It’s been a long journey in terms of hardware improvements for Android smartphones. You may recall that smartphones shipped almost a decade ago with 512MB RAM and single-core or double-core specs at best. Apple has always ignored advancements in RAM, claiming that mobile devices didn’t need more than 1GB. Samsung and other Android OEMs managed to offer the best capacities. In September 2013, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 was revealed. It was the first smartphone with 3GB RAM. Mid-range smartphones were available with RAM of 512 MB and sometimes as low as 1 GB. In the meantime, flagships were introduced in the 2GB range.
The Note III was a significant milestone in the RAM capacity of Android smartphones. However, ASUS further pushed the limits with its ZenFone 2 with a staggering 4 GB RAM at CES 2015. This was the beginning of smartphone RAM that looked and felt like a computer.
We can’t say enough about the OnePlus 6, which pushed it to 6 GB RAM, even though 4 GB RAM was already a questionable number in 2015. This device was the final step, and we witnessed the rise in popularity of smartphones with high RAM levels. Next came 8GB, 12GB, and most recently 16GB RAM. Virtual RAM, which can theoretically increase this insanely high RAM amount to even greater levels, is a popular product that many brands sell. Users are still asking the same question: How much RAM is sufficient for an Android device?
Smartphones are now available in 4GB and 6GB RAM. Premium smartphones can easily reach the 8GB and 12GB mark. Gaming is now available with 16GB RAM and even 18GB RAM. But what amount of RAM do you really need for 2022? We’ll find out by analyzing the extensive data from AndroidAuthority.
IS MY ANDROID SMARTPHONE RESPONSIBLE FOR STORING SO MUCH RAM?
High RAM numbers are a popular trend right now. It’s also a trend that’s very easy to sell. A customer may see a smartphone that has more RAM than another and see it as a better choice. A smartphone with more RAM can also be future-proofed. But, it is important to know how much RAM you need in order to enjoy a pleasant Android smartphone experience. One that will last for at least two years.
RAM AND SWAP MEMORY
RAM is RAM Acess Memory. It’s the memory that runs the applications, their data and the OS. For mid-range smartphones, 4GB RAM is the minimum. Some devices in the low-end Android Go category still come with 2GB RAM.
It doesn’t matter how much RAM you have, it is a finite resource and needs to be managed. You must allow the app to take up a certain amount of memory when you create a new Android app. Simple apps and games take up a few hundred megabytes. Some recent, more demanding titles are now able to use gigabytes of RAM.
Smartphone brands have been following a trend of “virtual memory” over the past year. It promises to increase RAM even in “virtual” form. This is a very old concept that computers have had for many years. It’s the old and reliable “Swap Memory”. It’s where the older and less frequently used pages of memory are written to swap storage and the RAM they were in becomes free. The pages of memory that have been saved are then read from storage and copied into RAM.
This significantly increases the RAM available to store data and apps. It is slower than RAM, which is the main limitation. Here’s another advantage to smartphones: they have faster storage modules than the vast majority. Although it is not as fast or as efficient as physical RAM, it is still faster than standard computers.
ANDROID HAS A DIFFERENT MULTIPLE IMPLEMENTATION
Android uses a different computer implementation to compress the data and write it back into RAM. This is called zRAM. It follows Unix/Linux’s tradition of using “Z”, to denote compress. Android runs on a Linux kernel and has many of the same functions and operations as Linux. It is not possible to read the compressed memory. Therefore, it must be copied back and uncompressed if needed. This is similar to traditional swapping in.
Swap Space is also a scarce resource. Android will begin culling any apps that are already in memory if it runs out of swap space. This means that an app will force close and reopen once it is open again. This is a common feature on Android smartphones with 1GB RAM. It has greatly improved since then. The app’s requirements increased as RAM capacities increased. If you want to enjoy a “multitasking” experience on your smartphone, you will need a lot of RAM.
