The crapped-up world of memory allocation on consumer cellphones

InfoSyncWorld posted a review of the Samsung SCH-A930 phone. They say that “while we had no trouble pulling down Web pages optimized for mobile surfing, the browser crashed while trying to download the lengthy New York Times home page.

This phone runs the 6.2.3.2 Verizon-modified version of Openwave’s UP.Browser. Openwave already licences their 7.x version which is better in terms of compatibility (although it requires a bit more memory in exchange for more features), and there is an even newer version of the 6.x branch, 6.3.0.8, which is better than the 6.2.3.2. However, Verizon sticks with that specific old version for ALL their phones. No matter what non-smartphone you buy from Verizon, you are going to get the same version, and end up at a similar crashing problem (here’s another review with the same problem, same browser, same carrier). In reality, the problem is this:

Openwave/Teleca: “Look! We only need 2 MB of RAM to gracefully operate our web browser with most sites, when Netfront or Opera require at least 6 MBs!”
LG/Samsung/Motorola: “Oh, really? Very interesting, well done! Here’s the thing though: I am only going to give you 512 KB of heap. Make it work if you want to have money to buy a turkey this Christmas.”

As you can understand, the thing will run out of memory, crash itself or even crash the phone too (if the phone’s OS has no protective memory) on large web sites. This is the case for most non-smartphones. They squeeze out every bit of memory and make applications run on their own pre-defined memory space. The browser is as comfortable to use on large pages as an SUV with 30 people inside.

If you are a person who uses GPRS and you are interested in browsing real-world web sites, never buy a normal cellphone. Always buy a smartphone with an OS that has advanced dynamic memory handling. And that excludes most PalmOS, Blackberry and Sidekick incarnations too. Opt for Windows Mobile, some Linux phones (not all of them), some UIQ devices (P990 is a good example) and the enterprise E-series of Nokia’s S60 3rd Edition (which have more RAM than the N-series).

To answer your question that’s in your head right now: “why don’t these people put more RAM in these phones?“. The answer is: “money”. If they sell 1 million handsets of a particular model and adding an extra 4 MBs of RAM costs them $4, they just lost $4 million dollars right there. And all that, for a feature (web browser) that only 11% of the phone users (occasionally) use. From their business point of view, it doesn’t worth it. And they can argue that if you want more power, buy a smartphone. And they will be kinda right on that remark…

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