Should we still care about the spec wars? Or are phones already good enough?

by: Andrew GrushMay 9, 2014

oneplus one vs galaxy s5 aa (10 of 12)

It’s 2014 and already we’ve seen quite a few from both major manufacturers and newcomers, all packing as impressive of specs as possible. With the upcoming LG G3, we expect this trend to continue with the handset maker becoming the first major company to embrace QHD resolutions on a smartphone.

But is there a point where enough is enough? As devices become more powerful, we have to wonder if focusing on increasing specs is really the best strategy for manufacturers. In this week’s Friday Debate, we discuss the spec war and whether it’s really worth keeping up with anymore.

Some could argue that we’ve already reached a point where phones are “good enough”, and that it’s time for handset makers to reevaluate their strategy and focus on new areas.

What’s your take? Join in the discussion below and answer in our poll!

Jonathan Feist

I love the idea of meaningful innovation. Don’t get me wrong, the latest string of phones and components heralding in an era of large and powerful Android devices is very exciting; however, putting my money where my mouth is, I do not want a 6-inch QHD phone.

Let me explain what has been good enough for me in one phrase, Nexus 7.

With the Nexus 7 in tow wherever I go, my requirements of a phone are that it is easy to lug around in my pocket, great battery life and serves up great hotspot speeds for the tablet. A great camera is good too. In the end, a 6-inch phone would only be a redundancy for me and likely to be damaged as it would not be able to just slide, forgotten, into a pocket to serve up my WiFi, only to re-emerge to place calls and snap photos.

Looking at devices in terms of ppi screen resolution, I find it terribly silly that we are getting into the 500, even 600ppi+ territory. I am not against 2K or 4K resolution in general, I love the tech behind it and the idea of where it can go next, but at the screen sizes we are talking about here, the human eye really cannot see the difference. Sure, the screens may look different, but is that because we are seeing the individual pixels or, speaking about that meaningful innovation, is the pixel materials, layout, color and brightness different?

For the sake of seeing what it is all about, I have been using a Moto G as my daily driver for the last couple weeks. This thing packs specifications that this year’s flagship devices absolutely laugh at, but is still a really great device. Is it going to be my long term user? No, but that is for lack of functionality (LTE, Gyroscope, MHL/Slimport, camera…,) not lack of performance or size.

As it turns out, my beef is purely with size, I think a phone should be small but powerful and a secondary device or an attached secondary display should handle your larger screen needs. I think back to one of the greatest things that never really came to be, an Ubuntu phone. Not the Ubuntu built device with Ubuntu mobile OS that flopped as a kickstarter, I am talking about back when they promised we could run a Galaxy Nexus with Android in hand, then dock it and instantly boot into a desktop OS.

My dream machine is a combination device of the idea behind the faded from memory docked Ubuntu OS, a play on ASUS’s silly PadFone nightmare, just with universal connections and a selection of modular size upgrades, Chrome OS and full Chromecast device mirroring. To me, meaningful innovation would see to more power, more function and more external display and peripheral support, not so much on ppi counts. But, I suppose I am strange like that. As long as the majority of users continue to use their smartphone as little more than just an entertainment device, the smart move for manufacturers may be what I am arguing against – on that note, let’s go for it, show me a 6.5-inch 4K display!

Robert Triggs

The tech loving side of me always wants to keep an eye on what’s going on at the bleeding edge of the industry, but the savvy consumer in me can’t justify spending $600 on something shiny and new when my current handset does everything I want. For me, smartphones have been “good enough” for a while, and the industry certainly isn’t keeping pace with the big generational hardware leaps seen in the glory days of the old Samsung Galaxy series.

The big handset manufacturers have come up against a wall this generation particularly, with none of the recent flagships doing much to impress me compared with the last batch. I wouldn’t say that the big companies have forgotten how to make great phones, rather I think that they’re struggling for meaningful innovation now that smartphones can manage pretty much everything that consumers can throw at them.

