What is the Best Smartphone You Can Buy Today?

One of these is the best smartphone available today. Which one is it? [Phone sizes adjusted so they appear uniform]


Since this article was first written, an updated version has been posted here. Check it out. A lot has changed.

Evaluating the Hardware

Who makes the world’s best smartphone? Most people would probably say the iPhone 4S, since it seems like everyone has one. But is it really the best? Let’s find out. I started by making a chart of the specs for all currently available smartphones from U.S. carriers.

The Top Five Finalists

Next, I narrowed down the list of candidates to the best five phones based on hardware specs. I was surprised that some of the most popular phones did not not make this list. I’ll discuss this more below, but first, the top five finalists based on hardware specs are:

HTC Evo 4G LTE

HTC One X

LG Nitro HD

Motorola ATRIX HD

Samsung Galaxy S III (U.S.)

Processor

1.5 GHz dual-core

1.5 GHz dual-core

1.5 GHz dual-core

1.5 GHz dual-core

1.5 GHz dual-core

RAM

1GB

1GB

1GB

1GB

2GB

Storage

16GB

16GB

20GB

16GB

16 or 32GB

Screen size

4.7”

4.7”

4.5”

4.5”

4.8”

Resolution

1280×720

1280×720

1280×720

1280×720

1280×720

Pixel density

312ppi

312 ppi

329 ppi

326 ppi

306 ppi

Rear cam

8MP

8MP

8MP

8MP

8MP

Front cam

1.3MP

1.3MP

1.3MP

1.3MP

1.9MP

Network

LTE

LTE

LTE

LTE

LTE

5GHz WiFi

No

No

No

No

Yes

Bluetooth

4.0

4.0

3.0

4.0

4.0

NFC

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Thickness

8.9mm

8.9mm

10.4mm

8.4mm

7.6mm

Weight

134g

129g

127g

140g

133g

Battery

2000 mAh

1800 mAh

1830 mAh

1780 mAh

2100 mAh

OS

Android 4.0.3

Android 4.0.3

Android 2.3.5

Android 4.0.4

Android 4.0.4

Carrier

Sprint

AT&T

AT&T

AT&T

All

There are big differences between the above phones in terms of screen size and thickness [Chart: Phone Arena]

Creating the above list was not easy because there are phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note, HTC Rezound, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, HTC One S and Motorola Droid Razr Maxx which excel in some areas, but lag in others. However, in the end all of those were dropped because the above phones were better overall.

And the Winner is…

As you can see from the chart above, when it comes to specs, the Samsung Galaxy SIII beats or ties the best smartphones in all areas except pixel density and weight. Even in those areas, it’s no slouch. Most reviewers would probably give second place to the HTC One X, but the LG Nitro HD wins in both lightness and pixel density. The HTC Evo 4G LTE and Motorola ATRIX HD are also very good phones.

Based on specs alone, the Samsung Galaxy SIII is the best smartphone available today

Smartphones That Didn’t Make the Cut

There is a fairly long list of smartphones which are good, but don’t deserve to be on the “best” list because they are flawed in one or more areas. You can view these in the chart below.

Click on the chart below to make it larger and more readable.

Red-faced text shows areas where these phones under-performed. Blue-faced text indicates areas where some phones did well.

Although iPhone 4S sales continue to be strong, it no longer competes when it comes to most specs.

 

Why the iPhone 4S is No Longer One of the Best

Some of you are probably wondering why the iPhone 4S is no longer listed in the chart of best smartphones. The answer is easy; The iPhone 4S hasn’t been competitive for a long time when it comes to hardware specs. In fact the iPhone 4S no longer beats the best Android phones in any of the benchmarks or specifications listed in this article. If you’re a hard-core Apple fan, you’ll probably buy an iPhone 4S anyway — just don’t say you weren’t warned. Two years is a long time to own an under-performing 3G phone that doesn’t support 4G LTE. I’m not saying the iPhone is a bad phone — it’s not, but I was surprised to find that Android phones now outperform it in almost every way. For example:

  • The best Android phones are capable of data speeds which are up to 30x faster than iPhone 4S
  • The best Android phone has 4 times the memory than the iPhone 4S (Galaxy S3 2048MB vs. 512MB)
  • The best Android phones have processors which run almost twice the speed of the iPhone 4S (iPhone runs at 800MHz, all of the best Android phones run at 1.5GHz)
  • Several Android phones have quad-core processors, while the iPhone 4S only has a dual-core processor. I didn’t include those in the above chart, because they’re not available in the U.S. yet.
  • The best Android phones have browser performance that is 96% faster than the iPhone 4S (Galaxy S III Intl. BrowserMark benchmark scores)
  • The best Android phone has a screen which is over 50% larger than the iPhone 4S (Galaxy Note 5.3” vs. 3.5”)
  • The best Android phone has a screen which has 66% more pixels than the iPhone 4S (Galaxy Note 1,024,000 vs. 614,000)
  • The best Android phones have 41% faster GPU performance than the iPhone 4S (Galaxy S III GLBenchmark 2.1 – Egypt Offscreen 720)
  • At least 3 Android phones have greater pixel densities than the iPhone 4S (HTC Rezound 342 ppi vs. 326 ppi)
  • The best Windows phone has a rear camera with twice the resolution of the iPhone 4S (HTC Titan II has 16MP vs. 8MP on iPhone 4S)
  • Almost every Android phone has a better front camera than the iPhone 4S (Galaxy Note has 2.0MP vs. 0.3MP on iPhone 4S)
  • The best Android phone is 24% thinner than the iPhone 4S (Droid RAZR 7.1mm vs 9.3mm). At least 8 other Android phones are thinner than iPhone 4S.
  • The best Android phone is 15% lighter than the iPhone 4S. This is surprising because the best Android phones are much larger than iPhone. (HTC One S 119g vs. 140g)
  • Many Android phones have microSD slots, so consumers can easily and cheaply exceed the 64GB internal memory of most expensive iPhone 4S.
  • The best Android phones support NFC for easy purchasing and LTE for lightning-fast data speeds up to 30x faster than iPhone 4S. The iPhone 4S has none of this.
  • The best Android phone has a battery with more than twice the power of the iPhone 4S (Droid RAZR Maxx 3300mAh vs. 1420 mAh). This translates to over 21 hours talk time versus 14 hours talk time).
  • The best Android phones have Javascript performance that is 37% better than the iPhone 4S (Galaxy S III SunSpider Javascript benchmark scores)
  •  
    There is hope for Apple however. An iPhone 5 is rumored to be coming this fall. After it is released, I’ll update this chart and see how it compares to the other smartphones available at that time.

