• Ajay Sharma

Stop Chasing Specs. Seek Experience!

With all the spec numbers been thrown around by the brands, it' time we go beyond them and look for a device that thrives more on an overall user experience.



I know it’s been quite some time since I wrote my last blog. I'll try and be consistent henceforth.


The #OnePlus advertisement in the TOI last week made the readers guess the specifications of their upcoming One Plus 7 – like the camera megapixels, the Snapdragon processor, what battery capacity and what RAM would or should be there in their upcoming device. It was this ad that made me start thinking whether we Indians are getting too spec driven and does the whole 'specifications' game that every brand is playing really worth it?

The first thing that we are trying to compare when we are evaluating smartphones is the specification sheet which includes all of what One Plus has mentioned in their advertisement and possibly more like the screen resolution, thickness and the latest – number of cameras.

Well, I did a lot of research on it and while I do not do product reviews, my learnings are that smartphone specs don’t matter nearly as much as some brands and even unbiased technology reviewers may have led us to believe. A single spec sheet won’t provide every answer.

It’s true that smartphone specs do play a role in the quality and performance of every device, but if that’s going to be the only basis of judging the whole phone, we are going terribly wrong. It’s a combination of hardware and software factors. True differentiators that enhance customer experience or benefits are being missed out by quite a few brands. And for me, those will ultimately determine if one phone is better than the other.

Since #Apple only produces a couple of phones a year, this is more applicable on Android devices. [ There are approximately 90 brands in India itself if I remember the data, and it is purely specifications that helps one manufacturer differentiate its product from another.]

But that should not be the way it should be! Modern versions of #AndroidOS are designed to run superbly on modern hardware. A smooth, usable experience is what you’ll get, regardless of specs. And I’m not just talking about flagship hardware here. The modern budget phones have come a long way too.

Some brands will show you benchmarks for their phone, to prove a point on how fast their phone is. But that is only half the picture. How that phone feels when you useit, that's what’s important! To put things into perspective, things like the smooth OS experience, how quickly the camera reacts, the differentiators, add on services, if any, are the things that simply cannot be quantified. Hardware has already taken, and with the passage of time will take a back seat to how well the software is optimised.

The Android team has done amazing things to make the operating system somuch smoother over the last few years regardless of hardware. Today Android is doing a terrific job scaling its workload according to the resources it has available so it can perform fluidly even on lower-end hardware.

All that said, as each brand adds-on its own features and apps, guess what they have to do? Optimise them. They need to make sure everything flows natively with the rest of the operating system; in other words, the additions they make need to work well with the optimisations Google made. Otherwise things like performance and battery lifetake a nasty hit, and no one wants that.

So all manufacturers are notcreated equal. They may all be running Android, but once they start adding their own stuff, things are destined to change — sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. I see so many comments on my Facebook page where I keep posting my opinion on industry news regarding bloatware and that have affected even the leading brands.

OS

The efficiency of the OS and its ecosystem has a significant effect on performance.

A newer version of same OS can support a lesser battery size to perform better. How? It almost certainly has to do with operating system optimisation.

Processors

The same situation applies to many other specs like processors. If a iPhone has a 1GHz processor and an Android phone has a 1.5 GHz processor, you might think the Android phone is automatically faster. Now, factor-in that the Android phone might have a more graphically intense UI and more apps with flashy advertisements. Given this situation, it’s quite possible that the #iPhone might be faster in this case even with a less powerful processor.

The operating system with apps highest in quality and quantity will dramatically affect the experience.

#Qualcomm processors versus #MediaTek processors, for example. The latter has come a long wayover the last few years, but it still has a bad reputation online for various reasons. But they’re solid processors at a quarter of the cost.

Cameras

All brands talk about a lot of things on the Camera front. The key one being the megapixels or MP. The term "megapixel" actually means "one million pixels," so a 12 megapixel camera captures images that are comprised of 12,000,000 tiny little dots. A larger number of dots (pixels) in an image means that the image has more definition and clarity, which is also referred to as having a higher resolution.

This might lead you to believe that a camera with more megapixels will take better pictures than a camera with fewer megapixels, but that's not always the case. Sorry. There are many different components that go into a camera and affect the quality of the photos they can produce.

We've reached a point where all smartphone cameras have more than enough megapixels. For instance, a 1080p HD TV has a resolution of 2.1 megapixels, and even the most top-end 4K displays max out at 8.3 megapixels. Considering that nearly every smartphone camera has a double-digit megapixel rating these days, your photos will be in a higher resolution than most screens can even display.

Simply put, you won't be able to see any difference in resolution between pictures taken by two different smartphone cameras, because most screens you'll be viewing them on aren't capable of displaying that many megapixels.

Anything greater than 8.3 megapixels is only helpful for cropping. Really! In other words, if your phone takes 12 megapixel photos, you can crop them by roughly 50% and the resolution will still be just as high as a 4K TV.

Factors like sensor quality and size, pixel and aperture size and even software algorithms come into play. At the end of the day, more megapixels will let you get a larger resolution picture, but not necessarily a better quality one.

Phone manufacturers have gone into overdrive quoting pixel density statistics, showing us how many pixels per inch (PPI), their device has. And while the figures might make for impressive reading, the stark fact is that beyond a certain number (generally 300 PPI), they lose their meaning. In fact, some of the best displays out there might not have the highest pixel density counts. Witness the #iPhoneXR’s display to check it out yourself.

We now have devices that have two, three, four, and even five cameras out there. And yet the phones that most consider to have the best camera of them all has just one camera – the #GooglePixel 3. No matter to what task different sensors are dedicated to, at the end of the day, they do not guarantee better image quality. So, yes, trust your eyes rather than the number of cameras on a device when it comes to image quality!

One term that has been making the rounds is aperture, which is basically the opening through which light comes into the camera. Most manufacturers would have you believe that a large aperture means better photographs as more light comes into the camera, but the rationale is frankly as flaky as the “more megapixels means better images.” A larger aperture can result in better light handling? Yes! but it needs to be adequately supported by other imaging components too.

Processor Cores And Gigahertz

More cores do not necessarily mean a better performance. A lot depends on how well those cores are utilized – Apple made do with a dual core processor for quite a while on the iPhone, even while its Android counterparts were going quad, hexa, octa and even deca core. The same broadly applies to processor speed as well. An under clocked processor on a phone is likel