The numbers are a lie / how to not be fooled

From camera sensor resolution to mAh and battery capacity, there’re some numbers thrown around that are quite often worthless, misleading, or don’t mean what you think they mean. Thought I’d give a breakdown on what’s presented and what it actually means quite often.

Also, if I’m wrong, let me know (nicely.) I’ll fix and credit you. It’s late and I was working on this while mowing today.

Resolution (cameras) the numbers are a lie

21 megapixel sensor on a camera does not mean your image is going to contain 21 million points of data, although the image the device gives you probably will be saved in a resolution claiming that. Something like 5000×4000. I had a run in with a child’s camera touting its sensor being 16 megapixel and then producing images that were effectively 0.3 due to bad software, bad processing, averaging, etc.

myFirst Insta Wi
The effects of bad processing on a high megapixel sensor

Cameras require a lot more than a high res CMOS sensor, they require image processing software onboard to take those 21 million points of data and make them smooth, the right color, and then take something that’s at least a raw 21 megabytes (and probably more like 42-63) and compress it into a good looking 200,000-3,000,000 byte file.

Zooming in on cheap camera images you just get blocky off color garbage. That’s a combo of light/focus, quality of the CMOS sensor, mostly the software processing, JPEG/picture compression software and settings, and whether they’re attempting to wow you with numbers.

The pixels are a lie.

Wattage (speakers) the numbers are a lie

This seems to be mostly a problem in the Bluetooth speaker realm, but if you’re told that a speaker has 100 watts but don’t have a dB, here’s what you’re being told: The speaker contains 2 tweeters, probably 2 woofers. Across all of these there is a shared 100 watts. None of the speakers in the Bluetooth speaker is a 100 watt speaker. You do not know how loud this speaker is because 100 watts is not a loudness.

black portable speaker Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

It’s the same a saying that a Honda Odyssey goes at speeds of 19 gallons.

Now, you can take the size of the speaker and the known wattage for a tweeter or a woofer and figure this out somewhat… but Watts on a portable speakers aren’t louds.

Decibels are louds.

Those mAh numbers are a lie (chargers, portable batteries)

Ok, first off mAh (milliamp hours,) is sort of like a gallon of gas. mA (milliamps,) is like a trickle of that gallon coming out. But here’s the thing. That gallon (mAh,) can contain different energy delivery (premium, regular, unleaded, e85, diesel.)

What the issue here is mAh is calculated by taking Watt-hours (set and known level of power,) and multiplying it times the voltage of the battery that is in the charger.

Battery used in The Numbers are a Lie
Give me a couple of these for all day phone power

Most batteries in a charger are about 3.6-3.7 volts, so a 10,000 mAh portable power bank could be 34-37 Watt-hours.

The internal batteries can vary and a higher voltage internal battery means a higher mAh. This generally isn’t the case, but what you do run into is that 10,000mAh battery is not going to put 10,000mAh of juice into your phone.

Right off the top you’re going to lost 8-15% in conversion on the portable charger side. You’ve now got a 9,200mAh source feeding your phone at 3.6 volts. Oh wait, that’s got to go to 5,9, maybe 12. Little more loss in mAh converting there, and whatever your phone loses while attempting to stuff the electric back into chemical energy.

Suddenly you find a 10,000mAh battery can charge your phone’s 5000mAh battery about one and a half times depending on a lot of conditions including charging speed, ambient temperature, etc.

The signal strength indicator is a lie

On the internet we ask for data, and we are sent data. This is a wild oversimplification of things however think of getting a video as a two way street where we’re asking again and again for little blocks of data.

So, while you might have a great signal indicator on your phone because you’ve got a great Wi-Fi router plugged into the heart of the internet and powered by 100+ year old electric technology transmitting data to you, your phone which is trying to make every last drop of energy last as long as possible doesn’t yell back as loudly.

Your router can punch through a wall, your phone might get disrupted by a sleeping dog.

How many photos or musics you can saves

Can store 10,000 photos! Can put on 90,000 songs! I don’t think this level of advertising is as predominate at the moment but it’s been in the past. These numbers were generally with fairly low quality settings in the past. Sure you can take 10,000 photos with your 21 mp sensor, but they’re being squished to crap.

The new (brand) (product name) with All Day Battery, is a lie

Any phone out there at this point has an all day battery, if you don’t use it.

Reviewers who tell you a phone lasted all day in the first two weeks of testing have not installed and gotten all their normal apps up and running and that’s… not an attempt at lying, it’s just people get a new phone and find that the all day battery claims sort of go away when they start using it.

Just how things work… much like I discovered a long time ago I could keep an HTC EVO running for nearly a month without power and on a single battery as long as I did nothing with it.

That PA rating on your robot vacuum is … you guessed it… a lie

Pa is a Pascal Pressure Unit. Oversimplification: How much something sucks.

person holding white plastic lid 
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com used in The Numbers Are a Lie

Here’s where the issue comes in – robot vacuums essentially hover over a carpet or surface. Let’s say you’re sucking at 5000pa. This is how much suction is happening. Is there dirt to suck? Do we have a seal around the area? Is air moving fast enough to capture the dirt thrown up? Is the dirt actually getting where it needs to be to be sucked up?

Think about a car wash vacuum hose. Does it do anything when it’s stuck to the seat other than give it a hickey?

Pa is only a part of a valid measurement. It’s a part, but there are a lot of other factors.

Also most vacuums that claim 5000 Pa and up to 3 hours of battery life have a little disclaimer that the 3 hours is on eco mode which is probably running at 1500-2000 Pa. So look at that too.

The gigahertz is a lie

I don’t know even where to start with this one, but there’s a reason we’ve been looking at the same basic clock speeds for years but devices get faster. There’s also a reason some chips have higher GHz speeds and perform worse.

closed up photo of black dell central processing unit Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

It’s late, and unless you want to know why benchmarks have been mostly useless for a while and how branching predictive caches are somehow responsible for Roswell, it’s an entirely epic story that can boil down to: the speed of the clock is not indicative of performance.

The gigabit is… somewhat of a lie

Got gig fiber service? You might see 95% of that speed on benchmarks and that’s great. That doesn’t go all that far however and that’s just how the internet works. More hops, slower speeds.

The average consumer isn’t using over 50mbit at any given time. The average cheap-o LAN port I’ve noticed is generally about 600mbit although in the past couple of years it seems the quality has gone up.

He exploded from 30,000 volts!

Every now and then a squirrel meets its death on a high voltage/power electrical line taking out power, or internet, and a reporter comes on and says something like that power was taken out to this area because a squirrel met 30,000 volts and exploded or some such.

A Taser emits 50,000 volts.

Do you explode from a Taser? No. Because voltage isn’t Watts, or Amps.


5G doesn’t mean the speed will be better.
Higher octane doesn’t mean your car gets more power.
Higher voltage batteries don’t mean they carry more power.
Lumens don’t work the way you think they do.
4K support on a 1080P device means it can take 4K input and downscale it to look worse.
IPV6 doesn’t route any better.
Going to 11 isn’t one louder.
Gold plated tips do nothing if the entire cable isn’t gold.
4K resolution claimed by streaming service indicates pixels they’ll throw on a screen and not pixels they’ll deliver.

Did I get it wrong?

You’re the internet, comment away. If I got something wrong I’d like to correct it.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

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