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PLAY THINGS: Should consumers care about smartphone specs any more?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-06-2014 Vishal Mathur

Don’t get me wrong—I am all for innovation, useful and meaningful. Let there be a steady stream of faster processors, better (and perhaps bigger) displays, higher resolutions and more and more megapixels in the camera on the back of your smartphone. But is that all you want from your next phone? A more and more powerful smartphone, which you’ll probably end up using even less because the battery life, inevitably, will be shorter?

I agree, it is all very exciting. But let’s get the phone back to the phone. Because what you may have right now could well be “good enough”.

As a consumer, I am faced with certain challenging questions when there is the urge to splash some cash. Listing a set of questions that are bound to stump you on the shop floor, and trying to give you simple answers to them.

Q1. Do I really want a 6-inch screen, with a QHD resolution?

Quite frankly, it is good to know that smartphone makers have the ability to make smartphone screens with resolutions that would put most smart TVs to shame! But you really don’t want a phone that is almost the size of a 7-inch tablet. Usability may be severely compromised, and single-hand operation is out of the question. Yes, the bigger screen size will be good for videos and games, but may just be overbearing the rest of the time. I am also not against 1,080p or 4K resolutions—higher is usually better, but it gets extremely silly when pixel per inch (PPI) numbers are brandished around, and a phone with 450ppi is claimed to be inferior to one with 461ppi. This obsession with specs is just getting ridiculous. Beyond a certain point, the eye really cannot naturally detect any improvement on a screen that size. My sincere advice is not to bother with specs, and simply pick up a phone you find comfortable. Usually, the 4.7-inch and 5-inch screen sizes are the most comfortable to use.

Q2: Do I want a phone with some 16-core processor?

No. Well, there may be geeks out there who would like to run their phone’s processor into the ground with all sorts of activities while they find ways to stay busy on lonely nights. But for most consumers, the processor number battle is just not necessary. When a dual-core phone is good enough for someone who wants to use the phone as a phone, plus some Web browsing, why should they be made to feel guilty, and end up spending more on what they will never utilize? The Moto G, for example, has specs that the current crop of flagships would laugh out of the room. But from the time I spent with the device, it proved more than capable as a primary phone, within a specific budget. Despite the price difference (and despite the surprisingly similar legions of fans), there are very few things that the Nexus 5 can do, but the Moto G cannot. Again, pick a phone that fits your usage scenario well. Buy too powerful a phone, and you’ll unnecessarily spend more for capabilities you may not even utilize.

Q3: The battery life isn’t good enough. Are smartphone makers focusing on the wrong specs?

At least as far as showing off their flagships are concerned, smartphone makers seem to be focusingon the core specs—the processor, RAM, the screen size and resolution, and camera megapixels. It is a tad perplexing that we aren’t seeing the same intensive focus on battery technology. Fitting a bigger battery in a smartphone by increasing the screen size has an equal reaction—it may drain out at approximately the same time as a smaller battery, because it is powering a much bigger screen. It is time that the good old battery is given the necessary focus, in order to make the smartphone truly smart, by making it last much longer than the current crop of smartphones, no matter how expensive.

A lot depends on Google and Apple too….

Yes, we must blame the smartphone makers for not giving battery technology the necessary attention it deserved, but some of the responsibility must also be laid at the doorstep of the likes of Google and Apple. After all, they make the base software, the operating system, which runs on the phone, and everything else runs over it. An un-optimized OS is the very root cause of battery life issues.

The simple suggestion to all consumers is to buy smart. Not buy something just for the sake of getting the latest hardware, or the newest phone in the market.

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