    The One Benchmark the iPhone 4S Excels At

    It is surprising that the world’s most popular phone gets beat in every single spec listed above. This didn’t used to be the case. It used to be the other way around with iPhone dominating smartphone specs. There is still one thing that the iPhone 4S can beat Android phones at: cellphone radiation. The iPhone 4S has over 300% more radiation than the Samsung Galaxy SIII. That’s very surprising because the Samsung Galaxy SIII has more radios and is capable of much higher data speeds than the iPhone 4S. If you own an iPhone 4S, you might want to get a Bluetooth earpiece if you don’t have one already.

    The iPhone 4S has over 300% more radiation than the Samsung Galaxy SIII

    If you think I missed a phone that should be considered here, please let me know.

    – Rick

    P.S. Some of you are probably thinking this article relates to only hardware — not software. You’re right. Read this to see how Android compares to the newest version of iOS.

    Copyright 2012 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

    Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    Ten Popular Myths about Google Wallet & NFC

    Last update: May 15, 2014

    Everything You Need to Know About Google Wallet and NFC

    You can make a purchase without opening the Google Wallet app


    With all the talk about Google Wallet being hacked, I thought it might be nice to do a story about it. In case you don’t already know, Google Wallet allows you to make purchases by tapping your NFC-enabled smartphone at PayPass cash registers or terminals. NFC stands for Near Field Communication, and allows two devices to communicate when they’re moved close together. NFC builds upon earlier RFID-based systems like smart cards by allowing two-way communication. Smart cards are only capable of one-way communication. NFC also has advantages over wireless standards like Bluetooth, because it doesn’t require pairing. It also sets up faster, requires less power, and has a shorter range than Bluetooth, which reduces the chance of unwanted interception. Although NFC has been in products for more than six years, there is still a lot of misinformation about it. Let’s start by addressing some of the biggest myths:

    Ten Myths about Google Wallet and NFC

    1. Myth: Google Wallet was hacked and is unsafe to use – Reality: While it’s true that the original Google Wallet was hacked, there was little risk to anyone who used a PIN, or pattern-based screen lock and no risk unless your phone was taken by someone with access to the hack. Besides, this issue was fixed by a software update. Even if your phone was stolen by a hacker, the same rules apply to Google Wallet which apply to traditional credit cards. In most cases you have no liability, and unlike your credit card, a hacker can only spend money which was added to your Google Wallet.
    1. Myth: Google Wallet only works with Citi MasterCard – Reality: Not true. Back in August, Google rolled out a cloud-based version of Google Wallet which supports all major credit and debit cards. Since that time Google Wallet usage has more than doubled. You just link one or more of your cards with Google Wallet and it remembers all of your data.
    1. Myth: Only a few phones support NFC today – Reality: Nine out of ten cellphone makers have phones on the market this year with an NFC chip inside them [Source: ABI Research]. Examples include the Samsung Galaxy SIII, LG Nexus 4, HTC Droid DNA, Samsung Galaxy Note II, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Google Nexus S, LG Intuition, HTC Evo 4G LTE and Samsung Galaxy SII Skyrocket. Over 60 other devices support NFC today as well including other phones from RIM (Blackberry), HTC, LG, Nokia and Samsung. Here is the full list. ABI forecasts that 285 million smartphones and tablets with embedded NFC chips will ship in 2013, up from 102 million this year. Google Wallet is also preloaded on the NFC-enabled Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets. Soon you may not need your carriers permission or an NFC-enabled phone to buy things using Google Wallet. Google’s new credit card is rumored to work anywhere that accepts traditional credit or debit cards.

