Smartphones now feature up to 12 GB RAM, but how much of it do you really need?

Over the past decade, there's been a dramatic bump in the camera, storage, processor performance of phones.


Do you ever think that the smartphone specification war has gone out of hand? Think about the first Android smartphone — HTC Dream — which was actually just ten years ago, it used 192 MB of RAM, and 256 MB of internal storage. The phone had an expandable memory of up to 16 GB. It stocked a 3.15 MP rear camera and a 1,150 mAh battery.

A decade later, we now have phones with up to 12 GB of RAM (Read: Xiaomi Mi 9 Explorer Edition, Black Shark 2 (review)and the list is pretty long), up to 1 TB of internal storage, over 5,000 mAh batteries, and a 64 MP camera.

See the contrast? There's a dramatic bump in the processor performance, camera capabilities, internal storage, battery, and much more. And if you see the way our dependence and usability on the phone has evolved, most of these spec bumps are needed and well received by consumers. However, there is one area where the specification war still feels a little doubtful: RAM.

Smartphones now feature up to 12 GB RAM, but how much of it do you really need?

Black Shark 2 is priced starting Rs 39,999 in India. Image: tech2/Anirudh Regidi

It's almost as if every quarter we see a new phone that trumps the previous generation of devices when it comes to RAM. How else are you supposed to increase the jump from 192 MB RAM to 12 GB RAM in 10 years? You may argue that most phones available in the market are still using 8 GB RAM. But aren't we already prepared to see 10 to 12 GB RAM on phones by 2020, which is less than six months away now, by the way!

Basically, more RAM in smartphones has definitely made a smartphone perform and multi-task better. However, we do not stop and pause and ask ourselves how much RAM do we actually need. Are we really using that much RAM on our phones, or are we simply falling prey to manufacturers' gimmicks?

My MacBook Pro has 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. (Representational Image)

My MacBook Pro has 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. (Representational Image)

So are we saying that phones require more RAM than laptops? I am no expert, so I turned to Sachin Dev Duggal, Founder & CEO of Engineer.ai to better understand right how RAM is used on a smartphone and how much RAM is too much RAM!

What is RAM? Why do we need it?

Duggal: RAM in any device, be it handheld or a PC, is a piece of hardware where the current application data is kept for instant access to the processor. This serves as the main memory for devices and is faster than HDD, SSD or Optical drives.

A device's performance is not just dependent on the processor but also the amount of memory (RAM) it carries. If a user has opened multiple apps then their current state is logged onto the RAM, which helps the user access the app in its current state after finishing work on another app. More RAM ensures more data and multiple apps running in the memory for a seamless user experience.

Why do Android phones need more RAM than iPhones?

Duggal: There are multiple reasons for it, but the major one will be their approach towards memory management. Unlike Android, iOS doesn’t rely on Java Virtual machine to execute its codes and the app codes are directly executed on the hardware thus limiting the need for RAM to run virtual machines on iOS.

Android is built for various devices with varying hardware specifications, hence, it needs more memory to execute the right code for the right device. Also, apps on Android are allowed to use as much of RAM that is required, so, they end up collecting more data on the RAM and when it is not used the data is cleaned.

How much RAM do we actually need?

Duggal: If we look at the current scenario, any youngster or a professional may not use multiple apps at one instance and the codes are smaller in nature, so any phone with 4 GB of RAM is more than sufficient for a regular to the moderate user as barely 3 GB of RAM is used at any point of time.

Is too much RAM a bad thing?

Duggal: The beauty of Android systems is that too much is never too much. The apps are now being built to utilize the maximum RAM, this holds true for graphics-intensive games and apps which do lots of processing like video converters, graphics editors, etc.

However, in the current scenario, too much of RAM is usually a waste of hardware and its resources. Android development is steadily moving towards 8 GB of RAM, which may be useful in the near future.

What impact does RAM have on graphically intensive games like PUBG?

Duggal: Graphics-intensive games need more RAM to provide a glitch-free experience. If there is a call, message or some other work during the gameplay, a user can very well switch to other app and switch back without facing any lag, this holds true in many circumstances where device's processor is good. However, a low-end processor with high RAM will not give that seamless experience while gaming.

Do phones with 10/12 GB of RAM make any sense?

Duggal: In the current scenario, 6 GB of RAM is more than enough to future-proof a device whereas anything around 8 GB or above will be very good in the near future. In fact, opting for 8 GB RAM may not exactly serve the purpose that the users expect. Even if you would buy a phone equipped with over 8 GB of RAM, your apps are currently unable to harness that much memory at once. But two-three years down the lane, when the software and apps are actually ready to take advantage of that high RAM, your current device will already feel outdated.

Are there any special guidelines followed by app developers for smartphones with higher RAM?

Duggal: The tech advancements have evolved the whole approach of building apps on Android devices. Earlier, phones with lower RAM were the normal scenario so anything above 4 GB of RAM was considered a luxury. Therefore, app developers were also focused on keeping the app’s RAM footprint low for a seamless experience.

In today's time, however, when RAM is no longer a benchmark and even low-end devices are boasting RAM over 4 GB, the approach has changed by app developers; they are now adding more functionalities to an app and this needs more RAM while working. Similarly, Android is also promoting the use of more RAM for a better experience. So, the approach has shifted from being thrifty to being generous on RAM usage.

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