Smartphone specs aren’t that important

Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Blog, Cellphones, Tech | No Comments
Smartphone specs aren’t that important

From the day I first laid eyes on an HTC One X (via the internet of course) I’ve been planning on replacing my Galaxy S II with it. Why wouldn’t I? It’s the best marriage of beauty and power that Android has ever offered. Never mind the fact that I just replaced my iPhone 4 with a Galaxy S II last August. I said I was buying that for the openness of the platform and the tight integration with the Google services I use, but let’s be honest: it had a 4.7 inch screen and a dual-core processor and the iPhone didn’t.

I bought that phone for the same reason I tossed an iPhone 3G aside for a Nexus One, and the Nexus One for an iPhone 4. I bought it because I was seduced by the specs. Every manufacturer does their best to hypnotize you with their gigabytes and gigahertz, and who can blame them? It works. It was the same way with PCs running Windows; if everyone’s hardware is running the same OS, you have to differentiate somehow, and the easiest way is by putting out the most powerful hardware you can and making sure you let everyone know about it. Samsung roped me in with grand specs, and now HTC had too.

Well, last week I decided to break the cycle. I decided that before I bought a One X because it had the best spec sheet on the market, I’d take a week long test drive with a Nokia Lumia 900 and Windows Phone 7. The Lumia 900 has very quietly gotten great reviews as the “yea, but” flagship from Nokia and Microsoft. Yea, it’s wonderfully designed and constructed, BUT the screen is only 480 x 800. Yea, the interface is speedy and intuitive, BUT the processor only has a single core. Well, after spending a few days with the phone, I don’t give a shit about any of that.

Like I said, I’ve been on a Galaxy S II for a while now, which was the most powerful phones on the market at the time of its launch. The Lumia 900 blows it away in terms of speed, and I’m not talking about speed on some benchmark test that has no real-world application. I’m talking about day to day usage. You know, what actually matters. Navigating the phone is a breeze: scrolling is as smooth as glass, windows fly open with no lag, and nothing crashes or freezes. That’s a far cry from the Galaxy S II, which had constant hiccups despite its superior hardware. Oh, and anyone complaining about the screen because the dpi is less than 300 is just nitpicking. The screen is plenty crisp, the colors are beautiful, and I can actually see the freaking thing outdoors. That in itself is a minor miracle.

This thing even holds its own against my Transformer Prime. Sure, the Prime may load webpages a little faster, but even it’s mighty Tegra 3 processor still can’t stop the browser from freezing and crashing every five minutes or so. This is a processor with four cores we’re talking about. FOUR, and it’s being outdone by a single core smartphone. What good is all that extra power if the software isn’t up to snuff?

Most of these issues are brought on by¬†manufacturers that have no business doing anything but designing hardware getting into the custom UI game to differentiate their handset from everyone else’s. They waste time screwing up Android’s interface when they should be writing better drivers to ensure that the OS is taking full advantage of their hardware. The result is an experience that stutters and crashes even with the most sophisticated silicon this side of NASA, but still sells because that hardware is propped up as the end-all solution to your mobile woes.

These problems aren’t going to go away, of course. Manufacturers will continue to use Android because it’s widely adopted, has a huge app catalogue, and most importantly, it’s free. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great Android phones out there that get it right; there are just a lot more that get it wrong because the thought process seems to be that you can overcome bad software design by throwing as much horsepower into it as possible. Microsoft has proven that this doesn’t have to be the case. Well designed, easy to use, stable software is what’s important, and I don’t care how many processor cores you shove into a phone, all the space age circuitry in the world won’t ever change that.

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