    You can use Google Wallet anywhere you see these images

    1. Myth: Google Wallet is only accepted by a few merchants – Reality: Google Wallet is currently accepted at over thirty different retail chains including 7 Eleven, American Eagle, Banana Republic, Best Buy, Bloomingdales, Champs, Chevron, Container Store, CVS Pharmacy, Duane Reade, Einstein Bros Bagels, Foot Locker, Guess, Home Depot, Jack in the Box, Jamba Juice, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Noah’s Bagles, Office Max, Old Navy, Peet’s Coffee, Pinkberry, Radio Shack, Rite Aid, Sports Authority, Sunoco (gas station), Toys R US, Whole Foods, Yellow Cab (NYC) and others. That doesn’t seem like much, but it means you can use your Google Wallet at over 300,000 MasterCard PayPass-enabled terminals. The Google Market has an app called MasterCard PayPass Locator, which helps you to locate places you can use Google Wallet, but it’s missing many places which accept it. Look for these symbols above to find merchants who accept Google Wallet. Google Wallet can also be used for in-app payments on your mobile devices although there has been some controversy over this. Experts say in five years 86 percent of all North American merchants will have NFC-enabled terminals. However, only 53 percent of merchants will support NFC worldwide by 2017.
    1. Myth: NFC is new and unproven – Reality: NFC phones have been around since 2006. NFC has been used by consumers in Japan, South Korea and European cities for several years without problems. London buses now accept payment from NFC-enabled phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III.
    1. Myth: Most carriers are still preventing Google Wallet from being installed on their devices – Reality: Google Wallet can now be installed on every mobile device in the U.S. running Android 2.3 and later. It can even be downloaded on devices without NFC support and formerly carrier blocked devices like the Verizon Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4. That’s the good news. The bad news is, for now, Tap and pay functionality is available in the US, and requires one of the following NFC-enabled Android devices shown here with a Secure Element chip, on select carrier networks. In other words, if you’re not on Sprint or have a Nexus device, you’re still screwed.
    1. Myth: No signature is required when buying things using Google Wallet – Reality: Although this is generally true, a signature may be required when purchasing items costing $30 or more.
    1. Myth: Apple doesn’t plan to support NFC – Reality: According to Bloomberg, future generations of iPhone, iPod and iPad will support NFC. Windows Phone 8 is also rumored to support NFC.
    1. Myth: Google Wallet will quickly drain your battery – Reality: Although this was true earlier, the problem was fixed by a software update. Enabling NFC consumes some power, but on my phone it’s responsible for less than 2% of total battery usage.
    2. This explains how you can purchase things without an Internet connection

      This explains how you can purchase things without an Internet connection

    1. Myth: You need to have an Internet connection in order to buy something using Google Wallet. Reality: Not true. You do not need to be connected to a Wi-Fi or 3G/4G network in order to Tap and Pay using Google Wallet. That means tablet users without cellular service can use Google Wallet for purchases.

    How To Secure Your Google Wallet

    As mentioned earlier, the best way to protect your Google Wallet is to lock your screen. “Face Unlock,” “Pattern,” “PIN” and “Password” are all ways to do this. If you’re still worried, here are some more extreme steps to secure your Google Wallet:

    There are several easy ways you can secure your phone

    1. Make sure “USB debugging” is not enabled – When enabled, the data on mobile devices can be accessed without first passing a lock screen challenge unless full disk encryption is also enabled.
    2. Enable full disk encryption – This will prevent even USB Debugging from bypassing the lock screen.

    If your phone is stolen and you have Google Wallet installed, Google recommends you call 855-492-5538, and ask them to disable your prepaid card.
     

    Not Just For Financial Transactions

    NFC isn’t just good for financial transactions. Google Wallet also includes support for SingleTap, enabling users to redeem coupons and earn reward points. NFC can also be used to share contacts, photos and other files. If you’re running Android 4.0 today, you can Android Beam web pages, contacts, maps, YouTube videos and more, from one phone to another. Users of the popular Foursquare app can now bump phones and transfer places visited or lists. They can also check-in or initiate friend requests wherever NFC tags are. Imagine going to a venue and touching on a sign with an embedded NFC tag to check in. Pretty cool.

    NFC isn’t just good for mobile payments, in the future NFC may even help you set up Wi-Fi connections, or enter multiplayer mobile games. There are so many things NFC is good for. I’m looking forward to using my phone to pay for mass transit. That way I won’t have to take out my wallet on a crowded train platform. You can even order business cards with an NFC chip into them, which will take the person you give them to a URL of your choosing. The main advantage to these is the fact that the URL can be changed without reprinting more business cards.

    NFC isn’t limited to smartphones either. Next generation computers like the Sony Tap 20 and Duo 11, will include NFC support so you can beam data from your phone to computer, by simply touching them together. You can also purchase a Nexus 7 tablet for only $199 which has full support for NFC and Google Wallet. That’s one of the easiest ways to try Google Wallet at the moment, since carriers like Verizon are still trying to block it.

    Google Wallet Isn’t the Only Game In Town

    There are other mobile payment systems as well. One of the most promising is called Isis. Like Google Wallet, Isis lets you add your credit cards to your mobile wallet, but that’s not all. Isis is also supposed to let you add debit and loyalty cards to your mobile wallet, and provide access to personalized offers. That means after you use your phone to pay for a Starbucks coffee, you can tap again to get a discount or add the purchase to your Starbucks loyalty card. Isis is currently being tested in two U.S. cities, and coming soon to NFC-enabled phones from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.

    According to an article in Mobile Week, Isis has some distinct advantages because it’s setting up a system that can give financial institutions the reassurance that transactions conducted by smartphone will be secure. Isis has also lined up cards from Chase, Capital One, American Express and Barclays. Its transactions are supported by the Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover payment networks.

    Isis isn’t the only new player. Retailers including Walmart, Target, Sears and others announced their own own payment system back in August called MCX. Since then they’ve gone dark however.