Fingerprint scanners or slightly louder speakers don’t justify a $600 price tag to me, but the big names have to appear to be doing something to justify their leading positions. That being said, if you look to Motorola, Nvidia, or cheap developers like OnePlus, they are innovating in areas which some consumers care about, such as smart software, gaming power, and price.

Whilst some handset manufacturers may be suffering from a lack of ways to improve the basic calls, internet, and media formula that most people demand from their smartphones, the more niche sectors, such as gaming or ultra-high resolution content, continue to go from strength to strength.

The spec race isn’t over for me, but I concede that it’s becoming harder and harder to justify in mainstream handsets. Devices are more than good enough for what most people need.

Andrew Grush

Are today’s smartphones really good enough, and is the spec race over? Yes and no. While I personally love having bleeding-edge hardware, that’s really more the competitive geek in me than anything.

The reality is that, while my Nexus 5 is considerably better than my wife’s Moto G, they largely do the same things. We both use them for ocassional e-book reading on the go, we both use them for browsing the web, listening to music and playing a few games. They are both fast and both are decent looking devices. There are very few things that my Nexus 5 can do that the Moto G couldn’t, allow mine might do it a bit faster and with a much more impressive display (both size and resolution).

So, the answer in my opinion is that the spec war is becoming less meaningful for consumers, but it’s far from over. There will always be those that want better specs for better specs sakes. I’ve seen AA comments dissing Snapdragon 800 CPUs are a poor choice when the Snap 801 is avaliable and I’ve been guilty of somewhat stating this in my own articles. And yet the differences are very minimal.

As for the notion that manufacturers have lost touch with what makes a phone good? This is also somewhat true. I feel that none of 2014’s major flagships have done much to impress me, though smaller brands like Oppo and OnePlus have attempted to change things up in terms of pricing and other areas that make things a bit more interesting.

Ultimately, I think that manufacturers haven’t lost touch, but they are struggling to figure out exactly how to move forward now that the jumps between CPU, RAM and other components aren’t as drastic from generation to generation. Going forward, I hope that manufacturers spend less time on pure specs and more time on price, battery life and user experience.

Speaking to the latter point, Motorola is a good example of a manufacturer that’s starting to target user experience over specs, though I’d like to see something that lands a bit more in the middle.

[poll id=”582″]

  • MasterMuffin

    Another battery comment: why haven’t spec wars expanded in the battery department? Why is there no competition “we have bigger battery” “NO we have” “NO WE HAZ IT’S 3GHZ”, where’s this? Pixels and hertz have become more important

    • Andrew T Roach

      Every other generation OEM’s are increasing the screen resolution which offsets increased performance.

      Less pixels to display, less work for the SoC, more battery life.

      • MasterMuffin

        Quite obvious if I may say so. Yes, quite indeed. Tea and biscuits!

        That’s true

        • Mohammed Azoz

          They just playing After what the majority want :D people love phones with wow screens + lots of talk on spics and what inside :D + good looking slim ETC , But no one talks about the battery except heavy Users :(

          • MasterMuffin

            Samsung is at least making phones with removable batteries. That’s something

          • Mohammed Azoz

            True :) … will Be heavy on Motorola to sell this except if they went for Asia and middle east first :)

          • emma852

            My Uncle Gabriel got a stunning blue Dodge
            Charger SRT8 from only workin part time on a home pc… hop over to here F­i­s­c­a­l­P­o­s­t­.­ℂ­o­m

    • Shark Bait

      Couldn’t agree more, it’s has to be the biggest gripe with smart phones, my friend broke his I phone and is using a Nokia brick, and had to charge it yesterday for the first time in 2 weeks!!! Its amazing I though!! The future lol.

      Unfortunately the technology had stagnated at litlium ion. And nothing has been able to beat it for years!! All the money these companies have , they must be able to do better right??

      We do need a mAh war!! If someone cracks 2 days+ better life, or instant charge people would throw money at them (I hope apple doesn’t do it first!! (#Law suit))

      • Azeem

        The Oppo Find 7 comes close with 45 min charging to 100%.

