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You’re almost done with your two-year contract and you’re starting to pay attention to all the smartphone advertisements you see, hoping that something will pique your interest. You hear something about an octa core, 20-megapixel, Quad HD smartphone with 3GB of RAM. You have no idea what that means, but it sure sounds fast and powerful in the commercial.

Advertisers and hardware manufacturers love to do this, especially within the realm of Android. They pack their phone full of “high-end specs” that have limited real world application, and they make their phones sound fancy and desireable.

But you don’t want to be fooled by some advertiser. Here are some of the most common ways phone manufacturers try to trick you, and exactly what the terms really mean.

Dual, Quad, or Octa-core?

You’ve probably heard a few of these terms thrown around. On their Galaxy S6 homepage, Samsung says their smartphone has a 64-bit octa core processor — which sounds great! — but what does that really mean?

gs6 octacore

We’ve explained recently why an octa core processor isn’t necessarily better than a quad core Is an Octa-Core Better than a Quad-Core? Not Always! Android Processors Explained Is an Octa-Core Better than a Quad-Core? Not Always! Android Processors Explained More cores don't necessarily mean a faster processor. Read More , but here’s what you need to know in short.

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For quad core or octa core processors to really improve your phone’s performance, the software needs to be optimized to handle all those cores. Most apps today barely take full advantage of dual core systems, much less quad or octa core. Gaming is likely the realm where this is most useful, but even that is helped more by the (often under-discussed) GPU.

On top of that, a more modern and powerful processor architecture goes a long way — regardless of its cores. A newer, more powerful dual core chip will easily blow an older or less powerful octa core chip out of the water.

Understanding mobile processor jargon Jargon Buster: The Guide to Understanding Mobile Processors Jargon Buster: The Guide to Understanding Mobile Processors In this guide, we'll cut through the jargon to explain what you need to know about smartphone processors. Read More is complicated, but all you should be worrying about is real-world performance. Walk into a store, play around with a phone and see how it handles. You might be surprised to see that the dual core iPhone 6 handles just as well (if not better) than the octa core Samsung Galaxy S6.

More Megapixels, Better Pictures?

More megapixels should mean better photos, right? Well, not always. We’ve previously broken down what a megapixel is What Is A Megapixel? What Is A Megapixel? Megapixels are one of the most common ways of advertising the quality of cameras, especially relatively low-end cameras aimed at the mass market likes the ones in typical smartphones. Read More and how it operates, but here’s what you need to know.

Advertisers are always going to be bragging about their megapixels — like HTC in the above commercial for their UltraPixel front-facing camera and 20-megapixel rear-facing camera on the One M9. While we found these to be very capable cameras in our review of the One M9 HTC One M9 Review and Giveaway HTC One M9 Review and Giveaway Metal design? Check. Expandable storage? Check. All the most powerful internals? Check. On paper, the HTC One M9 is one beast of a phone. Read More , the marketing behind them would suggest that they leave other smartphone cameras in the dust.

That’s just not the case. The Galaxy S6’s 16-megapixel rear-facing camera is comparable, and even the iPhone 6’s 8-megapixel camera is a strong competitor. You do need a certain amount of megapixels to get a decent picture, but once you’re past that point, the focus should be more on aperture, shutter speed, sensor size, and other aspects of the camera. Just because one camera has more megapixels doesn’t mean it’s better.

1080p, 2K, or 4K Screens?

There’s been a lot of debate recently around 2K Quad HD screens and 4K Ultra HD screens on smartphones. When smartphones made the jump from standard resolution to 720p, you could see a difference. When they jumped from 720p to 1080p, the difference was less noticeable, but still present.

But now that we’ve reached 1080p screens on (generally) 5-inch devices, the pixel density of most smartphones has gotten so high that we can’t ever see individual pixels. Apple started calling their screens “Retina Display” after they reached over 300 pixels per inch (ppi), but most smartphones now have over 400 or 500 ppi.

In the Galaxy S6 video above, Samsung brags about the Quad HD display, also known as 2K. It has a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, giving it a ridiculous pixel density of 577 ppi. That’s great, and you certainly won’t see any pixels, but you probably also wouldn’t see a difference if Samsung had gone with a 1080p panel, which would’ve given it a 432 ppi — still well beyond the “Retina Display” level.

These extra pixels have one real-world application, though: battery drain. Your phone has to power all those pixels. So even though you’re not getting a noticeable bump up in display quality, the screen is going to be sucking more juice from your device when in use.

Does RAM Matter?

Yes, RAM definitely does matter — but its importance might be overblown in some comparisons. For example, the screenshot below is from Samsung’s American Galaxy S6 page.

iphone gs6 comparison

We’ve already talked about how their comparison of megapixels and display pixels is pointless, but look at how much more RAM the Galaxy S6 has! It must be much more powerful and better at multitasking!

Hold up, I know it sounds great, but this comparison chart doesn’t take into account these two phones’ respective operating systems. Android undoubtedly needs more RAM. Having only 1GB of RAM on a modern Android device might hamper your experience a bit as applications are constantly reloading, and some games might struggle to play. (Though, if you have a lot of RAM and use a task killer Why RAM Boosters And Task Killers Are Bad For Your Android Why RAM Boosters And Task Killers Are Bad For Your Android At first glance, RAM boosters and task killers sound incredibly useful, but a closer look shows that they could actually be harming your phone instead. Read More or constantly clear your RAM, you’ll run into the same issues.)

iOS, on the other hand, requires a lot less RAM to function. If you’ve ever used an iPhone 6, you’ll know that it multitasks just fine and can easily handle gaming. The difference is in the operating system. In real-world usage, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell which device has more RAM.

Note: before you start calling me an Apple fanboy, you should know that I’m very much so an Android fanboy — I love my OnePlus One and all its wonderful features Top Six Best Features Of The OnePlus One -- And One Drawback Top Six Best Features Of The OnePlus One -- And One Drawback I've been living with the OnePlus One for a few weeks now, and it's amazing, but it's not perfect. Let's run through some of the best features -- and one downside. Read More  — I’m just capable of acknowledging the differences between the two operating systems.

You Can Talk To Your Phone?

Sometimes, you’re going to see a commercial with a really cool feature. You can ask your phone a question and it will respond? How revolutionary! Well, in reality, sometimes these commercials highlight features available on a wide range of devices.

Take the above Nexus 5 ad for instance. I love the Nexus 5, and I love the features it’s trying to show off, but none of them are unique to the Nexus 5. Saying “OK Google” 6 Google Now Features That Will Change How You Search 6 Google Now Features That Will Change How You Search You may already be using Google Now on your Android device, but are you getting all that you can out of it? Knowing about these small features can make a big difference. Read More to start a search is available on any Android device. The Google Camera app is available on Google Play, and in fact, it’s many Android users’ camera app of choice Google Camera: The Official Vision for An Android Camera App Google Camera: The Official Vision for An Android Camera App Today I'd like to tell you about a camera app that doesn't do very much -- by design. You should still try it, though, because it comes direct from Google. Read More (it even has some hidden features Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind Google’s recent update to the KitKat camera app boasts a few secret abilities, including an accidental tilt-shift effect, 3D image capability and something of a wide-angle effect. Read More ).

Likewise, the Google Photos app is also on the Play Store, and many non-Nexus phones ship with it preinstalled — Google even just announced that it will have unlimited photo storage Hola is Basically a Botnet, Congress Redirected to Nude Photos, & More... [Tech News Digest] Hola is Basically a Botnet, Congress Redirected to Nude Photos, & More... [Tech News Digest] Also: Google offers unlimited photo storage, how you can pretend to be a destructive cat, and YouTube celebrates its 10th anniversary. Read More for pictures up to 16MP.

It’s a cute ad, but you could really replace the Nexus 5 with any other Android phone and use the exact same apps. If you ever see an ad for a phone with a particular feature, it’s worth asking, can other phones do this too?

How Do You Avoid the Marketing Hype?

It’s an advertiser’s job to make any smartphone seem like the best thing on the planet, even though the best phone for you could be different from the best phone for me. Because of that, it’s definitely worth ignoring the advertisement jargon and doing your own research.

Maybe you want the large screen and simple interface of the iPhone 6 Plus (our review iPhone 6 Plus Review and Giveaway iPhone 6 Plus Review and Giveaway The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus is Apple's latest and perhaps strangest addition to its range of tablets and smartphones. Read More ), or maybe you’d prefer the week-long battery life of the BLU Studio Energy (our review BLU Studio Energy Review and Giveaway BLU Studio Energy Review and Giveaway For only $150, the BLU Studio Energy packs a massive 5,000mAH battery that lasts for days - but is it more than just a huge battery? Read More ). To each is their own.

But we’d like to hear from you. How do you sift through the advertisements to find the phone that’s right for you? What features really matter for you? Let us know in the comments!

  1. Rudi Niemand (Rodd1s)
    June 16, 2015 at 10:31 am

    I tend to weed out all manufacturers I've had bad past experiences with (Sony and Samsung tend to stand out here - mainly because of their sluggish interfaces/overlays) and then see what's available - always opting for a step-up in screen size, fast processor and longer battery life from my current phone. I'm always open minded to try new/unknown brands due to the fact that it has the possibility of being a gem until proven otherwise.

    Every now and then the lesser known brands tend to flop, but then so do the big ones. I'm a big fan of the iPhone and praise it for it's simplicity and usefulness and how well it "just works", but I'll probably never own one simply because I like the customization options (not to mention side-loading apps as I have a few of my own creations) that come with Android handsets.

    Windowsphone, too, excellent in my eyes for its simplicity and bold interface, but let down by a lack of third-party developer support and having gone slightly backwards since version 7, e.g.: compare a HTC Radar to a Lumia 630, (both of which I've owned in the past) - despite the hardware differences, the Radar is smoother and faster in everyday use.

    I digress, as long as my next phone is "better" than the current (1st Gen Moto G LTE) I'm usually willing to try it, i.e.: bigger screen, bigger battery, faster camera, more storage, faster processor... the list goes on.

    • Riley J. Dennis
      June 24, 2015 at 1:35 am

      true that, i'm all for the customization of Android. but yeah, it's always nice to have the latest and greatest :)

  2. Johann Werner
    June 15, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    I generally ignore the advertising BS and just go for an iPhone.

    • Riley J. Dennis
      June 24, 2015 at 1:36 am

      lol Apple's pretty guilty of commercials that don't focus on the device at all but rather on the "experience" of having an iPhone. no doubt it's a good phone, but i think they advertize just as much BS. :)

    • John Alvares
      June 28, 2015 at 7:39 pm

      like millions of other sheep

  3. Yodi Collins
    June 15, 2015 at 9:34 pm

    HTC hustled me into buying my first-ever smartphone. It was an HTC Radar. The commercial depicting a young person creating a photo collage with her smartphone was what did it for me. That phone was crap -- and a good baseline for determining what I ultimately insist on in a $400 device that accompanies me everywhere I go.

    • Riley J. Dennis
      June 24, 2015 at 1:37 am

      lolol oh man some old android devices are so so bad... ohjeez

  4. Khauf Fadlilah
    June 15, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    You are right with all the point, this is always trick used on all of phones, every years you could see much advertiser do this. So this is because they want your buy they phone, its no matter, that their job, and choice in your hands.

    • Riley J. Dennis
      June 24, 2015 at 1:37 am

      oh yeah, they definitely do their job well, lol

  5. Brad Merrill
    June 15, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    One of the things I like about Apple, while they're certainly hype artists themselves, is that their focus in marketing is always the user experience. They touch on the underlying technology at their events, but the vast majority of their selling points are what you can *do* with their devices and how they will make your life better. Speaking as a consumer, I don't care about specs—I care what those specs help me accomplish.

    • Riley J. Dennis
      June 24, 2015 at 1:38 am

      true! they definitely focus on that, and it seems to be working for them :)

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