For years now, manufacturers have been engaged in a spec race when it comes to cameras, and the focus of this numbers war has always been megapixels. It’s an easy spec for consumers to understand, because more megapixels means your photos are comprised of more tiny little dots, and should thus be higher in resolution. However, even the cheapest camera sensors are now capable of capturing more megapixels than the human eye can see. For instance, a top-of-the-line 4K TV has a resolution of 8.3 MP, so anything above that number can’t even be properly displayed on the highest-resolution screen in your house.
So instead of getting caught up in the megapixel hype, look for a camera with a bigger sensor size, larger pixel size, and a wider aperture. Keep in mind that some of these specs are represented as fractions, which can be a bit confusing. Pixel size will be a raw number, so the bigger the better there. But aperture is represented as “f/2.0” (f divided by 2.0) for example, so the smaller the number (divisor), the wider the aperture. Same goes for sensor size, where it’s 1 divided by however many inches, so look for a smaller divisor number here as well.
When it comes to video recording, most of these numbers are straightforward, so bigger is better. Higher recording resolution (1080p, 2160p, etc.) will help ensure that your video clips don’t look outdated too soon, and a high frame rate (60 fps, 120 fps, etc.) will lead to smoother motion. For more smartphone camera details, check out this article.
Phone Screen Size
The first thing about the display you notice on a smartphone is its size. Today the bezels around the screen are so small, that the whole front of the device is mostly a screen. Display size is described by the length of its diagonal and is usually measured in inches.
While in the past phones were smaller, now it looks like they keep growing year over year. One might argue that smartphones are too big now. The original iPhone from 2007 had a 3.5” screen. Today, the iPhone 12 has a 6.1” screen and on the iPhone 12 Pro Max we can find an even bigger – 6.7” screen. It’s similar in the Android world. It’s almost impossible to find a smartphone with a screen under 6-inches. Only the iPhone 12 Mini and Google Pixel 4A come to my mind. Funny thing is that only a few years ago 5” handsets were considered big.
When talking about display size, you might also hear the term aspect ratio, which is the ratio of its height to its width. In the past, the standard was 16:9, but four years ago 18:9 started to get popular and now most smartphones are using that ratio or higher. You can also find phones with a 19:9 or even 21:9 aspect ratio. The higher ratios allowed manufacturers to increase the screen without increasing the width of the devices, so you can control them with one hand more easily.
Phone Screen Quality
In general, the higher the number of pixels, the better and more detailed the screen. Some companies will list the exact screen resolution (like 1920×1080 for a Full HD screen). Others will give the name of the display resolution standard – for example, the Samsung S9+ has a Quad HD+ screen – giving it a resolution of 2560×1440.
However, you won’t be surprised to hear that the numbers aren’t the be-all and end-all of the screen quality debate. For example, the Pixel 2 XL’s Quad HD+ display should have been a knockout, but in many people noticed at the time of launch that the display seemed to be washed out and a bit pixel-y.
LCD, OLED and AMOLED
Another factor in the screen quality debate is the tech used to create the screen itself. Some phones, like the iPhone 8 used LCD screens, whereas the iPhone X and many other top-end phones nowadays, are using OLED-based screens.
LCDs, or Liquid Crystal Displays, use backlit liquid crystals (hence the name) to create the images you seen on-screen, this means that, even in areas where there is supposedly nothing on the screen, the phone continues to emit some light. They were the gold standard at one stage, but have now been surpassed by OLED or AMOLED displays.
These use tiny light-emitting diodes to display the colours you seen on screen – so unlike LCD displays, they can be either on or off. AMOLED displays have a layer of film behind the regular OLED panel which speeds up the rate at which the diodes can be turned on or off.
OLED and AMOLED displays tend to have greater contrast and often a larger color gamut (literally the number of colors a screen is capable of displaying), meaning better image quality. So, if a great display is top of your priorities list, go for a phone with an OLED or AMOLED display and a high resolution. For a more in-depth look into smartphone display specifications, read this article.
Phone Battery Life
Battery size is measured in milli Ampere hours, or mAh. And, basically, the bigger the number, the bigger the battery.
Typically the biggest smartphone batteries are around 4,000mAh, with typical batteries for top end phones are between 3-3,500mAh. This means you’ll likely get between a day or even a day-and-a-half of standby time in the real world, and somewhere between 10-15 hours of video playback.
However, the phone’s processor, screen size and screen tech will all have a bearing on its battery life. So while one phone might have a bigger battery, it might not be as long lasting. For more detailed information on phone batteries, check out this article.
Phone Storage Space
A device’s storage capacity (again, not to be confused with RAM or memory) is an important spec to look for if you save files like pictures, videos, and MP3s on your phone or tablet. The more storage a device offers, the more room you’ll have to store these types of files. This is another spec that uses gigabytes for its value, and storage is usually offered in multiples of 8 GB.
But these days, your phone’s operating system can occupy as much as 4 GB of storage by itself, so 8 GB is simply not viable anymore, and 16 GB should be the bare minimum. Beyond that, though, the amount of storage you’ll need will depend on how you use your device.
If you stream your music from a service like Spotify instead of saving the MP3s directly to your device, storage shouldn’t be a big issue. Same goes if you keep your photos and videos synced to the cloud with a service like Google Photos, because the actual files are stored on an external web server and simply viewed on your device instead of saved locally.
Some devices offer expandable storage (also known as external storage), which means that if you run out of the regular internal storage space, you can simply pop in an SD card to get more. So if one of your finalists offers this option along with a base internal storage level of at least 16 GB, I’d go with that one instead of paying hundreds more to get the 32 or 64 GB variant of its competitor.