Smartphone Specifications Made Easier

Smartphone Specifications Made Easier

Most of us understand the basic specifications of a smartphone. But as the smartphone specifications keep getting complicated with terms like HDR 10, LTE-A (3CA) Cat9, GLONASS and contrast ratio.

It is important to understand these terms so that you can compare different smartphones easily and understand your requirements.

We will go through all the sections in the GSMArena website.

I will make this concise and to the point because most readers would get bored if I went in too deep.

Let’s start with the first one.

Network:

This is one of the most important factors in a smartphone, yet, pretty much everyone ignores these portions and goes straight to the camera portion.

There are three types of networks:

2G:

This spectrum (GSM) is used for calls and text messages. GSM is not 2G but later packet data transport was embedded into GSM to make it GPRS to enable data communications. EDGE is 2.5G.

You need to check the bands written in 2G to check if a certain mobile would support your sim network or not. This is the reason why a smartphone made for china region does not perform well in European regions.
Just look at the image below for Jazz (a network of Pakistan) and look at frequencies its support and then check the frequencies for the smartphone you are buying.

JAZZ Network Frequency Spectrum
JAZZ Network Frequency Spectrum

But then again, most of the countries do not have 2G these days. So, you can skip this part, if your country does not have 2G.


3G:

This spectrum is used for data but is slow and old. Two types of 3G exist i.e. WCDMA which is old 3G and HSPA which is new 3G or 3.5G.


4G:

This spectrum provides fast data speeds and video calls.

This one is the most complex out of all of these. Guess what LTE is not really 4G. The minimum requirements for a connection to be 4G are 1000Mbps Downlink and 500Mbps Uplink. Normal LTE has 100Mbps downlink and 50Mbps uplink.

This is where 4G LTE-A comes in. It stands for LTE-Advanced which has the 4G speed of 1000Mbps downlink and 500Mbps uplink. LTE-A is also called True 4G (a word you never see in advertisements). CA stands for carrier aggregation. By combining more than one carrier together, either in the same or different bands it is possible to increase the bandwidth available and in this way increase the capacity of the link.

So it gets further complicated when we include categories. So the LTE-A (3CA) Cat11 means LTE-Advanced (3 carrier aggregation) category 11. Basically, categories are assigned to a smartphone which tells how much speed of the 4G LTE-A it can support because a smartphone does not support full 1000Mbps downlink and 500Mbps uplink.

LTE CLASSSpeedsAggregation Options
Category 12600 Mbps download
100 Mbps upload
3 x 20MHz download
2 x 20MHz upload
Category 10450 Mbps download
100 Mbps upload
3 x 20MHz download
Category 9450 Mbps download
50 Mbps upload
2 x 20MHz download
2 x 20MHz upload
Category 7300 Mbps download
100 Mbps upload
3 x 20MHz download
2 x 20MHz upload
Category 4150 Mbps download
50 Mbps upload
2 x 10MHz download

Display:

The smartphone display is arguably the most important and most used hardware. There are different types of displays available on each smartphone. But basically they are divided into two categories i.e. LED and LCD. But instead of LED (Light Emitting Diode), OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) is used. Because OLEDs are thinner, Cheaper, flexible, produces dynamic and vibrant colors and also consumes less power.

Smartphone display- Whaddafudge

Then AMOLED(Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) was introduced by Samsung. The active matrix means each pixel of OLED is given a transistor and capacitor to control the power consumption of each pixel. As a result, AMOLED consumes less power than OLED. AMOLED also provides better touch response time.

The SUPER AMOLED makes the technology even better because S-AMOLED consumes even less power than an AMOLED and provides better outdoor visibility. Lastly, S-AMOLED has the Touch Response Panel integrated into it which is installed on top of an AMOLED. This enables S-AMOLED to provide amazing touch response and also make it thinner than AMOLED because one extra layer is removed.

The other technology used in smartphone displays is LCD. LCDs are of two types in smartphone TFT (Thin Film Transistor) or IPS (In-Plane Switching).

IPS is a lot better than TFT LCDs. IPS LCS provides better viewing angles, better color reproduction but also consumes more than a TFT LCD panel.
This technology is only used in budget smartphones these days.