    ISIS is conducting a mobile payment trail in two U.S. cities

    ISIS is conducting a mobile payment trail in two U.S. cities

    October Updates

  • Customers in Salt Lake City and Austin can now download the Isis Mobile Wallet from Google Play. Although Isis hopes to have twenty phones supported by the end of the year, only three Verizon phones are support at the moment: the HTC DROID Incredible 4G LTE by HTC, the Motorola DROID RAZR HD and the Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX HD. Before Verizon customers can use Isis they must first get a new SIM card, then add their credit, debit and loyalty cards into the Wallet. T-Mobile currently has three Isis-ready devices: the Samsung’s Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy S II and Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G.
  • With or without Apple, the NFC mobile payments will hit $100 billion in by 2016.
  • Other Recent NFC-related Announcements

    November Updates

  • It appears Google will be releasing their own Google Wallet Card. You can add money to it like a debit card, and use it anyplace credit cards are accepted. Money added to this card can also be spent using the Google Wallet app running on supported NFC devices like the Nexus 7 tablet and more eligible devices. More info.
  • Google Wallet will soon let you make purchases on mobile sites. Soon you’ll be able to buy things from websites using your phone and Google Wallet. Google will auto-fill your name, billing address and card information into the proper fields of the website, making purchases faster and easier. More info.
  • Visa’s mobile payments platform V.me also recently emerged from a year long beta and is now available at 23 retailers and 53 different banks.
  • Chinese smartphone manufacturer GEAK recently announced an NFC ring that stores your identity, unlocks your smartphone and can share your contact info with others.
  • Soon you'll be able to use your phone to unlock your door

    Soon you’ll be able to use your phone to unlock your door

    Spring 2013 Updates

  • Hyundai is showing a concept car which allows users to unlock their car by tapping their phone on an NFC tag on the car door. They plan to release this publicly by 2015.
  • Belkin’s new HD Bluetooth music receiver uses NFC “tap-and-play” pairing.
  • LG Electronics is coming out with new NFC-enabled smart appliances that will let the user start a load of laundry while driving home from work, tell a robotic cleaner to vacuum the floor, or view what’s in a refrigerator from their smartphone.
  • Soon you will be able to unlock your door using an NFC-enabled Android phone like the Galaxy S III. The ShareKey app will also allow you to grant access to others for a specific time period. That way a repair person could enter your residence when you aren’t home.
  • At the end of January, Google updated Google Wallet with a new Holo-style user interface, better application stability and improved battery life.
  • A new app lets users users to add digital information to Near Field Communication (NFC) business cards.
  • Google Wallet now allows you to attach money to an email just like a photo or file.
  • Summer Updates

  • Google Wallet launched a new promotion with popular Android apps and websites in a bid to increase its brand recognition. Gives financial incentives of $15 to $25.
  • Brother announces the first NFC-enabled printers, which let consumer to tap their NFC-enabled smart device to the printer and print (or scan) a document or image.
  • Other Updates

  • Google is bringing NFC-enabled app vending machines to Japan. More info
  • Google is testing NFC security tokens that could get rid of the password for good. More info.
  • Mobile payment service Isis plans to celebrate their (better late than never) nationwide launch with 1 million free smoothies. More info.
  • Using NFC, IBM brings dual-factor authentication to mobile. More info
  • 7-Eleven, Best Buy cease NFC trials – “Near-field communication trials at some Best Buy and 7-Eleven stores are ending, as the retailers haven’t seen a payoff for the costs involved in enabling the technology, Rebecca Borison writes. “For various reasons NFC-based mobile payments options have yet to gain traction, and NFC provides no real benefit to the customer over other less costly options,” 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said. Best Buy and 7-Eleven may implement the mobile-payment service to be offered by the Merchant Customer Exchange.” Source
  • Isis claims to have activated 20,000 accounts a day over the past month, doubling its March activity. They now have 600,000 subscribers and are supported on 68 phones. Source
  • – Rick

    Where to Learn More

  • Learn more about Google Wallet.
  • Learn more about NFC.
  • Learn more about Android Beam.
  • Learn more about Foursquare’s support for NFC.
  • How to get Google Wallet to work on a rooted Verizon Samsung Galaxy SIII. Step-by-step instructions. For advanced users only.
  • Here’s a great story about a Wired writer who went without a wallet for an entire month.
  • How the fragmented world of mobile wallets will sow confusion.
  • 8 scenarios where NFC makes sense
  • NFC: Not just for mobile payments anymore (CNET)
  • NFC becoming more main stream with operators driving SIM-based NFC. As an example, Samsung teamed up with Visa to make mobile payments common place.
  • The first NFC payment service is being launched in China, in a joint collaboration between China Unicom and China Merchants Bank (CMB).
  • Copyright 2013-2014 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.


    Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    The Pros and Cons of Rooting Your Phone

    Last update: November 28, 2013

    This article has had over 90,000 views! Thanks for reading it.

    Rooting your mobile device allows you to do things which are not possible on a normal smartphone or tablet. Carriers normally prevent access to root-level files, because you could delete essential files or cause others problems. Unfortunately this limits what you can do with your mobile devices. You bought it and you should have the right to do whatever you want with it. There are some compelling reasons why you should consider rooting your device.

    Reasons to Root

      Imagine sharing your phone's fast 4G connection with your tablet

    1. Free Tethering – You already pay for a mobile data plan and shouldn’t you have to pay more to share your cellular connection with your other devices. Just download a free tethering app, and in seconds you’ll be able to share your phones cellular modem with your tablet, laptop or other devices. Now you can access the Internet from your tablet even when a Wi-Fi hotspot is not available. Wi-Fi isn’t your only option, you can also tether your devices over Bluetooth, or by connecting a USB cable. Although you don’t need to root your phone to run tethering apps like FoxFi, ClockworkMod Tether or 1-Click WiFi Tether, some of the best tethering apps only work on rooted phones.
    2. Delete Carrier Bloatware – Carriers load your phone with lots of apps you’ll never use. These apps consume storage space, memory and other resources. After rooting your phone, it’s easy to delete carrier-installed apps you don’t want. Although there are several ways to do this, I recommend you download Titanium Backup. This app allows you to uninstall any app with a single click.
    3. Eliminate Banner Ads – Apps like AdFree remove most advertisements that appear in your browser and other apps. This is done using a blacklist which blocks ads before they can even download data. Now you can play Angry Birds and most other apps ad-free. This is a big deal, because it means you can get one of the biggest benefits of paid apps for free.
    4. Apps like Titanium Backup can backup everything on your phone and sync it with the cloud

