How to Power Profile A Mobile App Using Hardware

This article is the second in a series for mobile software developers. The first article can be found here. It is intended to help developers create apps with better battery life. This article will focus on Best Practices for hardware power measurement. A subsequent article will provide tips how developers can reduce the power consumption of their app. Reducing power consumption results in longer battery life and happier users.

Battery life is now the number one thing consumers care about. Developers need to take action to ensure their app doesn’t not consume too much power, but most of them have no idea how much power there app consumes. You could use software like GameBench or Trepn Profiler to measure power consumption, but those run on your device. Collecting large amounts of power data and storing it locally consumes CPU cycles, which can inflate power readings. Another problem is the fact that popular devices like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and some versions of the Galaxy Note 4 may not report accurate power readings. With these devices, you need to measure power using an off-target hardware-based solution. This article shows you how it’s done.

Monsoon

Good Power Meters Aren’t Cheap

There are different ways to measure the power consumed by mobile devices, but the most popular off-target method is using a Monsoon Power Monitor. This $771 device effectively replaces the battery on your phone. It can measure the voltage, current and power and connects to special PC software which provides control over power data is collected and displayed. After your Monsoon arrives, you need to download this software and documentation from their website. You also need bypass the battery in your phone, so the Monsoon can power it. Although you could connect two banana to mini-grabber cables directly to your phone, the battery gauge and temperature monitoring won’t work unless you leave the battery in and use insulated copper tape as described in the Monsoon manual. Their user guide describes how to prepare your phone so it can be connected to a Monsoon Power Monitor. Once you’ve modified your battery, you’ll need to determine how you are going to charge it. In most cases you’ll just fold back the copper tape on the plus terminal so that battery charges normally. If you have a phone like a Nexus 6, which doesn’t have a removable battery, you got a challenge on your hands. Checkout the Appendix at the end of this article to see why.

It easy to measure power on a phone with a removable battery

It easy to measure power on a phone with a removable battery

Connecting Your Device

Now that you’ve modified your battery, you’re ready to connect your phone to the Monsoon. If you haven’t done so already, download and install the Monsoon software and connect a USB cable to the of the power monitor, so you can install the drivers as described in the manual. Before connecting your phone to the Monsoon you need to perform one final test. Connect your modified battery to the red and black banana plugs on the front on the Monsoon. Make sure the Monsoon is off and press the power button on your phone. If the phone powers up, the connection to the battery has not been broken. Now launch the ‘Power Tool’ software on your PC and turn on the Monsoon. The LED on the front panel of the Monsoon should be green. Press the ‘Refresh’ button and highlight your device on the PC software and click on the Select button. If the software can’t communicate with the Monsoon, power cycle the Power Monitor.Capture3By default, the power supply on the Monsoon is turned off, so you’ll need to turn it on and set the proper voltage. Click on ‘Set Vout’ and enter the proper value for your device. Next, enable ‘Vout,’ and enter the size of your battery. Once you confirm VOUT is enabled on the software, you can power up your phone. Wait until the Android home screen is displayed until you proceed. Next, connect a cable from the USB out on the front of the Monsoon to your device. This will be used to control your device remotely. When USB passthrough mode is set to AUTO, once sampling is started, the direct USB connection is disabled, charging over USB is disabled and samples are measured without the interference of USB charging. As soon as sampling is stopped, the direct USB connection is re-enabled and data can once again be transferred to and from the device over USB

Sizing Up Your App

You should perform a series of tests with your app, and similar apps, so you know how your app compares to the competition. You should measure idle power consumption, average power consumption and peak power consumption. You’ll find step-by-step directions below how to do this.

Measuring Idle Power Consumption

Measuring the power consumed when an app is doing nothing and comparing it to the idle power consumption of your device can show if the app under test is keeping the screen or processor awake. It can also identify problems with analytics and ads. Start by measuring the baseline idle power consumption of your device without any apps running. Since the screen is such a large consumer of power, you should measure idle power with the screen off as well as on and carefully document the screen brightness level. The chart below shows how much power an idle Nexus 6 consumes at various screen brightness levels. Brightness levels are set via ADB script — not using the Android OS slider.

Power consumed by a Nexus 6 at various brightness levels

Power consumed by a Nexus 6 at various brightness levels

Preparing to measure power

  1. Connect your mobile device to the Monsoon Power Monitor.
  2. Launch the Monsoon PowerTool software on your PC and enable Vout as described above.
  3. Power up your smartphone or tablet and wait 5-6 minutes.
  4. Check ‘Power Avg’ on the Monsoon and set the units to mW (100 units/tick).
  5. Turn off all unneeded features like Wi-Fi and Sync and put your device in ‘Airplane Mode.’
  6. Go to Settings and launch the Application Manager. Stop all unneeded apps and services under the ‘Running’ heading.
  7. A full list of Best Practices for the Monsoon is posted at the bottom of this article.

Measuring the idle power of your device and software
Monsoon1

  1. Press the RUN button to start recording power consumption.
  2. Don’t touch your device for at least 60 seconds.
  3. Press the STOP button when you are finished recording and select the on-screen region you want to use for your average. It’s a good idea to record average power readings with and without spikes. To filter out spikes and get a more accurate average, select a region on the Monsoon software without any large spikes (as shown on the right). This should only be done for idle power measurements when you believe the spikes are caused by other apps or the operating system.

Here are some idle power measurements taken on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with no apps running in the foreground.

  • Average idle power – screen off – 15.6 mW (without spikes)
  • Average idle power – screen off – 27.8 mW (with spikes)
  • Average idle power – screen brightness min. – 391 mW (without spikes)
  • Average idle power – screen brightness min. – 410 mW (with spikes)
  • Average idle power – screen 50% – 528 mW (without spikes)
  • Average idle power – screen 50% – 557 mW (with spikes)
  • Average idle power – screen 100% – 870 mW (without spikes)
  • Average idle power – screen 100% – 882 mW (with spikes)
  • For comparison purposes, here are a few idle power readings for a Nexus 6 with no apps running in the foreground. The Nexus 6 has a larger screen with considerably more pixels (2560×1440 vs. 1920×1080). This probably accounts for most of the difference in power consumption between these two devices.

  • Average idle power – screen off – 20 mW (without spikes)
  • Average idle power – screen 50% to 100% – 660mW to 1200 mW (including spikes)
  1. After you finish measuring the idle power of your device, launch your app and measure the idle power when it is running. In theory this should be similar to the idle power of the device, but often it’s higher. By comparing the idle power of your app with similar apps, you can determine if your app has a problem.

Here are some idle power measurements taken on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 before playing two different games:

  • Average power No app running (idle) – 557 mW
  • Average power Temple Run (idle) – 1575 mW (during the first minute while screen awake)
  • Average power Temple Run (idle) – 720 mW (after the screen dims about 60 seconds into the test)
  • Average power Asphalt 8: Airborne (idle) – 2139 mW

Test Details: Duration: 2:00 Screen brightness: 50%; Airplane Mode: On; Wi-Fi enabled (Asphalt 8 – Won’t run without Wi-Fi); All readings above include power spikes.

There are several reasons why Asphalt 8 consumes 36% more power than Temple Run during the first minute of testing. Asphalt 8 has nice visual effects and sound and Temple Run does not. However, when you let the test run for two minutes, Asphalt 8 consumes 197% more power. The biggest reason for the discrepancy is because Asphalt 8 holds a full wakelock, which never lets the screen go to sleep, while Temple Run lets the screen dim after the user defined interval. In my test, this was set to 60 seconds.

Measuring Average Power Consumption

Here are some average power measurements taken on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with the same games tested above:

  • Average power Temple Run (in-use) – 1629 mW
  • Average power Asphalt 8: Airborne – [TBD] mW

Test Details: Screen brightness: 50%; Airplane Mode: On; Wi-Fi enabled; All readings above include power spikes.

Measuring Peak Power Consumption

Before measuring the peak power that your software consumes you may want to measure the peak power of one or more popular benchmarks since that will establish a top limit of the power which can be consumed by your device.

