Look up any smartphone buying guide, and it will tell you that the amount of RAM in a smartphone is an important factor in whether the phone is worth buying or not. Like with most phone specifications, more means better when it comes to RAM. But exactly how RAM should you get for a phone?
What is RAM?
RAM means random access memory. It works together with your phone’s storage to store data. But whereas the phone storage (i.e., the internal storage and the microSD card) functions as a container for persistent data, RAM is for temporary data that needs to be accessed at a much faster rate.
A smartphone stores information in RAM if it expects this information is needed more frequently soon. This includes the apps you’ve opened. This is why you’re able to go back to an app you’ve recently used and carry on using the app without it relaunching first.
Why does the amount of RAM matter?
Since its amount of RAM is limited, a smartphone will eventually run out of space for storing information. A smartphone needs to free up RAM space as part of its memory management in order to keep things running smoothly, especially the active app you’re using.
To do so, the phone may quietly close a number of apps you haven’t used in a while. If you’ve noticed that switching to an app you’ve already opened before requires some time to load again, then it may have been terminated by the smartphone to free up memory.
With bigger RAM, a smartphone no longer has to perform memory cleanup and close unused apps as often. You’d be able to launch multiple apps and switch between apps without delay or reload.
How much RAM does your smartphone have?
There are many ways to find the amount of RAM in your phone. You can start by looking up your phone’s product page on the manufacturer’s website. Or you check the phone manual or the back of the packaging box.
A reliable method is to check the phone settings. For Android smartphones, go to Settings > Developer Options. If there are no Developer Options, go to Settings > About Phone, find and tap Build Number seven times.
For iPhones, Apple does not publicly reveal RAM information. But through some digging, third-party developers and publications have figured out how much RAM there is. Since 2017, iPhone models have 4GB RAM, although the Pro and Pro Max versions of the iPhone 12 and 13 series have 6GB RAM.
How much RAM is enough?
The consensus seems to be that 4GB is the recommended amount of RAM for a smartphone these days. But really, the right answer is on a case-to-case basis, as users have varying needs and want for their smartphones. Mobile gamers will want more, while casual users performing the occasional surfing of the web and streaming media will do just fine with less.
For as long as it’s within your budget, you should choose a phone with more RAM. Over time, there will be new versions of your apps as well as major operating system updates that will use more memory, and your phone will remain running smoothly thanks to your hardware investment.
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How do you check the RAM usage of apps?
For Android, go to Developer Options (with directions mentioned above). Tap Memory, then tap Memory Usage to find the breakdown of apps and their average memory usage. You can switch between 3, 6, 12, and 24 hours to see how much memory the apps used on average during those intervals.
As a rough estimate, light apps such as YouTube and WhatsApp may use 400MB of RAM or less. Heavy apps like many mobile games may use 1GB or more. Mobile browsers can also exceed past 1GB when you open several tabs.
Each app consumes RAM differently, but it usually depends on how ‘heavy’ they are. Games, for one, typically use more memory than basic apps.
Why do iPhones have less RAM than high-end Android phones?
Given how Apple enforces tight hardware-software integration for its products, the iPhone can work just as fast as (or even outperform) high-end Android smartphones that come with more RAM. Differences in the way that iOS and Android handle memory management are also attributed to why the iPhone can get by with less RAM.
Can you expand your smartphone’s RAM?
No. Like with most smartphone components, the physical RAM chip is embedded and not removable. You can’t swap out an old RAM chip for a better one.
In newer Android smartphones, however, there’s a feature called dynamic RAM expansion. Other phone manufacturers call it virtual RAM expansion or simply virtual RAM. Samsung calls it RAM Plus. When enabled, the feature allocates a portion of the phone’s internal storage to convert it to an improvised RAM. Your phone will then essentially have a bigger total amount of RAM.
For example, the Realme V11s 5G can expand its 4GB/6GB RAM up to 11GB total RAM using dynamic RAM expansion. OPPO’s own take on the feature will let you select how much internal storage to allocate for RAM—by 3GB, 5GB or 7GB. Old Android smartphones may receive OTA updates that enable RAM expansion in the future, but it depends on the manufacturer.
Is virtual RAM just as good as physical RAM?
A smartphone’s RAM is way faster than its internal storage. And since virtual RAM makes use of internal storage, virtual memory is simply slower than physical memory. Enabling virtual RAM in Android is still recommended though, just know that it’s not good as real RAM. The likelihood of a recently used app to restart when you resume using it is lower on a phone with virtual RAM than one without.
The RAM is only one of many components you need to consider when buying a new smartphone. For the best performance and overall experience, don’t forget to check the battery life, processor, and modem. Make sure the manufacturer has a good history in software update support too.
Have any questions? Let us know in the comments section below and we’ll try to help you out.