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You’re Overlooking These Important Smartphone Specs (But Shouldn’t)

As someone who loves tech and is considering getting a new phone, you know all about reading spec sheets. You check for a faster processor, more RAM, larger storage, and a higher screen resolution. But while these things matter, other smartphone specs can really make a phone go from one you like using to one you truly love.

A Bright, Anti-Reflective screen

We’ve all been conditioned to look into how many pixels a screen can push. Is it Full HD? Quad HD? 4K? Yet when we’re talking about six-inch screens, the difference between Full HD and 4K isn’t as obvious as you think. The hit on battery life, though, can be.

Other questions have a larger impact on your experience. Is it a glossy screen or matte? Samsung’s Galaxy S24 Ultra doesn’t have a higher resolution screen than the previous model, but it’s much less reflective. TCL advertises an even more anti-glare, semi-paper-like display called NXTPAPER that’s even easier on the eyes. This kind of change can make reading ebooks on your phone go from unpleasant to being your favorite way to read.

Combine this with a screen that gets extremely bright in direct sunlight, and you have a display that makes your phone usable when you go outside. I personally now write many of my first drafts using voice commands while going for a walk (one of the perks of working from a smaller screen), in part because the screen is bright enough for me to see what the phone thinks I’m saying.

USB Port With Video Output

Bertel King / How-To Geek

We use our smartphones to watch videos all the time, though we’re usually staring at a small screen when we do. Want to watch on a bigger display? Turns out, you don’t need to switch to a different device. You can plug your phone directly into your TV or your computer monitor and continue watching with the same accounts. But to do this, you need a USB port that supports video output.

Your phone may have a USB-C port, but that doesn’t mean it can do the job. You want to have a phone with USB 3 or higher. Samsung phones with Samsung DeX all have this. You can connect one to an external display and use your phone as you would a computer or smart TV. You need USB 3 if you want to connect your smartphone to a lapdock.

Phones with USB 3 don’t automatically support video out, such as Google’s Pixel phones that largely do nothing when connected to an external display. That can change with a software update. Phones with USB 2 cannot connect to an external display, with or without software updates. This is why the Motorola Edge+ 2023 can run Morotola’s desktop mode, but the more expensive Motorola Razr+ 2023 cannot unless you use a (less stable) wireless connection. The latter comes with a USB 2 port, which was one of the ways Motorola cut costs to make it a more affordable foldable.

Loud, High-Quality Speakers

Do you need a Bluetooth speaker? If your phone’s speakers are good enough, and you typically listen to them in a quiet room when you’re alone, then no, probably not. A phone with good speakers sounds great when you’re at a desk or watching a video in bed. They’re great for games. My phone’s speakers may not outperform a soundbar or trump a pair of headphones, but they sound better than any laptop speakers I’ve owned, and a laptop used to be my primary TV.

While there’s no one number to look for on a spec sheet, check for sound quality when reading or watching reviews. Look for Dolby Atmos support, for example, as this tends to be a good sign that the phone maker is making an effort to provide good sound.

A Top-Notch Selfie Camera

Front facing selfie camera on the Google Pixel 8 Pro
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

We take it as a given that a front-facing camera is not as good as a phone’s rear camera. This is still largely true, but that does not mean that selfie cameras are bad. Many phones now have selfie cameras that give you beautiful shots, so you can gladly use them for photos to post on social networks.

Some of the selfie cameras on premium phones deliver better picture quality than the main cameras on budget phones. I did not care about having a good front-facing camera until I had one. It is much easier to work remotely when you can get a nice-looking photo of yourself by just snapping a picture on your phone rather than having to find someone to take a picture for you.

Good selfie cameras also help with video calls. Again, it makes a good impression, and it just also helps with doing your job when people can see you clearly.

A Clear Microphone

Google Pixel 6a's USB-C port, speaker, and microphone on the bottom of the phone
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

A microphone can be just as important as a good camera. Even more so in some situations. People need to be able to hear what you are saying clearly.

Sometimes, you may think you have a bad internet connection when, really, your mic Is just kind of muffled. You don’t want to be the person people ask to repeat themselves constantly. It sucks for everyone involved.

Having a good mic helps with voice calls. It helps with playing online games. It helps with live streams. It’s an important part of phones being phones.

A low-resolution screen at least means better battery life. A fuzzy camera still gets the job done and can scan QR codes. A weak processor can still run most apps just fine. A bad mic is just a bad mic.

A Good Vibration Motor

When was the last time you heard your phone ring? If you can’t remember, then the quality of your phone’s vibration motor is probably more important than the available ringtones. It’s what determines whether you actually feel your phone buzz in your pocket and how nice it sounds when you do.

A janky vibration motor can ruin the entire experience. Your phone might vibrate whenever someone calls. It may vibrate with every press of the virtual keyboard as you text people. It can shake whenever you enter your PIN to unlock your device. If the vibration sucks, there isn’t something you can do to fix it. Instead, you have to ask yourself: are you okay with turning it off entirely?

FM Radio & IR Blaster

These two features aren’t for everyone, but niche features are often the best ones. FM radio is the OG supplier of free music and news. This feature can also make your phone even more useful during an emergency.

An IR blaster allows your phone to replace a TV remote and provides another way to interact with set-top boxes. It can be faster and more reliable than using a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth-connected app. I haven’t used this feature much personally, but I know many people love IR blasters on phones.

Stylus support

The Air Command menu on a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5
Bertel King / How-To Geek

On my Galaxy Z Fold 5, Samsung’s S Pen is an optional extra. I’m glad the support is there, even if it’s not included out of the box. I love using a stylus with my phone, as it’s a huge part of how I’m able to get so much work done.

A stylus allows you to use your phone as you would use pen and paper. It allows you to use a web browser with the precision of a mouse. It helps with drawing on the screen and manipulating images. But to get the most out of this, you want a phone with a dedicated, active stylus. Capacitive styluses that imitate your finger are barely any better than just using your finger.

Fingerprint Reader

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 fingerprint reader
Bertel King/How-To Geek

Basically, all Android phones come with a fingerprint reader. The question is what kind and how good is it.

Sound phones have a fingerprint reader that is underneath the main display. This can be convenient, but in-display fingerprint readers aren’t as fast as dedicated scanners.

Some phones put your fingerprint reader inside the power button on the side of a phone. Many used to put the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone within reach of your pointer finger. Each approach has its pros and cons. The point is to pay attention to this and pick the one that works for you.

If you only casually use your phone, then processing speed doesn’t really matter anymore. Even budget phones are now fast enough if you aren’t multitasking or playing games. It’s these other things that determine how long a phone lingers on in your memory as one of the best you’ve ever owned long after you replaced it.



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