Here are some peak power readings taken on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for some popular benchmarks:

  • AnTuTu Benchmark v5.7 – Max. power – 9761 mW
  • AnTuTu System Stability Test – Max. power – 9855 mW
  • GFXBench 3.0 – Max. power – 10497 mW (graph shown below)

Test Details: Device: Samsung Galaxy Note 3; Airplane mode: On (except for GFXBench); Wi-Fi: Off; Screen Brightness: 100%; Bluetooth: Off; Sync: Off

benchmark

Power Measurement is Fun

Having a better understanding of mobile power consumption will help you to make more power efficient apps. ThemesThe thought is, if you can measure it, you can act on it. You can make changes to your code and see what the affect is. You can see how your app compares to the competition. You can also answer power-related questions like the following:

Q: Do dark themes really save power?
A: Yes. The average power consumed by the Google News & Weather app with a light theme selected is 893 mW. With a dark theme selected, only 410 mW of power is consumed. That’s a savings of 54%!
theme charts
Test Details: Device: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with AMOLED display; Airplane mode – On; Wi-Fi: Off; Brightness level – 50% according to slider; Screen mode – Standard; Auto-adjust screen tone – Disabled

Q: Should my app wait to perform certain tasks until a user is on a Wi-Fi network?

A: The answer to this question depends in part on the type of app and the signal strength of your networks. If your app transfers large amounts of data, you should wait until the user connects to Wi-Fi when possible. In the test below I download a 100MB file from a website. Over Wi-Fi the average power consumption was 997 mW and the download took about 65 seconds. Over 4G, the average power consumption was 2291 mW and the download took about 195 seconds. Bottom line: Transmitting large amounts of data over a 4G cellular radio can use over twice as much power. One reason for the high cellular power consumption in my test may be related to signal strength, which only showed 2-bars. Under conditions like that, the phone has to amplify the signal more.

Well-designed apps only download files when the user is connected to Wi-Fi, but give the user the ability override this setting if desired. This is a good approach to follow. Google has code snippets online that show how this can be done.

LTE2

Monsoon Tips & Tricks

The Monsoon User Guide is very long, but doesn’t include any tips how to get the most out of it. As a result, I’ve included some suggestions here:
Cursors

  • To quickly identify minimum and maximum power readings, use cursors as shown on the right. You can also export the results of a profiling session as a CSV file. However, this isn’t ideal, because it takes a long time to export this data and Excel often fails to import all of it. If you do go this route for shorter profiling sessions, use the Statistical MIN and MAX formulas under the Formulas tab/More Functions.
  • If you get a message saying the Monsoon isn’t communicating with your computer, or you can’t start or stop profiling, try power cycling the Monsoon hardware first. If that doesn’t work, reboot your computer.
  • Immediately after starting the Monsoon software, sometimes accurate readings aren’t displayed. Pressing the ‘Run’ button seems to help fix this problem.
  • Range

  • It’s a good idea to use your mouse to set the range of data you wish used to compute the average (as shown on the on the right). This allows you to disregard data at the beginning or end of a profiling session for more accurate readings.
  • You may see the calibration status indicator on the Monsoon software go yellow or red for a few seconds. According to Monsoon support, this doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. If it stays in this state for longer periods, you should investigate.
  • If your power peaks are off-screen, change the units from mW to W.
  • You can turn on any of the available graphs at any time – even if they weren’t enabled when you captured your power data. This is helpful if you want to see the relationship of average power to peak power, or compare maximum power and current readings.
  • Under very heavy loads, you might notice the voltage on the Monsoon hardware drops slightly.
  • The Monsoon software drivers appear to have some stability issues and can cause blue screen crashes. As a result, I recommend you don’t leave it connected to your PC’s USB jack when you are not using it.
  • Make sure to use the offset feature to on power and current values to make your results more clear.

Hardware Power Measurement Best Practices

Here are some best practices you should follow if you want the most accurate power measurements:
QuickSettings

  • Your screen is the single biggest consumer of power and can skew your readings if you don’t consider the following: Make sure the screen brightness does not change between tests. Do not enable ‘Auto’ brightness. Also, turn down your screen brightness to the lowest possible level when taking power measurements. When possible, turn off the screen entirely.
  • Go to Settings and select the Application manager. Swipe to the left until you can see the list of running apps. Close all unneeded apps and stop all unneeded services.
  • Turn off all unneeded features including Wi-Fi, Mobile data, Bluetooth, Location, NFC, Sync, Download booster, etc. Most phones let you do this by swiping down to access a Quick Settings screen like the one shown on the right. Notice how almost everything is turned off. You may want to also turn off all syncing options under Settings > Accounts > Google.
  • Most popular apps have analytics that send data to the cloud periodically. To prevent this for occurring, turn on ‘Airplane Mode,’ and turn off Wi-Fi if your app doesn’t need to communicate with the cloud. This will also prevent apps from automatically downloading updates in the background.
  • AppsRunning

  • If you’re serious about power profiling, consider purchasing a Nexus phone or tablet and only install a minimal number of apps on it. Having lots of apps running in the background affects the accuracy of power measurements. My LTE-enabled Nexus 7 only has 3 apps running on it, while my Verizon Galaxy Note 3, still has 22 or more apps running in the background — after I’ve closed all apps and stopped all unneeded processes.
  • If you are purchasing a new device for power modelling, choose a device with a removable battery that you can easily access with and contacts that you can clip on to.
  • Time your tests. Make sure each test is at least a minute. Longer runs minimize the impact of power spikes on averages.
  • Run each test at least two or three times and average the results. Throw out any values that are noticeably higher than the rest and retest. Even with Airplane mode on and Wi-Fi off, the OS and apps on your device still work in the background. This causes power spikes that can affect the accuracy of your readings. If you have a rooted device, consider using software like RepetiTouch to record your keystrokes. This will ensure your test runs are the same each time.
  • Consider uninstalling apps that relaunch after you close them like Microsoft’s ‘One Drive’ or Nokia’s ‘Here.’
  • Do not setup your device for use with multiple users because that makes it harder to close all of the background apps.
  • Turn off ‘Google Now’ as follows: Turn off “Ok Google” Detection by going to Settings > Accounts > Google > Search > Voice. Select “Ok Google” detection and turn off ‘From the Google app’ and ‘From any screen.’ Turn off ‘Show cards’ under Settings > Accounts > Google > Search > ‘Now cards.’
  • Pause or disable step counters like ‘S Health’ or ‘Google Fit.’ These apps can consume significant CPU cycles while your device is idle.
  • Avoid using your power measurement device with a wearable. Wearables require that Bluetooth is active and have cause multiple apps to run in the background.
  • Make sure your computer doesn’t go to sleep when you are capturing data. If it does, you could lose data. To do so, make sure your PC is charging via AC adapter and not running on battery. Set your power profile so your hard disk goes to sleep after 30 minutes. Set your processor and screen so it never goes to sleep when connected to a power source. Turn off your screen saver. Move your mouse from time to time to let the computer know you are still using it.
  • It’s normal for your phone to do housekeeping after it start up. Wait 5 or 6 minutes after powering up your mobile device before profiling it. I’ve seen power spikes over 8 watts after the Android home screen is visible and the boot up process appears to be complete. Power consumption over 6 watts for 30 seconds or longer isn’t unusual. Sometimes these high power readings are related to app updates, but I’ve also seen this occur in ‘Airplane Mode,’ with Wi-Fi off. These spikes will inflate your power measurements and often have no relation to the activity you are attempting to measure.

Spikes

Appendix – Preparing a Nexus 6 for Power Monitoring

Phones like the Nexus 6 do not have a replaceable batteries. This makes it very challenging to connect power measurement tools like a Monsoon to them. First, you’ll have to get special tools to remove the back of your phone. The iFixit website shows you how to remove the back cover and get access to its battery. You’ll need a special Torx screwdriver to get access the battery of the Nexus 6. Before you order that screwdriver and remove the 22 screws, you should read the next two sections. It could save you some time.

Nexus 6 screws
Sadly after almost completely disassembling my phone, I learned that the battery in the Nexus 6 does not have metal pads like a most cell phones. doorIt has a flex cable that connects to a small 4-pin jack that can be seen under a hidden door (shown on the right). After learning about the special power connector in the Nexus 6, I contacted Monsoon support thinking they must sell a cable assembly for this popular developer device. The Monsoon support rep said they didn’t know how to connect a Monsoon to the Nexus 6, so I referred to their manual, which shows how to create a battery bypass, using flat copper foil and special insulating tape. It’s important that you bypass the battery in your phone, so the Monsoon can power the device. However, the battery needs to remain in place for thermal monitoring and use by the battery fuel gauge. Now that the battery has been bypassed, you’ll need to determine how you are going to charge it. More about that later. I first tried to connect insulated copper tape to the same pads that are used for wireless charging on the Nexus 6, but for some reason that didn’t take the battery out of the circuit. Out of frustration, I took the device to my company’s proto lab for assistance.Wires modThey determined which of the wires on the 4-pin connector were the + and – and broke the connection to the positive wire, so the battery would no longer be in the circuit. You can see their mod on the left. The black wire is attached to a small pad on the Nexus circuit board that is connected to the minus terminal of the battery. The red wire is connected to the + power input on the circuit board. The red wire is connected to a trace that was previously connected to the + side of the battery, but that trace was cut to break the connection, so the Monsoon can power the phone. The gray wire is attached to a pad that connects to the + battery terminal. By mating the red and white banana plugs (as shown on the right), the connection to battery is restored, so it can be charged normally over USB.

