How much RAM does my smartphone really need?

Cell phone manufacturers like to brag about technical numbers when it comes to sales – one of them is the memory or RAM. Some models now have 12 gigabytes of RAM – but do I really need it? TECHNOLOGY BUTTON explains how much RAM actually makes sense in smartphones.

In recent years, the size of the main memory (or “random access memory”, or RAM for short) in smartphones has increased rapidly. This is practically the “memory” of the mobile phone: All files currently required by the smartphone are stored there briefly so that the processor has quick access to them at any time. The RAM size determines, for example, how fast and how many programs can be loaded at the same time.

The introduction of the OnePlus 2 with 4 gigabytes (GB) of RAM in 2015 at the latest led to a trend among smartphone manufacturers to want to outdo the competition with ever higher numbers. In 2016, the OnePlus 3 reached the 6 GB mark for the first time and exceeded it again the following year with the OnePlus 5 and 8 GB RAM. The current front runners are the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the One Plus 8 Pro or the Oppo Find X2, each with 12 GB of RAM. The Mi 10 Ultra from the Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi even comes with 16 GB. But how much does today’s average device actually need to function well?

4, 8 or 12 GB of RAM for my smartphone?

Apple has traditionally been reluctant to increase the memory size of iPhones, and for good reason. The iOS operating system uses significantly less RAM than Android. The current iPhone 12about “only” has 4 GB. This is because Apple has greater influence on its operating system and the software is therefore better tailored to the hardware. Smartphone manufacturers who rely on Android have to equip their devices with more memory. The reason for this is that more manufacturers use Android, but equip their devices with different processors, user interfaces, etc. and the system has to be flexible in this regard. The Android operating system alone can use up to 1.1 GB of RAM, which of course leaves little scope for apps to load their content into the much sought-after cache. Android devices with little RAM therefore often have to struggle with loading pauses.

Due to new functions such as picture-in-picture, which can be found on more and more smartphones in recent years, the RAM requirement has increased significantly in comparison. While Apple relies on a maximum of 6 GB of RAM, the golden ratio for Android smartphones is now 8 GB. This 8 GB is also often necessary to be able to use memory-intensive apps such as Gmail or Google Maps at the same time. In contrast, the 12 GB of many new high-end devices are not really necessary in today’s scenario. This memory size is therefore at most a safeguard for the future – and of course for a small showing off by the manufacturer.

More RAM is not necessarily better

Important fact: Unused RAM is a power hog! The explanation is that the memory doesn’t care how it’s used. Whether it is full of data or completely empty, the RAM always uses electricity. This means that it doesn’t make sense to buy a smartphone with huge RAM that is never used up anyway. This puts unnecessary stress on the battery and shortens its service life.

You should also avoid manually freeing memory. In contrast to the laptop, for example, it is no longer necessary to empty the memory in smartphones. On the contrary: When inactive apps are removed from the memory, they have to be reloaded when they are used again, which leads to longer loading times. Today’s operating systems are also intelligent enough to put unneeded apps in standby mode in the background. This saves memory and protects the battery.

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