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Nov 9, 2011

Why technical specifications should not be your primary way to select a new smartphone

galaxy vs iphone

The leaked pictures and specs of HTC Edge are introducing a new "edge" in mobile technology: Quad-core smartphone processors: the soon to become new standard in mobile performance.

Samsung's Super AMOLED plus, HTC's Beats Audio technology, Apple's Retina Display, dual cores, 1GB of RAM, those are just examples of monstrous technologies which are all part of todays' smartphones.

People often think that the better the specs are, the better the smartphone is.

I think it's a mistake.

Specs are numbers, and since most of the leading smartphones these days are so damn powerful, the overall experience is caused by the operating system, the apps, and the combination of them with the hardware design.

The numbers alone will not make you happier smartphone user.

Here are some examples:

Processor:

Better processor does not necessarily mean better performance. Performance depends on some additional spec elements such as memory and mainly the user interface that is part of the mobile operating system. It means that a certain processor running a certain mobile OS will never be comparable to a similar processor running another mobile OS.

Example: Windows Phone 7 devices do not support dual core (something to do with Microsoft aiming to bring solid battery life) and they all have an amazing performance, mainly due to the fact that the OS is mostly designed on typography elements, and a closed/stable UI environment.

Memory:

While memory is important, it is clearly another element that depends on how the mobile operating system is making usage out of it: the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S seem to get along just fine with 512MB RAM, while there are plenty of Android phones with 1GB RAM that end up being clumsy. It relates to the way multi-tasking is implemented (or not really implemented in the case of iOS). The end result is that memory cannot tell how the performance will look like.

Example: Barnes and Noble's Nook Tablet vs. Amazon Kindle Fire.

Here is something from Gizmodo's comparisons article between the two:

The Nook Tablet sports 16GB of storage and 1GB of RAM, compared to 8GB of storage compared 512MB of RAM on the Kindle Fire. And when you compare the two on specs alone, it's no small temptation to think that Amazon is outclassed.
In action today, the Nook Tablet's performance wasn't entirely promising. The custom built UI was noticeably sluggish, as was the web browser. Our first look at the Kindle FIre, on the other hand, revealed shockingly fast and fluid performance even though it's got weaker specs on paper. The Amazon Kindle appears to be built on cheaper hardware but incorporates technologies like Amazon's Silk web browser to help the product run like a much stronger machine.

Screen:

There are different screen technologies (Retina, Super AMOLED, etc.), and it's very hard to compare between them. The bottom line is that it's very subjective.

Nokia's new WP7 Lumia phones do not use any of those shiny screen technologies Samsung or Apple are using, it's just ClearBlack, and yet, the end result, according to many official reviews is damn good.

The Galaxy S2 screen on the other hand, which is considered to be one of the best ones today with Super AMOLED plus technology – is always seems to be too green to me. Everything is … well… green! The UI seems green, the pictures seem… you've guessed it: green.

So once again, specs aside, it's all a matter of personal taste and subjective preferences. There are things that no specs table can explain, and you just need to see it in order to truly know if you like it or not.

Size:

I talked about the perfect smartphone size in the past. People are often excited to get the biggest phones without knowing that the size has a direct impact on usability and battery life.

When a phone is too big it makes it harder to reach certain areas on the screen. If your hands are not big enough, you will actually notice the phone is less comfortable. It also means it's harder to hold it (especially if the device is too thin as well) and the screen size also causes a direct impact on the battery life: bigger screens, means shorter battery life.

For some, all of those issues are not important, as they are focusing on video experience, pictures, and games, or they need a bigger screen to make the typing experience better. But for many of us, smartphones are mainly used for work, and for those purposes the size requirements may be different.

Camera:

I learned back a while ago that the camera specifications are not enough to know if the camera fits your needs or not. Speed, Shutter, resolution, image processing, auto-focus, video, settings. Those are all technical terms but different combinations of them result in different user experience and picture quality and it's hard to tell just by reading the specs. Here, too, you must test it before you know if it's right for you.

Example: The Samsung Omnia 7 has a decent camera with nice capabilities and a quick invocation button. The problem was that in the first releases of Windows Phone, the camera settings were never saved, and the default settings of the camera were set to "anti-shaking=false". That turned 80% of my pictures to be blurred.
It took me 1 second to open the camera (no need to unlock the device etc.) but then I wasted 10 more seconds to get to the anti-shaking setting and change it manually. It was finally fixed in the Mango release and now I can finally enjoy the camera which is very nice indeed and take high quality pictures such as this one:

Etiquette

Battery life:

Better specs often mean worse battery life. A number of factors can reduce your gadget endurance; thinner designs with less room for the battery, larger screens, faster processors, software that runs in the background, 4G networks, and power-hungry GPS chips all share responsibility.

If you are looking for a phone that will serve you throughout a long working day, the specs above are actually your enemy! You should actually look for a phone with less capabilities (dropping 4G, for instance).

Related article: How to improve your Android battery life?


Bottom line:

I can think of so many factors that are much more important than the technical specs of a given phone: the operating system, the size of it and how it feels in the hand when you actually hold it, the design (including things like the back cover, rounded edges etc.), the applications it is running. Even the price (although I would argue that a smartphone deserves a proper investment as it is such an important gadget and your closest companion for at least a year or two)

Like in PC, there is also a hidden factor which is: how it all fits together.

Some people will never replace their BlackBerry devices thinking that they type faster using the physical keyboard (which is not true BTW), others are already hooked to iOS and will never replace their iPhone. For some, widgets are all they care about regardless to the impact those background processes are causing to the battery.

The user interface is probably the most important thing in smartphones. If you mostly care about emails and phone calls – check that area of the phone you are about to purchase. You will find that in many cases, these are actually the weak spots of some smartphones. If you mostly care about sexy UI – you need to check Windows Phone 7 or stick with the king of usability – the iPhone.

Dual core? Quad? 4G? 1GHz? Who cares!?

They are all fast, they are all beasts these days. Now you just need to pick the one you like the best, and I can promise you that the technical numbers are not what you need to worry about.


Terms you may have been searching for:

How to select a smartphone? How to pick a phone? Smartphones Specifications, Selecting your next Smartphone, iPhone vs. Android, Smartphones comparisson



3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lumia 800 uses AMOLED screen in addition to ClearBlack, which is a polaroid filter.

You can check it under the design tab on http://www.nokia.co.uk/gb-en/products/phone/lumia800/specifications/

Metformin said...

All this factor makes smart phone popular

Longboat Key homes said...

Personally, i don't look into the specifications when buying a smartphone. What i usually do is to check the user's reviews because through this i would be aware if the phone will suit my needs.

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