Before You Begin

This section isn’t intended to be a how-to. It’s intended to discourage most developers from attempting a mod like this. Before you disassemble your expensive Nexus 6, you need to make sure that you are willing to take the risks described here. If you haven’t done circuit board modifications before, or don’t have all of the proper equipment, don’t attempt this. Your chances of success are poor. I think you’d be better off using a phone with a removable battery like a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 or Galaxy Note 4 for power measurement. You should be able to purchase those for $99 to $299, and they are much easier to connect to a Monsoon Power Monitor. In fact, in a pinch you can connect two banana to mini-grabber cables to a Note 3 without any modifying your phone or battery. It works fine, but the battery gauge won’t work unless you leave the battery in and use insulated copper tape as described in the Monsoon User Guide. If you want a to power model a Nexus phone, keep in mind that the Nexus 4, Nexus 5 and Nexus 6 report accurate battery power using Trepn Profiler, or other software, so you don’t even need a Monsoon. If you decide to try this mod despite my warnings, you are on your own. I cannot answer any questions about this, nor can I be responsible if you damage your device.

– Rick

Copyright 2015 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged. All of the comments in this blog are Rick’s alone, and do not reflect the views of his employer.


Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

Useful Links
Monsoon Tips
Hardware Power Measurement Best Practices

How to Measure Power Consumption Using Free Software

This article is the first in a series for mobile software developers. It is intended to help developers create apps with better battery life. Most developers don’t know if their app has a problem with excessive power consumption, because they don’t have an effective way to measure the amount of power their app consumes. If you can measure it, you can act on it. This article will focus on Best Practices for software power measurement. A subsequent article will provide tips how developers can reduce the power consumption of their app. Reducing power consumption results in longer battery life and happier users.

It's easy to measure the power consumption of a mobile device

It’s easy to measure the power consumption of a mobile device

There are two different ways to measure power on a mobile device. You can do it using hardware or software. I’ll cover the hardware-based method in a separate article. This post will focus on software-based power measurement. Trepn Profiler is an Android application that can display the real-time power consumption on a smartphone or tablet. I happen to work on the team who created it, but I that’s not why I include it in this article. I include it because it’s the only app I’ve found that reports accurate real-time power consumption. GameBench is a great app, but the current version has to run a few minutes before power data is reported. If you are aware of other app that report accurate real-time power, please mention them in the comments section below and I will include them in this article. Because Trepn runs on-target, your mobile device doesn’t have to be connected to a computer or special hardware in order to capture power data. You can use your phone on-the-go, and profile in the foreground or background. If you want to give it a try, Trepn is available as a free download from Google Play.

Here are just a few of the questions you can answer with software like Trepn Profiler:

  • Which Android video conferencing app uses less power: Google Hangouts, ooVoo, Skype, Tango or Viber?
  • Should I wait to download updates over Wi-Fi if my battery is low and I’m only getting two bars?
  • How much more power does a free app with ads consume over a paid app without ads?
  • Does a dark background really consume less power than a light one?
  • How much power do I save when I use hardware decoding on a high-resolution video file?
  • Does that new phone you’re considering buying consume more or less power than your current one?
  • What is the impact of settings on power consumption (e.g. do you save noticeable amounts of power when you turn off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or 4G?)
  • Which activity consumes more power? Gaming or 4K video recording?


Before you start profiling, there are several things you should do to increase your chances of getting the most accurate power measurements possible.

Software Power Measurement Best Practices

Here are some best practices for measuring power with Trepn Profiler:

  1. Remove your USB cable – Trepn cannot display accurate power readings when your mobile device is charging or connected to a computer.

Tip: If you need a USB connection for device control and data transfer, use ADB over Wi-Fi as described here, but be aware it can cause power spikes that slightly increase your power readings.

  1. Make sure your device reports accurate battery power – How do you know if your device reports accurate battery power?  Battery power should appear in the list of data points in Trepn Profiler. After you check the “Battery Power” data point, touch the Back button and “Profile System.” Then go to “Stats” view.” You should see a value in the average power column when your device is idle between 400mW to 1000mW for smartphones with 4” to 5” screens, 700 mW to 2500mW for 6” smartphones or 7” tablets, and 2000mW to 4000mW for 10” or larger tablets. Devices that are known to report accurate battery power are listed here. If you see values like 0 or 1.80mW, your device cannot display accurate battery power.

awake

  1. Make sure your processor stays awake– To do this, check “Acquire Wakelock while Profiling” on the Trepn General Settings page. To illustrate the importance of this, I did two power tests Without forcing the processor to stay awake, the average power reading was 456mW. With a processor wakelock set, the power was 249mW. That’s an 83% error, which shows how important this setting can be. When the processor goes to sleep, data collection in Trepn may temporarily stop, or power readings can jump to levels that are lower or higher than they should be. When data collection stops for long periods, your average power readings will be higher than they should be, because Trepn will average any power spikes over a shorter time period. The only time you should not check “Acquire wakelocks…” is when you are using Trepn to test whether an app is keeping the processor awake by holding a partial wakelock.

asleep

  1. Minimize background processes/reduce system overhead – It’s not enough to close everything in Recent Apps. Open the Apps manager, go to Running and close all unneeded apps and stop all unneeded services.  How much power can background apps consume? I measured 1043mW power on my idle tablet before I closed all unused apps. After closing unused apps the power consumed dropped to 726mW. That’s a 30% reduction in power. Here are some recommendations how to minimize background activity:
      Minimize the number of apps you have running

      Minimize the number of apps you have running

    • Pure Android devices like the Nexus 5 or Nexus 7 are better for testing, because they have fewer preinstalled apps and less things running in the background.
    • Don’t check more data points than you need. This increases system resource consumption.
    • Make sure “Show Per-Application Statistics” is unchecked — unless you need to see the mobile and Wi-Fi data transmitted.
    • Profile in the background with no visible graphs or on-screen overlays. This results in almost half the power consumption, and more accurate power readings. After profiling, data can be viewed or saved so it can be analyzed later. Step-by-step instructions are listed here.
    • Pause or disable step counters like “S Health” or “Google Fit.” These apps can consume significant amounts of CPU cycles while your mobile device is idle.
    • Turn off step-counters and always-listening apps like Google Now

      Turn off step-counters and always-listening apps like Google Now

    • Turn off ‘Google Now’ as follows: Turn off “Ok Google” Detection by going to Settings > Accounts > Google > Search > Voice. Select “Ok Google” detection and turn off ‘From the Google app’ and ‘From any screen.’ Turn off ‘Show cards’ under Settings > Accounts > Google > Search > ‘Now cards.’
    • Consider uninstalling apps like Microsoft’s “One Drive” or Nokia’s “Here” that relaunch themselves after you close them.
    • Use  Quick Settings to turn off things like sync

      Use Quick Settings to turn off things like sync

    • Do not setup your device for use with multiple users.
    • Avoid using your device with a wearable, because they require that multiple apps are running at once and Bluetooth is always active.
    • Most popular apps have analytics that send data to the cloud periodically. To prevent this, turn on Airplane mode if your app doesn’t need to communicate with the cloud.
  2. Focus on what you’re measuring – Turn off everything that is not related to what you want to measure. If network connectivity is not needed, put your device in Airplane Mode. This will prevent your device from doing software updates in the background. Make sure Wi-Fi is off too. Some devices turn it off automatically when Airplane mode is enabled, others do not. Other things you may wish to turn off: Display (when possible), Ambient screen, Bluetooth, Location (GPS), Wi-Fi and Mobile networks (if not already in Airplane Mode).You may want to also turn off all syncing options under Settings > Accounts > Google. When performing screen power tests, set to processor to its lowest possible frequency to reduce effect of CPU on power.
  1. Be precise and test several times – It’s important that you are consistent and confirm your test results by retesting. Here are some suggestions how to do this:
      Dark backgrounds use much less power

      Dark backgrounds use much less power

    • Be very aware of your screen background. Light backgrounds use more power than dark backgrounds. How much more? The average power consumed by the Google News & Weather app with a light theme selected is 893 mW. With a dark theme selected, only 410 mW of power is consumed. That’s a power reduction of 54%.
    • Use a stopwatch to make sure your tests run the same duration every time.
    • When measuring average power consumption, profile for at least two minutes in Trepn Profiler’s Advanced Mode. Then save your results as a Trepn .db file. Touch the “Analyze Run” button and select the saved file. This will provide more accurate average values than the ones displayed while profiling.
    • Run each test at least two or three times and average the results. Throw out any values that are noticeably higher than the rest and retest. If you have a rooted device, consider using software like RepetiTouch to record your keystrokes. This will ensure your test runs are the same each time.
    • Keep everything as close to the same as possible on your tests, including background apps and services. After you finish a test, go back and check the running apps, if the list of apps is different, close the newly opened apps and test again.
  1. Minimize the impact of the screen – The display and its backlight are often the biggest consumers of power in a mobile device.