  • Orlando Sablon

    The major things are being fixed…the experiende, experience and experience…people have a bad taste in their mouth about old android….I am ok with a spec world as long as it doesn’t compromise the experience. Stock android is as close to ios that android will get without the limitation. I just need improvements in battery life.

  • Chris

    We need batteries. Motorola started this fight, and no one followed suit. I’m still fine buying after market ones tho. That’s why I buy phones with removable batteries.

  • Guest123

    We are a long ways off from mobile hardware being truly “good enough.” Sure, right now it is “good enough” for a mobile device, however the mobile device of the future will be your “all-in-one” device, thus you will want a lot more horsepower, more efficient everything, much better battery tech, and anything that makes the screen look more realistic without killing performance will always be desirable when comparing two device.

    • arcwindz

      True! But then, the keyword here is ‘the future’
      Same thing happened when the mobile devices started to move toward touch screen.
      The spec wars will begin again when a breakthrough tech comes into play, but for now it will only happen when you move to bigger device which, on a side note, has been a trend in the high end smartphones (a bad trend imho)

  • Mike R

    Moto X destroyed spec lust for me. Experience is everything to me now.

    • jamesinkorea

      Considering the Moto X has a horrible camera and horrible battery life, your experience must not be very good.

      • sdfd

        omg one person is typing!

      • sdfd


      • sdfd

        motox sucks it struggles

      • Azeem

        Ignore the comments that say it has bad battery life. The moto x has great battery life.

      • Alenym

        The battery life is a software issue that started with 4.4.2.
        While waiting for an OTA, it can be solved easily with programs like SD battery guru, using the low-energy gps mode and rebooting your phone at the beggining of the day.
        I reach 4h of OS time over a whole day, and there’s still 20% left.
        Yeah, the camera is horrible indoor, but it’s not everyone who cares about that.

        Having a smaller phone which doesn’t EVER lag and has actually useful features like active notifications or touchless controls is way better for me than any 42 gHz processor with a 64k screen that doesn’t fit in my pocket.

  • aasim

    I also think that ,specifications are not such important as war against on it . But how much we users can utilize these spec.we r humans feel comfort on focusing one thing at a time . Offcourse we dont get lot of functionalties on 1 phone . companies intentialy miss functions from one to other . I cannot buy other phone bcaz it has not other options . I feel better to compromize lacking of functions rather than investing money every month on phones . Bye from mind blowing words.

  • renz

    on the high end the performance already beyond good enough. but why OEM did not improve the midrage much? to be honest i was expecting this year mid range phones (like those LG G2 mini) to have something equal to snapgdragon 600 inside instead of snapdragon 400

  • thyjesster

    I believe Sony’s old approach was aspiring. Having different philosophies for different phones. Make phones specific for gaming, pictures, streamlined social usage and multimedia viewing. Someone that likes Facebook and instagram doesn’t need an adreno 330 and a 16mp OIS depth of field camera. Same as power users don’t need such ongoing applications for social uses and bloat features.

  • gils001

    The perfect phone for me will be
    Quad Core A57 running at a moderate 2 ghz
    1080p cause…who needs 2k or 4k?
    Decent screen size 4.5-5.5
    4gb ram
    Removable battery
    Plastic vs Metal who cares?
    64gb day one
    13-20mp I’m not expecting my phone to have NatGeo quality pics.
    MicroSD-Android that actually allows write permission!
    Vanilla Android! No Bloat.
    Full day battery life
    Fast Charging and an actual HDMI standard that works. Stupid Samsung!
    Until this becomes the standard I still think there’s alot more to do.

    • aka

      I think they should stay above 350PPI for the screen rather than say 1080p cos 1080p wont be that great on a 5.5″

      • Gator352

        Excuse me? Try looking at the Note 3. With it’s 1080p 5.7″ screen, it’s amazing.

