We’re fortunate to live in a day and age where smartphones are more than capable of handling some pretty daunting tasks.
Several times, I’ve left my computer at home and needed to crank out some taxing work from a device that comfortably slides into my pants pocket. I’ve typed up excerpts of an article I was working on, signed off on the final draft of the tax filings for my company while standing in line for a movie, or pretty aggressively edited photos before shooting them over to my computer for use in an article.
I explained yesterday that I no longer consider myself to be a power user; I don’t use my phone for excessive hours like I used to in the days of yore.
Instead, when it can, my phone stays in my pocket. It’s all part of this personal journey to pocket my phone and disconnect more, to enjoy life and the world around me, to savor those special moments I used to lose with my nose pressed up against a smartphone screen.
However, when I use my phone, I do have the tendency to put it through a great deal of stress.
Fortunately, we’ve crossed this threshold where specifications seem to matter less and less. Motorola’s Moto X last year proved that it doesn’t take the best specifications to provide one of the smoothest, most polished user experiences around.
Just a few short months later, Motorola took that idea to a new extreme with the Moto G. Despite its meager specifications (1GB RAM, 8 or 16GB storage, Snapdragon 400 SoC, and a 2,070mAh battery), the Moto G is a low-end, budget smartphone I’d have no problem carrying. It could handle most of my most excessive use cases, and the only issue I would have is the subpar camera.
HTC also proved last year how little specifications matter with the HTC First. Once you disabled Facebook Home, the mediocre specifications and hardware easily provided a surprisingly smooth experience. It was a horribly undervalued and under-appreciated phone.
Pair those sort of specifications with KitKat, which was designed to run even better on low-end hardware, and it’s easy to assume that we’ve transgressed past the point of minor specification differences mattering. For instance, the experience offered by the Moto G and Moto X are strikingly similar, despite the large price and spec differences. The performance differences in last year’s HTC One M7 and this year’s One M8 are minimal in day to day. The same can be said for Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S5.
With such a wide range of devices, specifications seem to matter very little anymore. The Moto G can handle most games – graphically intensive or not – almost as well as its much more adept and expensive counterparts. And many phones from a year ago – give or take – are trucking along just fine, where year-old phones this time last year were slowing to a crawl under the pressure of more demanding software, games, and needs of the common user.
As such, we often assume specifications have sort of lost their importance, especially to the degree they once had. And one particular phrase keeps popping up in comment threads on comparisons, reviews, and even editorials: “Specs don’t matter.”
Those words just roll off the tongue (or flow from your fingers) when you’ve spent any amount of time using the underpowered Moto G and experienced how spectacular it truly is, despite its meager hardware.
But they do. Oh, do specs matter!
Recently, we have published two reviews which reminded us of the olden days of Android and pitiful, inconsistent performance taught us the value of specifications and optimization once again.
About two weeks ago, I signed off on our review of the LG Lucid 3 on Verizon Wireless. LG and Verizon talked a big game, as per usual, but the Lucid 3 is quite literally among the last phone I would recommend to someone. After a short period of standby or any length of time in other applications, the app drawer would be flushed from memory and have to reload, which would often take several seconds. Task switching would often result in most applications having to load from scratch. And stutters, hangs, and freezes were commonplace in my time with the Lucid 3.
I handed the phone to my girlfriend not long after it arrived and said, “Use it and tell me what you think.”
After about five minutes with the phone, she said a few expletives and handed the phone back to me, “This [expletive] thing [expletive] sucks! Here, take it.”
Michael’s time with the Moto E was … not quite so traumatic. The phone, while not quite as polished or capable as the Moto G, isn’t all bad. It puts the core functions in the forefront and willingly sacrifices some of the less important details to the extremely low cost of $129 sans contract.
At least we understand why the Moto E exists and why it is the way it is. It’s targeting emerging markets where overpriced phones and monthly household incomes don’t align so well. But that doesn’t mean the Moto E gets an automatic recommendation simply because it’s extremely affordable. The Moto G is still a better deal – more bang for your buck – and the Moto E is a harsh reminder that we still haven’t quite crossed that threshold where specifications can be totally forgotten.
Point being, it’s easy to assume just about any smartphone these days will perform well, that the hardware running Android, Windows Phone, and iOS has progressed to the point where performance differences are so slight that it’s futile to tirelessly compare specs to gauge performance.
Take the Lumia 520 for example. It’s a bottom-of-the-bucket phone with an extremely low price point, yet it outperforms dozens of phones far better than it on paper. Still, a device like the Lucid 3 can pose as this exceptional budget phone and fails … miserably. And there’s a long line of high-end smartphones which should perform better than they do. Samsung’s bloated devices are notorious for hesitations and lag when comparable hardware often runs flawlessly.
As much as I hate to admit it and as much as I stress how slight the differences in specifications will matter to the end user, specifications do matter … now and for the foreseeable future.