    • Always document screen brightness levels to make sure you are consistent.
    • Turn screen brightness to the lowest possible level on your tests. Avoid using the Android Settings page to set screen brightness levels because the slider calibration varies from device to device. Also slider settings are not easily reproducible.

    For rooted commercial devices (set brightness to 10):

    adb shell “su -c ‘echo 10 > /sys/class/leds/lcd-backlight/brightness'”

     

    For rooted MDPs:

    adb root
    adb wait-for-device
    adb remount
    adb shell “echo 10 > /sys/class/leds/lcd-backlight/brightness”
     

      1. Compare apples to apples – Don’t compare on-target measurements with off-target (e.g. Monsoon Power Monitor) measurements. On-target measurements and always going to be higher – sometimes significantly higher, so you cannot compare them with off-target measurements using hardware. However, when you run Trepn on a device connected to a Monsoon, you’ll find it’s very accurate (as shown in the chart below).

      Trepn is surprisingly  accurate -- even when compared to expensive hardware like the Monsoon Power Monitor

      Trepn is surprisingly accurate — even when compared to expensive hardware like a Monsoon Power Monitor


      After using Trepn, you should know exactly how much power your app consumes. Measure the power your app uses when idle and in-use and compare this with apps of the same type. A follow-up article will tell you how to reduce the power consumption of your app.

      – Rick

      Copyright 2015 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged. All of the comments in this blog are Rick’s alone, and do not reflect the views of his employer.


      Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

      Software Power Measurement Best Practices

    How to Protect Your Online Identity

    Last updated: April 13, 2014

    Snapchat just joined the long list of hacked sites

    Snapchat just joined the long list of hacked sites [Image courtesy of TechCrunch]

    UPDATE: The Heartbleed security bug makes all previous security exploits look all small. It has the potential to affect everyone, so it is important you protect yourself soon. See the Heartbleed section below, for a quick summary of the actions you need to take now.

    Ever wonder why some people get their Facebook accounts hacked and others don’t? It’s because they use easy-to-guess passwords on multiple sites. Start the year out right by protecting your online data. It’s free and easy to do.

    Gone in 60 Minutes

    As our lives move to the cloud it’s important that we protect our online identities. If you’re like most people, you use the same password on multiple websites. This is a problem, because once a hacker gains access to one of your passwords, they can use it to access your other accounts. Imagine having a big part of your digital life erased by a hacker in less than an hour. This happened to a reporter last year. His first sign there was a problem was when his iPhone powered down and his iCloud restore didn’t work. Next, he found his Google account had been deleted and hackers used his Twitter account to send offensive messages. His problems weren’t just limited to his iPhone, the hacker gained access to his Apple account and remotely erased all of the data on his iPhone, iPad and MacBook. As bad as this was, it could have been worse. Since the hacker had access to his Amazon account, he could have bought thousands of dollars worth of merchandise or gained access to his online banking and financial accounts.

    A Wired reporter had his entire digital life erased in less than an hour

    A Wired reporter had his entire digital life erased in less than an hour

    According to the victim, “one wouldn’t have to call Amazon to pull this off. Your pizza guy could do the same thing, for example. If you have an Apple ID, every time you call Pizza Hut, you’re giving the 16-year-old on the other end of the line all he needs to take over your entire digital life.” The reporter added that the Apple ID “has evolved into a single point of entry that controls my phones, tablets, computers and data-driven life. With this Apple ID, someone can make thousands of dollars of purchases in an instant, or do damage at a cost that you can’t put a price on.” He continued, “It’s shameful that Apple has asked its users to put so much trust in its cloud services, and not put better security mechanisms in place to protect them. Apple IDs are too easily reset, which effectively makes iCloud a data security nightmare.” This isn’t just an Apple and Amazon problem. The list of high-profile online security breaches includes Adobe, Evernote, Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn, LivingSocial, Microsoft Xbox 360, Snapchat, Sony PlayStation, Twitter, UltraViolet and many more. Chances are you’ve used one of more of these hacked sites. Read more about the nine biggest security breaches of 2013.

    73% of people use the same password for multiple sites

    73% of people use the same password for multiple sites

    Heartbleed: The King of All Exploits

      Although it’s not really new, a newly exposed bug called Heartbleed can reveal the username and passwords of many popular websites. As a result, it is recommended you change your password on all affected services after you confirm they have fixed their systems. This chart shows which sites have been affected. Also keep in mind that this vulnerability could have revealed more than just passwords, it could have allowed attackers to obtain information including credit card numbers, medical information, private emails and more.

      A 3-Step Solution

      1. Never use the same password for two sites – It’s essential you use unique passwords for every website. This isn’t as hard as it sounds because there is special software that keeps track of every password for you. This software automatically fills-in the correct username and password every time you visit a website. Although your browser can do this, your password data isn’t encrypted and can be easily viewed by anyone with access to your computer. A better solution is to use a cloud-based password locker like LastPass or 1Password. See the next section for tips how to setup a password locker.
      2. The 5 most common passwords

        The 5 most common passwords

      3. Use strong passwords – It’s hard to believe the most common password of 2013 was 123456. That’s not exactly hard to guess. Even if you create a password that has numbers, letters and special characters, it may not be strong enough that no one could guess it. Here is a website that will check your passwords to see how secure they are. If you need help creating strong passwords that avoid common mistakes check this out. Fortunately you won’t need to create your own secure passwords, your password locker software will do this for you.
      4. Backup your important data – It’s a good idea you backup all the important data on your computers and mobile devices. The easiest way to do this is to make sure all of your important documents, photos and other files are stored in folders that are synced with a cloud storage locker like Dropbox, SkyDrive or Google Drive. This backs up your data, and provides access your files from any smartphone, tablet or computer.
      LastPass detected that I had three different Adobe accounts that were compromised

      LastPass detected that I had three different Adobe accounts that were compromised

      Tips for a Smoother Transition

      Here are some tips that will make your transition into a more secure online world smoother.

      1. Start by installing free password locker software on all of your computers and mobile devices. Based on my research, LastPass is the best solution for Windows PC, Chromebook and Android users, while 1Password is the best solution for Mac and iOS users. If you decide to use LastPass, I recommend you use it with the Chrome browser.

        You’ll be asked to create a new password for your locker. I strongly recommend you use a long password you can easily remember — but have never used before. Here are some good tips how to do so. For example, you can easily convert the first part of the Gettysburg Address into a secure password that is easy to remember. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth” becomes “4Sa7yAoFbF.” Notice how I alternate capitalized letters and replace the numbers to make it more secure.

      2. After installing your new password locker software, I recommend you disable your browser’s built-in password manager. If you’re a Chrome user, click on the Chrome menu in the upper right-hand corner and select ‘Settings.’ Then scroll down and select ‘Show advanced settings/Passwords and Forms’ and make sure the two options below are not checked. I also recommend that you click on the ‘Manage saved passwords’ link and delete all of your saved passwords several weeks after you are confident your new password locker is working fine.
      3. Make sure to disable your broswer's built-in password manager

        Make sure to disable your browser’s built-in password manager

      4. Your password locker software will import all of your existing passwords, but you need to manually change them to secure passwords. I suggest you start by only changing a single password using your computer and the auto-generate password option on your password locker (e.g. LastPass). Since you’ll never need to remember or type your new secure passwords, I suggest you create passwords that are 12 characters long. Then, go to the site and make sure your password manager logs you in correctly. This is important because once you convert your passwords to secure passwords, you won’t be able to remember them.
      5. Here is the LastPass password generator

        Here is the LastPass password generator

      6. Next, you should try accessing the same site on your smartphone and tablet and make sure it logs you in as well. I’ve had some problems in this area. Here is how I handle this with LastPass:

        – For websites, I access the site using the LastPass app. After you log-in, you’ll be shown a list of websites. Select the site you want and touch ‘Launch.’ This should take you to the site and automatically log you in using your new secure password.

