The One Thing You Need To Know Before Buying A New Phone

Photo: Courtesy Samsung.
Welcome to What the Tech?!, Refinery29's weekly column explaining the basics behind a buzzword or concept you've heard tossed around in conversation (but maybe don't actually understand). When you're buying a new phone, you likely have to choose between 16, 32, 64, and 128 gigabyte variations. But, what in the heck does that even mean? Like a foot or a meter is a unit of measure for distance, a gigabyte is a unit of measure for digital data. For reference, you've got something like 10.8 or 13.1 GB of storage in your Gmail inbox. And you may pay for 3 GB of data per month on your Verizon plan. Here's how it works. Data is stored or transmitted as binary bits — a one or a zero. A byte is eight bits, a series of eight ones and zeros. But one byte doesn't hold a ton of information (only a standard text character, for example). So our phones and computers need a lot of them in order to store our apps, documents, photos, and other data. The prefixes we generally use for these measurements are kilo, mega, giga, and tera. One kilobyte is roughly 1,000 bytes, one megabyte is 1,000 kilobytes, and one gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes. This means that your 64 GB phone actually stores more than 67 million bytes.
Here's why this is important.
Let's say you're looking into a new phone (an iPhone SE, for example). It comes in 16 GB and 64 GB models. Which size should you get? You want to look at your photo- and app-storage needs. On a phone with a 12-megapixel camera, one GB will store 238 photos. So that means the 16 GB model can store 3,814 photos before it runs out of space, and the 64 GB model can store more than 15 thousand. That's just photos (so no Seamless app, and nary a podcast download). I don't know about you, but I probably take around 1,000 photos in a single month. If I got the 16 GB model, I'd have to delete photos all the time to keep making room on my phone. So going for the slightly more expensive 64 GB model makes way more sense.
Hopefully, this helps clarify what a gigabyte is, and what it means in real life. If you have any other questions, hop into the comments.

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