      • Abdel Aziz Farhi

        My Note 3’s screen is so good to look at that you would get an erection from looking at it…

  • NHU

    Until I can replace a laptop with my phone, may the spec wars continue!!! :D

    • Mur

      I don’t want to live in a world where 15 and 30 inch screens are replaced by phones :P
      Basically, it’s physically impossible for phones to become more powerful than boxes that are 10 times their size. We will always have more powerful PCs because they have more space, can deal with far more heat, and can supply far more power.

  • The-Sailor-Man

    And poll again:
    “Some could argue that we’ve already reached a point where phones are
    “good enough”, and that it’s time for handset makers to reevaluate their
    strategy and focus on new areas.”

    Yup…”premium” ALUMINUM. Right?
    Or “premium user experience”, like iOS?
    Don’t be shy , say it. That’s what this “poll” is for.

  • Nick

    Hi, I believe the spec wars is now a little too overrated, I mean, the geeky side of me always wants to have the best of the best, but now I decided to settle on SD800 for now, because not even Android is in par with it! There’s absolutely nothing that I throw on my Z1 that it can’t run! And there are now people complaining about SD800 because of SD801, which seems ridiculous for me.

    Also, I think they should reevaluate what to do. I think cellphones can settle a little for now, focus on new features, user experience and battery life. One thing that disappoints me is about the power difference of tablets and cellphones, supposedly you should have a tablet with better power, because you won’t mind too much it heating and the battery is also way larger (Nexus 10 has 9,000mAh, while Z1 has 3,000), and in further development with integration to desktop OS, I think tablets should get a preference considering its size, but they need more power to run better an OS like this.

    This is just my opinion, I agree that Ubuntu OS would be amazing, I’m still anxious to see what will it bring to the table, but to get to the point I’m expecting, I think it’ll still take some time. But it would be really amazing, I’d get the dock and a monitor without thinking twice, as it’s brilliant!

    • Shane Mason Lee Wainwright

      Ubuntu on your phone and computer like windows and apple would be good.. Android should follow suit..

    • The-Sailor-Man

      “I mean, the geeky side of me always wants to have the best of the best, but now I decided to settle on…..” ALUMINUM or GLASS??? Right?

  • Will S.

    I think specs are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Most high end phones can offer decent performance, but I’d like to see more efforts on battery, storage and real world features.

  • Shane Mason Lee Wainwright

    We still need to be on par with the PC so that user experience is universal… AKA 64 Bit

    • The-Sailor-Man

      AKA 64 Bit….1GB RAM?

    • Flip Jumpman

      You can’t really expect a full PC experience on a mobile device bc of size constraints.
      PC’s, Laptops, Netbooks (if they still exists), Tablets and Smartphones.

      Also, please no ‘Phablet’ term anymore too. That term needs to go! Let’s kill that once and for all and just call it a large screen display or does it even matter anymore with the standard screen size at 5″-5.2″ displays being the norm… Does 5.5″-5.7″ jump it into a “phablet” category?

      “My gosh, you must be really happy to see me dear. No sorry, I shoved my PC down my pants…”

  • diper07

    My dream phone is

    4.5-5 inch screen
    12 hour battery backup
    iOS like smooth lag free OS with android like customization features,

  • Michael Talon Marshall

    1080p is perfect.
    Battery Life.
    Processing power

    That’s the order of importance to me. But expanding the resoultion to points that are hardly noticeable unless the phone is pressed against your eye when we keep the same battery life or it gets even worse. C’mon…

  • meman

    we need stronger graphic on the phone at least so that gaming can continue to grow
    aside that, the GHZ and core rush is stupid and I would rather they spend more time on BATTERY
    we are not going to be rendering 3d scenes on our phones, we do not need 8 cores!!!

  • heartlessnobody

    See here’s the problem or part of it I have an s5 and I love it truly however I loath the restrictions samsung put on it so we can’t root it to get rid of the bollocks of the bloatware that’s on the phone. Also I got the 16gb and the stupid TouchWiz os takes up haft of it.

    What I’m saying is it should be criminal for companies to do this putting all these restrictions we are forced to go through. I bought my phone and it should be my playground to do what I want with right? I’m looking hard at the oneplus one so nice…I’m thinking of getting the oneplus

    Oh back on topic there’s always gonna be a spec war always never ending. And research on what to get is very important. If you Can go play with working models.