        – For mobile apps that require passwords like Evernote, I suggest you go to the your password locker app and copy the password first. Then open the mobile app and paste the password in the log-in screen. In most cases you’ll only have to do this once. The next time you open the app, it should remember the password for you.

      7. Once you are sure your password locker is working reliably on all of your devices, you should create new secure passwords for any of the sites listed above which have been hacked. Next, create passwords for the rest of your high-risk sites. This includes your online banking and other financial accounts, e-mail accounts, e-commerce sites (Amazon, eBay, Ticketmaster, etc.) and social media sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn). This is easier to do on your computer than your mobile devices. Once this is done, you can do this for lower-risk sites.

        Important: I can’t stress enough that you should copy and paste each new password you create to a temporary document that you keep around until you verify your password locker has correctly captured the new password and logs you in correctly. Although it doesn’t happen often, a few times I’ve had to manually copy and paste the new secure password into the password locker because it wasn’t automatically saved.

      8. When you’ve finished creating secure passwords for all your websites, use your password locker to run a security scan to identify remaining problems. You’re not done until you make sure that no two sites are using the same password and all passwords are secure.

      Congratulations! You’re Now Safe and Sound

      Your online data is now much better protected than before. It is now extremely unlikely that a hacker could log-in to your accounts as long as you keep the password to your password locker safe. If you want even more security, here are a few more extra tips. Back up your data to a NAS (or a large thumb drive) and store these backups outside of your home. Don’t store your credit cards with online merchants and lastly, consider using two-factor authentication for data that is really important to you. I’ll leave you with a few extra tips for mobile security. Have a safe new year!

      Extra tips to keep your smartphone secure

      Extra tips to keep your smartphone secure

      – Rick

      Copyright 2013-2014 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.


      Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    Debunking the Retina Display Myth

    Last updated: August 10, 2014

    Although Steve Jobs’ claims the human eye can’t perceive detail beyond 300 pixels per inch were immediately debunked, to this day almost everyone believes that what he said is still true. I became interested in this topic after seeing what I considered to be obvious differences between the highest-resolution smartphone displays. If Jobs’ claims were true, this shouldn’t have been possible. I wanted find out why I could see a difference, and whether it was possible to scientifically prove that Jobs’ retina claims were false. More importantly, I wanted to learn what specs would be needed in a real retina display. But before we can answer these questions, we need to go back to the beginning of this myth.

    WWDC 2010 was where the Retina myth began

    WWDC 2010 was where the Retina myth began

    Looking Back

    Back in June of 2010, Apple introduced the iPhone 4. Although no one knew it at the time, this would be Jobs’ last iPhone launch. The iPhone 4 was a landmark product because it was the first phone with a “Retina” display. Since few people correctly quote Jobs on this topic, let’s revisit what he said. Steve Jobs’ exact quote was “It turns out there’s a magic number right around 300 pixels per inch, that when you hold something around to 10 to 12 inches away from your eyes, is the limit of the human retina to differentiate the pixels.” This seemed plausible at the time because the display on the iPhone 4 was a big step forward. It had with four times the pixels of the previous model and a resolution of 326 pixels per inch (PPI).

    Experts immediately questioned Jobs' retina claims

    Experts immediately questioned Jobs’ Retina display claims

    Experts Cry Foul

    Almost immediately experts questioned Jobs’ claims. “Wired” ran an article saying the iPhone 4′s Retina display claims were “false marketing.” This article quoted Raymond Soneira from DisplayMate Technologies, who is one the most respected names in display analysis. Soneira said, “The math just doesn’t add up,” and suggested the term Retina display was misleading. Soneira went on to say “it was inaccurate to measure the resolution of the eye in terms of pixels.” He added “…a more accurate Retina definition would have a pixel resolution of 477 pixels per inch at 12 inches.”

    Soneria was the first to attempt to prove Jobs was right

    This blogger was the first to attempt to prove Jobs was right

    Bad Math?

    A blogger named Phil Plait then redid Soneira’s equations based normal vision, instead of perfect vision. Based on these calculations, Plait suggested Jobs’ claims were vindicated, but when you refer back to Jobs’ original quote, he refers to a distance of 10 to 12 inches. Plait conveniently used twelve inches, because that created the response he was looking for. Using a distance of ten inches, Plait confirmed that someone with normal vision could see visible pixels on a Retina display and the Retina display myth was busted. But that wasn’t the only problem with Plait’s and Soneira’s logic. There were several other problems we’ll discuss next.

    A Flawed Definition of Perfect Vision

    If you carefully read Plait’s article, you’ll see that he admits someone with perfect eyesight would be able to see a pixilated image when holding a Retina display one foot from their eyes. This backs up Soneira’s claim that 300 pixels aren’t enough for a true retina display, but there several problems with the definition of perfect vision. First, it is inaccurate to refer to 20/20 vision as “perfect” vision. 20/20 vision does not correspond to the best possible vision found in humans. Second, the word perfect doesn’t really make sense when applied to eyesight. The maximum acuity of a healthy human eye is 20/16 to 20/12. Even those with “bad” eyes can have 20/15 (or better) vision with glasses. This in itself doesn’t mean too much because the percentage of humans with better than 20/20 vision is relatively small (around 10-15% not including corrective glasses).

    Most teens hold their phones close to their face

    Most teens hold their phones closer to their face than adults

    Screen Size Matters, Distances Vary

    Contrary to the suggestions above, not everyone holds their mobile device 10 to 12 inches from their face. I’ve noticed that some teens hold their phones only 7 to 8 inches from their eyes. This is an important because the closer a person holds their screen, the higher the resolution required so the pixels effectively disappear. Jobs suggested that 300 pixels per inch was the magic number which determined whether a screen was a retina display, but the truth is there is no one single magic number for both smartphones and tablets. This is because the distance consumers hold tablets to their face is further away than they hold their smartphones. Some experts use a distance of 15 inches for tablets, but I often hold my tablet further away than that. What is the impact of this? It’s simple. The further you hold your device from your face, the lower the resolution needed for the pixels to disappear. This debunks the above assumptions that a single number can be used to determine whether a mobile device has a retina display or not.

    20/20 has little to do with pixel recognition

    Visual acuity alone is not the best predictor of pixel recognition

    Primitive Measurements Don’t Cut It

    The chart many eye doctors still use to determine whether you have 20/20 vision is a crude method that dates back to 1862. Eye charts were created to test vision, but we’re talking about something that goes beyond just text. We’re trying to determine whether a human can see the pixels on a display — and more importantly whether there is a benefit of using displays with resolutions higher than 300 PPI.

    When trying to scientifically determine whether our eyes can tell the difference between two things, our eyes do a much better job telling the difference between two lines than they do interpreting characters of the alphabet. How much better? It turns out the ability of humans to distinguish between two different lines is actually ten times greater than 20/20 visual acuity. This is referred to as Vernier acuity and is the reason a Vernier scale like the one shown below allows users to measure things more precisely than using a uniformly-divided straight scale. You can prove this to yourself by taking this simple yet ingenious online test. This test proves that differences between Vernier lines can still be judged when the gap of a so-called “Landolt C” can no longer be recognized. In most cases the difference between these two is very large. That means while someone with excellent vision cannot recognize the orientation of the small “c” on the right (which has a 0.5 pixel gap size at normal reading distance), they can distinguish the gap between two lines that are only 0.05 pixels apart — that’s a 10x improvement.

    The Vernier caliper uses Vernier acuity for more precise measurement

    The Vernier caliper uses Vernier acuity for more precise readings

    Science Still Matters

    None of the experts quoted above attempted to scientifically test their assumptions. Plait claims his work calibrating for the Hubble telescope made him an expert in ophthalmology, but his real claim to fame was debunking the Moon landing hoax. I wondered what a real expert would say about this topic, so I did some research and found a study by Michael Bach. Mr. Bach is a professor at a German university known for their Ophthalmology-related studies and the former president of the International Society for Clinical Electrophysiology of Vision. Bach set out to test the limits of human vision and the ability to discern differences in extremely high-resolution displays. What he found and published in a scientific journal earlier this year clearly debunks Jobs’ retina display claims. His study had 49 subjects evaluate displays with resolutions between 254 and 1016 pixels per inch. The results of this study proves people can see the difference between a 339 PPI display and a 508 PPI display. More surprisingly, his study also suggests that some people can also discriminate between 508 PPI and 1016 PPI displays. So it’s clear the human eye is capable of benefiting from displays with more than 300 pixels per inch, but what is the minimum size for a true retina display and when will we be able to buy one?

    The Real Retina Numbers?

