What is common across the OnePlus 3, the LeEco Le Max2 and the Asus Zenfone 3? If you read their individual spec sheet and say they are trying to offer powerful performance at more affordable prices, you would not be wrong. But the pointed answer we are looking for is: 6GB RAM. Yes, 6GB RAM in a smartphone, which you primarily use for making and receiving calls, chatting with friends, accessing social media and some amount of web browsing.
RAM, also known as random access memory, is where the operating system (OS), the apps that you are running and the temporary data used to run the software is kept when in use. This is because RAM is usually faster than the local storage hardware (also known as internal storage), and picking data from here for access is quicker.
All through 2015, the constant upgrade that was the most talked about across Android smartphones was the amount of RAM—the flagship phones went from 3GB to 4GB RAM, while the more affordable phones upped the game from 1GB to either 2GB or 3GB. It is quite interesting that while your computer may be running 4GB of RAM or less, your phone needs 6GB RAM—as per the latest documentation released by Microsoft, Windows 10 requires 1GB RAM for the 32-bit version and 2GB RAM for the 64-bit version. And that is true, irrespective of whether it is a desktop, laptop, tablet or a convertible PC. So why do Android phones require so much RAM to work? Android enthusiasts scoffed at Apple and iPhone users when the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were launched last year with 2GB RAM.
Android is not the same as iOS
There are fundamental differences between Apple’s iOS operating system which runs on iPhones, and Google’s Android OS for smartphones. The basic difference is that Android apps still use the Java programming language, which relies on recycling the memory after you have stopped using an app. The process is also called garbage collection. Apple’s iOS apps are written in a different way, and do not need this process. Then there are the software issues, unique to each smartphone brand. The completely clean interface on the Google Nexus 6 means that only around 1.2GB of RAM (total 3GB RAM) is used with no other apps running. In the same state, a relatively lightweight OnePlus 3’s Oxygen OS uses 1.39GB RAM (total 6GB RAM), while the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 can use as much as 1.7GB RAM (total 4GB RAM) just for the OS and the customizations that Samsung has loaded on it. With more services running in the background (every single customization, app, task etc.), an Android phone opens up at least one background service, which consumes memory. Yes, if you own a phone with 1GB or 2GB RAM, and open a lot of apps and leave them running in the background, the OS will have to constantly flush and refill data for the app you switch to, which will slow down performance and lead to stutters.
Is more always better?
More is always better—is the thumb rule that a lot of phone makers follow. This has been made possible by the recent line-up of processors for smartphones, which are 64-bit, and can make use of 4GB RAM and even more. But specifications, like statistics, don’t always tell the full tale. There is the usability aspect which is what finally defines the user experience, without getting into the pedantic aspect of benchmark tests to prove that one is perhaps 5% faster than the other. A Moto X Style (with 3GB RAM) is a better phone to use overall than the Asus Zenfone 2 (4GB RAM), in most cases—the main difference is the clean Android interface in the former and the cluttered ZenUI interface in the latter. Which illustrates that if all the parts are working well, 3GB RAM should also be enough for most users. Then there is the question of the apps that you download from the Google Play Store. Apart from the very latest games, there aren’t many apps that can fully utilize 4GB RAM in a smartphone just yet, let alone 6GB.
The case for more RAM
Even though most users will not download and play the very latest games on their sparkling new smartphones, having more than the absolutely essential amount of RAM is never going to harm. The way Android works as an OS, it pretty much expands according to the amount of RAM available to it. This means that the more there is in your phone, it’ll be able to handle more apps and the data in the background—this will enable much faster switching between apps, and the ability to open and leave more pieces of software running.
The other advantage of having a lot of RAM in the phone is future-proofing. With apps and games set to stretch their legs even more to utilize the powerful hardware and half a dozen GBs of RAM in upcoming smartphones, your phone will be better placed to run these apps smoothly for a few years more than what your friend’s Moto X Style or Galaxy Note 5 may be able to handle, for example.
Should you upgrade your smartphone today?
The question really is—are you genuinely looking for an upgrade, for reasons other than just RAM? If yes, then the likes of the OnePlus 3 (Rs.27,999) and the LeEco LeMax2 (Rs.29,000) are surely worth considering—the Asus Zenfone 3 is yet to hit our shores. This is the new guard in the Android smartphone world, which are at present more future-proof than what even the latest flagships such as the Sony Xperia X and the LG G5 promise to be. And if you are splurging money now, might as well do it on the very top specs available at present.