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Grow Your Business Technology

Smartphone Specs: What's Important and What's Not

Smartphone Specs: What's Important and What's Not
Credit: Charnsitr/Shutterstock

Smartphones are a ubiquitous business tool that we use to get directions, text co-workers and talk to bots like Alexa. When we shop for a new phone, most of us expect the device to offer the latest features, but it's hard to keep up on the latest specifications like the screen technology, processor and RAM. Do they really matter? In most cases, the more you know about the latest phone specs, such as those in the Apple iPhone X and the Google Pixel 2, the smarter buying decision you can make.

When you are looking for a smartphone, the first spec to consider is the screen. The iPhone X uses an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen; the Pixel 2 uses AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode). The main difference between AMOLED and OLED is that AMOLED tends to run faster, so you will see a little better performance for games and video. The iPhone X is the first phone Apple has produced that uses the brighter, more colorful tech. The Pixel 2 also has a bright and colorful screen, and both use more advanced tech than the LCD screens on previous iPhones and older Android models.

The processor, sometimes called the CPU (central processing unit), is the heart of any computing device. The faster the processor, the faster apps can load, and the more apps you can run simultaneously. Mobile processors are smaller and uses lower voltages than those in computers. They're also likely to have different sleep and power levels to increase smartphone battery.

The iPhone X is particularly innovative because the A11 Bionic processor uses two cores running at 64 bits. It's 25 percent faster than the previous A10. Curiously, it's also about the same speed running those two cores as a MacBook Pro running a single core, which means smartphone speed is now on par with laptops. Note that this does not mean you can run high-end apps; the benchmark speed is fast, but you're still limited to running mobile apps and not desktop apps. The Google Pixel 2 uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. The processor is 35 percent smaller than previous versions but provides 25 percent less battery power. On the iPhone X and Pixel 2, the processor also helps manage power.

Both the iPhone X and Google Pixel 2 offer the same basic connectivity. There's a cellular data connection, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The main difference between smartphones these days is whether there are any added connections beyond those, and also the specific type of data connections. For example, the iPhone X and Pixel 2 provide NFC (near-field communication) connectivity, which is mostly designed for making payments. You tap the phone on a reader at a store to approve a transaction. Both the iPhone X and Pixel 2 use Bluetooth 5.0, which has better range and speed than previous versions, and the latest version of Wi-Fi (802.11ac).

An operating system determines which apps you can run. Most of the ingenuity you'll find on a smartphone – the ability to talk to a bot, the settings you can adjust, and the battery management – are all related to the OS. On an iPhone, iOS 11 uses a neural network chipset on the phone to speed up the AI routines and for scanning your face when you use Face ID to log in to the phone. On the Pixel 2, Android 8 Oreo is fast and powerful. One perk is that the OS now boots up much faster.

Battery technology is going through a rough period. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 had a tendency to heat up or even catch on fire. To combat this problem, you could say smartphone companies had to take a step back and think about battery size. The iPhone X and Pixel 2 are not that much lighter or thinner than predecessors. Both phones last all day, but there is a critical difference between the two. The iPhone X charges wirelessly: You set it down on a wireless charging pad to power up again. (You can also charge with a cable.) Google skipped wireless charging. The USB-C charger can provide seven hours of usage after only 15 minutes of charging, so the Pixel 2 charges up faster in a pinch.

RAM is an acronym for random access memory, which works as your phone's active working memory. The more RAM it has, the more information a smartphone can work with at the same time, so it can have a dramatic effect on total performance.

The Pixel 2 uses 4GB of RAM, and the iPhone X has 3GB of RAM, according to GSM Arena. (Apple does not report the RAM allocation for phones.) RAM size is not a huge factor on smartphones if you stick to the basic apps and tend to close apps to save memory, but it can be a factor if you run apps for photo and video editing and load large files.

Both the iPhone X and Pixel 2 offer 64GB or 256GB of storage. Because cloud storage is becoming so common, especially with apps like Google Drive and Dropbox, the local storage is not as important as it once was. The main consideration here is whether you will be storing video files in high-resolution formats like 4K and filming constantly with your phone. If you do that, consider choosing the highest storage allocation available.

A final consideration – especially in the age of Instagram – is related to camera specs. The iPhone X uses a 12MP rear camera that can film video in 4K resolution. There's a telephoto and wide-angle lens, and you can switch between them. The front-facing camera runs at 7MP and can authenticate you with Face ID. The Pixel 2 uses a 12.2MP rear camera and an 8MP front-facing camera. The rear camera on the Pixel 2 can film in 4K resolution. The two phones offer similar features for editing images and video.

John Brandon

John Brandon is a technology expert, business advocate, and columnist. He has written over 12,000 articles in 16 years. His first articles appeared in LAPTOP magazine in 2002.

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