The next thing in the display is PPI (Pixels Per Inch) which represents the pixel density of the screen. The more the PPI, the better the display sharpness would be. But if you want to know the lowest PPI number which is acceptable for smartphone displays. The Lowest PPI number for smartphones is 300PPI. If you can not get 300 PPI smartphone, try to get a smartphone which has PPI close to 300.
But if you are going for a high-end smartphone, the PPI that you should look for is at least 400+.

Apple names their display as the retina or Super retina which just means they have pixel density or PPI of 300 and 400 respectively.

Another important term is the contrast ratio. The light luminance is measured in nits or cd/m2. The contrast ratio is the ratio of brightness of the pure white screen to a pure black screen. For example, a display that has a brightness of 400 nits on a pure white screen and 1 nit on a pure black screen, the contrast ratio of this screen is 400:1. The OLED display produces absolute blacks that have 0nits brightness on a dark screen. Therefore the contrast ratio of an OLED (Amoled and S-Amoled) is infinite because anything divided by zero is infinite.


So to summarize, the best combination is S-Amoled Display with 400+ PPI and infinite contrast ratio for an outstanding smartphone screen.

CPU:

The processors are by far the most important factor in a smartphone. Having a better processor means you will have a better LTE version, better Bluetooth version, Better camera performance, Better Audio quality, support Aptx for Bluetooth earphones, better GPU, Better Quick Charge technology and so much more. If you want to learn more, just look at the official specifications of Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 by clicking on the link below.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 Specification.

Smartphone Chip- Whaddafudge

There are three kinds of CPU (Central Processing Unit) Qualcomm Snapdragon, MediaTek Helio, Samsung Exynos, and Hisilicon Kirin. The fifth chip is Apple A-series but these chips are exclusive to Apple only, So we are not going to discuss it. I have given the links of all the processor official site. Just click on the Blue lighted words to go to the website.

Qualcomm chips are divided into three categories:

  1. Snapdragon 400 series (For Budget Smartphones)
  2. Snapdragon 600 series (For Mid-Range Smartphones)
  3. Snapdragon 800 series (For Flagship Smartphones)

Mediatek Helio is divided into four categories:

  1. MediaTek Helio A (For Budget Smartphones)
  2. MediaTek Helio P (For Mid-Range Smartphones)
  3. MediaTek Helio G (For Upper Mid-Range with Good GPU Performance)
  4. MediaTek Helio X (For Flagship Smartphones)

Hisilicon Kirin are divided into four categories:

  1. Kirin 900 Series (For Flagship Smartphones)
  2. Kirin 800 Series (For Upper Mid-Range Smartphones)
  3. Kirin 700 Series (For Mid-Range Smartphones)
  4. Kirin 600 Series (For Budget Smartphones)

Samsung chips do not have any pattern of numbers. But what we can tell you is look at the date and specification of the processor chip. But we will tell you the pattern that works for most of the CPU chips. Normally the higher the number in 7 or 9 series, the better the processor, but this does not apply to all the processors. So the other factor you should look at is lithography which is the size of transistors (given in nm). The latest chips have 7nm. The smaller the number in nm, the better the processor because it would consume less power and would provide more performance as more transistors can be packed in the same space.

There are two types of Exynos series these days:

  1. Exynos 7 Series
  2. Exynos 9 Series

It is important to note that all of these processors are based on ARM cores. The cortex core mentioned after a processor represents ARM cores. If you want to compare two processors from any two brands, just look at the ARM cores in them and the ARM cores frequency.

GPU:

GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is responsible for producing and rendering all the images, animations and graphics on a smartphone screen.

The GPU performance depends on the CPU. High-end CPU’s have high-end GPU’s and Low-end CPU’s have Low-end GPU’s. So you just have to focus on getting a good CPU to get better graphics performance on your smartphone. The GPU performance is measured in GFLOPS or floating points operations per second. The higher the GLOPS number, the better the GPU performance.