    Has anyone seen the other people making android phones now? Crazyness
    We got amazon, firefox, oppo, thl, and some others I can’t remember atm.
    That’s what I got on mymind

  • Mur

    Phones aren’t PCs for christ’s sake stawp trying to put QHD screens on em.

  • ALi

    A usb port to hook into my flash drive

  • jamesinkorea

    Of course specs matter… phones perform better when they have better specs…This idea that specs don’t matter is being pushed by the manufacturers because they don’t want to pay more to upgrade their products. They would rather leech off consumers who don’t demand more.

  • Gator352

    Spec wars keep OEM’s innovative to get your business. The minute it becomes stagnant people will be screaming that every phone is the same with he only difference will be build quality and user experience which has already proven to be divided.

    I’m all for the spec wars as long as the increased speed, screen size/resolution, and battery improvemnents don’t impede on performance or day to day longevity.

  • Bambang Hermanto

    Specs are various. I believe the spec wars should continue to the RIGHT path. The way I see it, most OEMs have been focusing on performance, and I would love to see soon their focusing on longetivity of the devices’ battery life. It’s not fun when you can only enjoy your excellent performing phones for a limited time of the day and have to recharge it so you can continue enjoying it.

    HTC One is by far the most battery friendly high-speced Android phone I have ever used. Unfortunately the brand is not so popular around here, and it does carry quite a steep price tag.

    I hope other OEMs can follow this approach and put less bloatwares if not none into their products. As cool as they may sound, I believe only a handful of people actually utilize them all.

  • ichuck7

    I want to throw my hat in the ring. The only specs I care about now are battery life. I hate that the flagship phones now will come with battery and processor hungry screens that are overkill. The G2 achieved the perfect balance of specs, battery life, and display.

    • The-Sailor-Man

      You just throw your hat in the Toilet.

  • Andrew White

    Co-dependance or co-operation? Hardware (1) and software (2) or vice-versa. One creates an environment in which the other can operate.
    Maybe when we see 64bit Android devices enter the market next year, hardware innovation will slow significantly because suddenly Apps development will have no boundries.

  • abazigal

    What Apple has shown that for typical mobile phone usage at least, 2 faster cores is better than 4 slower cores, and that optimising your software for your hardware can be just as good, if not better than pumping in raw specs. Yet many Android smartphones continue to go with quad-core snapdragon processors because that’s what the industry is supplying, and because bigger numbers look better on paper.

    I think what companies can do is look at how they can better eke out performance from their existing hardware, rather than trying to brute-force it with ever-increasing specs. For example, instead of simply putting in a larger battery, why not improve the speed at which your phone manages its power, or returns to sleep, or the efficiency of its process management? All other things equal, this should result in better battery efficiency, while keeping performance unchanged.

  • Airyl

    Why not just make everything better? Better specs, better user experience, better pricing, better size, better bezels and then everyone’ll be happy, except for Apple users.

  • John Digweed

    The end of this is called MODULAR and I hope it arrives soon with PROJECT ARA.
    Each user will be free to pick and chose his poison and time of administration.
    Really surprised none of the panelists mentioned it in their writings. Just my 2c.

    • Airyl

      But what about the user experience? Who’s going to optimize the software to get the best performance out of the chip as possible? A badly optimized Snapdragon 800 phone could be slapped aside by a well optimized MTK6592 phone. Plus, Project Ara doesn’t exactly help much, it just makes it easier to keep up with the spec wars.

  • Richard F-P

    Even as a six-year iPhone user, I’m utterly wowed by my Moto X. Motorola is the one to watch as goes real innovation, just as long as they don’t cock up the follow up handset this year and overspec it. High end specs are seriously overrated. The larger the processor, the more power you use, the higher resolution the screen produces, the more power you use. A smartphone has to be a set of compromises and an optimised handset like the X is as good as it gets. It even reads me my text messages in the car. How cool is that?!