FINDING THE IDEAL RAM QUANTITY
AndroidAuthority carried out tests with three smartphones to determine the optimal amount: the Galaxy S21 Ultra (12 GB), OnePlus 9 Pro (4 GB) and the Pixel 3 XL (four GB). Although you can see some discrepancy, it is because the tester could see the differences in three different scenarios. It also shows if Google’s past reluctance to adopt high-RAM capacities can be sustained.
Both the Pixel and Galaxy smartphones are running Android 12. The OnePlus is running stable Android 11. The tester took note of the free RAM and swap space on each smartphone. Next, he ran a program, noting the RAM used and looking at the changes in the swap space and free RAM. He repeated these steps until Android forced him to delete an app that was already in memory.
This was the list of all the games, processes and RAM that were used during the test:
- Subway Surfers — 750MB
- 1945 Airforce — 850MB
- Candy Crush — 350MB
- Brawl Stars — 500MB
- Minecraft — 800MB
- Asphalt 9 — 800MB
- Shadowgun Legends — 900MB
- Elder Scrolls Blades — 950MB
- Genshin Impact — 1.44GB
- Chrome — 2.2GB
SAMSUNG GALAXY ULTRA VS PIXEL3 XL TESTS
The extremes of this spectrum are Samsung and Google smartphones. The S21 has the largest capacity and the Pixel 3 XL has the lowest. Below is a graphic showing how the devices performed during testing sessions. The list of games listed in order of launch is at the bottom. The blue line indicates how much RAM is left. The green line indicates how much swap space was used.
The S21 Ultra illustrates the theory in practice. The amount of swap space used rises as the RAMs become less available. The S21 Ultra had 12GB RAM and was capable of holding all games, including Subway Surfers, 1945 Air Force, Minecraft, Elder Scroll Blades, Genshin Impac, and others. No apps were deleted at the end of the test. The tester also used Google Chrome to open 12 tabs. It takes 2.2GB of memory, which is quite simple. Android finally killed Minecraft.
While trying to do the same things, the Pixel 3 XL was almost a disaster. It was capable of holding three games simultaneously in RAM: Subway Surfers and 1945 AirForce. After the tester had run Brawl Stars Subway Surfers, it was removed from memory.
ONEPLUS 9 PRO
8 GB RAM was used by the OnePlus 9 Pro in these tests. The device includes RAMBoost, a company feature. It is designed to improve memory management. It analyses your usage and attempts to keep the apps you use most often in memory. It also tries to kill the apps you don’t use as much. If it detects that you are likely to use certain apps soon, the feature will try to preload them. The tester tested the handset by comparing the use of RAMBoost on and off.
When Candy Crush was released, RAMBoost reached its peak. Subway Surfers was shut down, even though there was plenty of RAM and swap storage. Subway Surfers was restarted by the tester and it continued. Brawl Stars launched without any problems, as did Minecraft. Android killed Candy Crush and The 1945 Air Force when Asphalt 9 was released.
ONEPLUS HAS AGGRESSIVE RAM MANAGEMENT
Android behaves differently once RAMBoost has been turned off All the apps were able to be started by the tester, including Subway Surfers and Minecraft. However, Subway Surfers, which was the app he was trying to open, was not deleted.
He could conclude that OnePlus uses more aggressive RAM management. Even when resources are available, it kills apps. Although the handset has 4GB of free swap space, only 1GB is available when apps are removed.
CONCLUSION: HOW MUCH RAM IS NEEDED?
The test is over and we now know that 4GB is not sufficient for a good Android smartphone experience. The most demanding apps for productivity are less demanding than social media apps. Games are the top hardware eaters. If you are unable to get an 8 GB or 12-GB RAM device, perhaps 6 GB is more feasible.
Both 8GB and 12GB RAM seem to be in the right place and will prove more reliable, particularly the 12GB RAM. 8GB RAM is becoming more popular in mid-range smartphones. It may only take years before 12GB RAM becomes available.
16 GB and more are too much and are only used for marketing purposes. This could change over the next few years.