The GPU Chipsets do not exhibit the same pattern of numbers as CPU. So we have to look at the GPU rankings and Benchmarks to determine whether a specific GPU will fulfill our needs or not.
I have given four links below which are ranking the smartphone GPUs.

  1. Techrankup
  2. Techcenturion
  3. Benchmarks.ul
  4. Notebookcheck.net

Hopefully just looking at the benchmarks and rankings, you will know about the performance of GPU.

Camera

Camera specifications are a headache to look at. I will try my best to keep this simple.

Megapixels:

The more the megapixels, the more resolution of an image will be. But more resolution does not mean better quality images. Most of the Flagship(Top of the line) Smartphones are sticking to 12MP for the rear camera and there is a good reason for that. The 12MP is enough for a 4K video and the images are also sharp enough for normal usage. More pixels mean more data to process which sometimes makes the images worse. So for back camera 12-16 MP are pretty good.

For the front camera, 8MP seems to be the sweet spot. Some manufacturers put a 24MP camera sensor in the front. That does not make any sense because the front camera is for selfies. The selfies are closeup and the front camera does not need to capture any landscape or far viewing objects. This is why all of the top smartphone manufacturers like Google Pixel, Samsung S9, and iPhone XS has around 8MP for the front camera.

Sensor and Pixel Size:

The other important terms in camera specifications are sensor and pixel size.

The sensors for a smartphone are really small compared to DSLR sensors. But even in smartphones, some smartphones have a bigger sensor than other smartphones.

The sensor size is written as 1/2.55″. The smaller the lower number (in this case 2.55), the bigger the sensor would be. I am going to post some famous smartphone sensors from largest to smallest:

  1. Huawei P30 Pro 1/1.7″
  2. Vivo S1 Pro 1/2.0″
  3. Apple iPhone 11 1/2.55″
  4. Samsung A70 1/2.8″

A bigger camera sensor can receive more light and more light means better image quality. A bigger sensor can also handle more megapixels better than a small sensor. So, the bigger the camera sensor, the better it is.

The other thing is pixel size which is given in µm or Micro Meter (0.000001m). The more pixels a sensor has, the smaller the pixel size gets. Small pixels are more susceptible to noise which is not good. This is why more megapixels are not better for good image quality.

Bigger pixels also capture more light which makes them better for low light conditions.

The pixel sizes of four phones is given below in order from largest to smallest:

  1. Apple iPhone 11 12MP 1.4µm
  2. Huawei P30 PRO 40MP 1.22µm
  3. LG v30 16MP  1.0µm
  4. Samsung A70 32MP 0.8µm

Field of View:

The field of view is the area that is visible through the camera lens. The field of view depends on the focal length of the camera lens.

The focal length of the lens is the distance between the lens and the image sensor when the subject is in focus, usually stated in millimeters (e.g., 28 mm, 50 mm, or 100 mm).

This distance in millimeters represents how wide or narrow the field of view would be. The normal smartphone camera is around 25mm, the wide-angle is around 15mm and the telephoto lens has around 50mm focal length.
25mm focal length in a smartphone has about 80 degrees angle of view and 12mm focal length has about 120 degrees angle or field of view.

The focal length and field of view (measured in angles) have an inverse relation. One increases the other decreases. Look at the picture below:

Source: Understanding Focal Length

Auto Focus and Stabilization:

These are of three types of autofocus which are PDAF (Phase detection Auto Focus), Dual Pixel PDAF and Laser AF (Auto Focus). I will order them from best to worst, Dual Pixel PDAF then Laser AF and lastly PDAF. Most budget phones only have PDAF but there are exceptions even in budget phones. So keep an eye out for the autofocus technology being implemented in the smartphone camera.

Stabilization helps to remove the minor handshakes and blurriness in images. In some cases, EIS is used to get a mind-blowing smooth video which is not possible in OIS. Overall if you have to pick one, OIS is the preferred option.

The stabilization is of two types:

  1. OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) is the better stabilization option but is only available in High-end smartphones and sometimes found in some mid-range smartphones too.
  2. EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization) is done by software. Some smartphones have both OIS and EIS like Google Pixel 2.

Aperture:

Aperture is the opening between the lens and sensor which controls how much light should pass through the sensor.