    5. Backup Everything on Your Phone – Apps like Titanium Backup allow you automatically backup everything on your phone. This includes protected apps, system apps and data on your SD card. If you purchase a license key for Titanium Backup you can upload your backups to your free Dropbox account. This makes it easy to restore a backup from the cloud if your phone is ever lost or stolen.
    6. Make Your Phone Run Faster – Apps like SetCPU allow you to overclock the speed of your processor to make your phone run faster. More info.
    7. Increase Your Battery Life – Custom ROMs and apps like SetCPU increase the battery life of your phone. In some cases the difference is significant. For example, a Nexus 7 running a CyanogenMod ROM gets up to twice the battery life of an off-the-shelf Nexus 7.
    8. Install Custom ROMs – After you root your phone, you can install custom ROMs which give your phone better battery life, faster performance, custom themes and additional features like special audio processing. Cynanogenmod is the most popular aftermarket firmware. It has a new installer that is very easy to use.
    9. Run Any App You Like – Once you root your phone you’ll be able to install any app you like. This includes apps that have been blocked by your carrier, or banned by Google.
    10. Run Apps on Your SD Card – Most mobile devices do not allow you to install or move apps to your SD card. By doing this you free up internal memory.
    11. Perform Other UI Tweaks – Want to remove the search box from your home screen and replace it with a search button? No problem. What about adding back a menu button to the main screen of your phone. Again, no problem. Do a Google Search or check the XDA Developers forums to learn more about these and many others UI tweaks.

    Popular Myths About Rooting

    1. Rooting Voids Your Warranty – Although it’s true rooting your phone could void its warranty, if you restore it to its original factory condition, it’s unlikely your carrier could tell it was ever rooted.
    2. It’s Easy to Brick your Phone – Not true. Most Android phones are not easy to brick, if you carefully follow directions.
    3. Rooting is a Cat and Mouse Game – Not true. Once you root your phone you normally won’t have to do it again.
    4. Rooting is Difficult – Although it varies from phone to phone, rooting your phone isn’t as hard as it once was. In fact, one-click rooting apps are available in the Android Market.
    5. Rooting Will Make Your Phone Less Stable – Not true. When done correctly, rooting your phone will not make it any less stable.
    6. Rooting Makes It Hard to Transfer or Sell Your Phone to Another Person – Not true. I recently gave my rooted Galaxy Nexus to my son. He inserted the SIM card which was provided by Verizon for my new phone and then called a toll-free number to activate it. He then reset the phone (to wipe out all of my info) and rebooted (entering his Google account info). Withing 15 minutes, all essential services were functional on his rooted phone, and the phone was automatically downloading all of his apps.
    7. You Can’t Root a Phone With a Locked Bootloader – Not always true. A friend just rooted his Verizon Samsung Galaxy S3 even though it has a locked boot-loader. Instructions can be found here.

    Reasons Not to Root

    Although rooting your phone isn’t as dangerous as most people think, it’s not for everyone. Here are some risks you should be aware of before you root your phone.

      Overclocking your phone too much could cause it to overheat

    1. Rooting Could Be Illegal – Back in July of 2010, the U.S. federal government recognized the legality of jailbreaking a phone. Unfortunately starting on January 26th of 2013, it officially become illegal” to unlock a phone without your carriers permission. It’s still to soon to know whether this applies to all rooting, but it does not look good. Carriers like T-Mobile recommend customers contact their device manufacturer or AT&T directly to request the unlock code for their device, but don’t be surprised if these aren’t easy to get.
    2. Rooting Isn’t for Everyone – Although there a one-touch rooting solutions, I wouldn’t say rooting is easy yet. Some phones are easier to root than others. Make sure to do some serious research to find if others with your model are having good results when they try to root them.
    3. Rooting May Prevent You from Getting Updates – If you root your phone you may no longer be able to download and install over-the-air operating system updates. This was a problem for me when Verizon released Android 4.0.4 and 4.1 updates for my phone. There is a way around this, but it’s not easy. This issue affected my Samsung Galaxy Nexus — but probably applies to all Android phones and other carriers.
    4. Overclocking Can Cause Damage – If you overclock your phone too much you could cause it to overheat. You could even damage its processor, although some phones have safeguardus to prevent this.
    5. You May Need to Wipe Your Phone – In some cases you have to wipe your phone when you root it, so make sure to copy your media off of your phone. It’s also a good idea to make screen shots of all of your home screens and app page, so you can quickly restore your device to the same look and feel you had before.
    6. Issues With Some Media Rentals – You could receive an error when attempting to play a rented movie on a rooted device.
    7. Legal Risks – And last, but not least, the use of tethering software may violate your carrier’s Terms of Service — whatever that means. I’m unaware of anyone who has been prosecuted because they unlocked or rooted their phone.

    A Checklist for First-timers

      Rooting is not something you should attempt to do quickly. I recommend you complete this entire checklist before rooting your phone:

    1. Make sure you have step-by-step instructions for your exact model of phone before beginning.
    2. Make sure you have everything you need before beginning. This includes software drivers, ROMs, required apps, etc.
    3. Make sure to create a backup of your phone and all of its data before you root it. Some backup software doesn’t automatically backup all of your music and photos, so you might want to manually back those up.
    4. Make sure you know how to restore your phone to its original factory state if you don’t like the result of the rooting process. Even if you brick your phone, you can often restore it to its original factory condition. Here are some steps how to do this. Although these apply to the Samsung Galaxy S III, the information here applies to other phones as well.
    5. Try to find someone who can help you if problems occur. Your carrier will not help you if things don’t go right.

