Despite their incredible sophistication and technological prowess, mobile phones tend to be judged on a few fairly basic characteristics.
The most obvious one is whether they run the Android operating system, or arch-rival Apple’s iOS.
This is generally followed by three supplementary questions: how big is the screen, what capacity is the hard drive, and how many megapixels does the camera capture?
With these core metrics ticked off, most people move onto reading about data allowances and contract lengths.
Yet this overlooks the vast majority of a smartphone’s capabilities – and none of the above attributes tell you how a device will perform day-to-day.
Phones, like computers, have different levels of performance. And if you think that doesn’t matter, consider the frustration involved in waiting for one app to close before another boots up.
Even small delays on mobile devices are considered unacceptable, yet few people stop to think about whether their next phone’s processor will be fast enough for their needs.
This is curious, since computers have long been marketed on the speed of their processors.
Crunching the numbers
The first important factor relating to smartphone technology concerns the processor, whose running speeds are measured in gigahertz, or GHz.
Unlike desktop computers, where the CPU chip is augmented with various additional processors, a single smartphone chip handles everything from graphics to running apps.
The main number you should look for as a consumer is the GHz clock speed – which indicates how quickly the chip can process data.
Clock speed is significant if you have multiple apps in use at once, play games that require a lot of processing, or simply expect near-instant responses to screen taps and button presses.
Another important attribute is RAM – short for random access memory, indicating how much information a device retains at any given moment.
And these numbers vary hugely.
Even Nokia doesn’t reveal the processor included in its budget 105 model, though it does acknowledge this affordable handset has a modest 4MB of RAM.
By way of contrast, the Samsung Galaxy S9 has 4GB of RAM – a thousand times more than the cut-price Nokia.
The value-oriented Alcatel 20.51X has a 312MHz processor, whereas the Apple iPhone 8 has a 2.39GHz processor.
In tests by industry experts Geekbench, the iPhone 8’s six-core CPU obliterated every other handset on the market in terms of graphics rendering and file opening times.
For instance, it can load the fighting game Injustice 2 in 11 seconds, where the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 takes 19 seconds.
Needless to say, Injustice 2 wouldn’t work on the Nokia 105 – because its processor isn’t up to the job, and it lacks enough RAM to keep complex games running.
All of which underlines the importance of choosing a handset with decent performance.
I’m not tech-savvy, so how do I check processor speed?
Thanks to the internet, help is at hand.
You can download the Geekbench app onto your existing device, get a benchmark score and then look for a new phone achieving a significantly higher score (listed on Geekbench’s website).
Don’t assume that a quad-core processor will be twice as fast as a dual-core, though it’ll provide smoother performance without draining the battery as rapidly.
Even so, the number of cores is less important than the processor speed, measured in GHz.
Anything over 1GHz will be able to support app stores and social media, enabling multiple apps or tabs to remain open on your device at any given moment.
RAM is much simpler – any phone packing 4GB should be sufficient for modern apps and activities.
Sometimes, traditional solutions also inform decision-making.
It’s a good idea to visit a shop with demonstrator models on display, and try scrolling between pictures or loading a web browser.
Nothing beats real-world testing, because performance figures don’t always tell the full story.
For instance, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor runs at 2.8GHz compared to the 2.9GHz recorded by Samsung’s Exynos 9810 chip.
Yet most industry reviews suggest the Snapdragon’s processor speed is slightly quicker and smoother in real-world conditions.
In truth, only tech geeks and advanced gamers would identify any differential between these two processors and their respective performance.
Any device with a 2GHz processor should handle the latest games and apps – and you could get away with a much lower figure if your handset is used for Facebook rather than Far Cry.
Similarly, 2GB of RAM ought to be sufficient to run multiple apps – though 4GB remains optimal.