The less the size of the aperture is, the more light the camera sensor will capture. Smaller Aperture size is better. For example, the aperture is written like f/1.8. So the aperture is 1.8 in this case. Lower aperture, in this case, would be less than 1.8 like 1.7 or 1.6 and 2.0 would be higher.

Camera lens with different apertures
Lenses with Different Apertures

Lower aperture also provides shallow depth of field which looks really cool.

Read the Specs:

I am going to paste the camera specification of Apple iPhone 11 Pro. Here are the specifications:

Camera Specifications Marked

Charging:

Every Smartphone brand has its own charging protocol these days that it is hard to keep track.

The different types of charging protocols are:

  1. Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging
  2. Huawei SuperCharge
  3. USB PD (Power Delivery) (Google Pixel and Apple)
  4. Qualcomm Quick Charge
  5. Motorola Turbo Power
  6. Oppo VOOC/OnePlus Dash Charging/Vivo Fast Charge

Want to learn more about these terminologies, I have written a complete article in detail.

https://whaddafudge.com/the-mobile-phone-chargers-buying-guide-detailed/

Sensors:

Sensors are of different types. Each sensor detects some specific data and send it back to the CPU for feedback. For example, a light sensor is used to detect light of the environment, the heart rate sensor is used to measure heart rate.

The different types of sensors in a smartphone are:

  1. Accelerometer
  2. Gyroscope
  3. Proximity
  4. Compass
  5. Barometer
  6. Light Sensor
  7. Heart Rate Sensor

Let’s discuss them one by one.

Accelerometer:

The accelerometer is used to measure the orientation of a smartphone. Due to this sensor, your smartphone rotates your screen in portrait or landscape mode depending on how you are holding the phone.

Accelerometer essentially measures the acceleration but only linear acceleration. Therefore it can detect how fast your smartphone is moving in a direction but can not recognize how much tilted your smartphone is.

Gyroscope:

The Gyroscope is also used for orientation. The gyroscope has more precision than an accelerometer. The gyroscope can also measure how much a device is tilted because gyroscope can also measure rotational acceleration.

Gyroscope is used in the following applications in smartphone:

  1. It is used for image stabilization in a camera photo or video.
  2. It helps in navigation in Google Maps when there is no network.
  3. Any Game where you use your smartphone as steering. Another example of a game is Pokemon Go.
  4. Without Gyroscope, you cannot use Virtual Reality (VR) Headsets.

Proximity Sensor:

A proximity sensor senses objects around it. A proximity sensor measures the distance of an object using an infrared LED. This sensor is usually at the top of the smartphone alongside the speaker grill. It is the same sensor that turns off the light of the screen when you are on a call and put the smartphone to your ear.

Compass:

The sensor responsible for the compass is a magnetometer. As the name suggests, the magnetometer can detect magnetic fields and helps the smartphone to point to the earth’s north pole. Any type of Map application uses a magnetometer to determine the orientation of the map.

Barometer:

The barometer is basically used to measure air pressure. Barometer also provides altitude information which is useful for health applications like Google fit to track your steps and physical activity. GPS also uses barometer information to get your exact location. Using a barometer sensor, your smartphone knows the floor number you are on.

Light Sensor:

This sensor is used to get the ambient light or room light information to adjust the brightness of your smartphone screen. This sensor is responsible for automatic brightness adjustment to decrease or increase the screen brightness depending on the light of the environment. The smartphones that lack this sensor do not have an auto-brightness feature.

Heart Rate Sensor:

Heart rate sensor consists of an optical LED light source and LED light sensor. The LED light is thrown at the skin and it reflects back to the optical sensor with a different intensity. The light reflections will differ due to the pulsating blood in your veins. The variation in light reflections is heartbeats. Heart rate is usually measured in beats per minute.

Memory

Since SD cards slots are being removed from most of the smartphones, I will only discuss the internal memory.

There are only two types of memory RAM (Random Access Memory) and ROM (Read-Only Memory).

