How to read smartphone processor specs

Smartphone processors (or SoCs) have entered firmly into our general consciousness. It is not unheard of to read comments like “how do I know if a phone has a good processor or not?”. So in today’s post, we are going to learn how to read smartphone processor specs.

Smartphones have become a part of our lives in today’s world. Smartphones do everything now, from calls to games, emails, video editing etc. A good processor is key to taking advantages of all of these.

A good processor generally means the ability of a phone to easily install and smoothly run apps. It also means a fast phone that does not lag and gives a very good experience overall.

A weak or slow processor means that such a device would not be able to install some very demanding apps. Even if it does manage to do so, the app would not run smoothly. The general smartphone experience in itself would be terribly frustrating as the phone would be really slow and apps would take longer to load.

This is why recognizing the processor on a phone before buying it will go a very long way to give you an idea of how well it will perform. This is true especially in areas such as gaming, photography, video editing, social media, network reception etc.


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How to read Smartphone processor specs

A smartphone’s processor or SoC is made up of different parts. These include the CPUs, GPUs, ISPs + AI cores, memory (RAM), modems and radios. These parts work together to ensure the smooth running of your device.  The better they are, the better your phone would work.


CPU Cores

The CPU cores are the main processing hub on the processor. They do most of the hard work that comes with processing. These are made up of CPUs. Android phones usually have 8 CPUs cores (Octa core), while iPhones have a maximum of 6 CPUs (Hexa core).

There are different kind of CPU cores but they are all designed by one company so it is easy to rate their performance. They include Cortex A53, A55, A72, A73, A75, A76, A77, A78, X1 etc. Phones with Cortex A53 CPUs will not perform very well with heavy tasks or multi tasking. They will be slow and may lag a lot.

Phones with CPUs like Cortex A73, A75  and above will perform better with processing tasks. They have better gaming, camera and overall performance with tasks.

The higher the number of the CPU you see on your processor, the better the performance. So therefore, a Cortex A77 will perform better than an A76, and an A72 will perform better than an A55. The general rule is that if you want good performance, look getting SoCs that have CPUs from A73 and above.


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GPU

A GPU is a part of the processor that is dedicated towards the processing of data and its conversion into graphics. A good GPU will ensure that gaming, video playback, app rendering, graphics etc. works smoothly.

The GPU is usually tied to the processor so you really don’t have to worry about that. If you get a good processor with powerful CPU core from A73 and above, you will be guaranteed a good GPU.


Recommended: What is a GPU?


ISP + AI

The ISP refers to the image signal processor. Whenever you take a picture, the image goes to a part of your SoC known as the ISP. The job of the ISP is to process photos which it then forwards to your screen. The ISP also determines the camera resolution that a smartphone supports.

If a smartphones processor ISP can only support 25MP, then it would be counterproductive to slap a 64MP camera on the phone. This is because the ISP will struggle with images of 64MP since it only supports 25MP.

The ISP works with an onboard AI unit to process and finetune photos. This is why sometimes, when you take pictures, what appears on your screen is different from what your eyes see in real life. A good ISP + AI unit will guarantee you decent photos, regardless of your photographic ability. A bad ISP + AI will spoil the results coming out from a good camera.

The ISP is also tied to the SoC you choose. This means that if you pick an SoC with very good CPU cores (A73 and above), you are also guaranteed a decent ISP.


Recommended: What are ISPs?


Memory

For the CPUs to work properly, it needs a place to store data while it works. This refer to as the memory. The two more important types of memory on a phone that you should know are the RAM and Internal storage.

The RAM helps the CPUs to load apps. Certain apps require a certain amount of RAM to run, if not, they will not load. RAM is also needed for multitasking as well. That is opening and using several apps at once.

While RAM size/space (3GB, 4GB, 6GB etc.) is important, it is not the ultimate spec to judge RAM. The type of RAM used is also very important as well their speed. RAM types include LPDDR, LPDDR2, LPDDR3, LPDDR4/x and LPDDR5/x.

Phones with LPDDR4 RAM and above deal with apps and multitasking better. So if for example, you have a phone with 6GB of LPDDR3 RAM and another phone with 4GB of LPDDR4x RAM, the second phone will handle tasks better than the first one.

The internal memory is also important. Do not buy a phone with anything less than an eMMC 5.1 or a UFS 2.1. Anything lower and even simple tasks such as deleting a 350MB movie will take forever. We have not even started talking about transfers or copypaste.


Recommended: RAM, Internal storage and SD cards


Modems

The modems are radios that are attached to the phone. They help it look for and connect to network signals. The better the modem, the better the quality of your calls, faster browsing and downloading, better ping for online gaming, stronger network connection etc. A weaker modem will be a source of frustration.

Modems are rated in categories (cat. for short). We have Cat. 1 to Cat. 24. The higher the number, the better the modem. Most modems from Cat.5 and above have decent performance, but the real network speed goes to phones that use Cat. 12 and above. Anything below Cat. 5 is pure frustration.


Recommended: Network modems explained


Summary

Buying a phone with a good processor leads to peace of mind. This will be especially easy if you pay attention to, and know how to read smartphone processor specs.

The once exception to the above rules, especially when it comes to ISPs is that processors from MediaTek do not handle image processing well. They have very good CPU cores but tend to flop in the ISP and Modem department.


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