Cell phone buying guide: Cell phone tech specs, decoded

In the first part of our cell phone buying guide, we talked about the main questions that everyone should be asking themselves in order to figure out which cell phone is best suited for them and all their different needs. Naturally, the next step would be to actually sort through some options and pick the cream of the crop based on what features you’re looking for.

The thing is, unless you’re super techy or work for a cellular company, chances are you’re not going to know a lot of the technical terms that are listed in the phone specifications. Looking at the phone’s “specs” (basically, the cut and dry numbers and figures that make each phone what it is) is a must for any phone buyer. The annoyingly complicated part is trying to understand what exactly all that technical jargon means.
Here is a handy cheat-sheet to help you decode the main components of the oh so cryptic specification details. (You can find all these specs online or at your nearby mobile carrier store- most major carriers have their own store locations that you can easily look up.)

Interface- OS
The OS (meaning, Operating System), is the brains behind your phone. It’s the hardware you don’t see, but is central to how your phone functions. The main ones out there today are the iOS, (belonging to the iPhone), Android (divided mostly into the newer platform, Jelly Bean or the older platform, Ice Cream Sandwich), and Blackberry’s Blackberry 7 OS or 10 OS.
The main differences are that the iOS is very user-friendly and straightforward, but not very customizable whereas the Android OS is on the more complicated side but has endless options and features to make the phone your own. You just need to do your research and have the time and energy to play around with it before it feels completely familiar. Then we have the Blackberry OS, which is known for being strait forward and security oriented.

Connectivity
All phones use radio signals that depend on your carrier and differs from country to country. The main signals are GSM (older and slower), HSPA+/HSPA (a little newer, faster than GSM but not comparable to the fastest signal), and LTE (currently the newest and fastest. If you’re a traveler, this will matter to you more, because you’ll want a phone that can hook up to different radio signals since not all countries have LTE capabilities.

Display
The 2 main display types are Retina and AMOLED. These are just fancy terms to tell you how clear a screen will be, and its contrast. Techies and ordinary users alike have argued back and forth over which is better, and ultimately, it really comes down to preference. The best thing you can do as a potential buyer is to go test out the phone in person and look at the screen at different brightness levels to see which one you prefer.
Most specifications will tell you a number in inches which is the measurement from the top left to bottom right corner (or other way around.) Again, this comes down to preference. Some people like bigger phones with bigger screens, while others are willing to give up a big screen to have a more compact phone.
For resolution, the higher it is the better. Basically, it affects the clarity and makes it sharper, but again, the best way to see what you like is to physically test it out.

Camera
With everyone using photo-centric sites like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, it’s no wonder that the cameras on cell phones are now as good as, if not better than the common point and shoot cameras. You want to look at how many MP (Megapixels) the camera has. The higher it is, the clearer your picture will be when you zoom in or print. One thing to note is that the older Blackberry Bold cameras do not have autofocus which is what makes photos taken by cameras on Samsung Galaxies, or HTC phones so clear and sharp.

Memory
Usually, phone specs will list out how much Internal and External space the phone has, and then list the format. Internal memory space is the amount of space that comes with the phone. The external space is how much potential memory you can have if you choose to buy a separate memory card. That’s where the format information comes in- that will let you know what type of card you need to buy to put into your phone in order to access the external memory. The average user needs no more than the standard 8GB-16GB of memory that most phones come with these days.

Battery
The information that goes under battery life usually lists out how long you can talk for, but that number can be deceptive. A lot of people don’t use their phones for talking nowadays as much as they do for surfing the web, messaging, emailing, texting and social media. Using your LTE or data network can eat up your battery, especially if you have a larger screened phone or you have your brightness set on high. There are a ton of factors that can influence battery life, so don’t go off of just the time listed in the specs. Read reviews online from users who have actually used the phone for extended periods and can give reliable and realistic feedback on the actual battery life.

And there you have it- cell phone specs decoded! All these factors should help you narrow down and focus on which phone is your ideal fit. Doing your homework may take a bit of extra time, but considering you’ll be spending more than a few bucks on your new phone, it’s worth it.

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