Deciding which smartphone you want in your pocket can be tricky enough, before you discover the long list of technical specifications that accompany each product page.
Whether you're struggling to understand the difference between RAM and ROM, or unsure what type of processor will best suit your needs, there's no need to worry. Our jargon-buster is ready to clarify all those techy components that make up a smartphone.
Smartphone RAM vs ROM?
If you've never looked closely at the specs of your smartphone, you might not be aware of RAM, or know why it's so important.
RAM stands for Random Access Memory, and it's where software is stored while it is running on your phone. For example, if you open an app like Instagram, it (along with all its data) will reside in your smartphone's RAM for quicker access. Phones with very little RAM may struggle to boot up apps or conduct processes at speed.
RAM is a form of temporary memory however, and once your device loses power it will be cleared.
RAM shouldn't be confused with a phone's internal memory. Having 2GB of RAM on your smartphone, for example, does not mean you only have 2GB available to store your photos and favourite apps - that's what your internal memory is for.
Internal smartphone memory is almost always flash storage, a storage medium that doesn’t need power to operate - it saves your files even when the phone’s turned off - and that has no moving parts, which makes it different to common PC hard drives that use a spinning hard disk.
On the other hand, ROM, which is short for read-only memory, stores important information called firmware. It can seem a bit confusing, but ROM is basically the place where you phone keeps its operating system (Android or iOS) and essential applications, like messages or calls, that are needed for your phone to work. When turned off, your smartphone does not lose the data stashed in ROM.
RAM isn't the only thing inside your smartphone that helps it to multitask and function quickly and efficiently. Stored under the hood you'll find the following, all of which are responsible for keeping your device ticking along:
• Central Processing Unit (CPU): The heart and brain of your smartphone. The CPU is a component that's responsible for receiving instructions and then executing the correct response.
• Graphics Processing Unit (GPU): A lot like the CPU, the GPU is purely focused on pumping out the graphics applications use. If you love mobile gaming, a better GPU will give you smoother, faster and more detailed graphics.
• Chipset: A chipset is the home for a smartphone's main components, such as the CPU and GPU. Popular chipset manufacturers are Snapdragon, MediaTek and Exynos.
• Quad-core: CPU's are made of 'cores', individual processing units which work through instructions and information. A quad-core processor contains four individual cores.
• Octa-core: Advanced smartphones tend to have an octa-core CPU, which will contain eight cores. A higher number of cores often leads to a faster overall performance from your smartphone.
A processor's speed is also measured either in MHz or GHz. 1,000 MHz equal 1GHz, and the higher the GHz the more powerful your processor - and the faster your smartphone should be
Today's smartphone cameras boast some seriously impressive features, producing shots that rival those taken on professional cameras. Make sure you're clued up on all the camera jargon basics before you pick up a new device.
First thing's first, camera quality is measured in megapixels (MP). The more megapixels a camera has the higher the image resolution will be. If you wanted to print out a huge copy of your favourite photo, for example, shooting on a 20MP camera will ensure the image doesn't become blurry when enlarged.
The majority of modern smartphones have two cameras built-in: a rear camera and a front-facing camera. The rear camera is the main camera on a smartphone, and it is also known as the primary camera. The front-facing camera is known as a smartphone's secondary camera, and it's in charge of taking your selfies.
As smartphone cameras advance, you may find the following terms used to describe their innovative features:
• Auto-focus: The ability for a smartphone camera to automatically focus on the subject of a photo without any input for the user.
• Dual lens: A camera that uses two lenses to capture more detailed images, rather than one.
• Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS): A kind of camera technology that helps to reduce the amount of blur on a photo, enabling the camera lens to focus and take sharp images.
• Slow-motion: Cameras which offer a slow-motion feature can take a video with more frames per second than those that can't. This enables the recording to be slowed down without losing quality or detail.
• Wide-angle lens: A lens with a wider field of view than the human eye. Smartphone cameras with this type of lens can pack more of the surrounding landscape into one image.
Smartphone Operating Systems
Whichever smartphone you choose, it will be powered by an operating system. An operating system is the most important form of software that can be loaded onto a smartphone and it provides the device with a specific look and feel, as well as managing the phone's memory and processes.
Two of the most popular smartphone operating systems are Google Android and Apple iOS. iOS is the same on every device, while Android is often modified by manufacturers to have a certain look or function that the stock Android doesn’t have.
Android updates are all named after sweet treats and have proceed alphabetically. To date, we've had Android Cupcake (2009), Donut (2009), Eclair (2009), Froyo (2010), Gingerbread (2010), Ice Cream Sandwich (2011), Jelly Bean (2012), KitKat (2013), Lollipop (2014), Marshmallow (2015), Nougat (2016), and most recently Oreo (2017).
The quality of your display often depends on the technology used behind it. There are three main types:
• LCD: This is short for Liquid Crystal Display. LCD screens are the most commonly-used smartphone screens and are made up from liquid crystals which are lit up.
• OLED: Meaning Organic Light Emitting Diode, an OLED screen is a more energy-efficient, sharper alternative to an LCD display.
• AMOLED: Stands for Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode**, which is a type of display technology. It's sharper than an LCD screen, and known for using less battery power.
• 4K: One of the highest screen resolutions available, 4K screens have four times the pixel density of 1080p HD.
Smartphone displays are also measured in PPI, or pixels per inch. This refers to the concentration of pixels included in a display.
When it comes to keeping your smartphone secure, many manufacturers have added additional features to ensure nobody but you can access your device. A password will protect your private information, but the latest smartphones also include fingerprint scanners or iris scanners.
A fingerprint scanner will enable the smartphone owner to unlock their device with their fingerprint. You'll have to set this extra layer of protection up when you unbox your phone.
An iris scanner uses iris recognition to confirm the identification of an individual who is trying to gain access to a smartphone. The patterns in your iris will be scanned by your device, and as they're unique and difficult to replicate it's one of the safest ways to protect your mobile.
Looking for a long-lasting smartphone? Don't forget to check the battery specs to see how much power you can expect with one full charge:
• mAh: A unit used to measure how much electrical charge a smartphone battery can hold. It stands for milliamp-hour and the higher the number behind mAh (e.g. 3,300 mAh), the longer your last before it runs out of charge.
• Talk-time: The amount of time your phone can handle calls without running out of battery.
• Standby time: The amount of time your mobile's battery could last if it was left alone, without you making or receiving any texts or calls. Having lots of apps running in the background of your phone can reduce a phone’s standby time though.
• Wireless charging: Some recent handsets offer wireless-charging, which arrives in the form of a charging port. This lets you set down your phone to charge without getting into a tangle of wires.
If you're ready to get your hands on a brand-new device, don't forget to take a look at mobiles.co.uk for the very best deals in town.