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How much RAM does a smartphone need?



6 minute read

Nowadays, smartphones are getting packed with more and more memory. It begs the question - how much RAM do you really use and how much is actually necessary for smooth usage?

In this article, we take a look at these questions and provide some important answers so that you can learn more about how much memory is actually needed in a smartphone.

We’ve touched on this previously, but now that more smartphones are hitting the market with 6-8GB of RAM, it makes sense to revisit the topic with more information on these particular devices, as well as more detailed information on smartphones with less than this amount.

What is RAM used for on a smartphone?

iPhone RAM

Before we explain how much RAM is needed for a smartphone, it makes sense to explain what it actually does.

RAM stands for random access memory. It’s a type of memory that is used in PCs and other hardware to keep data in an easy to reach place. RAM is much faster than standard internal memory, so if you use apps frequently, the data for those apps will be stored in the RAM.

This means that when you open up the app next time, the app will load up much faster.

The more RAM you have on a smartphone, the more apps and files you’ll be able to fit in the RAM, which means more apps will boot up quicker.

Because of the optimisations made to mobile apps in general, there’s a limit to how much RAM is actually needed.

As time goes on, and as mobile hardware becomes better, the requirement for smooth performance will increase, but for now you can get by absolutely fine with much lower RAM than most smartphones are equipped with.

Why 8GB of RAM isn’t necessary for a smartphone

OnePlus 3T

Right now, there are a number of smartphones that have 8GB of RAM inside.

However, 8GB of RAM isn’t necessary for a smartphone. In fact, 8GB memory would even be more than enough for almost all computing tasks on a standard work machine, laptop or office computer.

There just aren’t enough tasks in the world to throw at your smartphone to make this 8GB of RAM useful.

You could argue that purchasing a smartphone with 8GB of RAM will future proof your device, but unfortunately smartphone hardware degrades pretty quickly. With this in mind, it doesn’t make sense to purchase a smartphone with 8GB of RAM solely for that purpose.

The average smartphone RAM usage is actually far, far lower than 8GB. I’ll show you some real world examples below.

How much RAM do you actually need?

RAM Chips

This question has a bit of a fluid answer depending on your own usage scenario and the operating system you use.

If you are using Android, then you’ll need more RAM than iOS. Unfortunately for Android users, the Android operating system is a little more memory hungry than iOS. To counter this, most Android manufacturers include more RAM in their smartphones than Apple does.

For example, the Galaxy S9 has 4GB RAM whilst the iPhone 8 has 2GB RAM.

Let’s first look at Android usage.

The optimal RAM needed for Android is 4GB

If you use multiple apps everyday, your RAM usage won’t hit much more than 2.5-3.5GB. This means that a smartphone with 4GB RAM will give you all the room in the world for quickly opening your favourite apps.

As an example, here are two screenshots from two separate smartphones that I own. The first is the OnePlus 3T, which has 6GB RAM.

OnePlus 3T RAM Usage
OnePlus 3T RAM Usage

Next, is the Google Pixel 2 XL, which has 4GB RAM.

Google Pixel 2 XL RAM Usage
Google Pixel 2 XL RAM Usage

As you can see from both images, the RAM usage is roughly the same. The OnePlus 3T doesn’t benefit from the additional RAM whatsoever.

The optimal RAM needed for iOS is 2GB

Whilst RAM usage on an app by app basis is similar between both iOS and Android, iPhones essentially ‘freeze’ apps when they aren’t running, which means less RAM is needed overall. This article from Techworm explains this in more detail.

It seems that Apple puts just enough RAM in their smartphones for it not to make much difference to the end consumer.

Ultimately, the 2GB versus 3GB debate seems to mean very little as both the iPhone 8 and iPhone X/8+ will perform smoothly as far as RAM goes.

Is 2GB RAM enough for a smartphone?

If you’re on Apple, yes. Like mentioned above, iPhones perform smoothly on just 2GB of RAM.

These days, most midrange or high end Android smartphones have 3GB or more RAM. Some smartphones do have less, however.

If you do end up with an Android smartphone with 2GB of RAM, or are considering purchasing one, here’s what will happen.

  • Data from apps will be stored in the RAM until it is filled up.

  • At that point, if a new app is opened, the app at the bottom of your recent apps list will be removed from the RAM.

  • This opens up enough RAM for the newly opened app to be stored.

  • When you go to open the recently removed app, its data won’t be in the RAM, so loading times won’t be as fast.

This means that whilst having 2GB RAM on a smartphone will slow down opening and loading apps, the performance in these apps will be smooth once everything has loaded up.

Once again, all of this only applies to Android. If you have 2GB RAM on iOS, you will be unaffected.

Is 1GB RAM enough for a smartphone?

Unfortunately, 1GB RAM on a smartphone is not enough in 2018, especially on Android.

The Android operating system can quite often use up to 1GB RAM or more on its own, which means the overall performance across every app and every interface will feel slow. Loading times on simple things like the app drawer will take longer and will feel unresponsive.

The experience on Apple will be far better, and once you’re in an app, 1GB RAM should be more than enough, but some apps, especially Safari, may lose recent memory regularly. This would include all of your opened tabs. This article from Ars Technica goes into more detail.

How to see how much RAM you use on your smartphone

If you’d like to see your own RAM usage to see how much you may be able to get by with when purchasing a new smartphone, follow the steps below.

If you’re on Android:

  • Open the settings app.

  • Scroll to the bottom.

  • Tap ‘system’.

  • Tap ‘about phone’.

  • Tap ‘build number’ multiple times. (Usually seven).

  • A pop-up will appear saying ‘you are now a developer!’.

  • Tap back, then tap ‘developer options’.

  • Next, tap ‘memory’ to see your average RAM usage.

If you’re on iOS:

On iOS, you aren’t able to view memory. If you aren’t happy with your iPhone performance, your best bet is to buy a newer iPhone model for better performance.

If you’re more of an Android fan, you can find new Android phones here.

Thanks for reading through this article. I hope that the information I’ve provided about RAM usage has been useful.

Written by zerodudex333

Ollie is a big mobile/tech fan. Follow his Twitter and his Instagram travel account