As flagship Android phones become more competitive and the differences between them seem to narrow, marketing teams are throwing more numbers and jargon at us to convince us of the value of their products.
Here’s how to cut through the hype and figure out why some phones are better (or worse) than they look on paper.
There are too many other factors in the game. The quality of other components used, how well the operating system is optimized (each phone has its own build of Android), and how the manufacturer chose to install the processor. Some may prefer to tune it more for battery life at the expense of raw power, or vice versa.
And while it’s safe to say that a high-performance processor is better than average, this is only guaranteed for models of the same generation. In some cases, a modern mid-range processor can outperform a previous generation flagship processor.
Let’s also consider the elephant in the room.
If you’ve ever compared your flagship Android phone to your friend’s iPhone and felt like the iPhone seemed faster, it is. Benchmarks show that while these scores are somewhat comparable in multi-core performance (for resource-intensive tasks such as gaming and high frame rate video), the iPhone is in a different league in single-core performance. This covers everyday tasks like swiping, scrolling, and opening apps.
The amount of RAM in the current flagship phone ranges from 4GB to 8GB. Does this mean the 8GB model is twice as good? No.
Here’s the thing about RAM: it’s only useful when you use it. Free RAM is a waste of RAM.
If you use apps and games that require huge amounts of memory, then yes, performance will be better than on a 4 GB device. But these apps and games don’t exist on Android, so assuming you get better performance just because you have more RAM in your phone, there can’t be more bugs. This will protect your phone from the future, but nothing more.
Even on phones with the same amount of memory, performance will not always be the same. The speed and responsiveness of a device is largely determined by how well the operating system is optimized. Very few devices work with the stock version of Android. Instead, manufacturers use their own highly customized versions with additional features and applications.
Screen specs are always filled with jargon designed to impress.
There are OLED and LCD, resolution, pixel density and so on. And now the refresh rate too. The 120Hz display on the new Razer Phone should allow for smoother scrolling, which could result in an improvement in the perceived speed of the phone. Expect more phones to have this in the future.
OLED is often regarded as the best display technology due to its greater contrast ratio, dynamic range, and better power efficiency. This is also required if you want to use the Google Daydream VR system. But at the flagship level, the difference between OLED and LCD might not be as big as you’d expect.
Unfortunately, whichever type you use, not all displays are the same.