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Smartphones these days are expensive. So, if you’re looking to invest in a new smartphone, it’s important that you get a smartphone that is just right for you. The best way to do so is to look at the phone’s specifications in order to be able to make an informed decision.

One of my favourite websites to visit for smartphone specifications is GSM Arena. Below is a screengrab from the Huawei P40+ spec page as an example taken from their site.

smartphone specs from GSM Arena

As you can see from the image above, there is quite a lot going on there. So much so, it’s easy for the average person to get confused by all that information. But if you know what you’re looking at, it’s easy to make sense of it all.

In Part 1 of this series, we’ll look at:

  • Networking technology
  • SIM technology
  • Body specs
  • Hardware
  • Memory & Storage

1. Networking technology


Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G network specs.

Mobile networking refers to the technology that smartphones use to make voice calls and wireless data connections via radio transmissions. Over the years, there are many technologies that have been developed to help us stay connected over long distances. Some of them have gone out of fashion, while others (such as 5G) are gaining more and more popularity (which scares some people).

There are quite a number of mobile networking technologies that are used across the world. Below are some of the most popular.

  • 2G (GSM)
    • GPRS (2.5G)
    • EDGE/EGPRS (2.75G)
  • 3G (UMTS)
  • CDMA
  • 4G (LTE)
  • 5G

Every new “generation” (G) of mobile networking technology improves on the previous generation, providing faster data rates, higher connection density, lower latency, and other improvements.

2. SIM technology


A SIM card is basically a small plastic card that has a chip that contains unique information such as the user’s phone number, and some storage space to save contacts and SMS messages. However, the storage space on SIM cards is extremely small and cannot store complex information.

All GSM mobile phones require a SIM card in order to function fully. However, you can still use your phone for non-network related activities such as playing music or accessing the internet via Wi-Fi.

SIM cards come in the following sizes:

  • Standard SIM card (25mm x 15mm)
  • Micro SIM (15mm x 12mm)
  • Nano SIM (12.3mm x 8.8mm)
  • eSIM (6mm x 5mm)


Unlike other SIM cards, the eSIM (Embedded SIM) is soldered onto the device and cannot be removed. However, it still functions like any other removable SIM.

Single SIM

A single SIM handset is a phone that only allows the use on one SIM card at a time. For the longest time, this was the only option available. However, these days, it’s not uncommon to find smartphones that allow the use of more than one SIM card at the same time.


Unlike a single SIM smartphone, a dual SIM mobile has two available slots in which you can insert two SIM cards. This essentially allows you to use two different numbers on one phone.

Dual SIM technology works in two ways: dual standby and dual active. Dual standby means that when not in use, both numbers are available. However, once one SIM card is in use, the other becomes unreachable. In contrast, phones with dual active SIMs can have both of them working at the same time.


A hybrid dual SIM tray

Hybrid Dual-SIM

Depending on the manufacturer and phone model, a dual SIM smartphone can hold two SIM cards on a single tray. A hybrid dual SIM, on the other hand, gives you the option of using the second slot on the SIM tray to either hold another SIM card or a microSD card for extra storage.

3. Body specifications

The body specifications of a smartphone reveal how big the phone is, and how heavy it is. The specs also reveal the material out of which the phone is made, and how well the device can keep dust and water from getting inside.

Build material

Different smartphones are made out of different materials. The most commonplace materials are metal, glass, plastic, and ceramic.

Each of these materials has advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, it is difficult to say which material is the best out of all of them

For example, although smartphones made of glass look good and elegant, glass is slippery and can break easily. And although plastic won’t get damaged as easily, it looks cheap, which can be off-putting for some people.

The build material of a phone can also impact the manufacturing and retail price of the device. You won’t be walking around with a glass-back smartphone if you’re on a tight budget.

IP Rating

Not to be confused with an IP address, IP in this instance stands for ingress protection (or international protection, according to some people). This rating indicates how dust-proof and water-resistant a smartphone is.

IP68 is an example of a typical IP Rating of a high-end smartphone. The first digit indicates dust-resistance. The highest dust-resistance rating you can get is 6. So, if a phone is rated IP6x, then it performs at the highest level for dust-resistance. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Water-resistance is indicated by the second digit in the IP rating. IPx8 is the highest ingress protection you can get against water for a smartphone. This typically means you can submerge your smartphone in water as deep and for as long as the manufacturer specifies.

