The smartphone spec-sheet’s oft-misunderstood member: explained
RAM is an acronym for Random Access Memory, and it refers to live memory in your tech that works a certain way. RAM is the short-term memory of your smartphone or computer. It’s where your device keeps track of the programs and data you’re using right now. This website is probably in that very place right now, making this whole article affair a meta RAM-page.
Smartphone specification sheets keep getting longer, more complex and detailed and often end up being a mosh-pit of tech buzzwords and ever-growing numbers. RAMmed in there somewhere (I promise that was the last pun, no RAMorse), is RAM. As a rule of thumb, tech-heads assume the more, the better. This is validated by flagships jumping from 4 to 6, 8, and now even 10 to 12 gigabytes of RAM for bragging rights, all in a span of a couple of years.
Nowadays, smartphones are getting beefed up with more, more and even more memory. All this buzz begs the question – how much RAM do you actually use and how much is really necessary for smooth mobile experiences?
So, what does RAM do?
If we get into the nitty-gritty of technical explanations, it all sounds complicated, and it is, but all you need to understand are three basic things: RAM is a place to hold data for a short period of time, and data placed there can be read or written very fast. Data stored inside RAM is cleared when you shut the phone down. A portion of the RAM in your phone is used as soon as you turn it back on and no apps or even the OS is able to use that portion. All this goes for just about every computer; they (almost) all have RAM and they use it the same way.
This means that when you open up an app running in the RAM, the app will load up much faster. The higher amount of free RAM you have on a smartphone, the more apps and files you’ll be able to fit in the live background, which means more apps will boot up quicker.
How much RAM do you really need?
This question has a bit of a fluid answer depending on individual usage scenarios and the operating system you use.
If you are using Android, then you’re gonna have to use more RAM than iOS. Unfortunately for Android users, all Android OS is a little more memory hungry than iOS. To counteract this, most Android manufacturers bundle more RAM in their smartphones than Apple does.
For example, the Galaxy S10 comes with up to 12GB RAM whilst the iPhone XS has 4GB RAM.
The optimal RAM needed for Android is 4GB. If you use generic multiple apps every day, your RAM usage won’t hit much more than 2.5-3.5GB. This means that a smartphone with 4GB RAM will give all the memory you require for hastily opening your favorite apps.
The optimal RAM needed for iOS is 2GB. While RAM usage on an app to app basis is similar between both iOS and Android, iPhones essentially ‘freeze’ apps when they aren’t in the foreground. It seems that Apple hits the RAM sweet spot in their smartphones for it not to make much difference to the end consumer.
Unfortunately, less than 2GB on a smartphone is not enough in 2019, especially on Android.
The Android software can regularly use up to 1GB RAM or more on its own, which means the overall performance across every app and every interface will feel slow. Loading times on basic functions like the app drawer will take more time and will feel unresponsive.
The experience on Apple will be far better, but nothing noteworthy.
So getting as much RAM as possible would be the best bet, right? Wrong.
Why having more RAM isn’t always better
If RAM offers potential performance improvements and greater convenience, then you may be wondering: what’s wrong with having more of it?
If you aren’t running the RAM around for your chores, then it may be an unnecessary drain on your battery. Those background processes that we mentioned earlier also have an associated cost, as anyone who has used the Facebook app on Android will know the pain.
So what you’re saying is Apple is better than Android and the debate is over?
Yes, and no. Apple achieves comparable figures of performance with less RAM because of fundamental differences in how the iOS and Android platforms handle memory management. Android takes the Garbage Collection approach, while iOS relies upon something called Reference Counting. A momentary web search will reveal that the debate on which is better rages on, but it seems to be generally accepted that garbage collection requires more memory to avoid performance problems.
Irrespective, the misconception that having free RAM is a positive thing persists. Ultimately, your smartphone usage case scenario govern your requirements but it’s no longer the problem it once was. Perhaps a few heavy users will be able to feel the benefit of 6GB, and the smartphone gamers may argue that 8GB is the future-proof minimum. Anything exceeding 4GB is probably overkilling for the vast majority of people today. As phones change and do more and more, so will the requirement of RAM. Don’t let additional RAM be your only factor when buying a phone, but don’t write it off as a gimmick.
Hopefully, the next time someone’s in the market for a smartphone, this information will remain in your Random Access Memory and be given to others, and you might just chuckle when someone says “ Hey, stop it with the puns now, you’re Really Annoying Me”.