    Using the same equations Soneira and Plait used, a leading display manufacturer suggests a true retina smartphone display would need to have a resolution of at least 573 pixels per inch. However, this is for someone with perfect vision. The number is lower for someone with average vision. For a tablet held fifteen inches away from your eyes, and using the same equations, a true retina display would need a resolution that is higher than 382 PPI. Sadly, that means for people with perfect vision there are no true retina display smartphones or tablets available today. Even the new iPad Air only has a 264 PPI display. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a great looking display, but it doesn’t meet the definition of true retina display for a person with average vision.

    Notice how the pixels of these four flagship phones vary

    Notice how the pixels on four flagship phones vary. Source: AnandTech

    All Pixels Are Not The Same

    Now that we’ve established numbers for a true retina display, I want to point out one potential problem. When a mobile display goes under a microscope, it’s easy to see major differences between the types pixels used. The size varies, the shape varies, the placement varies. Even the color varies because some displays are now including white pixels (in addition to RGB). Some have pen-tile displays, others don’t. Even the type of displays used on popular smartphones vary. Companies like Samsung use OLED displays, while Apple uses LCD displays. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. You can even see differences in the pixels on Samsung phones that have Super AMOLED displays. Unfortunately this topic is outside of the scope of this article. Just understand that all pixels are not the same and this makes it harder to come up with a single retina number that applies to all smartphones (or tablets). Other factors come into play as well, like the quality of your display. The better the quality panel, the more likely you are going to be able to see the differences we are discussing here.

    Samsung recently shared their screen roadmap with analysts

    Samsung recently shared their screen roadmap with analysts

    Can You Really See A Difference?

    Whether you can see a difference between your current smartphone and a smartphone with a true retina display depends on what you are viewing. Low-quality videos like the ones we watch on YouTube, will continue to look bad. In fact, they will even look worse, because you’ll see the compression artifacts more clearly. Small text is one area where you are likely to notice a difference. Text will be razor sharp. You can really see the difference between a 300 PPI display and 550 PPI display when things like pen-drawn Kanji characters are displayed. True retina tablets with screens that are 12 inches or larger will make it possible to get a newspaper-style experience, without reformatting articles. You will also be able to always use the full desktop versions of all websites and view high-resolution photos and 4K video with no loss of resolution. That’s not important today, but it will be in the coming years.

    Much higher quality displays are coming in 2014

    Much higher quality displays are coming in 2014

    So When Can I Buy One?

    True retina displays that are better than any Apple product are available now. The LG G3 has a 2560 x 1440 pixel smartphone display with a pixel density of 534 ppi. The Samsung Galaxy S5 LTE-A has a 5.1-inch display with an incredible 576 pixels per inch. That’s higher than the number required for a true retina smartphone display. Sadly it’s only available in Korea at this time. Samsung is also planning a 4K screen for smartphones. Assuming a screen size of around 5 inches, that works out to be about 880 pixels per inch.

    4K tablet screens are coming as well. These screens should have resolutions over 400 pixels per inch, which exceeds the 382 PPI number required for a true retina display. Qualcomm demonstrated the first 4K Android tablet back in February of 2014. Reviewers like this one claimed its 3840-x-2160 display “easily beat the performance of the iPad Air.”

    The Bottom Line

  2. Researchers have proven people can see the difference between a >508 PPI display and a 339 PPI display.
  3. It’s impossible to create a single number definition for a retina display because that number changes depending on the distance, your vision and other factors. Smartphones and tablets with much higher resolution displays are available now.
  4. Apple mobile displays are no longer the best. Experts say the Galaxy S5 is the best performing Smartphone display that they have ever tested. As a result, Apple will finally increase the resolution of their mobile displays later in 2014.
  5. Whether you can tell the difference between these new displays and today’s best displays will depend on the panel quality, distance and type of media you are viewing, but you won’t need a scientist to tell you they look great. Tablets will benefit the most, because their resolutions were significantly lower than smartphones.
  6. – Rick

    Copyright 2013-2014 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged. This article includes my personal opinions and does not reflect the views of my employer.


    Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    Chromebook Tips – Part One

    Last updated: October 30, 2013

    This article is obviously not yet finished. Please stop by later to see the final version.

    Must-have Accessories for Every Chromebook

    Earlier this year I was given a Chromebook Pixel and fell in love with it. It’s not perfect, but is really good at some things. To find out what, please checkout my first article. The is the first in a series of articles containing tips and tricks for the Chromebook. We’ll be starting with accessories that every Chromebook owner should consider.

    A case protects your Chromebook from damage

    A case is the first thing you should buy for your Chromebook

    1. Protect your investment – Make sure to buy a case for your Chromebook before you scratch it. Keep in mind that most laptop sleeves will work just fine with your Chromebook as long as the screensize is the same. Another advantage of getting a case is the fact that it lessens the chances your Chromebook will slip out of your hands when you’re carrying it. Although there literally hundreds of sleeves that will hold your Chromebook on sites like Amazon. I recommend you spend a little more and get a nice case. You won’t regret it. It bought a high-quality sleeve from Timbuk2 that is padded and has venting which cools your Chromebook quickly. It was worth the extra money. Google also sells a nice hard case, but it’s not cheap. Make sure to confirm your Chromebook with fit in the case your considering before buying.
    2. Get ready to project – If you plan to use your Chromebook at work, you’ll want to make sure to get an adapter so you can connect it up to any projector. I purchased this low-cost Mini DisplayPort to VGA cable and it works fine.
    3. Go big (screen) – Although the Chromebook has a good quality display, it can’t compete with the 46″ LCD TV on your wall. It’s easy to connect your Chromebook to your TV to watch sports, YouTube videos or movies from Netflix or other online sources. To do this, you need to first determine whether your Chromebook as a Mini DisplayPort jack or a standard sized HDMI jack. If it doesn’t have an HDMI jack, you’ll want to get a long Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Cable. Although I’ve never had a problem, to be safe, you may want to turn off your TV before you connect or disconnect the HDMI cable.
    4. Stream without buffering – Steaming HD video over standard Wi-Fi often buffers. To eliminate the chance of buffering connect a Gigabit Ethernet network adapter to the USB port on your Chromebook. Once you plug-it in it will switch off Wi-Fi and connect you via Ethernet.
    5. Prevent slippage – Most chromebooks have a slippery metal bottom and can slide if you prop them up with your legs. If you have a problem with your Chromebook slipping you might want to try adding some Dycem feet to its bottom. Dycem grips better than anything else I can find. They make sheets of it, but that’s much more expensive than the feet that I use. I recommend you place six to eight of these on the bottom. These feet has eliminated my slippage problems.
    6. Clean your screen – Although you can keep your screen clean with any lint free cloth, for best results spend five bucks on a microfiber cleaning cloth.
    7. Buy an extra adapter – If you carry your Chromebook between home and work, or travel a lot, I recommend that you invest in a second AC adapter. It lightens the load of your backpack. Here is the adapter for the Chromebook Pixel. Here is a charger for Samsung Chromebooks.
    8. – Rick

      Copyright 2013 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.


      Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    First Impressions – Samsung Galaxy Note 3

    Last updated: October 13, 2013

    I picked up a new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 the first day they were available and thought I would share my first impressions here. I was surprised I had to wait an hour before I could get help in my neighborhood Verizon store. The store was very full for a weeknight. There were at least four others picked up the same phone while I was there and one of them said he had been waiting all year for this phone.

    Transferring everything, from my old Samsung Galaxy S4 was relatively easy, once I removed the factory-installed SIM, which was buried under the MicroSD card slot. The person in the store had to use a razor knife to slide it out. After that, inserted my old SIM (containing all of my music and other stuff) and logged into my Google account. Now I was ready to give the new phone a test drive.

    The Galaxy Note 3 is a monster

    The Galaxy Note 3 is a monster



    Is This Phone Too Big?

    Most reviewers can’t get past the size of the Galaxy Note 3, but for anyone stepping up from a Galaxy S4, the transition isn’t a big deal. The phone is big, but still was easy to insert and remove from my front pocket. However, someone who wears very tight jeans might have a problem. The phone feels good when held with your hand. It’s thinner than the HTC One and Nexus 5. Although it’s 38 grams heavier than the Galaxy S4, the weight isn’t a problem. The advantages of the 5.7” screen are significant. Everything is better on a large screen (games, email, movies, Facebook, etc). Samsung’s split screen feature, which lets you run two different apps at once, is even more useful on this device. The one downside of the large screen is the fact that it’s hard to do everything with your thumb when holding the phone in one hand. Samsung has added some special one-hand commands, but I haven’t tried those yet.


