specs will remain higher than most budget and mid-range handsets for quite some time.

RAM is also important for determining speed. The HTC One’s 2GB is enough to run Android just fine. 3GB would be even better. At 1GB of RAM, you may start to notice lag. A phone with 512MB will run, but it’s going to be pretty slow, and it may even be prone to freezing up.

Storage space is another crucial detail to keep an eye on. This is how much space you will have to work with, and it doesn’t take into account how much of it is reserved for your phone’s operating system. This means a 16GB phone may have around 12GB of usable space for your apps and files, while a 32GB phone may have 28GB. A 64GB phone could potentially have 60GB, much more room to work with. There are 1024MB in a GB, with your average app taking up maybe a dozen or so MB. Some of the more complex ones may use upwards of 100MB, whereas many games now take up an entire GB or more on their own.

Above we also see that the HTC One has a 2300mAh battery. In general, a 2300mAh battery should last longer than a smaller one, but there are other variables to consider. A phone with 1500mAh can manage to have twice as much battery life if it’s processor is smaller and it has a smaller display with a lower screen resolution. Higher specs generally have higher power requirements and can drain a battery very quickly.

These are the most important specs for determining how fast and powerful your phone is. If you want to be able to run anything available in the app store without concern, higher is better, but it may come at the expense of battery life, and more powerful phones typically come in larger, sometimes bulkier form factors. What to prioritize is entirely up to you.

That said, today’s smartphones are very complex devices, and there are many other specs than this to keep up with, such as camera size, supported network bands, the presence of a gyroscope, and so much more. Stay tuned for the second installment of this how-to.

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