Mobile phones that have a water ingress protection rating that is lower than 8 have strict specifications of how long you can keep the phone underwater and how deep it can go before water starts seeping in.

It’s worth noting that ingress protection does not protect a phone from all types of liquids. You can learn more about the IP rating and how it impacts your phone here.


S20 vs iPhone 12 vs Mate 40 hardware

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G (left), Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max (centre), and Huawei Mate 40 Pro+ (right).

The hardware of a smartphone refers to the physical components that are inside the phone that make it work. Some of these components are oftentimes made by other companies, not the smartphone manufacturer themselves.


A chipset is commonly referred to as a system-on-a-chip, or SoC for short. An SoC is an integrated circuit that combines various components of the smartphone’s system on one chip. This includes components such as the CPU, GPU, ISP, modem, and others.

There are several companies that manufacture chipsets for smartphones. Some of the most popular include:

  • Qualcomm (manufactures Snapdragon)
  • MediaTek (manufactures MT and Helio)
  • Samsung (manufactures Exynos)
  • Huawei (manufactures HiSilicon Kirin)

Each of these companies makes different chipsets for different price-tier smartphones. Flagship and high-end smartphones get the top of the range chipsets, while entry-level smartphones are fitted with basic chipsets.

SoC manufacturers often use numbers in the naming convention of their chipsets. For example, Qualcomm has a number of series of its Snapdragon SoC. They have Snapdragon 400 series, Snapdragon 600 series, and Snapdragon 800 series.

An entry-level smartphone may be fitted with a Snapdragon 450 SoC, while a premium smartphone could have Snapdragon 865. The higher up the numbers go in the SoC’s series naming convention, the better the chipset. Other SoC manufacturers also generally follow a similar pattern.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

Commonly referred to simply as the processor, the central processing unit is the brains of the entire system. It’s the component that’s responsible for receiving commands entered by the user, making whatever calculations need to be made and sending signals throughout the smartphone.

When looking at the processor specs, you may come across terms such as dual-core or quad-core, as well as some numbers with decimals. These specs are an indication of how fast the CPU can perform.

The higher the number of cores, the better the processor’s performance will be. Quad-core essentially means the phone has four processors, which could potentially make it run faster than a phone with only two cores.

The ‘x.xGHz’ specification refers to the CPU’s clock speed which is expressed in gigahertz. The clock speed is an indication of the number of instructions the processor can execute in one second. The higher the clock speed, the faster the processor.

Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

A GPU is a processing unit that is specifically designed to handle and output all the visual elements that need to be displayed on the screen.

Although the CPU technically could do some of the work a GPU does, a GPU is designed specifically for graphics and to take the load off the CPU.

The most popular brands of smartphone GPUs are:

  • Adreno
  • Mali
  • GeForce ULP
  • PowerVR


A smartphone with a good GPU will have better graphics than one with a bad GPU or none at all. And just as with CPUs, the GPU’s frequency determines its performance.

5. Memory and storage

S20 vs iPhone 12 vs Mate 40 memory

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G (left), Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max (centre), and Huawei Mate 40 Pro+ (right).


RAM stands for Random Access Memory, and it is measured in bytes (megabytes/gigabytes). This is where the phone temporarily keeps data that it’s currently not processing but might need in the near future. RAM is responsible for enabling a smartphone to multitask and run multiple apps at the same time.

The more RAM a smartphone has, the more apps it can run at the same time. This makes the phone run faster because it can easily access the app data it needs from the RAM instead of launching the app from scratch from the internal memory.

Internal storage

This is where a smartphone stores all its data which includes the operating system, apps, system data, and your personal files. The amount of storage space is measured in bytes, most commonly gigabytes. The more gigabytes, the more files you can store.

Smartphones use solid-state flash memory for their internal storage in the form of Universal Flash Storage or UFS. There are different versions of UFS such as UFS 2.0 and UFS 3.0. The most recent versions offer performance upgrades over their predecessors.

Other vendors such as Huawei and Apple don’t use UFS. Huawei uses SFS in its devices and Apple uses NVMe.

External storage

If a smartphone has a card slot, then it can expand its storage capacity using a removable memory card. Some phones have a dedicated slot exclusively for a memory card, while hybrid dual SIM smartphones have a slot that can either take a SIM card or a memory card.

But not all smartphones can take memory cards. This is especially so for smartphones that have tons of internal storage. Instead of adding a slot for more memory on a phone that already has tons of it, smartphone manufacturers opt to use the space inside the phone for a memory card slot for something else.

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