My phone is bigger than yours. So what?

My phone is bigger than yours. So what?

Summary: Hardware specs are dead. Comparing these between different phones is pointless, when we should be looking at what matters more.


It's time we declare hardware specifications dead.

The my-screen-is-bigger-than-your-screen or my-processor-is-faster-than-your-processor comparisons are irrelevant now, thanks primarily to Apple's sustained efforts to speak only about their own specifications or to gloss over them entirely.

Kristian Tuomikumpu created a spec sheet comparing the Nokia Lumia 920's specifications with the iPhone 5's specs. It's modeled after Samsung's spec sheet comparing the Galaxy S3 against the iPhone. The Lumia 920 trumps the iPhone 5 in pretty much everything: screen size, resolution, battery life, media file format support, cloud storage, and so on.

Here's my question: does it matter?

As a geek, I wish it did. But it doesn't. Until one of these manufacturers comes up with a revolutionary hardware change, these annual incremental changes mean nothing in terms of comparing different phones.

Here are a few of the major specs that people like to compare across phones:

Screen size. 4" versus 4.2" versus 4.5"--if you really care about screen size, you'll use a tablet for the next size up.

Screen resolution. Retina blah blah, PureMotion HD+ display, you can't tell a difference.

Standby time. I'd like to meet someone who actually has a smartphone that isn't charged before it has hit even 100 hours of standby time, let alone 225 hours.

Talk time8 hours versus 10 hours versus your battery is going to die from all the WhatsApping and Web browsing first

MegapixelsIt's fine for your amateur photo skills and if you have Instagram then even better. You're not a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer.

Front-facing cameraAside from self-pictures is anyone actually using these for Facetime or video calls?

LED flash. You know what's worse than shaky camera photos? Any taken with LED flash.

Siri/TellMe/Any voice command capability. You end up yelling at your phone in frustration regardless of the model.

So what are the things to focus on when comparing phones? The scenarios the operating system allows and the applications available.

Examples would be the way social networks are meshed together on Windows Phone, the sheer number of useful apps on iPhone, and the customizability of Android phones.

Why bother talking about specs?

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Apple, Mobile OS, Mobility, Nokia, Windows


Howard spent 14 years in the tech industry working as a programmer, evangelist, and community manager for Microsoft. In 2009, he had lived his "dream" of middle-management long enough and opened a Japanese restaurant called Standing Sushi Bar. Trading in stock grants and software licenses for raw fish and cash, he enjoys mixing his passion for technology into the daily hustle of small business.

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  • Hold It In Your Hand, And Try It

    If you’re going to watch 720p high-def video, then you’re going to need a screen at least 720 pixels wide. Anything less is a compromise.

    If you’re going to use your phone as a media player, then you need a platform that doesn’t impose irritating restrictions, like only allowing you to copy media files from your PC to the phone, but not the other way.

    If you want to have your choice of apps, then you want a platform that doesn’t tie you to only getting those apps from one channel.

    In short, I’m sure Apple’s walled garden is very beautiful—if you ignore what’s outside it. If you compare it to how powerful and flexible Android is in the real, unwalled world, then you see how far Apple has to go to catch up.
    • Compromise

      Watching 720p high-def video on any mobile phone is already a compromise, so while yes, screen size is a factor for people I still think it's not that big of a deal.

      Regarding everything about platform - yep, that's definitely a differentiator. A software differentiator and not hardware specification.
      • Double compromise

        What about watching 720p on a 640p display?

        According to Apple 640p is also HD... Apparently if you can stuff 326 ppi on a 1-inch diagonal stamp-size screen it would still be HD "Retina Display".

        For Apple, spec isn't just unimportant. It's more than important and can be used for spinning.
        • Just a thought:

          If your eye can't resolve the individual pixels, does it matter as to the exact count? Or put it another way - your eye isn't capable of seeing the difference, so to all practical purposes there is NO DIFFERENCE. Unless of course you do happen to be an eagle.
      • Bigger Screen...

        I would venture to say screen size is a big deal for many & that's why it is one of the things that does get talked about quite a bit. Now, I don't think that anything beyond QHD or 720P matters at all. However, having a 4.8" or 4.7" screen makes a world of difference for road warriors that must review detailed cut sheets & drawings while on the road. I also think it is relevant to your size as well. I am a big guy at 6'3" with pretty large meat hooks for hands. The HTC One X & the Galaxy S3 make reading emails on the go & replying to them with a larger keyboard while still being able to see some of the content is invaluable to me. Add that to the fact that I need third party keyboards with "F" function key capability for a few older manufacturers legacy apps, which I use via RDP or VPN, & I can't use anything other than an Android. I am pretty happy with Android, but I've never owned any Android that wasn't a high-end device & with Android, you get what you pay for. I am a long time user that started looking for a service advantage over co-workers & competition a long time ago with PPC2002 & a custom built cable to allow network connectivity via my StarTac. I used WM for many years & while the ran the platform right over the edge of complacency & uselessness, I for one would love to see a solution that makes my duties seemless. I truly hope Windows 8 & Windows Phone 8 is able to do that. I hate seeing companies like Nokia, who have done more for this market & have created a lot of the technologies that every manufacturer uses for even some of the most basic functions we all take for granted, well I hate to see that kind of company go under.
        George Leon
  • Looks like, Design...

    or the Looks of the phone is what's important in todays market I guess.