    Important: If you have any doubts after reading this, do not proceed until you can find someone to help you. I cannot help you, nor can I assume any responsibility for bricked phones.

    Some Important Closing Thoughts

    Although rooting is still too technical for many users, the process is getting easier. Unfortunately, you may now need an unlock code from your carrier to legally unlock your phone and you are unlikely to get that unless your contract is up. Rooting your phone for the first time can be scary, but I believe the benefits far exceed the risks. In the six months since I first rooted my phone, my experience has been 100% problem free — with one notable exception. When Verizon released OS updates for my rooted phone, I was unable to install them. Although I was able to find a solution to the problem online, it wasn’t simple, and required me to either restore my phone to stock, or wipe it and manually install the software update. Although major OS updates don’t happen that often, this is something to consider before rooting.

    Where to Learn More

    1. Android ROM and rooting dictionary for beginners
    2. Android 101: Rooting, Jailbreaking and Unlocking
    3. What is Rooting? (AndroidPIT Modder’s Guide)
    4. How To Root The Galaxy S II
    5. How To Install A Custom ROM On Your Rooted Samsung Galaxy S II
    6. Step-by-step instructions how to root the Samsung Galaxy S III
    7. A List of Good Root-only Apps (and more reasons to root)
    8. How to Un-root Your Samsung Galaxy S III and flash it back to Android 4.0.4
    9. How to hack your Android like a pro: Rooting and ROMs explained

    – Rick

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


    Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    Today’s Best Smartphones (December 2011)


    Since this article was first written, an updated version has been posted here. Check it out. A lot has changed.

    I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six months looking for a new smartphone. It hasn’t been an easy process because there are so many great phones available today. To make it possible to compare specs, I made the following chart:

     

    Apple iPhone 4S

    HTC Rezound

    HTC Vivid

    LG Nitro HD

    Motorola Droid RAZR

    Samsung Galaxy Nexus

    Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket

    Processor

    800MHz dual-core

    1.5 GHz dual-core

    1.2 GHz dual-core

    1.5 GHz dual-core

    1.2 GHz dual-core

    1.2 GHz dual-core

    1.5 GHz dual-core

    RAM

    512MB

    1GB

    1GB

    1GB

    1GB

    1GB

    1GB

    Storage

    16-64GB

    16GB

    16GB

    16GB

    16GB

    32GB

    16GB

    Screen

    3.5”

    4.3”

    4.5”

    4.5”

    4.3”

    4.65”

    4.5”

    Resolution

    960×640

    1280×720

    960×540

    1280×720

    960×540

    1280×720

    800×480

    Pixel density

    326 ppi

    342 ppi

    245 ppi

     329 ppi

    256 ppi

    316 ppi

    207 ppi

    Rear cam

    8MP

    8MP

    8MP

    8MP

    8MP

    5MP

    8MP

    Front cam

    0.3MP

    2MP

    1.3MP

    1.3MP

    1.3MP

    1.3MP

    2MP

    Video

    1080p @ 30fps

    1080p @ 30fps

    1080p @ 30fps

     1080p @ 30fps

    1080p @ 30fps

    1080p @ 30fps

    1080p @ 30fps

    Network

    HSPA

    LTE

    LTE HSPA+

    LTE HSPA+

    LTE

    LTE

    LTE/HSPA+

    Dual-band

    No

    No

    No

    No

    No

    Yes

    Yes

    Bluetooth

    4.0

    3.0

    3.0

    3.0

    4.0

    3.0

    3.0

    NFC

    No

    No

    No

     No

    No

    Yes

     Yes

    Thickness

    9.3mm

     13.65mm

    11.2mm

    10.4mm

    7.1mm

    9.47mm

    9.40mm

    Weight

    140g

    170g

    177g

    128 g

    127g

    150g

    132g

    Battery

    1420 mAh

     1620 mAh

    1620 mAh

    1830 mAh

    1780 mAh

    1850 mAh

    1850 mAh

    Operating System

    iOS 5.0

    Android 2.3.4

    Android 2.3.5

    Android 2.3.5

    Android 2.3.5

    Android 4.0.2

    Android 2.3.4

    Carrier(s)

    AT&T, Verizon, Sprint

    Verizon

    AT&T

    AT&T

    Verizon

    Verizon

    AT&T

    I suggest you start by deciding what matters the most to you.

    • Are you an Apple fan that has just got to have an iPhone?
    • Are you dying to get a phone that supports LTE for fastest possible data speeds?
    • Are you looking for the largest display, or the thinnest phone?

    You get the idea. This chart should help you to narrow your decision down.

    I should mention that I cut two phones from the chart due to space restrictions. I debated including a second chart, but decided against it because the specs of both of these phones, while good, are not as good as the other phones here. In case you’re wondering, the phones I cut were the Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC Titan (a Windows Phone). There were also several other great phones I omitted because they are not yet available in the U.S. including the HTC Sensation XL, Samsung Galaxy Note and Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE. Watch for the Galaxy Note to cross the pond next year.

    Since great new smartphones are coming out every month, I’ll be posting frequent updates to this chart. Expect to see the first one after I return from CES in 2012.

    If you think I missed a phone that should be here, let me know. Thanks.

    – Rick

    Note: An update to this article was recently published here.

    Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

    Ten Things You Should Know About Mobile Specs

    Specifications are helpful when you’re trying to compare two different mobile devices, but the devil is in the details — especially when you’re looking at unreleased products. Here are some tips that will help you better evaluate phone and tablet specs.

    1. Most Apple rumors are bogus

    Real leaks from Apple employees and their suppliers are rare. Go back and read all of the Apple rumors last summer, and you’ll see most of the predictions turned out to be wrong. Sadly, tech blogs print these rumors to increase their page views – even when they don’t have an accurate source.

    2. Phone specs vary by carrier

    It’s not unusual to see differences in the specs listed by a handset manufacturer and different carriers. Carrier customization is quite common. Expect to see differences in the network type (HSPA, HSPA+, LTE, WiMAX), operating system version, device thickness and weight. Sometimes even screen size and processor speed varies. For example, the official Samsung website says the Galaxy S II has a 4.3” screen, but T-Mobile’s version of the same phone has a 4.52” screen and more powerful battery. It’s also taller, thicker and has a faster processor.

    3. LTE devices are thicker

    As you can see in the image above, the LTE version of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is thicker than the GSM version of the same phone. The reason for the .57mm difference is the addition of a slightly larger battery, needed to power the juice-hungry LTE radio.

    4. Not all specs are standardized

    There are different ways to measure brightness, viewing angle and battery life. Because of this lack of standardization, we have to accept what manufacturers tell us. Specs like battery life and brightness are often exaggerated. Screen density (PPI) is another spec which is sometimes suspect. Was it provided by the panel manufacturer, or calculated using a formula?

    5. Your phone may not be as thin as you think it is

    Speaking of truth in advertising, let’s talk about thickness. Most manufacturers use the thinnest part of a device for this spec. As an example, the 7.1 mm Motorola Droid RAZR is the world’s thinnest 4G device. But the RAZR has a large hump at the top, which is at least 11 mm. Shouldn’t that be mentioned on the spec sheet?

    The Droid RAZR has a hump at the top which increases its thickness.

    6. Not all 4G phones are created equally

    There’s a big difference between the data speeds of HSPA and LTE or WiMAX devices. Just because a manufacturer claims a phone is a 4G, doesn’t mean you’re going to get WiMAX or LTE speeds. 3G Phones like the iPhone 4S, operate at speeds that are 5 to 10 times slower than 4G LTE phones. More info

    7. Specs on the Web are often incorrect

    The specs listed for unreleased devices on sites like Phone Arena are often incorrect. Not all of them are wrong, but errors are common and some specs aren’t available until after a device has been released.

    8. Beware of OS upgrade promises

    Don’t assume your phone will get new software updates right after they are available. It took HTC 9 months to release an Android 2.3.4 update for the Droid Incredible. Some devices will never be able to upgrade to Android 4.0.

    9. First is not always best

    Some handset manufacturers will do anything to release the newest handset technology first – even if it means rushing it to market (e.g. AT&T). Others, like Verizon seem to take forever. For example, the Droid Bionic was announced at the 2011 CES, but wasn’t released until 9 months later.

    10. Numbers lie

    And last, but certainly not least, processor speed isn’t the only indication of performance. The iPhone 4S only has an 800MHz CPU, but outperforms the Samsung Galaxy S II in some benchmarks – even though it has a 1.2GHz CPU. The OS, mobile chipsets and especially the graphic coprocessor can have a major impact on performance.

    – Rick

    Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

    How to Evaluate Smartphone Cameras

    The Motorola XT928 (Dinara) is the world's first 13MP camera phone

    A 13 Megapixel Camera Phone?

    Today’s best smartphones have 5 to 8-megapixel (MP) rear-facing cameras  which take surprisingly good pictures. 8MP is impressive, but 13-megapixel camera phones like the Motorola XT928 are available today in China (and soon in the U.S). Unfortunately, most tablets are way behind smartphones when it comes to camera technology. The iPad 2 has one of the worst cameras, while the iPhone 4S has one of the best. Both of the cameras in the iPad 2 are less than one megapixel and take horrible looking photos and video. What were they thinking? The good news is, cameras in tablets are starting to improve. The HTC Jetstream has an 8MP camera.

    The HTC Jetstream was the first tablet with an 8MP camera.

    Newer phones also have front-facing cameras which are used for video chat and other applications. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus uses its front-facing camera to unlock the phone after it recognizes your face. Today, most front-facing cams are only 1.3 to 2.0 megapixels, but there are some exceptions — like the BlackBerry PlayBook, which has a 3MP front-facing camera.

    Where are the Xenon Flashes?

    The camera flash is another area which is improving. Some mobile devices have dual-LED flashes which put out more light than a single LED. A Xenon flash puts out even more light than a dual-LED flash. Although no smartphones have Xenon flashes today, a Xenon flash was first seen on a Sony Ericsson camera back in 2009.

    Phones like the HTC Evo 3D have dual-LED flashes

    Face detection is another feature which is present on many newer camera phones. It ensures the selected face is in focus. What’s needed now is image stabilization and an optical zoom. Optical zoom is a must for both photos and video. That’s why it’s so surprising none of the popular smartphones available in the U.S. have it. A company called Altek has a 14-megapixel camera with a 3x optical zoom that could rival some point-and-shoot cameras.

    Now that’s a lens!

    Although 3D cameras may be a gimmick, they’re fun to play around with. Phones like the HTC EVO 3D can take 2-megapixel 3D photos today.

    More than Megapixels

    There’s evidence that megapixels alone aren’t the best indicator of photo quality. The iPhone 4 only has a 5-megapixel camera, but takes higher-quality photos than some Android phones with 8-megapixel cameras. One reason for this could be the fact it has a better lens. Let’s hope manufacturers pay attention to this important detail.