    The Display

    The next thing you notice after the size of the phone is it’s display. The Galaxy Note 3 has the best looking mobile display I’ve ever seen. Although Galaxy S4 has a much higher pixel density (441 vs. 386). To my eyes, and those of some reviewers, the display on the Galaxy Note 3 looks noticeably better. Maybe that’s because it has the newest gen OLED display. I’m not sure, but in the store, it looked better than everything else — even the 469ppi display on the HTC One. The display on the Galaxy Note 3 incredibly sharp, and both black levels and contrast are outstanding. Although colors on the Galaxy Note 3 appear to be over-saturated DisplayMate says color accuracy is still good. If you want even better color calibration and accuracy, you can change the screen to “Movie Mode” under Settings. The screen on the Galaxy Note 3 is also extremely bright. In fact, DisplayMate says it’s the brightest mobile display they have ever tested.

    The screen on the Note 3 performs well in display tests

    The screen on the Note 3 performs well in display tests


    The Hardware

    Of course the Galaxy Note 3 is very fast. Its Snapdragon 800 processor seems to eliminate the Android lag I’ve experienced on other Android devices.

    Build-quality on the Galaxy Note 3 is better than the Galaxy Note II. I like the faux leather back, but am not a fan of the ridged chrome sides. Although its build quality pales in comparison to an HTC One or iPhone 5, I’d rate it good overall. The speaker on the Galaxy Note has been moved from the back to the bottom on the phone. That was a smart decision. Although Samsung isn’t known for their speaker quality, I was surprised to find its one speaker sounds good and has some bottom as well. It also gets surprisingly loud.

    I like the new wider USB 3.0 cable, it is easier to insert and feels more solid. I was surprised to find that Samsung ships the same AC adapter with the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S4. Both are rated for 2A. I expected a higher current charger, because USB 3.0 supports that.

    The Galaxy Note 3 comes with a generous 32GB, which can be inexpensively expanded to 64GB (or more)

    The Galaxy Note 3 comes with 32GB, but can be inexpensively expanded to 64GB (or more)



    Battery Life

    Battery life is good — considering Verizon is shipping this phone with the screen brightness turned up almost all of the way. Even with the screen brightness at 95%, I was still able to go 7.5 hours under moderate use and had about 30% of battery remaining.

    The decision to ship this phone with at least 32GB of storage was a smart. Samsung was dinged for using up so much of the storage on the 16GB Galaxy S4 (only 9.5GB of space was left for users). Android uses up 6.73GB of the available 32GB on the Galaxy Note 3. Even after installing 100+ apps and photos, I still have over 23GB of internal storage available. When you first launch the camera, it asks if you want to store your photos on the MicroSD card (like the Galaxy S4), however I’ve stopped doing that because I’ve found some apps have problems with this.


    The Software

    As far as software goes, there are several new pen apps. So far I haven’t found any killer application for the pen, but it’s too soon to say it isn’t useful. There are now folders in the App Locker for Verizon, Google and other categories, which makes it look like there isn’t so much bloatware on this device. Although you can no longer hide apps in the App Locker, you can now disable apps by dragging them from the locker to the trash can. The default keyboard is much improved over the one in the Galaxy S4. It’s even better than SwiftKey in some ways (has a .com key and wider key spacing). On the downside, Samsung has completely changed the Settings screen again, which makes it harder to find things.

    The camera on the Note 3 is good, but not the best

    The camera on the Note 3 is good



    The Camera

    The camera on the Galaxy Note 3 seems good so far in my limited testing. I tried recording some Ultra HD video and that looks really good as well. I was pleased you can watch those videos on the Galaxy Note 3’s 1920×1080 screen — even though they are 3840×2160. The video stabilization features seems to work pretty well, although it’s not available on Ultra HD video. It’s worth mentioning that I was able to crash the Camera app once or twice.


    The Bottom Line

    So the bottom line is, I really like the Galaxy Note 3 so far, the screen size hasn't been a problem for me and the display is wonderful. I wish it didn't have so many carrier-installed apps and almost went with he Nexus 5 for that reason, but it has enough storage that it doesn't seem to be too much of a problem. There are enough differences between the Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy S4 that I would recommend this phone to Galaxy S4 users. Make sure you play with this phone before you buy it to make sure it's size isn't a problem for you. I think the large screen is nice, but it's not for everyone.

    – Rick

    Copyright 2013 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.


    Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    What is the Best Smartphone of 2013?

    Last updated: January 20, 2014

    Having a great smartphone is essential. That’s why I spend months trying to pick the best one every year. Of course “best” is a subjective term, so I create a chart of non-subjective things to help me see which phones stand out from the pack. I start with a chart that contains over fifty smartphones, and then narrow it down to the ten best ones. To save time, we’ll start with those phones. I present to you the top ten smartphones of 2013.

    Top Ten Phones of 2013 - Group One

    The Best Smartphones of 2013 – Group One

    Top Ten Phones of 2013 - Group Two

    The Best Smartphones of 2013 – Group Two

    Narrowing the Field

    Of course, one chart can’t tell you everything, that’s why this is only the first of several steps, but it is a great tool to help you narrow down your list to only one or two finalists. You’ll notice the winner in each category shown in bold-faced blue text, while phones that under perform are shown in red. Let’s jump right in and review the winners in each area starting with the mobile processor.

    The best ten smartphones of 2013

    This chart shows category winners in blue and underperformers in red (click here to view an easier to read chart)


    This year most of the best phones have Snapdragon 800 processors

    9 out of 10 of the best smartphones run Snapdragon quad-core processors

    Best Processor

    When it comes to processor speed, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 wins by a nose. It has a third-generation quad-core processor running at an incredible 2.3GHz. However, processor speed isn’t the only indicator of performance. The type of processor, number of cores and architecture type matters as well. The Galaxy Note 3, Sony Xperia Z1/Z Ultra, LG G2 and Acer Liquid S2 all have a Snapdragon 800 processor which has four Krait 400 cores, an Adreno 330 GPU, a Hexagon DSP, 802.11ac Gigibit Wi-Fi, HSPA+, CDMA, LTE radios and more. The Asus Padfone, HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 all have a Snapdragon 600 processor which has four Krait 300 cores running at a slower clock speed with a Adreno 320 GPU. Although this is still a great processor, it can’t keep up with the Snapdragon 800. Although the iPhone 5s has a dual-core processor that runs at a much slower clock-speed, it’s no slouch and even outperforms the Snapdragon 800 on a few graphic benchmarks. However, this has more to do with the fact that the best Android phones have almost three times more pixels to push around than the iPhone 5s. Also, dual-core processors often get better benchmark scores because most benchmarks are not highly multithreaded. Even when you’re not running a single app, your phone is still doing a lot of things in the background. Because of this, a quad-core processor has advantages over a dual-core processor.

    Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

    In this benchmark the Galaxy Note 3 easily beats the iPhone 5s

    In this benchmark the Galaxy Note 3 easily beats the iPhone 5s

    Most Storage

    When it comes to storage, three things matter. The amount of of RAM, the amount of internal storage and the memory expansion capabilities. The Galaxy Note 3 is the only phone with 3GB of high-speed RAM today. This makes it boot faster, launch apps faster and multitask better. How much faster? The game “Asphalt 7″ loads more than twice as fast on Galaxy Note 3 with 3GB of memory than it loads on the same phone with only 2GB of memory (18.5 seconds vs. 45.0 seconds). The Galaxy Note 3 also runs its memory at a higher speed than all other phones. The iPhone 5s only has 1GB of memory, which is surprising because it has a 64-bit OS that would benefit greatly if it had more memory.

    When it comes to internal storage the Asus Padfone Infinity and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 win in because both have either 32GB or 64GB of storage. Other phones like the iPhone 5s start at only 16GB of storage. Having double the amount of internal storage allows you to store more than twice as many photos, movies and apps.

    A memory expansion slot is important because it allows you to convert your 32GB phone to 64GB phone for less than $25. For comparison purposes, Apple forces you to buy a new phone that costs $100 more to expand your storage from 16GB to 32GB. 64GB Android users with a memory slot can expand their storage to 128GB for less than $50. This is something that is simply not possible with the iPhone 5s. All of the phones in the above chart except the iPhone 5s, Padfone Infinity, HTC One and Droid MAXX have a memory expansion slot.

    Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

    When it comes to size, no one comes close to the 6.4" Sony Experia Z Ultra

    When it comes to size, no one comes close to the 6.4″ Sony Experia Z Ultra

    Best Display

    Four things matter when it comes to the display: Screen size, number of pixels, pixel density and screen accuracy. Three of our finalists have very large displays. The Galaxy Note 3 is 5.7″, the Acer Liquid S2 is 6.0″ and the Sony Xperia Z Ultra towers above the rest at 6.4″ I’ve used the Sony Xperia Z Ultra and was surprised how good it felt my hand. Although it fit into the front jean pocket, I’m not sure I’d want to carry a phone that big all of the time. Whether these three phones are too big for you is subjective, what isn’t debatable is the fact that large screens are better for ever application. It doesn’t matter whether you’re surfing the web, playing a game, watching a video, or using Facebook. You’ll have a much better experience on a phone with a larger screen. Once you have a smartphone with a large screen, I believe it’s unlikely you’ll even go back to a phone with a smaller display.

    The best Android smartphones have far more pixels than the iPhone 5s

    The best Android smartphones have far more pixels than the iPhone 5s

    In addition to size, the number and type of pixels is also important. All of the best Android phones have screens with at least a 1280×720 pixels. The best Android phones have screens with 1920×1080 pixels. This makes sense since most movies and TV shows are either 720p or 1080p. For some strange reason, Apple has yet to release a phone with a true high-definition display. All of the 1080p Android phones here have almost 3 times more pixels than the iPhone 5s (2,073,600 pixels vs. 727,040 pixels).

    Of course quality is more important than quantity. Screen resolution (or the number of pixels per inch) used to be an area that Apple excelled in. But now, the iPhone 5s comes in next to last place in screen resolution. That’s surprising. The winner in screen resolution is the HTC One, with an incredible 469 pixels-per-inch.

    It’s worth mentioning there is a debate whether pixel resolutions above 300 pixels-per-inch are needed however, experts say can see tell the difference between a 300 ppi display and a 500 ppi display. There is a downside too, the more pixels you have to push around the more power is consumed and the harder it is to get the highest frame rates on games.

    The HTC One has the highest contrast ratio and blackest blacks

    The HTC One and other phones beat the iPhone 5s when it comes to contrast ratio and black levels

    Screen quality isn’t just about the number of pixels, screen type and accuracy is important as well. The is one area Apple has dominated in the past, but Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Samsung Galaxy S4 are now matching the iPhone 5s’ “A” overall display rating and badly beat the iPhone 5s when it comes to black level, contrast ratio, color saturation and more. In fact, BGR says the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has the best display of any other phone in 2013. The HTC One and LG G2 also beat the iPhone 5s when it comes to both contrast ratio and black levels. When it comes to color accuracy, the iPhone 5s continues to do well, but the Samsung Galaxy S4 outperforms the iPhone 5s on the important GMB color checker. The Moto X and LG G2 also beat the iPhone 5s on white and gray-scale accuracy. The HTC One X even beats the iPhone 5s on brightness (although only by a small amount).

    Apple continues to do well in most color accuracy tests

    Apple continues to do well in most color accuracy tests

    Screen Size Winner: Sony Experia Z Ultra
    Screen Resolution Winner: HTC One
    Screen Accuracy Winner: iPhone 5s
    Best Overall Display: Samsung Galaxy S4/Samsung Galaxy Note 3

    Best Camera

    Deciding which of these phones has the best camera isn’t easy. When it comes to overall quality, most experts say the Nokia Lumia 1020 has the best camera (even though it wasn’t good enough to occupy a slot in the above chart). It has a 41MP PureView camera; Carl Zeiss Tessar lens; f/2.2 aperture and is the only camera with a Xenon flash. Although the iPhone 5s and HTC One cameras can’t compete when it comes to megapixels, both have sensors with larger pixels that works better than other Android phones in low-light. Although the 20.7MP Sony Xperia Z1 and 13MP Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 also have cameras that are very good, most experts rank the camera in the iPhone 5s second after the Nokia Lumia 1020. When it comes to the front camera, every phone here beats the iPhone’s 1.2MP camera.

    When it comes to taking video, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Acer Liquid S2 can both record and playback Ultra HD 4k video with four times the resolution of HD video. This may not seem like an essential feature today, but it is useful because I was surprised to see you can easily tell a difference between a standard 1080p HD video and an Ultra HD video — even when they are both played on a 1080p display. The differences will be even more apparent as consumers get 4k TVs in their homes.

    Winner: Nokia Lumia 1020

    Apple raves about 802.11ac in their MacBook and router ads, yet chose to left it out of the iPhone 5s

    Apple raves about 802.11ac in their MacBook and router ads, yet chose to left it out of the iPhone 5s

    Best Connectivity

    When it comes to connectivity every phone here has comparable 2G/3G and 4G LTE capabilities. Every phone here also has both 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi support. But that’s no longer cutting edge. All of the phones here — except for the iPhone 5s have support for Gigibit Wi-Fi (also know as 802.11ac). Apple raves about 802.11ac in their MacBook and router ads because it’s 3-10x faster than regular 802.11n Wi-Fi technology. This is important because your phone is connected to Wi-Fi most of the time at home and in the office. When used with a router with 802.11ac support, you’ll experience faster downloads, faster page loads and less video buffering. How much faster? The best Android phones have Wi-Fi that is 3 to 10 times faster than the iPhone 5s.

    Winner: Everyone but the iPhone 5s

    Best I/O

    When it comes to I/O two main things matter: transfer speeds and cable costs. Both SuperSpeed USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt are much faster than USB 2.0 support that is offered by all non-Apple smartphones. The problem with Thunderbolt is that there are very few non-Apple products that support it and the few that do tend to be very expensive. USB 3.0 is backwardly-compatible with standard mini-USB cables that can be purchased for up to 20 time less than what Apple charges. Even high-quality USB 3.0 cables cost one third as much as Apple’s cheapest Thunderbolt cable. Since 99% of iPhone users only use their $29 to $39 Thunderbolt cables for charging, that’s a big premium to pay — especially considering the fact you can get an Android charging cable for only $2-$3. Only one mobile device here has support for USB 3.0. That makes it easy to pick a winner for this category.

    Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

    Best Case

    When it comes to the exterior of your phone, the build-quality, thinness and weight matter. Customization is also important. The build-quality leaders today are the iPhone 5s and HTC One. When it comes to thinness, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra comes in first. It’s only 6.5mm thick, compared to the iPhone 5s at 7.6mm. The tables turn when it comes to weight however, the iPhone 5s is the lightest smartphone available in the U.S. weighing in at only 112g, while the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is the heaviest (212g). When it comes to phone customization, the Moto X (not shown in the chart) is an easy winner with over 2000 customization options.

    Winner – Build-quality: Tie: Apple iPhone 5s and HTC One
    Winner – Thinness: Sony Xperia Z Ultra
    Winner – Weight: Tie: Apple iPhone 5s
    Winner – Customization: Motorola Moto X (not listed in the chart above)

    The Galaxy S4 kills the iPhone 5s when it comes to talk time (17.5 hours vs. 10.8 hours)

    The Galaxy S4 kills the iPhone 5s when it comes to talk time (17.5 hours vs. 10.8 hours)

    Best Battery

    The iPhone 5s only has 1560 mAh battery. Phones like the Acer Liquid S2, LG Optimus G Pro, Motorola DROID MAXX and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 have batteries that are at least twice as powerful as the battery in the iPhone 5s. The Samsung Galaxy S4 retained its title as winner of the highly-regarded UK consumer association battery tests, but even it can’t compete with the Motorola DROID MAXX and LG G2. According to Engadget, “the Maxx died after 18 hours and 54 minutes” of real-world use. Engadget said the talk time on the Droid Maxx lasted for 24 hours and 15 minutes. Engadget added, “these numbers are great, but does it hold the title for longest battery life in the market? We would have said yes until this past week, when we discovered that the LG G2 — with its smaller, 3,000mAh battery — actually lasts longer in real-world use and our standard video rundown test.” For more about battery life checkout this list of the six phones with the best battery life.

    Winner – Battery life: LG G2

    And the Winner is…

    Best is a subjective term. What I’m really talking about here is the smartphone with the best overall hardware specs. Based on that definition, neither the iPhone 5s or Samsung Galaxy S4 can be considered “phone of the year.” Both are good phones, and both are very popular, but they are not the most advanced smartphones that are available today. In fact the iPhone 5s is missing more than fifty features that you’ll find in other smartphones. So who is the gold medal winner? Right now it’s the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. But phones this large aren’t for everyone. If you own a Mac, and an iPad and many apps, an iPhone 5s still might make sense for you — even though it comes in last place in most of the categories reviewed here. If you’re looking for great performance and value, I’d consider the Nexus 5, Moto X or HTC One which is a bargain these days. The bottom line is you can’t go wrong with any of the phones here.

    – Rick

    Copyright 2013-2014 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.


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