    ...but that's subjective, I liked the minimal colors and thinness of the new iPhone (YEAH BLACK) but something about a Red Lumia draws me into it. Android phones pretty much has alot of design/colors to choose from.
    • My phone is bigger than yours. So what?

      Ford-T, any color you like as long as it was black... what a nice selection!
  • A larger screen on a phone is not better

    I just shake my head at these poor ladies I see with some huge brick of an Android phone their geek husband/boyfriend foisted on them. Having to use two hands for your phone was something you had to deal with 10 years ago.
    • Yeah we know

      and the old ibrick was the perfect size but strangely, the new ibrick is even more perfect in size. (My guess is, i7 has a bigger screen and then that will be the perfect size. Still, give it a catchy name and the sheep will flock.)

      Unless you are a true itard, no one would claim the media experience is better on an ibrick compared to an S2 or S3 or 1X. Oh but that doesn't matter because *fill in the blank with your own ibrick excuses*.

      I do understand that those with freakish elf hands can't get full thumb swipe but that's mainly because they're going from a postage stamp screen. Give it a few minutes and it's easy to adjust to.
      Little Old Man
  • Can't Agree

    It is the overall functionality and what you can do with it that counts.
    I don't care how "great" a device is claimed to be, if it cannot meet my needs, it is a no go.
    Somehow, when I have a spec of 4"+ for a screen, vertical stretch only isn't what I had in mind.
    • Usage scenarios

      Yep, that's what I was trying to convey - that instead of talking about hardware specs people should look at what are the scenarios they want from their phone and which phone is the best for those scenarios.
      • Which applies to the market outside apple

        If you buy Android/BB/Win then most people will choose based on usage characteristics, whereas apple buyers..... well I'm not one so I couldn't possible comment by the rules of zdnet comment section.

        A lot of ibrick buyers will already have some apple ecosystem buy-in so are they doing anything different to anyone else?
        Little Old Man
  • Right

    Yeah, right. Now that the iPhone has fallen behind all its competitors - for the 2nd time in a row -, all of sudden specs don't matter anymore. They only did while the iPhone was ahead of the competition. Now we need to find something else that the iPhone can pretend to lead the pack in. Big question is: what will that be, when there's no such thing? Except for the price of course.
    • Sales?

      The iPhone leads the pack in sales. :) Heh.

      My point isn't to say one phone is better than the other. It's a general statement about how in the current generation smartphone battle the hardware specs are significantly less important of a comparison point than the software / usability.
      • Re: The iPhone leads the pack in sales.

        You didn’t notice that Iphone sales had fallen off a cliff the last couple of quarters?
        • sales cliff

          Don't sales always fall off a cliff in the leadup to release of a new model ?
          blue tongue
          • Re: sales cliff

            Not for 6 months in a row.
          • It's still record sales again,

            and the Apple stock is at all times high. Android's Q2 sales in the US have fallen by 2 million units compare to last year and iPhone sales went up in the US at the same period.

            The reason I think for Android to be popular have a lot to do with the $200-300 Android phones. In China for example, Android phones starts at under $100 USD (no contracts) and 30-45 million Android phone was sold in China alone.
          • Re: Android's Q2 sales in the US have fallen ...

            Funny you had to mention the US, probably the least competitive mobile-phone market in the world, because of all the peculiar carrier-based restrictions found nowhere else. Have you noticed the new Android models tend to be introduced just about everywhere else first, and the US last?
          • Sales...

            Here are IDC's figures for worldwide smartphone unit sales and market share in the second quarter of 2012, by operating system.

            — Android (Google Inc.) — 104.8 million units, 68.1 percent share (46.9 percent a year earlier)

            — iOS (Apple Inc.'s iPhone) — 26.0 million units, 16.9 percent share (18.8 percent a year earlier)

            BTW, if Android sales have slowed down any it's because the One X & Galaxy S3 are devices that have a longer term viability. Why would you go buy the newest Sony or any other Android device if you have either of these devices? Plus Apple could sell 50 Million of the iPhone 5, they still aren't catching Android.
            George Leon