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Buyers' guide: The ultimate guide to smartphone specs

What you need to know to buy a smartphone

Ever wonder what 'capacitive touchscreen', 'MicroSD' and 'HSPA+' mean? We provide real definitions for the specifications most commonly used to describe what's under the hood in today's smartphones.

Smartphone specifications explained: RAM

As is true of computers, a phone's ability to run multiple applications simultaneously depends on the amount of RAM it contains. Vendors rarely advertise the amount of phone RAM a particular model has, so do some research before you buy. When it comes to RAM, you can never have too much.

Older and lower-end smartphones usually have around 256MB of RAM - enough to run a handful of applications with little or no decrease in performance. High-end phones, such as the iPhone 4 and the Google Nexus S, have 512MB of RAM and can run more applications without fear of slowing the phone's performance.

256MB will meet the average person's needs for texting, making calls, browsing the Web, and playing a few app games here and there. Heavy app users and multitaskers should aim for 512MB as their minimum RAM figure.

Smartphone specifications explained: Display

If you intend to send and receive text messages, surf the web, or watch videos on your phone, you'll want to ensure that the display is large enough and packs a high enough pixel resolution to handle the job. A display size of 2.7in (about the size of a BlackBerry Curve's display) or larger will suffice for managing email and basic web browsing, but if you plan to play games or watch video, you'll want a 3.5in or larger screen.

Most smartphones and regular mobile phones today use LCD (liquid crystal display) technology, which offers reasonably sharp graphics and is relatively inexpensive to produce.

There are two main types of LCD displays on phones. TFT (thin-film transistor) displays use thin-film transistor technology to improve image quality. Unfortunately, viewing angles and visibility in direct light are poor, and TFT displays are relatively power-hungry. As a result, they tend to appear on lower-end, regular cell phones (sometimes called "feature phones").

IPS-LCD (in-plane-switching LCD) displays, found on the iPhone 4 (marketed as a 'Retina Display'), offers improved viewing angles and lower battery consumption than TFT LCD displays. Relatively powerful phones often use them.

AMOLED (Active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) display technology is gaining popularity in high-end phones like the Google Nexus One . The displays are much easier to view in bright, natural sunlight than their LCD counterparts; however, some users have noted that AMOLED displays are prone to rendering oversaturated colours. Supposedly, AMOLED displays require less power and thus conserve a phone's battery life; but in real-life battery tests, they consume just as much energy as LCD displays.

Samsung's Galaxy S was the first smartphone to showcase the company's own Super AMOLED technology. Super AMOLED puts touch sensors on the display itself, as opposed to creating a separate layer, making it the thinnest display technology on the market. It is also much more responsive than other AMOLED displays.

NEXT PAGE: Touchscreens

  1. What you need to know
  2. RAM
  3. Touchscreens
  4. 4G and HSPA+ service
  5. Gyroscope vs Accelerometer


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