How To Read Smartphone Specs – Part 2

Smartphones began as slow and weak pieces of hardware, but they have since evolved into very powerful machines. As a result, there are so many aspects to consider when reading up on a new phone. What do all of those numbers mean? Last week, in Part 1, I broke down screen displays, processors, storage space, and battery life. Now it’s time to tackle much of what’s left.

What you need to know about Smartphone Specs

Just like last time, we’ll start by pulling up the HTC One’s specs.


Let’s take a look at the camera first.


Much of the information here is more than you need to know. First, the most useful bit of information is what’s left off – megapixels (MP). The HTC One has a 4MP camera. Many of its competitors these days ship with 8 or 13MP. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has surprised people by shipping with a staggering 41MP. This spec determines how large the pictures you take are and how far you can digitally zoom before the picture looks fuzzy.


The rest of these specs are aimed towards people who have a strong understanding of cameras in general, and that’s an area that could take up an entire post on its own. Just know that a smartphone with optical image stabilization should have a more stable picture when you’re taking shots or recording videos. With the latter, 1080p means the videos you capture should look fine on a modern computer or TV.


The first thing you want to know is whether your device is GSM or CDMA. This will determine which networks you can run your phone on. In the US, AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, while Verizon and Sprint rely on CDMA. If you pick up a phone that only works with GSM carriers, it won’t work with the latter two. If your phone is GSM, though, you have the freedom to pop out the SIM card and switch around between various providers. CDMA carriers are typically more restrictive, requiring you to get a new phone entirely when you’re looking to switch. Keep that in mind before picking up a device.


After that, it helps to see which frequency bands your phone supports. If you’re buying it straight from a carrier, you’re already covered, as you know they’re giving you a device that will work on their network. But if you’re buying a phone online, be sure to check if your phone’s supported frequency bands match those that your wireless provider relies on.

Then there are network speeds. Most smartphones will connect to a 3G network just fine, but some budget devices won’t connect to one that’s 4G. This means that such a device won’t be able to access the faster data speeds that a 4G LTE network provides. This could be a problem if you plan on streaming music and video or downloading apps using your mobile network.

Other Essentials

Bluetooth: Chances are your phone comes with support for Bluetooth. This will enable it to connect to wireless headsets, automobiles, mobile speakers, game controllers, and similar devices. Bluetooth 3.0 will suffice for most things, but some products do require the newer Bluetooth 4.0 to function. A device with support for the latter may be better for you long-term.

GPS: You need GPS in order to use in-car navigation or most apps that want to pinpoint your precise location. This information is often used to suggest local stores, restaurants, events, and the like. It can also be used to provide accurate weather forecasts. Chances are your phone comes with this as well.


Accelerometer/Gyro sensor: These determine how fast your device is moving and how you’re holding it. Many games require these, such as racing games that simulate a steering wheel using the phone. Many devices also come with a digital compass, which can detect which cardinal direction it’s pointing in, just like a physical compass.


This isn’t a list of everything you could possibly want to know about smartphones, but hopefully it’s enough information to hold your hand through your next purchase. These things can be intimidating, especially if you’re dealing with a contract that will lock you in for two years. It’s worth taking your time and doing some research before making a commitment. After all, this device will go with you practically everywhere.

If you have any questions about an aspect of your phone that I did not cover, feel free to ask in the comments below.

Bertel King, Jr.

Bertel is a tech blogger and independent novelist who puts perhaps a tad too much trust in Google. He’s loved Android since the moment he got his eager hands on his first device -- if not sooner -- and has understood the Chromebook Pixel from day one.You can follow his work at

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox