Technology Explained

Smartphone Specs For Dummies: What Should You Look For?

Danny Stieben 05-07-2012

smartphone specsIt’s undeniable – more and more people are owning smartphones as they are becoming more capable of handling all our possible needs. Today’s smartphones have as much processing power as full desktop computers less than a decade ago, and that power is still increasing with the rise of the first quad-core CPUs for smartphones.


However, if you’ve lived on this planet long enough you’ll know that marketing techniques for new phones can’t be trusted 100%, so you’ll have the best results by looking at the phone’s specs yourself. This article will try to help you figure out what’s the best for you by showing you what you should be aware of and whether it’s good enough for your Android or iPhone.

Display, Size, & Design

smartphone specs
First we’ll take a look at what you’ll probably see first – the display, size, and overall design. The size is actually quite important nowadays because some phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note The 8 Best Cell Phones for Senior Citizens If you need a senior-friendly mobile device, here are some of the best cell phones for senior citizens. Read More are, simply put, massive. You’ll have to open up your hand pretty wide to hold those, and placing a device like that on your face might look a little strange is it’s so big. The international version of the Samsung Galaxy S II Samsung Galaxy S II Giveaway You're going to like this one. In the coming few weeks, we'll be giving away one of the most coveted mobile phones today -- the Samsung Galaxy S II! Find out how you can be... Read More is 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5 mm and just 116 g, which for my personal preference is just right. Don’t forget to look at how thick it is as well, as you’ll probably be interested in that as well.

You should also look at what type of display is in the phone, and what resolution it has. If you come across a name for the display, such as AMOLED or Retina Is The New Retina MacBook Pro For You? [Opinion] When Apple announced the MacBook Pro with Retina display a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure it would end up being my next laptop. I’ve waited a long time to upgrade and after being... Read More , you should take the opportunity to google it for more information and reviews.

The overall design is up to your own taste, so just be sure to look at a good number of photos from different angles. If you prefer, you can also go to your carrier’s local store to look at it with your own eyes and get a sense of how it feels in your hand.

The Processor

smartphone specifications
The next most important spec is the CPU. This little chip makes a huge amount of difference whether the device flies or manages to squeak by. There’s a lot of different processor names such as Cortex, Snapdragon, Tegra, and more, so if you come across them you should look them up as well. However, if you don’t want much technical information, then you’ll just need to look at two key items – frequency and number of cores.


The decision isn’t always as easy to make, but generally the more cores there are, the better. For example, a 1.0 Ghz dual-core processor will run more smoothly than a 1.5 Ghz single-core processor. Most programs and games can run just fine on 1.0 Ghz, so the extra boost to 1.5 Ghz won’t be as significant of a boost as you may think. On the other hand, if you add a second CPU core, you open the possibility of running more programs simultaneously. If you run a game fine at 1.0 Ghz, you can technically open up two instances of the game with a dual-core processor and still be fine, but a 1.5 Ghz processor would start to choke.

RAM and Memory

smartphone specifications
Another spec you should watch out for is RAM and memory (permanent storage). Generally, the more RAM the phone has, the more programs (or more resource-hungry programs) you can run on your phone without it slowing down. If you’ll make a lot of use out of your phone and run multiple apps in the background for your social networks and whatnot, more RAM will definitely be needed. 1GB should be good enough for any hardcore user, but some phones are offering even higher amounts.

The memory (for phones, it’s your consistent storage; not to be confused with RAM) amount is also important if you plan to install a lot of apps on your phone. For this, 16GB is usually plenty, especially if you also have an SD card inserted. You should also check for the maximum allowable size for an SD card, which can expand your storage space and is usually used to store your pictures and MP3s.

Miscellaneous But Important Items

smartphone specs
There’s plenty of other things that you should at least look at to see if you’re fine with it. Some other things to look for are how many megapixels the camera(s) have, whether there is a rear and front-facing camera, where the headphone and charge ports are located on the phone, how long the battery lasts, and which sensors are included (such as Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, etc). You may also care to see if your favorite after-market ROM How To Install CyanogenMod On Your Android Device A lot of people can agree that the Android operating system is pretty awesome. Not only is it great to use, but it's also free as in open source, so that it can be modified... Read More is available for that phone, but if that’s the case then you aren’t a dummy!


Closing Remarks

Lastly, if you’re open to any phone, you’re probably open to the idea of switching carriers. Be sure to not only check the price of the plan you’d possibly get, but also how good their coverage is (such as at your house!), how good their customer service is, and whatever else you may feel is important in your decision.

Just remember that you don’t have to get the best of the best, but this article should help you in determining which specs will be sufficient enough. Of course it’s great to have more than you’ll need, but your wallet will definitely be paying for it in the end. If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this article or ask any of your geeky friends!

What’s most important to you in a phone? What new and unique features do you think may be coming out soon for phones? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: Nina Matthews, Johan Larsson, nVidia Corporation, 37prime, John Watson


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  1. Shawn Ashree Baba
    July 18, 2012 at 1:32 am

    Always looking for the faster and better smartphone.

  2. Tongo Baidu
    July 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Choose your phone by the apps you use: For me that means that the same apps that run on my iphone also run on my ipad and my mac and the integration is seamless. It the key advantage that app developers for iOs have over Android. They can use most of the same code on their Mac apps and make them work the same way.

    My billing (Timelog), project management (Smartday), pdf editing(PdfPen Pro), note taking software (Circus Ponies) and the incredible document management software (Devonthink) are all pretty much the same software across my iphone, my ipad and my mac (but optimised for each device). That advantage is unbeatable. With icloud and dropbox I never even have to think about which device I have with me it is so seamless. Snap a receipt with scanner pro on the iphone, and when I get back to the Mac, Hazel has already grabbed it from icloud, processed it to devonthink where its been ocred and added to the right expense account database.

    The same level of integration is on its way from Scrivener (the most versatile writing and research tool imaginable) as well as Pages and Numbers & Keynote.

    Simple things work so well like the way background wireless syncing works between iTunes and the iPad and Iphone. While my wife is watching a movie on the ipad in the lounge, i am sitting in my study adding music and movies and updating my playlist in the background from the mac for the next day's 6hr flight. Podcasts I pick on the mac appear on the iphone and vice versa.

    With photostream, photos taken on my phone pop up within minutes on my ipad or mac (and vice versa) without even having to think about it. Take a photo on iphone, edit on iphoto on ipad and have it on the mac next time I turn it on.

    This level of integration (and the sheer quality of the devices and support from Apple) is why I wont be moving elsewhere. Its ceased to be about just the phone - its how the phone plays with everything else you use.

    • Danny Stieben
      July 7, 2012 at 10:52 pm

      I agree that user experience can also be a factor for choosing a phone, no matter if people prefer iOS or Android for their user experience. However, that alone is a whole other topic that warrants its own discussion, and has a little less to do with the pure specs of a phone.

      I appreciate your feedback. Brings up some very good points. :)

  3. Vipul Jain
    July 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    The most important thing to look for is Value for money according to your usage.
    Call me tech-racist but this is why i hate apple and love android.. :p

    • Danny Stieben
      July 7, 2012 at 7:06 am

      Exactly. I mentioned a couple of times in the article is that people shouldn't look for the best specs, but just verify that the specs a phone has is enough for their needs. The choice of Android phones and all their different specs make it awesome.

  4. DaPabler
    July 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Or you can get the iPhone if you hate life itself...Notice there is really not a mention of the iPhone b/c they are ALL THE SAME! Add an S, remove a G, all you have done is still sold the same "special" and "unique" phone that EVERY other hipster has. Sure, they are good for 12 year olds and old people unwilling to learn something new, but if you want customization, performance, style, and horsepower...stick with Android.

    • DaPabler
      July 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      I personally dislike the iPhone, and pretty much the Windows phone. I mean with the iPhone; You want 4G speeds? Too Bad. You want a bigger screen? Too Bad. You want faster processing? Too Bad. You want custom apps? Too Bad. Jailbreak and void Warranty if you want to do anything worthwhile. Windows phone is nice for business and is pretty looking, but limited custom apps really hurt it. Windows phone is very powerful, but like I said, if you want something that works and represents YOU, go with Android.

    • Danny Stieben
      July 7, 2012 at 7:05 am

      Just about right. If people want an iPhone, then they don't need to worry about specs as it's all the same, whether good or bad.

    • Laga Mahesa
      July 8, 2012 at 3:15 am

      Without resorting to insulting a perceived demographic, care to point out a competitor that has the same level of support 3 years after release?

      • DaPabler
        July 8, 2012 at 3:51 am

        Theoretically I can't, but will explain in my opinion. Apple's support is moderately good b/c of the limitations of the devices they offer. Presenting 7 models of units (iPad, iPad 2, 4 gens of iPhone, and iPod series) over the last five years enables them to easily support their products. Tight software restrictions and minimal upgrades offered is far more easier to support for Apple than an Android OS offered by Google that has changed numerous times and has had to adapt to hundreds of devices. But let’s be real here, in this case we are talking about phones and not all products. To be fair, does anyone that is a power user on a cell phone really use the same phone for three years? I am a HelpDesk Analyst who, by company rule, set up devices for employees to access our internal sites and their email. We upgrade their phones on a yearly basis. I have set up phones many times and on many, many devices. In turn, that means I have to work on them also. I have fixed 0 iPhones b/c it is usually a hardware issue typically (Apple's OS is very stable) and they don’t allow you to work on them or change anything on them without voiding warranty. I took certification classes from Nokia, Microsoft, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung to be able to work on them, customize them, and general repair. Instead of forcing you to repair by authorized techs like Apple, the aforementioned companies encourage you to root (jailbreak for Apple) them, change them, and customize their OS. That is a major benefit to an open source OS. That can result in having a non-stable OS as well. You should be trained in working on Android or Windows devices before attempting software/hardware changes.
        In short, Apple’s support for their phones is very good ard they are notorious for giving you new devices instead of making you wait 2 weeks to repair. Anyone appreciates that service. With Android and Windows, typical users have to consult with their carrier to get issues resolved. For once, a win for Apple in this department.

        • Laga Mahesa
          July 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm

          Extremely good points you've raised there, and all perfectly valid. I'll start on one aspect - whether or not a power user is going to use the same device.

          Device - I think the time has come and gone when we can refer to these things as mere phones. I'm constantly SSHing into my devices, using them as VNC clients, remote administrating web sites and even doing development work - serverside Perl, even. Hell, I get surprised and a mild shock when someone actually calls me and my ringtone goes off.

          My first ever apple product was a 3Gs - it is still in use as a development device (running iOS 6 beta), a remote, a wireless IP camera and as something to annoy my dog with whilst I'm at work. :p

          Compared to my previous Nokias, the build quality of that 3Gs is astounding... but, then, that's what I would expect for that price.

          You're right with regards to the difficulty of supporting such a wide array of devices. The problem, though, in my view, is that very little effort is actually made in this area. "Oh, got an old model? Just upgrade to a new one!" This mentality is, I believe, a byproduct of the West's reliance on carrier subsidies. These devices never appear expensive. With such simple and carefree ways to replace damaged (intentional, even!) devices, there's no real concern regarding long term support. Corporate is worse - as you say, they are cycled on a yearly basis. Carriers are the big bugbears here, not the manufacturers. Unfortunately, that 'passing the buck' attitude has taken effect worldwide, whether carriers are subsidizing or not.

          Now... $650 for a Galaxy Note or about the same for an iPad 3? Hmmm. I'd love to, but no. Bring the prices of these non-Apple mobiles down dramatically and I'll waive the support clause. Otherwise, my money will continue to go to those with a proven track record.

  5. The Sluice Gate
    July 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    OK just realised this has been commented twice already so I withdraw the following....

    [Not really a technical spec, but you probably could have addressed the choice between Android / iPhone / Windows phone / other operating systems, and a brief reference to their strenghts or weaknesses. In fact there's probably a makeuseof article elsewhere about this....]

    • Danny Stieben
      July 7, 2012 at 7:03 am

      Yes, I'm sure there are plenty of articles about that here in MUO, as that topic can be made up of many articles...there's simply that much to talk about! :)

  6. zoniweb
    July 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    For me, important things are:
    - real keyboard
    - candybar design
    - battery 4-5 days
    - bellow 100 grams
    - decent camera (nothing fancy)

    • Danny Stieben
      July 7, 2012 at 7:02 am

      Battery for 4 or 5 days? I hope that applies when you simply let the phone sit for those days where you don't touch it.

      • zoniweb
        July 7, 2012 at 8:49 am

        Nope. With regular use, it is how long battery in my phone lasts (phone: Nokia C5, Symbian).

        • Danny Stieben
          July 7, 2012 at 9:17 am

          Wow that's crazy. Not even my old BlackBerry lasted for that long -- maybe 3 days at the utter most, and even that's stretching it a bit.

  7. Ben
    July 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    The phone's OS is also an important consideration. One might be interested in a particular app that is available in say iOS but not Windows Phone 7.

    • Danny Stieben
      July 7, 2012 at 7:01 am

      That's true. Thanks for pointing that out, Ben.

  8. Laga Mahesa
    July 5, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    For a mobile device, the operating system is first and foremost, followed by longevity then build quality. I've come to the conclusion that pure specs - pure CPU and even RAM to an extent - is a PC game that doesn't have anywhere near the same impact in mobile.

    OS and longevity, which includes not going stale as a factor, are closely linked... so no RIM or Nokia for me. Nokia used to be it, but now their future is glued to Windows and that doesn't have the proven long term support I want to spend the big bucks... quite the opposite, with the Windows 7.8 kick in the teeth N9 owners are getting.

    Android is almost there, so come v5 hopefully you can get a device and half expect it to see v5.1 without feeling like you're in Vegas with your savings and no ticket home.

    Here in Indonesia we pay full price + a pretty hefty import duty, so being comfortably rich or ultra picky is a must.

    • Danny Stieben
      July 7, 2012 at 7:00 am

      You bring up some good additional points. I'm not sure if build quality is *very* important, because no matter what phone a user gets, they should always try to take care of it. :)

      • Laga Mahesa
        July 8, 2012 at 3:11 am

        Absolutely... but, then again, here in Indonesia I've had a few Nokia phones fall apart with age. A 6600, an N95, N72... the plastic went brittle and crumbled just sitting in a drawer. Not a BIG issue for most, clearly, but it's annoying nonetheless. :)

        • Danny Stieben
          July 8, 2012 at 3:18 am

          That's true. I would just think today's phones would be a bit better through evolution. But you're right, an occasional bad one can still sneak through.