Ask The Expert: your Android questions answered!
A few days back, we asked if you had any questions about Android - whether about specific handsets or the OS itself - so that we could provide some suitably helpful answers to these questions in a follow-up article. We got over 80 comments on that article, which was great - thank you all for participating!
Now, we'll be having a look at the answers to 10 of the most interesting questions, including how to fix your MMS and mobile data settings, the most essential Android applications and the best smartphones of the year. Let's get started!
1. What is the top Android handset on the market? (asked by a_nessa)
There are a few good options coming out this year, and still a few released last year that hold their own. The best Android phone to be released this year is probably the HTC One X, which has been reviewed by giffgaff in video form here. It's got a powerful quad core processor, an essential 4.7" Super LCD display and Ice Cream Sandwich.
Other strong options from last year are the Samsung Galaxy S II, which offers a lower resolution screen and a slower dual core processor, but is still powerful enough for any app I can think off. Another good option is the Samsung Galaxy Note, a 5.3" phone/tablet hybrid that is similarly powerful to the S2 but has a better screen. Both retain their popularity in 2012, and will be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich.
The rest of the year will certainly hold other strong options - the Samsung Galaxy S III is the most widely anticipated, but the Panasonic Eluga, Huawei Ascend D Quad and Optimus D1L all look strong too. If you can afford to wait, I'd suggest seeing how well the Galaxy S III is reviewed when it's released, and then make a decision.
2. What are your top 10 essential Android apps? (asked by blissuk)
Here are my 15 favourites, in no particular order:
- Wallbase -> more wallpapers than you know what to do with
- Wunderlist -> simple, cross-platform list synching
- Boid -> clever new Twitter app
- MyFitnessPal -> dieting and exercise app
- Instagram -> retro photos & sharing
- Chrome -> beautiful browser that syncs with desktop version
- Reddionic -> beautiful Reddit reader
- Alarm Clock by Doubletwist -> beautiful alarm clock
- Calculations -> calculator & conversions
- Dropbox -> cloud storage, expandable to 16 GB for free through referrals
- Imgur -> easy photo upload site
- DICE Player -> play almost any video format or file
- SoundHound -> music recognition
- Translate -> translation on the go, including conversations
- Wolfram Alpha -> conversions, knowledge, facts, maths
3. How do I get mobile data working? (asked by josh_crocker)
As in the previous question, you need to ensure your APN settings are correct. The easiest way to do this is to install the giffgaff APN app, or enter the values manually in a new APN by going to Settings -> Wireless and Networks -> Mobile Networks -> Access Point Names. Then, delete any giffgaff entries that are there, then create a new one with these settings:
4. Is there a flaw in Android that causes Bluetooth or MMS connection problems? (asked by hsm70)
Why won't my phone download picture messages? (asked by finlaywoodland and amandadrew06)
For Bluetooth issues, I'd look to ensure that your phone and your Bluetooth device support the same version of Bluetooth. It's unlikely that both problems are caused by the same issue.
5. What security risks are there from installing custom ROMs and apps on rooted phones? (asked by cim)
When your phone is unrooted, apps aren't allowed to make significant changes to the OS. This keeps your phone's functionality and your data protected; when you are rooted it is possible for applications that you install to perform formerly restricted functions - this is good as it allows for greater customisation and functionality in these apps, but you also run the risk of having a rogue app do damage to your phone or steal your personal information.
For that reason, I'd suggest only installing apps and custom ROMs that have been vetted by other users, whether on the Android marketplace or in the XDA community forums. A particularly bad idea is to install pirated apps (e.g. paid apps that have been rehosted for free elswhere) - these are often used to plant malware on your phone.
6. Is it possible to stop a phone from consuming mobile data when starting up? (asked by cjrees)
The easiest way is to disable mobile data before you turn off your phone, and only start it up again when you need it. You can disable mobile data by going to Settings -> Wireless and Networks -> Mobile Networks and then unchecking the 'data enabled' option. If that isn't available, then you can just make a dummy APN with deliberately wrong settings, then switch to this whenever you don't want to use mobile data.
7. Is it possible to stop a phone from crashing or find what app caused the crash? (asked by cjrees)
Generally, the best way to stop your phone from crashing is to ensure that you're on the latest version of Android that's been released for your phone, that all of your applications and up to date and that you don't have too many running at once. If you see crashes across your phone, then it's likely that the OS or some other program is at fault. If only a few apps are crashing, then try to get in contact with their developers and ask for advice - it may be that their app wasn't tested on your handset.
The best way to find out what app has caused the crash is to narrow it down to a single app at a time - uninstall (or close) apps until the crashing stops, then you'll be able to find out what apps or combination of apps are the problem. I don't know of an easier way than this, however.
For the Galaxy S II, I'd recommend upgrading to Ice Cream Sandwich as this should improve its stability considerably - this process is covered by another question, "How do I upgrade my Samsung Galaxy S II to Ice Cream Sandwich?"
8. How do I upgrade my Samsung Galaxy S II to Ice Cream Sandwich? (asked by benchmark51)
There's a guide to do this here, or you could just wait until the update is released over the air, which should happen some time in the next few weeks - sim-free phones are last in the upgrade cycle, unfortunately. You can also install a stock version of Android 4.0 using this guide, if you're impatient. All of the normal warnings about installing custom firmware apply, so be careful.
9. What are the biggest kernel flaws in Ice Cream Sandwich? (asked by turkeyphant)
Wow, that's a pretty intense question! I actually don't have much knowledge of the Ice Cream Sandwich kernel (beyond that it's based on the Linux kernel). The one kernel exploit I've heard of was back in January and it allowed Jay Freeman (aka Saurik of Cydia fame) to create a tool called 'mempodroid' to root devices with a kernel version higher than 2.6.39.
Only Android 4 has a kernel version high enough, but the majority of devices (Samsung Galaxy Nexus) are easy to root anyway - the only exception would be Ice Cream Sandwich devices that include a locked bootloader, but these are few and far between. The Asus Transformer Prime was on this list, but Asus have since released a bootloader unlocking tool which accomplishes the same goal.
Still, other kernel flaws almost certainly exist that I don't know about, so I'll kick it to the community and ask them if they've got any good kernel flaws up their sleeves!
10. Can I use Android on a wireless network behind a proxy without rooting my phone? (asked by daldred)
From what I can tell, the ProxySettings app on the Google Play marketplace should solve this problem. Another option is upgrading to Ice Cream Sandwich, which adds (at least partial) support for use of a proxy with wireless networks. The developers blog is here, where you should be able to find additional information.
So with these ten questions answered, we come to the end of our Ask The Expert session for this week. Thank you to everyone that participated, particularly mitchell2010 who was incredibly active in the thread. It really shows what a helpful community giffgaff is, and I'm proud to be a part of it.
My closing question to you is this - what topic do you want us to cover next week? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading and contributing. If you found this Q&A session helpful, then you can give me Kudos at the end of this post. Farewell for now!
This article was written by William Judd, a freelance tech journalist and copywriter.
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