RAM 101 Featuring OnePlus 5
OnePlus made waves recently with the launch of their latest flagship. I’m not going to review the device or discuss the various issues some devices seem to have here. Instead, I’d like to talk about memory.
The base 64GB model has 6GB like the OnePlus 3T it replaces. That’s still significantly more than other phones on the market, but this is OnePlus. They love to push their devices as far as they can when it comes to performance. As such, the top of the line 128GB OnePlus 5 has a whopping 8GB of RAM! To put that into perspective, the flagships of other manufacturers like Google and Samsung make-do with 4GB of RAM.
So what does this extra RAM mean for users when they get their hands on the sexy chunk of aluminium? Not what they might think. There’s a common misconception when it comes to RAM: more RAM more speed! That isn’t strictly the case, not in the way people assume at least.
Let’s talk about how RAM works for a second. Put simply, RAM is short-term memory. Running applications and processes are stored there so as to increase the speed of various tasks. Let’s say you’re listening to music on Spotify. As soon as you open the app, it is loaded in RAM. If you leave the app while music is still playing, that app is kept in RAM even though it is no longer on your screen. This allows Spotify to keep playing your music. If the RAM wasn’t there, the app would totally close as soon as you leave it.
Why does the amount of RAM matter? Well, some functions require more memory to operate correctly. The camera needs to decode the image from the imaging sensor, apply digital stabilizing, adjust exposure and various other settings to get you the image you want. That is more complex than something like Spotify which simply plays audio through your speakers.
Now consider how you use your smartphone. It’s unlikely that you only use one app at a time, or that you close each app as you leave it. Chances are you use multiple apps at the same time, switching between them rapidly, and if those apps had to reload each time you did so it would quickly become frustrating. That’s why we have the trend of devices shipping with more RAM than ever before. In 2011 Samsung launched the Galaxy S2 with 1GB of RAM which was considered huge! Six short years later and 4GB is the norm, with devices like the OnePlus 5 pushing the envelope.
So, if we were to place the two OnePlus 5 models next to each other, what should we expect? Most would assume that the phone with 8GB would be faster. This isn’t the case as shown in this YouTube video by Timmers EM1. On the first round simply opening apps for the first time they are on par. The 2GB difference won’t make any difference at all here. When apps are loaded for the first time, they aren’t loaded in RAM yet. That happens while the app is being opened. What matters here is the speed of the main storage and processor, which is identical in the two OnePlus 5 devices.
The 8GB phone doesn’t pull ahead until you start switching between apps that are already open. In that test the phone with more RAM is able to keep more apps in memory for longer and so it’s quicker, opening apps without redraws.
Don’t think that all RAM is created equal though. There are still various types of RAM that run at different speeds. Think of it as the difference between a regular hard drive and an SSD. You could get them in the same capacities, but the SSD will always be faster. This is the case with RAM as well.
So, when you’re trying to decide what smartphone to buy, don’t let the amount of RAM be the only factor in your decision. Research the type of RAM your options use and let that contribute to your choice. It might sound tedious, but you want to make sure you get the best value for your money.
The YouTube video comparing the two OnePlus phones tells us something else about the device. Many phones can have different components used in them depending on what batch it’s made in, or the capacity you buy. The iPhone 6S for example, shipped with two different camera units based on where it was made. Although both had the same specs as one another, there were noticeable differences in the pictures they took.
The two OnePlus phones keeping up with one another shows that they use the same RAM and storage type, regardless of the capacity you buy. It’s nice to know that they didn’t cheap out on the less expensive model!
It’s also worth mentioning that the OnePlus 5 has some neat tricks up its sleeve when it comes to RAM. The device intelligently remembers what your most used apps are, and automatically stores them in RAM after a reboot. That means that getting everything up and running after a reboot will be a lot quicker!
So there you go, a quick guide to what RAM actually does in your smart devices, and why you should care about it. If you’re buying the OnePlus 5 I wouldn’t let the RAM be your only reason for choosing the more expensive variant. 4GB is more than enough for most users, so 6GB is ample. But if you want more storage than 64GB then the 128GB is definitely great value and the extra RAM is just a delightful bonus.