ROM is of the following types:

  1. EMMC (Embedded Multi Media Card)
  2. UFS (Ultra Fast Storage)
  3. NVME (Non-Volatile Memory Express)
Source: Faceofit.com

As you can see, not all smartphone memories are of the same speeds. For example, Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 has Sequential Read/Write speeds of 186/125 MB/s. So it probably has eMMC 5.1 which is really slow for today’s standard but you can only get so much in a budget smartphone.

EMMC is the old type of ROM. Nowadays UFS 3.1 is being used in most of the smartphones. NVME which is the fastest ROM is used in Apple iPhones only.

Most people do not even look at the memory. They just look at it like, is it 64GB or 128GB? Do not be like that, check the storage type and version of smartphone ROM you want to buy. Also, Please note higher memory variants of smartphones sometimes have better Read/Write Speeds. For example, iPhone 7 32GB has Read/Write speeds of 600/40 MB/s and the iPhone 7 128Gb has read/write speeds of 900/300 MB/s.

Comms:

Let’s first discuss WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) which is in normal words called Wifi (Wireless Fidelity). The Wifi for smartphone in specifications is written as Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac.

These are different types of standards in Wifi: 802.11b, 802.11a, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac.

801.11ac is the latest and fastest generation of WIFI. This wifi generation even supports dual-band which refers to operating at 2.4GHZ as well as 5GHZ frequency.

wifi or wlan explained- whaddafudge

Most of the smartphones have 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac but some Budget smartphones still only have 802.11 b/g/n. In 802.11 b/g/n, 802.11n is the fastest generation Wifi but it is not as fast as 802.11ac and also does not support dual-band frequency.

The next term is Wifi Direct which is used to connect two devices to each other using their WIFI to share files. Unlike Bluetooth, Wifi is really fast and this is why wifi direct is the best wireless way to share data.

DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) allows you share your media across multiple devices that support DLNA but they have to be connected wired or wirelessly to the same network and have to be configured using an application normally. You can use your smartphone to view your videos on TV or Xbox etc.

GPS(Global Positioning System) and GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) are two different constellations of satellites owned by the USA and Russia respectively. Both of these systems are available to the public for use. We use these satellites for tracking purposes. The other two satellite systems are Galileo owned by European Union and Beidou (BDS) owned by China.

NFC (Near Field Communication) is used to transfer small data or information between two smartphones or devices. To send data, the two devices are brought together. NFC is also used for payment purposes like Android pay, Apple pay.

Sound quality from the speaker and headphone jack of each smartphone is different. Some phones have better DAC (Digital to Analog) than others. Having a better DAC means better sound quality. Some manufacturers put 32-bit/384kHz audio or 24-bit/192kHz, in their audio specifications. This does not represent a better DAC or better sound quality. This just means the internal DAC of that smartphone supports a sample rate of 24-bit or 32-bit. These are just gimmicks and do not make your listening experience any better. If you want a dedicated DAC which would provide amazing sound quality, you should look LG smartphones. The second-best option for audio would be Apple iPhones.

aptX is used in Bluetooth earphones to reduce the latency of audio coming from earphones to the smartphone. aptX also provides better bitrates which enable listening to high-quality audio tracks. But to be able to use aptX, both the smartphone and Bluetooth earphones should have aptX.

For more information on all of these audio terms. Check out our guide on Audio for more information:

Battery:

Although most of the smartphones these days have about 3500mAh battery which is plenty to get through a day. But still battery timing for the same capacity varies with different smartphones.

The thing is battery life depends mainly on the Processor or CPU (Central Processing). The budget smartphone CPU consumes very little power because of its lower clocks or frequency. For example, 3500mAh on a budget smartphone will last at least 1.5 days whereas on a High-end smartphone it might even last one day.

This is where battery endurance for smartphones comes in. The GSMarena Battery endurance is not an absolute way of monitoring battery life but still, it provides a pretty good estimate of how long a battery will last. If the endurance rating is above 80h, you will be able to get 1 day of battery on normal usage. If you are a heavy user, you should look for smartphones having endurance rating more than 100h.

Water Proof and IP Rating:

IP rating also called Ingress Protection. The IP rating is usually given in two digits e.g. IP68. First digit ‘6’ represents the dust protection number and second digit ‘8’ represents the waterproofing number.