    One of the most talked about features of the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 is its lack of shutter lag. With this feature, you can take pictures as fast as you can touch the shutter button. Keep in mind this only works when auto-focus isn’t needed.

    The Samsung Galaxy Nexus has a stellar light sensor and almost no shutter lag when taking photos in rapid succession.

    Easy Panoramas for All

    Although panorama apps have been available for years, this feature is now standard on all devices with Android 4.0. After panorama mode is enabled, you just need to press the shutter button while you pan to the left or right. When you’re done, the images are automatically stitched together. Now Anyone Can Take Great Looking Panorama Shots

    Making Movies

    Video recording is another area which can be improved in smartphones. The iPhone 4 records video at 720p, but displays it on a 640-pixel screen. The iPhone 4S and most of the new Android phone phones (e.g. HTC Rezound, Motorola Droid RAZR, all Samsung Galaxy phones) record video at 1080p. 3D video recording is improving as well. The HTC EVO 3D can record 3D 720p videos. In the not so distant future, phones and tablets will also support Dolby Digital.

    The iPhone 4S can now record 1080p video

    Microphone quality is another area that can be enhanced. The Droid X’s camcorder has three microphones and four different audio recording modes.

    Running Out of Space?

    Storage can be a problem for those who take lots of pictures and movies. Some phones on have 16 or 32GB of storage and that’s not enough for some users. Expandable storage is available today on most Android devices, but many limit this to 32GB. Those who need more than this, should consider devices with hybrid or solid-state disk (SSD) drives which provide up to 250MB of storage. Because SSD drives have no moving parts, they are up to 2 to 5 times faster than conventional hard drives. Because these devices are larger, initially, they will only be available with tablets.

    The Last Word

    The cameras found in the best mobile devices take photos in good light which look surprisingly good. In some cases, they look similar to those taken with a point-and-shoot camera. Although a good DSLR still has it’s place, you can’t beat the convenience of camera phones and the quality of their photos continues to improve.

    Thanks to @rossrubin for pointing out that camera phones with optical zooms are available in Japan.
    Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

    The Confusion Around Mobile Data Speeds

    AT&T's marketing chart correctly places HSPA+ in-between 3G HSPA and LTE when it comes to data speeds.

    The History of Faux G

    Data speeds can have a huge impact on the perceived speed of your mobile device, but there is much confusion around 4G. For the past year all of the carriers have been running commercials about their 4G networks. Truth be told, until recently, Sprint and Verizon were the only U.S. carriers with true 4G networks and mobile devices to support it.

    • T-Mobile was first to call their HSPA+ network 4G and AT&T gave T-Moble grief over it. HSPA stands for “High Speed Packet Access.” Since then AT&T jumped on the same HSPA+ 4G bandwagon. HSPA+ is capable of speeds that are somewhere in-between 3G and 4G LTE. This is why some call it “Faux G.”
    • Sprint uses a different technology called WiMAX and was the first to deploy a true 4G network. Their network is capable of speeds that meet or exceed Verizon’s 4G data network. [Update: Sprint just announced they will be coming out with LTE phones in the 2nd half of 2012.]
    • Verizon launched their 4G LTE network back in December of 2010.
    • AT&T launched LTE in five cities in September 2011 (9 months after Verizon), but didn’t have a single 4G phone until November 2011.

    If you’re fortunate to be in one of the 200+ cities with LTE coverage, you’re in for a real treat. LTE is much faster than 3G or HSPA+. How much faster? Verizon claims LTE speeds which are at least twice as fast as AT&T’s 4G HSPA+ and up to 12 times faster than their own 3G speeds. Most LTE users experience real world download speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps and real world upload speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps. These speeds are impressive, but they are conservative. I’ve experienced real world LTE download speeds as high as 45Mbps and upload speeds as high as 28Mbps. Theoretical peak LTE speeds are even higher than these. More info.

    The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is on of the few phones with LTE and Dual-Band Wi-Fi support.

    The list of smartphones which support LTE today include the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, BlackBerry Torch 9810, Droid Bionic, Droid Charge, Droid RAZR, HTC Rezound, HTC Thunderbolt, HTC Vivid, LG Revolution, Pantech Breakout, Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE, Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and Samsung Stratosphere. More phones are being added to this list every month. The list of tablets which support LTE today include the Motorola Xoom, Motorola Droid XYBOARD(8.2″ and 10.1″), Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Why isn’t the iPhone 4S listed here? Unfortunately, LTE support isn’t yet available on the iPhone or iPad yet.

    Trouble in Paradise?

    There are two downsides with LTE that you should be aware of:

    1. LTE phones consume power faster than non-LTE phones. For this reason, in the past some people disable 4G when they weren’t using it. Fortunately most newer phones have more powerful batteries which make this less of an issue.
    2. LTE isn’t available everywhere, and even if you live in a city that has it, you may not always be able to get a 4G signal.

    Wi-Fi data speeds are important as well. The best mobile devices support dual-band Wi-Fi. That means they work on both 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz Wi-Fi networks. 5.0 GHz networks are less crowded and capable of higher speeds. You can learn more about 5 GHz and view a list of devices which support it here. Some new mobile devices also include support for Bluetooth 4.0, which promises better range and lower energy consumption.

    After reading this, you should be better prepared to evaluate the carriers confusing marketing messages about mobile data speeds. If data speeds are important to you, it’s essential all of your mobile devices support either LTE or WiMAX.

    My next post will be about Rhapsody’s new cloud-based music service. You can read about that here.

    Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.