Do Phone Tech Specs Matter?

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For this week’s Technologizer column on, I reviewed Google’s Nexus S phone–the new “pure Google” phone that sports Android in exactly the form that Google intended, without any of the manufacturer- or carrier-related modifications that rarely seem to result in a noticeably better handset, and sometimes actively damage the Android experience. (Executive summary: I liked the phone, but “pure Google” isn’t in a league with “pure Apple” when it comes to a simple, seamless phone experience.)

In the comments, commenter “Harvey Mundane ” brought up an important point:

You don’t mention key specs such as CPU & memory so I guess this article is aimed at the ‘casual’ buyer who buys on looks and reputation rather than performance, and maybe that is Google/Samsung’s strategy, because this phone can’t even be said to have ‘last year’s’ hardware.

I didn’t withhold those specs intentionally–for the record, the S has a 1-GHz Samsung Cortex A8 processor and 512MB of RAM, and here are full details on its guts. It’s just that as I wrote, the CPU and RAM didn’t seem all that important. I nearly mentioned them, but veered away as I got concerned about my word count. Instead, I simply said that the Nexus S felt like an impressively fast phone. (More on See the ALL-TIME 100 gadgets list)

I’m a grizzled enough veteran of tech journalism that I recall the days when the difference between a PC with a 25-MHz 486SX CPU and one with a 33-MHz 486SX CPU seemed like all the difference in the world–or at least a big enough one that I wouldn’t dream of writing a review which didn’t dwell on matters of clockspeed. Back then, even small processor speed bumps paid tangible dividends in how fast applications such as Word and 1-2-3 ran. (I’m thinking back to an era before folks used Web browsers or played videos on computers.)

Today, I’d certainly mention phone specs that were strikingly skimpy or strikingly robust, especially if they seemed to translate into a user experience that was, respectively, sluggish or zippy. (For instance, the 624-MHz in RIM’s BlackBerry Torch seems to be a liability.) But are specs worth mentioning otherwise?

To do a reality check, I asked my Twitter pals whether they care about phone CPUs. It was basically a split vote:!/ThomasWilson2/status/14755766355369984

I did come away with the impression that enough people care enough about phone specs when they shop that I should still squeeze in at least a brief reference to them. But I’m interested in your take. How much do you know about the specs of the phone you own right now? How big a factor are specs when you buy a new phone?

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