Let’s discuss the different numbers.

IP 68 (First digit is for Solids)

The first digit indicates the level of protection that the enclosure provides against access to hazardous parts (electrical conductors, moving parts etc) and the ingress of solid foreign objects.

IP 68 (Second digit is for Liquids)

The second digit defines the protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against various forms of moisture (drips, sprays, submersion etc).

First DigitIntrusion ProtectionSecond DigitMoisture Protection
0 or XNo protection0 or XNo protection
1Protected against solid objects over 50mm e.g. hands, large tools.
1Protected against vertically falling drops of water or condensation.
2Protected against solid objects over 12.5mm e.g. hands, large tools.2Protected against falling drops of water, if the case is disposed up to 15 from vertical.
3Protected against solid objects over 2.5mm e.g. wire, small tools.3Protected against sprays of water from any direction, even if the case is disposed up to 60from vertical.
4Protected against solid objects over 1.0mm e.g. wires.4Protected against splash water from any direction.
5Limited protection against dust ingress.
(no harmful deposit)
5Protected against low pressure water jets from any direction. Limited ingress permitted.
6Totally protected against dust ingress.
6Protected against high pressure water jets from any direction. Limited ingress permitted.
7Protected against short periods of immersion in water.
8Protected against long, durable periods of immersion in water.
9kProtected against close-range high pressure, high temperature spray downs.
IP Ratings Table

Sim Slots:

Some smartphones have a dual sim which lets the user run two different Sim networks at the same time.

There are three types of terminologies used in dual sim:

  1. DSD (Dual Sim Standby) means, you can insert two sims but have to select which sim will be able to make and receive calls.
  2. DSA (Dual Sim Active) means you can insert and use both sims at the same time for making and receive calls.
  3. DSDS (Dual Sim Dual Standby) means you can insert both sims and also use both of the sims for making and receiving calls but not at the same time because there is only one transceiver. If you are making a call on one Sim, the other Sim would be on hold for the duration of your call.

One more confusion in Sims is the hybrid sim slot which can hold two Sims at a time or one Sim and one micro SD card.

The last thing is, Dual Sim smartphones do not support 4G on Sim 1 and Sim 2. They normally support 4G on only Sim 1. But because of dual sim dual 4G demand in Asian markets, CPU manufacturers are baking dual sim 4G in their new chipset.

Most smartphones launched in 2018 support Dual Sim 4G. Qualcomm introducing this feature in their chips starting from 636, 660, 835, 845 and the upcoming versions of Snapdragon 600 and 800 series will have this feature too. Mediatek starting from Helio P60 and Huawei has baked this feature in HiSilicon’s Kirin 970.

USB Port Version:

Lastly, the USB port version of the smartphone determines where the smartphone would support fast-charging standards and fast data transfer speeds.

Some smartphones still have a micro USB connector for some reason when the standard is every phone should have USB C by now. The budget to mid-range smartphones would have 2.0, Type-C 1.0 which means USB C 2.0 gen 1 which is the minimum standard for USB C.

The High-End smartphones have 3.1, Type-C 1.0 which is still not the latest version of USB C which is 3.2 Gen 2.

Of course, having the latest USB C port and not having the USB C cable to provide fast charging would be a problem. If you are looking for USB C and do not know what type of USB is right for you, this would help.

The last thing is to check if your phone supports 18W fast charging or 30W fast charging by looking at the specifications of the smartphone. Almost every smartphone these days has 18W fast charging. More watts are always better as more heat is dissipated at higher watts which makes the smartphone life span shorter. So research about the smartphone charging protocol before buying it.

But to be safe, always pick the smartphone which supports PD (Power Delivery) because Google has informed all the manufacturers to put PD in their latest smartphones because with time the Android would support only Power Delivery or PD which would surely make things easy to understand.

That’s it. Hope we did not miss anything and if we did comment below to let us know. We will surely update it and share if you learned anything.

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Anas Abdullah

Tech Enthusiast, Content Writer, Part-time Gamer.

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